From Deep Within: A conversation with Nick DiSalvo of Elder
If you are a fan of stoner rock and metal, then by now, you are familiar with Elder. Blending the more psychedelic and dreamy vibes of the genre with the heaviness of doom metal and the ambitious experimentation of progressive rock, Elder have obtained a sound that is entirely their own. Records such as Lore and Reflections of a Floating World are perfect examples of how intense, intricate and melodic their sound can be, and in a live setting, that experience is amplified tenfold. For these reasons, it should come as no surprise that we would feel absolutely excited by the prospect of Elder collaborating with another heavyweight of the genre. Case in point, the icons of German stoner and krautrock known as Kadavar. The end result of this collaboration was entitled Eldovar: A Story of Darkness & Light, a record that is so much more than a simple “half Elder, half Kadavar” creation; it’s a spontaneous and gorgeously written record that cements both bands as being on top of their game and on a league of their own.
Last December, we had the chance to chat with Nick DiSalvo, the illustrious vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist of Elder, on the group’s brand-new collaboration with Kadavar and the mindset behind its recording, as well as his own Delving solo project and the return of live shows.
Before we jump into the upcoming Elder and Kadavar collaboration, we can actually start with Delving. Can you tell me a little about how this project came to be and what were your main intentions for it?
I’ve been really recording and collecting a lot of music at home over the past, I don’t know, ten years of my life; as long as I’ve been doing Elder. And a lot of the music I’m interested in and a lot of the music I write doesn’t really fit so well in Elder’s framework. As much as we’re a band that experiments and is happy to branch out to different genres, there’s some ideas where I just had the instinctual feeling that it wasn’t really the right avenue for that. I just kept putting these ideas off to the side, hoping that one day I would have the time to finish them. The past year finally gave me the opportunity to really pick that back up. As you might know, three of our four band members for Elder live in Germany, one of them lives in the States, and we obviously weren’t really able to be super active during that time, and I just really felt like I needed to be creative to keep my head screwed on straight.
And that was it. It was really just, I finally had the time to pick up these ideas again and finish them. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to do that. The intention was that I’ve been looking forward for years to try and start this project because Elder has been going on for some years, but who knows if that’s going to carry me and who knows how long that will continue, no one can really say. We don’t have the intention to stop anytime soon but it was only a matter of time until I was going to start another project anyhow. So, now I finally got that out there and it’s good to know that I got some momentum and another forum for me to release music in the future, and just stuff that I’m doing on my own, where it’s not codependent on anyone else’s schedule or availability or where they are in the world.
“As much as we’re a band that experiments and is happy to branch out to different genres, there’s some ideas where I just had the instinctual feeling that it wasn’t really the right avenue for that.”
Did you always plan to perform live with the project?
No, there was no intention to perform live at all. There was no intention to make a band, it was just going to be a solo thing, making some records. But our Elder booking agent foresaw that there was probably not going to be the opportunity to do an Elder tour in the nearish future with so much uncertainty, so he offered to set up a tour for this and I just jumped at the idea because, obviously, playing live in any capacity is a lot of fun. And that ended up being a pretty good decision because the band I put together has a really great chemistry and I already feel like, maybe this is going to step away from the solo project to become another collaborative effort because there is a really interesting chemistry going on there.
Going into Eldovar: A Story of Darkness and Light, Elder’s upcoming collaborative record with Kadavar; tell me a little bit about this collaboration and how it came to be.
We didn’t really know the guys from Kadavar too well; we had met maybe, like, backstage briefly at some festivals over the years. You know, living in the same city, you see each other once in a while and I think the first time we met, they had just invited us to their studio because I put out a question, I think, to my friends over Facebook; like, does anyone have any recommendations for recording studios in Germany or locally, because we were looking for a place to do the next Elder record and we didn’t want to go super far. I think they had contacted us and said, “hey, why don’t you guys come by, we have a studio pretty near to where we all live, come over, you can check it out and we can just hang out”.
That was kind of the first time that we all met together in one room; we went over there, had a couple of beers and swapped tour stories. I think it was in this framework that one of them had the idea, or just said like, “hey, how would you feel about coming over for a jam session one of these weekends?”. They rehearse in their studio, they have a proper recording studio. And we just said we would bring over whatever instruments, we would setup and see what happens. And this was during the lockdown period in Germany, so it seemed like a really great idea to just play with some other people and get the creative juices going again. So yeah, that was pretty much the idea, just a kind of spontaneous idea to see what happens when we jam together. And on that weekend, we all realized pretty quickly that we had something interesting going and that it could be more than just a jam session and that we might actually be able to make a record together that’s more mature and more ripe than some kind of improvised material.
How was the recording process like for Eldovar and what were some of the things you want to achieve with it that you hadn’t been able to with your previous records?
The main goal for this record was that we didn’t just end up with something that just sounded like half Elder, half Kadavar; that we actually tried to get out of our comfort zones and just make music that felt like its own project entirely. And part of that was probably interlinked with the way that we made the record. You know, half of it being kind of improvised, stemming from these jam sessions. And then, through the next couple of months, we would meet at regular intervals and work on a couple other concrete songs, talk about how we could tie together the improvised ideas with the properly composed stuff and think about a general way to make a thread of continuity so that the album felt like a real cohesive work. I mean, just the whole thing about writing and recording in studio is something that we have never done before, specially now with other people, who we barely knew in a creative context. But yeah, all in all, I think it turned out pretty cool, we definitely ended up with a record that doesn’t really sound anything like either band.
What were some inspirations and influences that drove you guys during the recording of Eldovar?
I don’t know. I don’t think any of us really feel like there was a particular influence in mind, especially because the initial jam sessions kind of determined the direction in which the record was going. We all realized it wasn’t built around big, heavy riffs or something like that, it was much more laid back, kind of floating, atmospheric, almost Pink Floyd-y kind of vibes. That was probably just a factor of the general mood; it was kind of a quiet season, lockdown, dreary atmosphere. With that many people in a room playing heavy riffs and stuff, you can only get so far, you need space for everyone. I think, in general, stepping back from the volume and density, and trying to give everyone a spot in the mix.
There were no expectations; you guys just decided to jam and it was a natural progression until you guys had a record, essentially.
Yeah, absolutely, we didn’t talk at all about what sound we want or need, it was a very organic process. There were discussions where someone would say, oh, this part reminds of The Beatles, or, this sounds like this or that, fucking Steely Dan or something. But it was never an intentional thing, we just kind of went with the flow and I think that’s why we ended up with the record that we did.
The cover of this record features a shot taken by Kadavar’s own Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann. When choosing an artwork for any specific release, do you always seek to create a connection between the cover of said record and the music within it?
I mean, this is the first time that we had a record that we were involved with, at least, where a member of the group actually created it. I think the Kadavar guys, especially Lindemann, are much more connected to the visual arts world than we are. You know, he is a photographer. All the Elder artwork is created in close communication with our artist Adrian Dexter; he is the one that does most of our artwork, and we discuss themes and an approach to translate the music into visuals. But he is the one that really does that interpretation, as opposed to the band themselves. He is the visual extension of our music, in that sense. So, having that come from within the band was different and I think most of that creative direction came from the Kadavar side of things, but we did discuss certain things, like the layout, how it looks, how it fits the music, you know?
Are there any shows or tours planned or in the works for this collaboration?
No, not right now. We’ve discussed that it would be fun to at least do, like, one or two gigs locally, but it’s more of a logistics question if everyone’s got the time. Just getting that many people together for a tour, especially with both bands being on the road pretty constantly, as it were. But we’d like to do something, I think it would be fun if we at least put together one weekend where we did two shows in Berlin or something like that.
“The main goal for this record was that we didn’t just end up with something that just sounded like half Elder, half Kadavar; that we actually tried to get out of our comfort zones and just make music that felt like its own project entirely.”
Going back to Elder, you guys will be returning to Hellfest next year, after having performed there in 2015. Do you have fond memories of that show? What are you most excited about returning to Hellfest?
That was a really fun show. I think it was the earliest show we have ever played, it was like 11 am or something, and it was a totally packed tent with a really awesome atmosphere. Hellfest in general is one of the most fun festivals I’ve seen, just the mixture of so many different kinds of heavy bands and so many different subgenres represented, and just the whole festival area. I’m not really a big festival person, so for me it was pretty new to see something of that scale and I just hope we have another day to stroll around and see what’s going on in the whole area and just enjoy the atmosphere.
You will also be touring Europe with Pallbearer and Irist in the Fall, during which you will be performing for the first time at Amplifest, in Portugal. What are your expectations for that show and the tour as a whole?
I’ve stopped expecting anything, I’ve stopped expecting even shows to happen. Every time we announce a tour, I’m going to be honest, I don’t believe it’s going to happen until I’m actually in the bus or at the show. I don’t know much about Amplifest, to be perfectly honest, we’ve only played Portugal once – once in Porto and once in Lisbon -, I don’t really know what to expect, to be perfectly honest. We had a very warm reception from the folks that were at our shows there last time and I’m looking forward to coming back to the country, it’s a super beautiful place. I hope it’s going to be good.
Besides touring, what other plans does Elder have in stock for the near future?
We recorded a new record in the Summer, actually, and we’re going to mix it in January. It’s a total mess trying to release music right now; no tours, there are shortages with vinyl and every other material. We’re taking it really slow and we will probably release that towards the end of next year. And that’s basically it. Hopefully, we can play shows and now we have the collaboration coming up in just a few days, and a year from then, another record. Then the cycle continues.
Just keep producing music until you can play a show, essentially.
Pretty much! And try to not get too much backlog in the pipe, you know? Unfortunately, we haven’t even toured with our last record, but now it’s going to be a couple of years old, everyone is trying to figure out what the proper strategy is. Do you pretend like it’s a new record and go on tour for that? Do you release the next one? It’s a very weird time.
“Hopefully, we can play shows and now we have the collaboration coming up in just a few days, and a year from then, another record. Then the cycle continues.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Eldovar photo courtesy of Elder