“It’s surprising this record even got made,” bass player and songwriter Kristian Dunn reflects. “[Drummer] Tim’s dad died just before the recording was to begin. Obviously he needed to go back to Pittsburgh to be with his family. He returned to California relatively quickly, ready to work, and then I was struck with serious food poisoning.”
As soon as one band member in the duo was ready to work, it seemed the other had something come up. Even their engineer, Chris Cheney, had to leave in the middle of recording to go DJ for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. Deadlines were rapidly approaching and the record wasn’t finished. “It was stressful, but it seemed to all work out,” Tim Fogarty adds.
Appropriately, the record is all about family and the connection between parent and child. Opening with “Point Breeze” (an area in Pittsburgh in which Tim’s dad used to hang out when young) and moving right into “Scott Township” (an area of Pittsburgh where Fogarty did the same), the record is alive with sounds both futuristic and anachronistic.
The album is full of parental nods. “‘Fast Forward’ is a band name my dad would always suggest when I was starting new bands in high school. I thought it was stupid and would blow him off! Now I actually think it’s cool. It really represents something that is old, but also forward looking and inventive.” Dunn explains. “Peter and Jack” is a thank you to father and son team Peter Hook (of New Order and Joy Division) and Jack Bates who, after playing some shows with El Ten Eleven, suggested to Dunn that he employ one of the six string basses they were using.
“Not to exaggerate, but the effect those two had on El Ten Eleven is sort of incalculable. I wouldn’t have even considered the Bass VI if it weren’t for them. And the direction of the band definitely changed because of it,” Dunn says.
The record was written at their homes and practice studio in Atwater Village, and recorded with Cheney at Costa Mesa Recording Studio in Costa Mesa, CA. Dunn and Fogarty are the only musicians that appear on Fast Forward; everything you hear was done by the two of them using two basses, electronic drums, acoustic drums, and myriad looping pedals and effects.
While most artists use looping technology improvisationally, Dunn and Fogarty see the loopers themselves as another instrument. Over a decade plus together they’ve attained hard-won virtuosity with the devices, and can now concentrate on songwriting itself rather than logistics. “Nothing we do is improvised” explains Dunn. “When we first started playing shows we’d sometimes run into troubles with the loops and have to stop and retry songs!”
“It’s almost like our rig itself is an instrument we’ve had to master,” he continues. “I’ll loop Tim’s electronic drums with one of my pedals while looping my own bassline, then switch to my six string bass midsong while he moves to playing acoustic drums, layering up the sonics and shaping the song as it all grows.” By refusing to use anything pre-recorded live they’ve pushed themselves into new territory, now able to deftly recreate their complex compositions nightly.
In the end, of course, it all comes back to family; from Dunn and Fogarty’s own parents to Hook and Bates, to their own growing families. Dunn discloses, “I didn’t come up with the artwork just because I thought it looked cool. The triangle on the front represents the connection between my wife, daughter and me, but if you look closely, it isn’t actually there. Your mind creates that triangle. And that is symbolic of the family connection, always there, even if not physically.”
More dedications round out the record: “JD” (Tim’s dad), “We Lost A Giant” (a phrase used by a Pittsburgh Steelers radio announcer to describe Tim’s dad) and “Be Kind, Rewind” (a plea for respect for one’s ancestors).
“I’m so relieved this record is finished. It was a lot of work… like family!” laughs Dunn.