“Let’s get me to New Orleans, please,” Eliot Sumner says with a laugh that is more serious than joking. Upon learning that I am based near the historically musical Deep South city, she reveals her desire to one day play there for more than one reason. “I’ve never been there. I want to drink a hurricane.” (laughs)
Sumner is an ever-evolving musician who happens to also sing. At least, that is her take on who she really is. She’s been a model and just a few short years ago she put out a record under her childhood nic-name Coco. Although the project gained her some attention in the music world, it ended up falling flat for its creator. One listen to her newly released album, Information, and you can see why Coco faded away so quickly.
The sounds on Information are the heartbeats of this record; her words are almost secondary to the oftentimes hypnotic vibe that permeates throughout the eleven songs, starting with the lead-off track, “Dead Arms & Dead Legs” and filtering through “Information,” “After Dark,” “Halfway To Hell,” “I Followed You Home” and “Say Anything You Want.” The moodiness is a lava lamp of soul searching and impressionism, kaleidoscoped through synthesizers and German nuances embraced by bands like Kraftwerk.
For Sumner, who splits her time between New York and London, it wasn’t a hard decision to pursue music. It’s in her blood via her father Sting and was a part of her normal everyday upbringing with instruments in the house and music at her fingertips. And she loves to perform. One reviewer who caught her show in New York last year proclaimed, “We were seeing the launch of a rock star.” With a new American tour on the horizon kicking off on March 5th in San Diego, with stops in Chicago, Los Angeles and SXSW in Austin, Sumner is happily looking forward to moving about again. Following her first tour of the States with On An On last year, she took up boxing to fill the void once the tour had stopped. She also cooks.
Glide spent a few minutes with Sumner not long ago discussing her new record, which actually she started releasing in bits and pieces last year via an EP and singles.
You just announced you’re going to be playing some new dates in the States starting in March. You must be excited about coming back again.
Yeah, we’re really, really excited. We had such an amazing time last time there and we’ve been pining to come back.
Your new record is absolutely fascinating but what compelled you to release it in pieces instead of doing it all at one time?
My last project, which I’m not very fond of, it was like a very, very different sound and we thought if we just put out a record straight-off like this it would be kind of a bit shocking and wouldn’t make a lot of sense. So what we wanted to do was just kind of start from the beginning again and put a few tracks out there and start creating a new fan base. And it also worked out well without an album release cause we’re still able to go on tour and people be familiar with the music. Yeah, I kind of like the way we’ve done it.
You wrote all of the songs on this record – do you consider yourself more of a singer-songwriter or an electronic innovator?
I think for me, the term singer-songwriter, all I can see is someone with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. Not a very pleasant image to me (laughs). But electronic innovator, that sounds pretty cool. Maybe I will go with that one.
On the record, which song would you say changed the most from it’s original conception to it’s final recorded version?
That’s a good question. “After Dark” originally sounded very different and I didn’t really like it very much. It was quite up tempo and quite happy and it wasn’t fitting with me very well and Duncan Mills, who produced the album, said, “No, we can work with this and just rearrange it completely.” So me and the band all went into like a separate room in the studio and we redid the whole thing. And now that’s one of my favorite songs, actually.
Is it more frustrating when you have to do a song over when you don’t think it’s working?
No, I think it’s really refreshing because it makes you think that you can do anything. You can take any approach to it, which is really cool.
What can you tell us about the song “Halfway To Hell”?
Lyrically, it’s not one of my favorites. It’s not very personable, but sonically, I think it’s one of the strongest. I’ve always quite liked songs that are kind of about adventure and camaraderie and stuff and “Halfway To Hell” is an homage to that kind of thing.
When you first started writing songs, did you take it seriously or was it just a way of you getting out emotions you were feeling?
When I started writing songs I wasn’t writing them thinking I was going to do anything with them. It was kind of more of an outlet and it kept me occupied. I never really made a conscious decision to do it. Actually, I wanted to be a chef but that hasn’t worked out.
I bet you do some great cooking on tour
(laughs) When I can I do. I’m very good.
What was more difficult for you – getting your voice to do what you wanted it to do or the songwriting?
I never wanted to be a singer. I just kind of wanted to write songs and play instruments. What I really loved was playing music with other musicians. When my older brother used to come over to my house we would just play on the drums and guitar together and I looked forward to that all the time. That’s what made me really want to do it. That gave me the buzz, I guess.
Does your environment have an influence over what you’re writing about – like if you’re in New York you write one way and if you’re in England you write another way?
Yeah, sometimes, but I think music is one of those things that can transport you anywhere. You could be writing a song and use your imagination to be wherever you want to be and that’s really cool. That’s what I love about music.
When it starts to come and you’re starting to create music, which instrument do you tend to pick up?
It kind of depends. I mean, if the song can be played on a simple instrument and sounds good then it’s golden. But guitar primarily.
How much did Duncan influence the songs into what they became?
Before I met Duncan, I was a little bit lost. I had so many ideas of where I wanted the album to go. I moved to the Lake District, which is the border between England and Scotland in the mountains. It’s like Lord Of The Rings up there. It’s very isolating and quite ominous but very, very bleak. I did write an album up there but the album was quite depressing. So I kind of had that going on. Then when I came back to London, I met Duncan and we got on like immediately and we started sharing music that we liked and we had so much in common. He introduced me to like the krautrock movement and he found music for me that I really love, which is really difficult (laughs). He was a massive influence on the sound. I had these songs but they didn’t have any direction so the sound we kind of created together, it fitted perfectly on the songs I had written previously.
Since a lot of these songs have been finished for quite a while, have you started writing for the next one?
I’m now starting to think about the next album because the other day I realized that I hadn’t written a song in a year (laughs). It was kind of shocking, like, hurry up a bit. But yeah, I’m going to start this week and I’m excited about the next chapter.
So what else do you have planned for this year?
Hopefully we’ll just get to tour for the rest of the year. That’s what I really love doing. I love moving around and playing a show every night. I find it very stimulating as opposed to kind of being at home trying to tackle the next album (laughs). So I’m really looking forward to touring again.
What kind of crowds do you see out there – a lot of young people or more of your dad’s fans coming in?
It’s a bit of a mixed crowd. When we were touring last summer in the US, we were a support band for a band called On An On so we got a lot of their fans, which is awesome, quite a lot of young people, but then there was quite a lot of, not old people but seniors (laughs). But yeah, there’s a mix, a big mix.