"It's always just been the one passion that seemed to be my meaning in life is just to create music." Nick DiSalvo, guitarist and vocals, Elder
WATCH THIS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO CLIP:
Elder is a four-piece, genre-pushing band with a new album on the way. Guitarist, singer and songwriter Nick DiSalvo joins the podcast to talk about the new track Embers, the forthcoming album Omens, and the legacy of progressive heavy rock. Listen to learn more about all things Elder.
Jeff: Nick, I am so excited that you wanted to join me today on the podcast. And I want to start off just talking about what's happening. I know it's weird. We're recording this as the world is breaking, and it's a weird time, but you're in an industry that is as much needed, which is music. Music keeps us all together. And what's it been like for you so far with the whole COVID thing? How are you holding up? Are you staying healthy?
Nick: Yeah, well it has been pretty strange, and I guess the music industry is probably maybe no more effected than a lot of other small businesses except for the obvious fact of touring bands that can't tour because the business is just bringing large groups of people together. And it's been just a lot of, I don't know, existential anxiety is probably going too far, but I've been a lot of just sitting and waiting and hoping for the best, but expecting the worst, and watching bad turn to worse actually.
Nick: It's been just a very weird time, and never really a convenient moment for a pandemic, but for us, it's extremely inconvenient timing too with a new record in the pipeline. Basically, we had probably six months of tour lined up, even if a lot of it's not announced yet, and now we have to scramble to reassess the entire situation. It's not good. But at the same time, all of us are healthy at the moment, and I feel much worse for people who are working in hospitals and people who are ending up in hospitals and stuff like that. It's another lesson to keep you grateful for what you've got and humble, and all of that cheesy shit.
Jeff: No, we need some cheese now too, and it's something that I've been thinking about a lot with everybody dealing with this. Especially touring bands that can't tour. I hope that it breeds creativity. I know you guys got a new record coming out on April 24th. We're going to talk about that in a minute. I think we talked right before we started recording, are you not in the States right now?
Nick: No, actually three quarters of the band now lives in Germany, and it's just our bassist, he's in Massachusetts.
Jeff: So, do you guys regularly, even with that kind of divide, technology is amazing. We're talking on technology right now. Do you guys practice that way too? Do you trade riffs and stuff over the internet, or...
Nick: We don't do anything per Skype or anything live, but definitely trade a lot of riff ideas and recordings that we make in our own spare time and our own places, with each other. But the past couple of years, we're used to operating with a distance and we're used to writing this way. So yeah, it's been really helpful. And we all have started building our own home studios so that we can stay productive and musically active even if we're not together for rehearsals.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's awesome. That makes me want to dive into the recording process from Elder, and not just the recording but the writing, how you guys create, I think it's... You guys get all the buzzwords thrown around, progressive rock, stoner rock, all that kind of stuff. At the end of the day you're fucking epic. Period. Hands down. And I just want to know how does that writing process start? Do you guys go riff base, or is it much more of an organic thing between all the members? And the second part of that question is, has it changed throughout the years? You guys got your start in 2006, and you've been going strong ever since.
Nick: Yeah, when the band started it was very much a normal band in all regards. We'd practice regularly. We all lived nearby, and we'd write our songs collaboratively. Just practice based, just jam out a couple of riffs that someone might bring, and the songs would develop organically. Up until about, I think, Dead Roots Stirring was the last record that we wrote pretty much altogether. After that, a lot of stuff happened personally brought us to different places.
Nick: We weren't always able to practice. And that's where the seeds were planted for this fractured way of working, which led to me taking over most of the song writing responsibilities. And yeah, since Laura basically, I've been writing pretty much all of the music and using the other guys to edit and filter the ideas. And I think that's allowed the music to become a lot more complicated and progressive. Because, the way I'm writing music primarily is by making recordings in my own home studio.
Nick: And that just really opens the door for adding as many layers as you want, or trying out as many different ideas. Or be working additionally and additively and subtractively. So yeah, that's basically how we're working now still. I've been writing most of the music, and we trade ideas. The guys will edit it, or come back with their own versions of what they hear and we puzzle it all together that way.
Jeff: That's awesome. I have to ask too, from a progressive standpoint, a lot of your songs are a longer version, 10 minute mark, for a lot of them, and I've been in bands before too where sometimes that longer version you almost write in movements. Do you find that as well, or as the songwriter, do you have a almost coalesced vision to start off with and then work backwards from that?
Nick: No, not really. It's pretty rare and pretty lucky if a song idea that is intended to be the beginning or the light motif of the song, actually ends up even in the same song at the end of the day. It could be that I've got this riff and I think, "Oh for sure this is going to be how the song starts. This is going to be the foundation." And then half a year later, we've taken that and moved it somewhere entirely to the end of a completely different song or something.
Nick: They kind of write themselves I think, and we go through a lot of revising and oftentimes just if you're trying to make a really long song, it's got to flow well and it's got to be not tiring to the ear, and it's got to make sense. And we struggled with that and I think we've gotten better over the years. There are some songs that I find in retrospect are a little confused, or a little muddled, and it just requires some patience to figure out everything. Like, putting together the puzzle.
Jeff: Totally. Totally. Does playing live factor into that at all? Especially from a longer song perspective, do you ever come to a clear end and you guys are, "Okay, this song is polished enough that we're going to put it on a record, we're going to play it live." And then does it continue to evolve ever after the fact?
Nick: Well, we usually never play a song live until it's been recorded, because I don't know, that's just the way we've always been working somehow. And we always find that we need to make another live version of the song anyhow, because usually there's parts that are a little bit difficult to pull off, or maybe there's three guitars playing something, and we need to figure out how to do that with only four hands. And so, I guess you could say they evolve in that way. We're always making new versions, and trying to play stuff a little bit differently live, or figuring out what parts that we can maybe improvise and have fun with on stage.
Jeff: That's so cool. That's so cool. So, walking all the way back, I am always curious with musicians that watershed moment of when music really touched you as it... Let's go back to your childhood. Not even from an influence standpoint, but do you know maybe the first time that you were really drawn to music, whether it was a band, an artist or just some form of music that you really started to be like, "Wow, I really dig music," kind of thing.
Nick: Yeah. I remember specifically as a kid listening to Weird Al Yankovic. If I want to give the true and not very cool answer. I think that was the first music I appreciate as a kid. And I didn't grow up in a household where my parents were really into music other than this dad barbecue, Steely Dan and this pop rock shit, which I do appreciate too. So my first entry into rock music was definitely through my older brother. He's just a year and a half older, but somehow he got into punk rock when we were, I don't know, 13 or 14 or something.
Nick: And through him, that was my entry into music. That worked very well with my pubescent brain, this really energetic, and rebellious music. And so yeah, I think it was ska and punk were the first things I was listening to. Operation Ivy and Rancid, a lot of these Bay Area punk bands for some reason. The whole Lookout Records thing. Epitaph. Yeah, that was the first music that I really got into and really got addicted to.
Jeff: That's awesome. You mentioned the Bay Area, you grew up on the West Coast, right? We grew up-
Jeff: Yeah. No, we lived in Portland and in Seattle for some years when I was a kid, but I was still relatively young when we moved to the Boston area.
Jeff: Awesome, awesome. And so you've got your aspect of where music starts to touch you. When do you pick up an instrument? What was the first instrument you picked up?
Nick: First thing I ever want to play with drums. And I started with that probably, Oh God, I don't really remember. It must have been sometime... I wanted to play snare drum in the school band or something, I don't know, 12 or 13 years old. And of course that was really lame, so I begged my parents until I got a drum kit, a really crappy used seventies TAMA drum kit for Christmas one year. And yeah, that was the first instrument I was playing and tried to start bands as a kid. But I grew up in a small community.
Nick: There weren't that many kids who were into music and definitely not punk rock. From there, I just wanted to teach myself other instruments so I could start flushing out bands. And I got a guitar, I don't know, sometime probably when I was 14 as well, a four track recorder followed after that, so that I could make recordings with some of my friends. And yeah, basically I did start as a drummer, and that was my primary instrument for a long time.
Jeff: Well, as a songwriter that definitely is another feather in your cap, because knowing the rhythm and the way that that works that definitely, especially with the music that you write, you definitely need that.
Nick: Totally. Totally.
Jeff: So Elder coalesces around 2006. Was the vision always the same from the beginning with you guys as friends getting together? You guys wanted to start up for lack of a better term, a progressive rock band?
Nick: No, definitely not. Elder was the last project that I started with relatively the same group of friends that had been through a schizophrenic row of other bands in my teenage years. And we were all just finishing high school at that time. We were 17, 18 years old when we started Elder. And at that point, we had all played in... I think we had a metal core band together. There was a black metal band. There was some fantasy metal band. There's all sorts of stuff.
Nick: And then at that point, when we started Elder, we were all listening to a lot of stoner rock and sludge and doom them very heavily. I don't know if you heard the demo recordings that we've recently re-issued with our first record. It's basically these shrieking black metal vocals over Sleep, I hate God style riffs. Just not very well done. That was what we started doing. We want to make a loud, slow band. That was the very first thing we wanted to do.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean...
Nick: [inaudible 00:12:56] is there anything more psychedelic, didn't come until a couple of years later.
Jeff: Well, you just named two of the... I hate God and Sleep in there. Of course, if that's the path you're going, you're definitely going to make some cool stuff. So, did it organically shift, your musical vision?
Nick: Yeah, definitely. I don't know really what happened back then, but just playing repetitive music. I think it was a little more boring than I anticipated. So we started I think around the time we made the first real record, which is still very derivative, the idea was more to let's try to make a record that's just got all the great riffs. Every riff is awesome and it doesn't have to be super repetitive, but let's make it really interesting.
Nick: And so keeping the long songs, but not long because they're the same riff for 10 minutes. But because they're they're changing, and they're growing somehow differently. I don't know. I think, and I've always just been drawn to melody, and that's shown itself more and more throughout the years, and just being less and less afraid to show the emotional person you are underneath all the heavy riffs.
Jeff: Oh, totally. Totally. And it's evident with everything that you guys released leading up to you just released the first track off of the upcoming record. The upcoming record is going to be it Omens. The first track is called Embers. As a fan too, it's definitely, for lack of a better term, emotional song. Would you agree?
Nick: Yeah, for sure. I think it sounds, the melodies somehow, are a little bit more emphatic than in the past and a lot of that has to do with the vocals. But yeah, a lot of our fans and listeners were very confused. I got a lot of comments saying, "What the hell is this emo shit? Sounds nineties Midwestern emo." And it was just like, "That's weird." A lot of metal heads, if they listen to something melodic, they're just so confused. They start calling it emo because it shows a little bit of emotion in it.
Nick: Yeah. I think that's the most extreme song in that direction that we've ever made. And certainly we want to provoke a little bit with the single being the most out there song from the record. So people will think they need to dial back their expectations for it being totally crazy. But yeah.
Jeff: So it's not indicative of the full record?
Nick: I guess. It's hard for me to say. I think that song is definitely more, I think when we listened to the record after we'd finished recording it, it was like, "Oh, okay, this one is definitely the most, it sounds the most different somehow." There's the least heavy riffs, there's more cores. It does definitely sound an alternative rock song to a certain degree, but we really liked it. We're trying not to think and get caught up in what genre of music we're making. And we really dug the song, and thought it was a cool one. And so that's just how it ended up being the single. You got an album with five songs on it all the time, any track is not really going to be indicative of the others necessarily.
Jeff: Yeah, no that's true. And I think you hit the nail on the head there. I think one thing you guys have done throughout your entire career, is it's evident that you guys have this vision of what you want to produce, what you want to put out, but it's also not you're ever looking at it to fit a hole, to fit a mold even. You guys create because you want to. Am I correct in saying that?
Nick: Oh yeah, a hundred percent correct. It's not that we're... I would like to pretend that I'm completely oblivious to what anyone else might expect from the band. And of course, we're aware that we can't drop a record that's going to be dubstep or something and expect people to accept that.
Jeff: I'd listened to it. I want to hear what you guys would do with dubstep.
Nick: I don't even really know what that genre is. I just said that.
Jeff: Oh man.
Nick: Making music's fun. It's more fun if you're experimenting and trying different stuff. That's what makes it all exciting still.
Jeff: Yeah, for sure. When you're writing and you're coming up with these ideas, do you do it from a place of... Because, every songwriter's different. Do you do it from a place where you regiment it. You wake up in the morning, you're like, "Okay I'm going to write some music today." Or do you just let these ideas hit you? Do you write on the road at all? Is it all from one place? Do you... I'm very curious about that.
Nick: Yeah. Well, I try to keep to some schedule of trying to at least pick up a guitar every day and make some music. It doesn't always work because I also do have a day job. I do work from home, but there's not always the time there every day at the same time, just depending on what's going on.
Nick: And you get lazy. But I find, I don't make music, I'm not creative unless I really try. I'm not going to be inspired by just going about my day to day business, and hoping that an idea will hit because for me, it doesn't work that way. So yeah, pretty much every day I'm sitting down for at least half hour, hour playing guitar, maybe keyboard or something like that and just seeing what happens. And there are definitely periods where stuff snowballs, and you get an idea for aesthetic and things just write themselves. And then there's definitely periods where nothing happens, just get super depressed until the next good idea comes along.
Jeff: Oh I've been there, I've been there. That prompts me to ask the question too. You guys were based in Boston in New England for a while, and now you said most of the band has moved to Germany. What prompted the move?
Nick: I got this connection to Germany because I was an exchange student over here, and I just really loved it. Some reason I felt this could be home for me, and I kept coming back for one reason or the other until I just moved here. At the time, there was no good reason. I had been back and forth. At that point, I was living in Boston in a crappy house, with crappy landlord, crappy roommates, crappy job washing dishes in a fucking Mexican restaurant. And I started seeing my now wife who's Italian, and she couldn't come and stay in the States. Just all of these things came together and I was like, "I'm not having a good time living here. Band or no band, I need to get out of Dodge, and do something different with my life."
Nick: And so I came over to Berlin, and it just worked it. I just ended up staying here. Things fell into place. The band had worked with these distances over the years too, so everyone was cool. We were just like, "Yeah, do what you got to do. Live your life." We've always had that attitude towards each other, supporting each other, and not saying, "No, you need to stay in fucking Boston so we can have band practice three times a week." We understand that everyone has to be personally happy too, so that we can be productive as a collective. Yeah. And then at the other guys ending up here too, that just happened, to be honest.
Jeff: Are you guys close, relative distance-wise in Germany?
Nick: Yeah. So now, three of us live in Berlin. We all live very close to each other. And it's just Jack, our bassist, I mentioned earlier. He still lives in the Boston area. And I try to convince him to come over here, but it's fine. Like I said, we're still working somehow. Everyone's got to do their thing. And anyhow, we see each other for plenty of time on the road.
Jeff: Now being in bands myself, I played Boston a lot. I know that it's got a great music scene both underground and national scale and stuff like that. What's it like in Berlin? Berlin is a place I've always wanted to check out. But what's the music scene like? Is it comparable? Is it better? Is it worse?
Nick: No, I would say the rock scene is growing here. Berlin's definitely known as a club capital. It's electronic music, that's what you think of when you think of the city. Not really rock and roll.
Jeff: Craft work.
Nick: I fucking wish it was that kind of electronic music. If there were clubs playing craft work I'd be out there.
Jeff: Might be.
Nick: There's plenty of cool venues here, but I don't find there's as much of a rock scene in terms of... In Boston, I always felt it was close knit between bands. Maybe it was just at that period of time, but I really felt you could go to any show and you'd know everyone there and there were just tons of good rock bands and especially stoner rock and this kind of stuff during 2010, 2015 when we were in that area. Berlin is much bigger. It's probably three times the size, but I still think the rock scene has got a ways to go before it gets to be the same kind of vibe.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's awesome. So the theme of this show is pretty simple. We're all fueled by death. We all there, the finish line is there, but we all want to change the world a little bit before we have to leave it for good. And you guys have been doing that consistently now for the better part of a decade and longer, leaving your mark on the world. And it's incredible the creation that you give to us, the fans, which is awesome.
Nick: Thank you very much.
Jeff: But from your personal perspective, what keeps you going? What fuels you to want to continue being a musician to keep writing music, to keep touring, to keep doing all that stuff?
Nick: The only answer to that is again, healthy amount of cheese. It is who we are. I quite literally can't do anything else. It's a daily urge to make music. The greatest satisfaction I have is realizing an idea, or making some music that I feel just sounds nice. And it's always just been the one passion that seemed to be my meaning in life is just to create music. And yeah, at this point, I don't have any other skill sets and I don't have anything that could do better. So yeah, it's a necessity too. You know how it is, man, you love music and that is your meaning of life somehow.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's awesome. And that's again really needed in these times as well. As a guitarist and a singer, and juggling both of those, do you normally come up with vocal lines and melodies as a final piece of the song, or does that ever start off in a song idea for you?
Nick: No. I feel like you're asking this because you are a musician. No, vocals are usually the very last thing that happens in a song. And that's really where I tend to shoot myself in the foot often, because I focus so much on writing the music and the guitar lines. When it comes time to write a singable melody, over often complicated or rhythmically weird parts, it's not always easiest to find something fitting. We're trying to get better about that. But, it's usually the very last thing that comes into a song with very few exceptions.
Jeff: Yeah. And that is the normalcy of it. And again, I did ask that question because I know that, but it's always interesting because, especially I was in progressive bands too, and you get to that point, where you've got this beautiful piece of magic that works, and it's all this intricate stuff and then you're like, "How the shit am I going to sing over this?"
Nick: Oh yeah. It's hard. I'm not a great singer either. It's definitely not my strong point. I do have some fun with it, but I don't have the greatest range either. So you get down to it, it's like, "Oh no, great, we've recorded the album. Now I get to figure out how to play the goddamn thing and sing over it." And make sure that you're breathing at the right time. You're doing your downstroke at the right time. But that's the challenge of it. It's something to improve, always something to improve for the next records.
Jeff: That's a huge puzzle piece that's lost on just the layman fan of music. Someone in your position who plays guitar and sings, and also lead singer, you just hit the nail on the head. It's tough. You have to not only get your breath right, but if you're coming up on an upstroke on a guitar, it might trip you up the way that you're about to put out a vocal. Was that a hard learning curve when you were starting very early on, to learn how to do both those things?
Nick: Originally the music was much simpler, so it was a learning by doing thing. And so a lot of the riffs, especially on our second record, Dead Roots Stirring, where for the first time I started to sing a little bit and not just grunt. Those riffs are still very just chunky and for the most part pretty easy to sing over. And as things got more complicated, just decided to get more ambitious, and not worry so much about the vocals at first. Just write the songs and then figure out how to sing after the fact.
Nick: Like I said, in retrospect doesn't always work so well either. So, I think Omens is presenting the biggest difficulty honestly too. There's a lot of parts that maybe they don't sound complicated, but it's like doing a polyrhythm between vocal rhythms and guitars and you don't think about how difficult that's going to be until you're actually trying to do it live.
Jeff: Well, more power to you because it's incredible to see people like you being able to produce what you do. And just from hearing Embers, I'm so excited about the entire record. So finally, I want to say at the end here, during this time, where a lot of musicians aren't being able to tour, and a lot of bands are in this holding pattern because of the entire world is being affected by this pandemic, I want to implore my listeners and viewers, support the bands you love. Go to your website, The Elder Band website. I know you guys got merchandise there, your records coming out on the 24th. It'd be great if everybody could buy it, and download it and, and put it up at the top of the charts, because that's going to help you guys out too.
Nick: We're happy for everyone who feels our music is worthy of a couple bucks. And it really does help all the bands, especially right now, like you said, who are canceling tours and postponing shit. We don't know how it's going to shake out in the end, but everyone just needs to help each other as much as we can. That goes for us too.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. Have you been talking to other bands, other musicians? What is the, I don't know, the mutual feeling between musicians during this time? Is everybody reeling?
Nick: Sorry, I messed up the headphone jack for a second and I lost half of that question. Talking to other bands.
Jeff: Yeah, I can restart it. So I was asking you during the pandemic, are you talking with other bands and musicians? Is it strengthening the music community? Because everybody's dealing with the same thing?
Nick: I get the feeling that our particular niche of music, I'll just say like heavy rock and psychedelic rock, or stoner rock or whatever, it's already pretty tightly knit community and I see a lot of positivity flying around already, which is great. And I am talking to a lot of other bands we know, all the time. Every day I'm chatting with someone and especially a lot of the bands. I work for a record label here in Europe, so a lot of these bands I'm talking to are not only friends but colleagues in a certain sense.
Nick: And everyone's really putting it together day by day. Our really good friends, King Buffalo, who are also from New York, they're postponing tour dates right now too. They're in the same boat as us. I'm talking to those guys all the time. "Hey, what's it look over there on the ground? What are promoters saying?" Just trying to exchange information and figure out the safest way to do things. It's crazy.
Jeff: Yeah, it is crazy. But, that's why one of the things I tell people all the time, is one of the greatest communities out there is the music community. Whether you're a musician, or you're just a fan, we're all in this together. We can't thank you guys enough for still creating and coming out with great stuff. Obviously, like I said, go to the website and April 24th is the drop of that record. But, is there any social media, is there any stuff that you want to shout out from the band that is a good way for people to follow you outside of the website?
Nick: Yeah, we're now on Facebook and Instagram and there's even a Twitter account, which is very seldom used, but...
Jeff: It's weird.
Nick: Yeah, we try to keep every platform updated as much as possible without punishing people too much. So, if we've news and you're on the internet, you'll find it, I think.
Jeff: Excellent. Excellent. There's one final thing I want to say as a fan that I think I would love to see from you guys, especially with this new record. I think your music, like I said at the beginning, is epic as fuck. And it needs some incredible, I don't know, visuals. Somebody needs to make a movie and make your record be the soundtrack, or you guys need to make some crazy psychedelic music videos or something.
Nick: Man, that's another one of the thing on the long list of things that we've been saying we want to do, forever. The guy who does our album artwork, Adrian Dexter, he's done pretty much every album cover for us, and most of our merchandise and posters and shit. And we've been talking about making at least a video together for ages, and we planned it. But honestly, we ran out of money, so we had to postpone it again.
Nick: But if you're looking for something in that vein, this dude Adrian Dexter, he's an animator and filmmaker and some years ago, I think it's got to be ten years ago at this point, he made a short film called Vasen. V-A with umlaut, S-E-N, that's on his Vimeo channel that I did the score for. I think it's only five minutes long, but it's at least a taste of what maybe a visual representation of Elder in a moving form might look like. So check that out, if you're looking for something, I'll shoot you the link afterwards.
Jeff: Excellent. I'll put the link in the liner notes too. That is so fricking great. I can't thank you enough for taking time to talk with me and letting my fans meet you, and also all your fans get to get check up on you too, and I can't wait for this record.
Nick: Cool. Well thanks for your time. It's appreciated.