UK’s mysterious bedroom music producer known as Invisible Elephant has just released his latest album based around a sleep cycle. Tomatrax caught up with Invisible Elephant to ask a few questions.
What inspired you to become a musician?
it might seem odd considering what i do now but when I was younger I wanted to be prince. besides that amazing run of albums in the 80s what I like about prince is that he could do everything, write it record it, play all the instruments.
When I was 8 I also wanted to be bruce lee and bryan robson. It’s fair to say I’ve failed myself.
Where did the name Invisible Elephant come from?
there wasn’t a huge amount of thought that went into it. If I’d spent more time on it I might have come up with something better.
i think the first reference I heard to the invisible elephant in the room was in a book when someone was talking about alcoholism. I wanted to be invisible in one sense, like a character or a dream or a ghost but also stomping around in your room through your speakers making a huge noise.
What made you choose the alias rather than your own name?
if anyone could pick their own name would they pick the one they have? my name is boring. i think smog is a better name than bill callahan, bright eyes is better than conor oberst.
There is an element of mystery to you as a musician is this intentional?
at first there was yeah. I didn’t want to give anything away. i wanted it to be all about the music.
you’ve got to remember that it’s not possible for most home recording artists to have cliched rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles. i’m not in a position to spend my time hanging around with supermodels and travelling the world, i’ve got to work and do a load of things so i don’t think it’d be of much interest to anyone to hear much about my personal life so that’s another reason not to say much.
after saying that i have become a lot more open with this album and i do intend to in the future. that doesn’t mean telling people what i have for breakfast every day but over the past few years i’ve had emails from people asking me what certain songs mean, what i was thinking about when i wrote them and things like that and it made me realise that some more information and some context can add something to the music so from now on in there will be a bit more information from me. just don’t expect and selfies in the bath or a breakdown of my daily routine.
Your vocals are often pushed to the back of the sound, what made you choose this delivery?
i’m realistic and self critical, i know i’m not a great singer, of all the things i do on the records which is almost all of it i know my vocals can be the weakest part but i do think they are an important part of the music. the vocals need to be there and the songs wouldn’t work as well as instrumentals. being a ghostly presence in the background adds something to the music and hopefully helps give that dreamy, otherworldly feel that i’m looking for and if there’s anything that requires a vocal range i can call on maryliz who has been a brilliant collaborator.
Your latest album is based around a sleep cycle, where did you get the idea for this concept?
it took a while to get started on this album since anomie in 2011. i spent a lot of time thinking about starting but never actually recorded anything until mini50 records asked me to submit a song for their winter 2013 compilation. as soon as i started recording i couldn’t stop and all the rest of the songs were written at that time which coincided with me having disturbed sleep. there was a strange period where i was waking up hallucinating and having recurring, vivid drowning nightmares and as i was writing at the time that all filtered through to the music and lyrics.
when it cam to ordering the songs it then seemed obvious to go for a sleep cycle – from being awake, drifting into sleep followed by nightmares and then (possibly) waking up again. this might all be a dream!
According to the linear notes a lot of the album was recorded in one take, was it hard to get everything to work in one go?
i have recorded with variations of this way for all the albums. all the songs on the first album (the lights go out) were written before i started recording and then i added improvisation at the end to try and add something unexpected to the songs.
with sleepwalking it was different as some of the songs like ‘fugue state’ started as a basic recording of a chord sequence and i’d then just plug in a mic, press record, improvise and see what happened. that’s where the rest of that songs, the piano and the vocals came from. it’s a way of recording i want to continue and use more of in the future. it’s a good way of getting some unusual, unexpected sounds and melodies.
What is on the cover of the album?
i was very conscious of the artwork for a while and keeping an eye out for people who might be able to help and one day while i was looking at preserved sound’s bandcamp page i spotted an image i liked on on of the cd covers and saw it was by an artist called diana walles. i got hold of diana through her website and the artwork she came up with is a picture of the sea. i wanted monochrome and the sea fit in with the waves and drowning in the lyrics.
What was the inspiration behind the video for Two Moons?
I acquired some creepy porcelain dolls and it seemed like a crime not to do something with them. for the record they’re now locked in a box outside, i don’t want to take the risk of them coming to life and killing me in my sleep.
i also used them in ‘drift’. two moons is a love story. the song was in part based on tengo and aomame in haruki murakami’s 1q84 but the video is something else. the video for drift ands with the suicide of one of the dolls so this is a bit more upbeat.
You released your album on cassette, what was the inspiration for that?q
i admit i was one of those people a few years ago when the cassette revival was in full swing that was thinking “why?”. i’d ditched most of my old stereo so i couldn’t play cassettes any more and i couldn’t see the point when there was cd, digital and vinyl which all had different advantages.
when i’m recording an album i like to have a particular feel in mind for it and one of my thoughts for this one was a pink floyd ‘animals’ vibe. when i was at school there was a little group of us that used to love all the old floyd records and drop out to them at the weekend. my favourite floyd album (and i’ve had a lot of stick for this) is animals and i think the reason is the version of it i had.
it was a recording to cassette from the vinyl and somehow in the process of the transfer there as some magical fuzzy, wobbly quality added to the album and that’s the feel i wanted for sleepwalking i mentioned this to gonzo when they were mastering it.
in addition to that the purple cassette looks great. the cassette is the definite version of this album as far as i’m concerned.
Have you ever thought of performing in a band?
I used when i was about 20 in the mid 2000s. We weren’t anything special, a poor man’s verve. we got reviewed on teletext once and they were quite nice about my guitar playing but said the singer sounded like he was being electrocuted.
collaborations never really worked out for me until maryliz guillemi came along. i can’t overstate how good she’s been to work with. the ideal situation when you’re writing the songs is if the person you’re working with does exactly what you wanted them to do but also then adds something else you never would have thought of that takes it to the next level and that’s what maryliz does.
you should check out maryliz’s band twin limb – http://twinlimb.com/music.html
Do you ever listen to your own music?
Not immediately after recording because after being that involved in it it’s nice to have a break. i have listened back to all the albums recently though and i’m proud of them all.
What other music do you listen to?
there are things that i know seem to have decided are my favourites and i’ll love them forever. for those i’m thinking of elliott smith and sparklehorse who have been an important part of my life.
my recent favourite has to be grouper. i got into grouper just before AIA after reading about her in wire. what i absolutely love about her music is that’s as soon as i put it on it’s like stepping into a totally different world. i think she’s a genius.
as for a recent album i like… i’ve been a bit disappointed this year as there hasn’t been anything that totally blew me away until i got the new now wakes the sea album bildungsroman.
here’s the link – http://mini50records.bandcamp.com/album/bildungsroman
what stands out about that album for me is the imagination involved. my favourite song is currently prefab houses which is just immense. it’s deceptively mundane at the start although there’s some nice flourishes and the panning on the drums and it just expands and evolves in unexpected kaleidoscopic ways. while i’m listening to it i like to imagine standing in a nondescript room and i start peeling back the beige wallpaper and it turns out that behind it are all these spiralling, psychedelic lights and haunted faces.
it’s the first album i’ve heard in a while where i felt compelled to send the artist an email after hearing it. i genuinely can’t wait to hear what they do next.
Now that your latest album is out, what do you plan on doing next?
i’m going to kill myself.
or at least invisible elephant for a while anyway.
it’s something i’ve been plotting. the first thing i want to do is a compilation of a selection of songs from the first two albums. having the latest album mastered properly made me look back at my previous work and emphasised the parts i wasn’t really happy with so i’ve picked a selection of songs from the lights go out and anomie and re-recorded sections of them, remixed them and they’ll soon be properly mastered. then before the end of the year i’m going to release a new album/compilation that will probably be called ‘a murder of crows’. that’s then let me put a full stop after what i’ve done so far.
after that i’m putting a stop to invisible elephant for a while. i feel that recording records under that name gets me in a particular mindset and what i what to do is set my imagination free like when i started to record the lights go out so the other thing i’d really like to do before the end of the year is start on some new recordings for my new project pagan ghost orchestra – http://paganghostorchestra.tumblr.com/
i’ve been approached by a couple of labels in the past couple of years and it’s never been right for me as with invisible elephant i’ve just wanted to do a full album and everything has to be perfect. i can be a bit more relaxes as pagan ghost orchestra and i’d like to do some singles and ep’s with different labels and just get some music out there.
Check out Invisible Elephant’s website to find out more!