EL VY – Interview

© Tobias Schrenk

Köln. Es ist der 04.12.15 und wir stehen vor der Kantine, der Venue, in der am Abend El Vy spielen soll. Eher untypisches Terrain für Indiebands, das merkt man irgendwie sofort – doch genau das hat sich das Sideproject von Matt Berninger (The National) und Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls/Menomena) für ihre Tour zum Debütalbum “Return To The Moon”  so gewünscht. Kleiner, intimer, unspektakulärer. Und trotzdem wird es noch spektakulär fürs Publikum: uns wird berichtet, dass ein weit geschätzter Pop-Beamer-Artist für die Visuals am Abend sorgt. Wir treffen auf zwei gut gelaunte Typen, die uns sofort anbieten, das Interview in ihrem Tourbus zu führen. Kein Anflug von Rockstar-Attitüden – höchstens der Martini, den sich Matt noch schnell in der Busküche mixt ohne dabei allerdings zu vergessen, uns auch einen anzubieten.

How are you today and how’s the tour going so far?
Matt: Great. How are you, Brent?
Brent: Today we went to downtown cologne and saw the dome, got some lunch and have some Glühwein. We are very good tourists.

How did you guys meet each other?
Brent: We met 12 years ago at a venue in Portland. The band that I used to be in called Menomena opened for The National and I just like those guys a lot and so we kept in touch. A couple of years later we toured together and then 5 years after that Ramona Falls played some gigs with the guys.  And then we started to talk about exchanging some ideas so I sent Matt a whole bunch of musical ideas and than he started singing on top of them. So about five years ago we first started talking about working with the other? And started sending ideas back and forth. But really about a year ago this one became serious.
Matt: super serious.

Was El Vy always meant to be heard by an audience or was it somehow more
fun for you guys and trying out new things? How did the idea of a record evolve?
Matt: That’s a really good question. I mean I think we were first just sending stuff back and forth, just curious to see what kind of songs we made together and what they might sound like. I mean I was a fan of the stuff he does and he was a fan of me. I like to presume (lacht). It’s a lot about this curiosity without thinking to release a record. But I mean of course we liked other people to hear, like listen to this: this is great! And so the record ended like a lot of different songs and a lot of different directions and without any sort of rules or plans or ideas what the record would sound like. And then we had all this stuff and we were like here is the record. Conversely, ironically there are lot of common threats, that are connected trough out this songs with in terms the lyrics and that kind of thing. But musically it goes to in probably eleven different directions and so also the lyrics. I think its a really cohesive record. And that’s just my own reflection on it, now when I’m listening to it a lot. It’s funny to see in how many directions it goes in. But it all feels important for the whole thing. It feels like fitting in a puzzle in a good way.

When you compare a classic band project to a duo band like in this case The National or Ramona Falls? Do you think that mutual trust and friendship are more important when it comes to creating a record?
Matt: With us, I mean we both liked each others music. But I think it was our friendship that makes him trust: “here are some ideas of mine, now you do what you do”. I trusted him not to be lazy and I trusted him to work hard and he trusted me to work hard and find all the best and exciting moments and take the risks. So I just trusted him as a hard-worker and a good dude, that is the project has a kind of sweet chemistry, nice synergy. Also because we never put a deadline or schedule under it, so every time I worked on it, there was sort of this nice pressure-freezone.

Does the colored fuck me shirt (the green one) really exist? How does it look like?
Matt: I have some olive colored.
Brent: Are you wearing it right know? (grinst)
Matt: We should definitely sell it at the merch table.
So was there a special look you had in mind when you wrote the lyrics?
Matt: Yeah, I mean kind of. In this I don’t think as a green shirt, I don’t know why I made it a green shirt. Actually I do know why but I don’t wanna talk about why it’s a green Colored Shirt. But there is a reason (lacht). I like you to figured it out.
Brent: I know the reason, too… I think.
Matt: … but we don’t talk about it
(grinsen beide)

You are building a very thoughtful and stylish online presence with El Vy. Was this planed from the beginning or did it just happen along the way? Are you both actively doing the social media stuff?
Matt: Facebook gave me that app. I don’t even know what it was first. And our Manager said to me: „Hey Matt, you should try this“ and this would be interesting. But I still don’t have a Facebook-page, never signed up for one. There are other Matt Berninger Facebook-pages but there are not me. 
Brent: How do you log in? I thought you have an Facebook account to log in?
Maybe through yours?
Matt: I log in by using the El Vy account. I don’t know somebody logged in for me but yeah they gave me that app and tell me to use is. I didn’t realize quite how dangerous that app is, I get easily just offend anyone and ruin El Vy , ruin everything. So it’s fun to have such a thing but it wasn’t like a big media strategy. We started doing stuff because my brother making all the videos because I really wanted to make him the videos. I think he makes the weirdest stuff: art, low-fi, charming. I just love everything he does and I can also work with him and we did all this stuff in my backyard , I mean most of it. Brent and I filmed a lot while we go to press trips and gave them to my brother and said „make something out of it“,
I’ve made big expensive Videos, I mean we have done like big, interesting high-concept press campaigns, you know sort of. So I just didn’t want to worry about it. So we started doing everything by ourself not spending any money. It’s not the money I even care about, it’s just like the many you take behind this whole process like “oh, today you have this video shoot and you have to do this…” naaahh. I would much rather just like have my brother do it like on the fly and take all the stress out of it. This whole process was remove all the stuff we don’t like about what we do and only do the stuff that we like to do.
It’s really fun to watch the stuff you do along the tour…
Matt: yeah, I am worried that I was doing to much of it for a while (and for a time I didn’t figure out what I’m looking at) but yeah it’s been kind of fun. Brent supposes to have equally use of the Facebook tool…
Brent: so give me the log-in Details!

Is there a certain musical influences you can think of when describing the music with El Vy?
Matt: You go first.
Brent: Oh, gosh. There a musicians who clearly influenced me and influenced Matt. Are you asking for what are you personal influences in general or are you asking what El Vy sounds like?
In this special case of El Vy..
Matt: We have some. So I don’t know how much it made in there but I remember I was sending you Psychedelic Furs Songs and what else? But I don’t actually know what is in the record, I mean It was kind of this smorgasbord of ideas that we just kept trying tasting all of it
Brent: It’s a bit like Minutemen..
Matt: Yeah, Minutemen was an influence, not just pacifically in their style of music but in this idea of two dudes making noise in their basement and kind of trying anything like „Double nickels on a dime“ has jazz songs on it, has an acoustic guitar but also another super punk rock songs. Minutemen are noticed like a several punk band but it’s  funny they got songs all over the place and that was kind of a spiritual model for this thing.

What is coming up next?
Matt: For El Vy?
Yeah, are we seeing another El Vy record in the future?
Matt: Yeah.
Brent: We have to by law, right? (lacht)
Matt: honestly we were like let’s just do this one thing and maybe we do another record in five years but I would say that this whole tour, the chemistry how fun it is to play together on stage and everything, we also found kind of mojo by playing together.
Brent: Do you know what Mojo means?
Matt: I don’t know what Mojo means actually, chemistry?
Brent: Yeah kind of chemistry, good energy, good vibes.
Matt: I’ve been working on new hit song. A super mega hit! Yeah but we are writing already.

Did you have to learn new things with your live performance being on stages with El Vy and is it more easy now after you have played shows together?
Matt: It took a few years for the National to start find out our chemistry and Brent and I are still in this discovery phase, so we are discovering new stuff and that works.

Matt, in a previous interview you said that Return to the Moon is your most autobiographical work so far. Where can we find that when listening to your album?
Matt: In the lyrics there are a lot of references to Cincinnati. I mean I have these characters that I called Didi Bloom and Michael, I named them after Mad Man guys. I set them in Cincinnati and they discover their own identities and each other maybe romantically through music, they find a connection to the world and to the rest of the world through music. And so there was kind of autobiographical I put these Characters back in the 90s/80s in Cincinnati, late 80s and mid 80s and put them into situations. I’m always writing very personal stuff even it’s a ridiculous song like I”’m the man to be”. It is still personal, it’s a exaggeration about a lonely man, a rockstar, who is in hotel room lonely, up to no good and missing his family and then I turn it up and make it even more extreme but it’s still a story about me. But I’m not that rockstar, but It’s still personal. That was the best answer of the whole thing!

You said before that when you did this project you were like cutting away all the stuff you don’t like. Will this also effect the other projects know? Do you take it over and said ok we had a fun time there and we cut off this shit what I don’t like and we will adept to it?
Matt: I think in The National stuff everybody is eliminating just on there own and it’s a lot of perspective. I mean I have kids, there other one has one kid and the other brothers has kids, too and so we are all enjoying it to write music. “Trouble will find me” was a blast to make, it was really fun and I worked very hard. We stopped freaking out and being stressed out and fighting over small things. We still fight a lot but we don’t get mad, we don’t get hurt, we don’t take it personally. We know that we fighting because we want the best songs but it doesn’t have to affect our relationships. Like Aaron and I fight like crazy but we still respect each other, it took us a long time to finally respect each other properly in The National. Now, everybody is pretty much there so I think all that chemistry is getting wiser and having more perspective on it. And this is helping everybody. Everybody’s sideprojects are good, so the vibes are really good. Now we care about the music and not about breaking up and fighting. Honestly The National never gonna break up unless a certain person decided not to want to do anymore it but I think it will never be because we don’t wanna make music together. The National get passed about that point of band break-up, we are somewhere else now. We shifted into a zone which is like “why would we ever break up?” We were friends before the band started and now we are still friends. Our friendship survived the band and so that seems the thing that always end up winning. There are two couple of brothers and I feel like another version of a brother, the older one that everybody hates. So it works and it’s like a family. We fighted Christmas but we don’t break up.
Hope that’s a promise!
Matt: I’m setting up so when we do break up: “Like oh my god!! You gave promises!” (lacht)