Concerts

Elderbrook's Creative Trip to Red Rocks

Elderbook lands in Colorado for three shows August 25 through 27.
Elderbook lands in Colorado for three shows August 25 through 27. Courtesy Elderbrook
The English electronica artist Elderbrook, aka Alexander Kotz, is a pretty big deal on the other side of the Atlantic. He released the platinum-selling dance anthem “Cola” in collaboration with CamelPhat in 2017, a few years after starting to make waves as a solo artist at the age of 21. A Grammy nomination and a series of club tours introduced Elderbrook to the United States in 2018, and his debut full-length album, Why Do We Shake in the Cold?, dropped last year.

Kotz, who performs solo on the road, isn’t just your typical banger-producing British electronic act, however. Gems such as “Feels Like a Sunday” and “Talking” have a quirky, effectual vibe usually found in folk pop; Elderbrook just happens to utilize electronic instrumentation. Just before traveling to the States for a tour that includes a return to the Fox Theatre in Boulder and his Red Rocks debut, the London-area native spoke with Westword by phone from the English countryside.

Westword: Do you have an idea in your mind of what Red Rocks is like?

Elderbrook: Well, I guess mainly over the past few years, when I first started getting involved with music, I’ve actually seen that so many of the people I look up to are playing there. It looks absolutely incredible. Someone told me recently about some sort of a wall that people sign, which sounds very cool. I’ve just been seeing loads of people playing it, and I’m really looking forward to it.


You’ve said your dream as a kid was to look out a tour bus window while driving through America. What was it like when you finally did that, and do you get to actually experience the places you play, or just, you know, look at them through a tour-bus window?

My dream of the tour bus — it was such an amazing feeling when I actually ended up doing it, because, as I said, it’s literally how I pictured what I always wanted to be, and I never knew if it was gonna happen, because it’s a rather far-fetched dream. When I was able to do it, it was really quite special to me. With regard to what I get to see, I guess it really depends. For my upcoming tour in October, I have a couple of extra days when I’m playing a couple days in a row, which I’m actually doing in Denver, so I’ll have the entire day to walk around and experience, like you said. It really depends on what the schedule’s like.

Your music is often classified as “dance music,” and that’s a genre some people might just brush off as shallow. However, when I first heard your stuff, I instantly thought, “This guy has listened to a lot of music.” It’s not your everyday dance music. Can you describe your journey from what you listened to and played as a kid to what your music is now?

When I was having this dream we were talking about, of touring the States, I never imagined that it would have been as an electronic artist. When I first started out, I was in a band with friends. Kings of Leon are my favorite-ever band, and I was listening to Kings of Leon, the Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, that kind of stuff. That was what I kind of wanted to go for, and then eventually I went off on my own, and it was always kind of a singer-songwritery...I wanted to be like Mumford and Sons, pretty much, trying to copy them. That’s where I learned to write songs, and I wanted to take that into electronic music when I started messing around with it, because I thought that was something that electronic music was missing — proper songs, proper verses, choruses, emotion, meaning. I guess that’s why it doesn’t sound like your typical dance act.

For someone whose wheelhouse is outside what might be called “dance music,” I was honestly shocked to learn that your hit song “Capricorn” had an intricate story behind it, almost like a short film. A lot of people think of dance music as “Baby, don’t hurt me” repeated over and over again.

[Laughs.] It can be. “Capricorn” was my first time when I actually wanted to write something that told more of a story rather than something about myself. It was a completely made-up story. I thought it was kind of interesting trying to create something out of absolutely nothing, and I don’t think that goes on, perhaps, as much as it used to in songwriting.

“Feels Like a Sunday” took off as a kind of mantra for some music lovers that they might come back to every weekend. What’s the story behind that one?

I guess with that song…it’s a funny one, because the amount of times in life, day to day, all around the world, where you kind of stop and think, “Wow,” and try to think what day it is, sometimes it’s literally as simple as, “It kind of feels like a Sunday today.” I thought I’d try and write a song about that, so I wrote that completely by myself in a flat in London in the middle of winter, when it was full of snow and no one was going anywhere. It was quite just as simple as it felt like a Sunday, and I thought there was something quite beautiful about that and what that kind of meant, the feeling of just quiet and peacefulness that, you know. It just felt like a Sunday. As soon as you say that, everyone gets exactly what you mean. It’s a feeling of being chilled out, nothing to do, just kind of content — and I wanted to write a song about that. I wanted to try and capture that.
Does the inspiration behind “Something About You” match up with the video?

When I wrote the song, I really felt that it was about being saved by another person when you’re on the wrong track and you’re making the wrong decisions, and someone else has kind of stepped in and your focus gets shifted, which kind of saves you. When I wrote it, I was thinking about it from a relationship perspective, but the video is obviously about toxic masculinity and opening up, and how difficult a lot of men find it to do that. Although it’s not exactly what I’d imagined, it’s definitely the same message of people needing other people in life, just to help.

Along with your goal of seeing America through a tour bus window, you’ve said that you have small goals, one at a time. Recently, the goal was to release your first full album. How did that go, and what’s your goal now?

I guess the debut album went…I feel like I was lucky to release that album the exact way that I wanted to, because I think a lot of artists have struggled to convince the people they’re working with to just follow what they really, truly and artistically want to achieve. I think I definitely did that with mine. I wanted to take aspects of all the music that I’ve been inspired by over my life, and I wanted to put them together into the album, and I think I did that. In terms of what’s happening next, it’s going to be more music, and there’s more collaborative projects in the works, as well as more music, more albums to come, and working a lot with other people to explore different areas. That’s what I want to focus on.

It’s almost like there are two sides of a coin, and one is “Manic Monday” and the other is “Feels Like a Sunday.”

Exactly, yeah. The funny thing about that is, it’s definitely the slowest song I’ve had, I think. It’s really empty and sparse, and I think that’s why it’s resonated with people.

Does the inspiration behind “Something About You” match up with the video?

When I wrote the song, I really felt that it was about being saved by another person when you’re on the wrong track and you’re making the wrong decisions, and someone else has kind of stepped in and your focus gets shifted, which kind of saves you. When I wrote it, I was thinking about it from a relationship perspective, but the video is obviously about toxic masculinity and opening up, and how difficult a lot of men find it to do that. Although it’s not exactly what I’d imagined, it’s definitely the same message of people needing other people in life, just to help.

You’ve had this journey, from wanting to sound like Mumford and Sons to having huge club hits. Is there anywhere we can hear different tracks that would reveal your evolution over the years?

I think I did a pretty good job of getting rid of everything from when I kind of wanted to be Mumford and Sons [laughs]. I was using my full name before, and I put it on iTunes or one of those websites. One of the things I’ve been able to use as a kind of outlet for that kind of music again is my Cabin Sessions that I’ve been doing. During lockdown, I started doing covers in my studio, which kind of looks a bit like a cabin, so I called it Cabin Sessions. It was originally going to be Hotel Room Sessions, but I’ve been able to explore different genres again rather than just being, you know, pinned down with the electronic stuff. There’s one cover, Drake’s “Toosie Slide,” that I actually got my banjo out for. So I’ve been exploring those genres again just through these covers.

How did you get interested in sampling random things like ice cracking and using those sounds for music that usually has stock sounds from synthesizers?

The honest truth of it is that I just didn’t know what I was doing. Because I started off in kind of rock music and then almost kind of folk music, when I got into electronic music, I didn't know anything. All I really knew was how to record audio. I tried to record what I could, and I tried to mess with the sounds. Since then, I have become more competent with my synth work and my understanding of synths, but that’s why, at the very beginning, I did all that stuff. But I also wanted to create something that no one had heard before, and I think that’s the most important thing when making music, is to do something completely original. Though inspired by borrowing bits from other people, some aspect needs to be original, and I really felt strongly about that and still do. That was another way to ensure that it wouldn’t sound like a random sample that everyone uses. I wanted to do something unique.

With music that often has more of a pop, or even rock, sensibility with the songwriting and arrangements but features electronic instrumentation, have you ever thought of taking a band on the road instead of performing solo?

When I first started playing live, I didn’t really know how to imagine myself on stage without a band, so the first couple of shows, it was me, a drummer and someone else as well, because that was the only way I knew. Eventually it got down to just me, and I’ve become pretty comfortable with it just being me on stage. I would definitely like to reimagine a lot of these electronic sounds in a band format, because you’re right; I think it would work really well. That’s definitely something I’d be up for considering in the future: my songs reimagined with a band bringing a little bit of an actual live element. Yeah, definitely.

Good luck with all the possibilities with traveling when COVID-19 is still around. How do you feel about traveling outside the U.K. right now?

I’m excited to do it, man. It’s been so long since I was able to. It’s a bit strange now. I guess my only worry is that I do my PCR test before a tour and it comes back [positive]. My only worry is that I’m not able to tour, and I don’t want to let anyone down, you know what I mean? Other than that, I’m just excited to be out there. It’s difficult, though, because it only takes exposure to the virus to mean that I’d have to cancel shows, which I really don’t ever want to do. I’m absolutely so much looking forward to it.

Elderbrook plays with Nate LeBlanc at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, August 25, at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street in Boulder. Tickets are $18 to $25 and available at the Fox Theatre website.

Louis the Child headlines, with What So Not, Elderbrook and Goth Babe, on August 27 and 28 at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Tickets are $55-$76.95 and available at the Red Rocks website.
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Pittsburgh native Adam Perry is a cyclist, drummer and University of Pittsburgh and Naropa University alum. He lives in Boulder and has written for Westword since 2008.
Contact: Adam Perry