JACK ELLISTER - Longer is not always better

21. January 2019

Jack Ellister

JACK ELLISTER - Länger ist nicht immer besser

In addition to his two psychedelic rock albums "Tune Up" (2015) and "Roots Conference" (2017), London-based Jack Ellister has released a number of singles and EPs. With "Telegraph Hill" a 9-track-28-minute EP is released, which he recorded almost single-handedly and with which he takes a path: Spartan LoFi songs are now announced. eclipsed has asked him about the background.

eclipsed: "Telegraph Hill" was originally intended as a bridging EP between two albums. When and how did you realize there was more to it?

Jack Ellister: When Shindig! magazine and TimeMazine featured my debut album, it was clear that we had done something right. For the recordings at that time I had a band with great people at my disposal (including Nico Stallmann from Jin Jim /ACT Music). The studio was great and together with the songs it was the perfect mix. After my move from Holland to London I had to build another base. This is what's happening right now. Of course, I don't want to just sit around doing nothing. Hence the original plan with the two EPs. But both became longer than expected, grew into albums, even if they were short albums, because I finally selected some material away.

eclipsed: You're talking to it. Telegraph Hill is only 28 minutes long. Is it a fully-fledged album for you?

Ellister: There are a lot of albums that are only half an hour long. It is technically possible to press 60 minutes or more on a vinyl disc, but "longer" is not always "better". And for the sound on vinyl, "shorter is better". I recorded about six more songs, but then left them out. I think it's stronger than that. A certain length doesn't have to be the standard for listening, or for defining an album.

eclipsed: Why did you record in minimal lo-fi style this time? This is clearly different from your previous albums.

Ellister: I try things out, develop myself further, and I like diversity. I recorded it at home (except the drums) with analog equipment from the 80s. Tascam M520, Otari MX5050iii 8Track, and some good pre-amps, compressors and microphones. You can hear that and I think that's a good thing. I enjoy recording more than I do with a computer, and I like the sound a lot. Of course it's not as clean as some expensive production, but I didn't want that either. The roughness also brings honesty to the sound. Most takes are first takes and for such an action it is also more practical to have simple arrangements.

eclipsed: Except for the drums, you played all the other instruments yourself: Guitar, keyboards, flute, percussion, violin, didgeridoo. Is that the way you work the way you like it?

Ellister: There are practical reasons for this. Relatively minimalistic arrangements don't need a whole band. This can also be prepared and recorded at home, if you have the time. For the next album I would like to go back to the studio with a band. Right now I'm jamming with people from Total Refreshment Center, Vanishing Twin and Snapped Ankles. Let's see what comes of it.

eclipsed: The two songs "Mind Maneuvers" and "Condor" differ clearly from the others. One is more opulent, more voluptuously arranged, the other a hypnotic ethno trip.

Ellister: Actually there are three songs. I'd add "High Above Our Heads" to that, too. These three are not so minimalistic, they have many more instruments. Then you hear a whole band. Contrasts can be used in music, you should even use them, otherwise it gets too monotonous. Pieces that sound different are usually the ones that attract attention. Birds of paradise, so to speak.

eclipsed: Your music is inspired by the psychedelic of the 60s. What makes this style so attractive to you?

Ellister: The late 60s, early 70s appeal to me because so much has happened there. The freedom in dealing with the medium of music makes this epoch so attractive. The fusion of styles and above all the influence of folklore on pop and rock music bring great things together. The idea of "cosmic" music is great. Of course it's interesting to hear the origins as well, e.g. pygmy songs, but when that meets rhythm & blues or funk, really interesting things come out. In my opinion, the Anglophile attitude within the music industry is completely outdated. Great music is made all over the world. Of course, technical know-how was available in England and the USA, but this dominance was financed by the state. Their music export serves not only to make money, but also as a cultural aspect of their imperial aspirations. Beautifully synchronized with the official highest goal of the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs: the Americanization of the world. And if other, possibly much more interesting cultural assets of other nations are not taken into account, I find that very unfortunate and counterproductive for culture worldwide.

eclipsed: You release mostly on vinyl. Are you a vinyl freak?

Ellister: I like vinyl. It's my preferred format as a buyer and as a producer because you can touch it, because it's a durable medium (as long as it's not too much lying around in the sun) and because it would theoretically be possible to listen to the music without electricity. CD without electricity does not work, just as cassette tape is difficult. But vinyl might work, though not very HiFi.

eclipsed: Besides, you release a lot of singles. For reasons of nostalgia?

Ellister: My label Fruits De Mer mainly does 7's. That's why I have my things on 7". Also the fact that Fruits De Mer likes to make cover versions has led me to record so many covers. Otherwise, I certainly wouldn't have done it. What for? I have things of my own that I want to bring out. But I've noticed it's fun and you learn a lot from it. The original versions sound very different. There are so many things that come to mind. Like the backing vocals at the end of "Dear Prudence": how much emotion that suddenly brings in. One notices how essential the polyphony of the vocals was for the musical effect of the Beatles pieces, and not only as an entertaining filling factor. That's what fascinates me.

Jack Ellister - Telegraph Hill (snippets)

*** Interview: Bernd Sievers