el vy return to the moon
We meet up with Matt and Brent of The National and Ramona Falls to chat their about their new musical project.
Photography Lily Bertrand-Webb
Confidence and clarity are attractive and compelling qualities in music. EL VY, "(pronounced like a plural of Elvis; rhymes with 'hell pie')" are the musically intellectual and experienced Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf, of The National and Menomena and Ramona Falls respectively. Fluent in the art of what it takes to write and record enlightened, orchestral arrangements, together the two artists construct songs that drift with the soft ease of a downy feather traveling through a light breeze. While Brent strums melodies, twinkling electronic snowdrops upon slowly shuffling backing drums and building piano chords, Matt twists real life epiphanies with badly concealed jokes and anecdotes, writing lyrics that flesh out intricate and vivid autobiographical worlds. Brent is a prolific multi instrumentalist who compliments Matt's understated hushed baritones beautifully with a brooding and deep sense of strife and emotion. Meeting over a decade ago, when both their bands were on the cusp of breaking through, the duo have been etching out their ideas on a shared sound for years.
The overarching, all consuming understanding of love and loss is apparent throughout their debut 11-track 4AD released LP, Return To The Moon. This is a moody and reflective album, strikingly honest, yet hesitant of full emotion. The muted quality that percolates through from track to track is mesmerizing and leads the listeners curiosity like a hand in the dark. Matt and Brent are now embarking on their first independent tour of the world. Relaxed and light, i-D chatted to them about poptimism and the best music to play to a new born baby.
If you were going to write the theme tune to a film what would it be about?
Brent: The story of Lance Armstrong and Bill Crosby falling in love.
Matt: After Lance's fourth Tour de France win, that's when the sparks went off, thats when our story begins.
What recently released albums have you been listening to a lot of recently?
M: I haven't been listening to a whole lot of contemporary music recently.
B: I have been listening to a lot of the Kurt Vile and Micachu and the Shapes, they are two of my favourites so l'm pretty excited they have new records out.
M: Mine has mainly been the Grease soundtrack, my daughter who is six is obsessed with the soundtrack. l hear that 24/7. I love it and I'm still not tired of it.
Are you a fan of chart music or is pop out of your remit?
M: Some of it, Hopelessly Devoted To You from the Grease soundtrack was a number one record for many weeks so l believe.
B: It depends how you define pop and what sphere you are talking about. I think its become very trendy for indie rock artists to say they like pop music.
M: People call themselves poptimists. I am not a poptimist, most pop songs l find hard to connect to on any kind of an emotional level. They are fun, but we aren't in the same industry. I went to the Grammys and Pink flew over my head. She literally flew over my head and l thought, "l literally have the same job as her."
B: It depends. l think the track Crazy by Gnarls Barclay is great, l know that was the biggest song of the early 2000s but l like that a lot.
What was the first album you played to your daughter?
M: When she was a baby l was listening to a lot of Roy Orbison, so In Dreams might have been one of the first.
If you were to create your own super group, piecing together members of bands from any genre of the current era, what can you imagine the music sounding like?
M: The supergroup l would put together would be Christopher Cross, an American songwriter and also another American singer songwriter called Kris Kristofferson, and the name of the band is Kris Cross.
B: Mine would comprise of bands whose names repeated themselves. From The The, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The xx.
M: We have concept bands.
Can you tell me the story behind how the title track Return To The Moon first came to fruition?
M: It started as an acoustic strumming track, then the lyrics were a surreal collage of memories of Cincinnati, its kind of a political song in some funny ways. But its began as a jam like thing. It turned into a sunnier, poppier song,we first put it on the record because it has so many different personalities to it and set the table for how we wanted things to work out.
B: It started much slower, then Matt increased the tempo by 20 BPMs which l thought was a big improvement.
Lyrically my fave song is Paul Is Alive, in terms of instrumentation and arrangement. I love No Time To Crank The Sun. What track are you the most proud of and why?
M: No Time To Crank The Sun is very meaningful to me, its about my marriage, well the whole record is meaningful and personal but that one is especially close to me.
B: I'm surprised, l thought Paul Is Alive would be the most important to you? I like little bits in each songs, the builds, the climaxes, l think song wise l like Sad Case which goes into Happiness, Misouri, the pair of those two songs together is so unlike anything l would expect myself to do, it just seems like a strange combination.
Who is Paul?
M: My dad's name is Paul, but it's also a reference to the Beatles. Paul is dead. The record is a mixture of really personal things and a bunch of bad jokes.
Will you party when you tour together?
M: I'm not the after-show party guy, l stopped a few years ago, it was too much. These days I just go back to the hotel and crawl under the bed sleep.
B: I'll probably be wandering the streets at 1am by myself, looking for a good chocolatier.
M: Theres film called Menace to Society based on Brent's life, growing up in rural Portland.
Text Milly McMahon
Photography Lily Bertrand-Webb