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Elk - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 6 / 8 / 2019

Elk - Interview


Leeds-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Joey Donnelly talks to John Clarkson about his project Elk, touring with the Love Band on their farewell tour and 'Beech', Elk's cassette and download only mini-album.

Elk is the project of 21 year old Leeds-based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly. Joey began his musical career by working in his older brother Mikey’s band Miles. When Mikey realised Joey’s blossoming talent as a songwriter, he fired him so that Joey could focus on his own writing. Elk has just re-released its seven song mini-album ‘Beech’ from last year on cassette and download on the York-based indie label Bad Paintings (Love, Dylan Rodrigue, Luke Saxton). Recorded at their family home in York by Joey and Mikey and named after their first house, it is an understated, brooding record of quiet force. Across its seven tracks, Joey’s shimmering acoustic guitar lines are pushed to the fore and round this keyboards, percussion and Mikey’s drums are all weaved into its mix. Joey’s honeyed vocals across tracks such as ‘Seventeen’, 'Yue', ‘Winter’, ‘Again’ and ‘Stupid Word’ reflect on relationships and loss and what is to be learned from them. Elk perform live as a two-piece with Mikey helping out Joey on keyboards, samples, percussion and backing vocals, and have just played their first full-length tour of the UK in support of the Love Band on their own farewell tour. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Joey Donnelly about the tour and ‘Beech’. PB: ‘Beech’ takes its name from Beech Avenue in York. You moved around a lot when you were younger, and it is the first place that you stayed at where you were there for a long time. Why did you decide to name it after that? JD: I decided to name it after that because it was a house of a lot of ‘firsts’. It was the first house I lived in after my parents split up; when I first started secondary school; we got our first dog; where I first started music and more. It was the house I’ve lived in for the longest amount of time - a lot of which was just me and my mum. I don’t remember anything before that house, so it was difficult when we let it go. I loved that house and I hated it at times, but those years were the ones that pretty much shaped me into the person I am now, so it felt right that it should be the name of my first album. PB: The songs on ‘Beech’ all seem to be about the break-up of a relationship and finding the psychological means to carry on. Do you see it as a mood piece or a concept album? JD: I didn’t really write it as either. It’s just what I was thinking about at the time and what was happening. There were a few things going on at the time and the break-up and trying to keep going were quite a running theme. But there was also leaving my home and a tricky relationship with faith going on in the album. PB: The album was recorded entirely at home by you and your brother Mikey. It is beautifully produced. Was that an easy or difficult to do getting it to that quality? JD: Thank you! It was both relatively easy and difficult. The whole recording process was pretty simple. We just stuck an AKG C1000 in front of pretty much everything and pressed record. We made sure we placed the mic where it sounded best but the difficulty was in the mixing. My brother and I both worked on the mix. Sometimes I’d do bits on my own then he’d sit with me and give his ideas, which worked pretty well. I always found it difficult to mix my own stuff. I’d always put my vocals really low and bits I wasn’t confident with too - Mikey would just come in and turn it up straight away. It took us around six months to record and mix everything – most of it was spent on mixing. PB: The whole album has this lovely, understated, minimalist feeling. The titles are all really short, all one word except for the last track ‘Stupid World’ which is two words. Was it a conscious decision to tie it in with the music to keep the titles so short? JD: I didn’t really think about it to be honest. I might have done it subconsciously, just because I knew I wanted everything to just be simple and not go mad, but that really came down to the song writing. A lot of the time I’d write a single guitar part and just be happy with that, I didn’t think it needed more. I didn’t name any of the songs till quite late on either. Originally all the songs were going to be called ‘untitled one’,’untitled two’ etc. PB: ‘Beech’ has a really restrained tone. You hold back with it until the last minute and half of ‘Stupid World’ in which you absolutely let rip. Was that a conscious decision or was that just the way things turned out? JD: It was a bit of both really. ‘Again’ and ‘Stupid World’, which are the last two tracks on the album, were the last two songs I wrote and recorded on the album. We knew after we recorded ‘Stupid World’ though that it was going to be the last song on the album. It just felt right. PB: How did you become involved with Bad Paintings? JD: It was Joe Coates, a good friend and promoter from York, who put me in touch because I was looking for gigs. I ended up opening up for Dylan Rodrigue in York and Leeds when he was touring in the UK. I met its owner Mike Harrison then – he was putting on the shows – and he wanted to get involved and help out. It all kicked off from that. PB: Why did you decide to release the album on cassette and download only? JD: For a few reasons I think. First was just because it was something to give out at shows, and I could sell them for relatively cheap. I also love the sound of tapes and the look of them, it felt like they were right for the kind of music I’m doing - I’ve seen a lot of other similar bands selling tapes at the shows I’ve been to the past few years too. Bad Paintings pretty much sorted the tapes, which was great, and they did an amazing job. PB: You have just finished touring with the Love Band on their farewell tour? This was your first full-length tour. How did you enjoy the experience? What did you learn most from doing this tour? JD: I have! It was amazing, just for the experience of it and the people I met and everything. Love were the nicest bunch of guys, which made the whole thing a lot easier. Touring is hard work - hats off to the people that do months at a time. But I’ve learnt a lot in terms of playing shows and how to be with different crowds and bigger crowds especially – I feel that just being myself on stage makes me feel much more comfortable. PB: ‘Beech’ is technically a reissue. It originally came out on another label Daddy Issue Records over a year ago before being picked up by Bad Paintings. You will have made other music since then. How does it sound in comparison? JD: Yeah, I’ve written quite a lot of new music. Some of it I’ve written and never played it again. I’ve got a load of instrumental things recorded and longer songs and all sorts. It’s been a pretty mad year since I released ‘Beech’. Some of the new stuff is similar to ‘Beech’ but I’ve been in a few different headspaces since so some of it is different. I’ve written some with electric and drum machines and stuff like that on. So the next release could be interesting, I’m still not 100% where I’m going to go with it. PB: What other plans do you have for the immediate future? Will there be more tours and will you be releasing other music soon? JD: I have got a load of gigs coming up! Playing some festivals in the summer which should be great, then playing some gigs about York and Manchester and Leeds. Starting recording now for the next release, so there’ll be some teasers and things coming out soon hopefully! I’ll be sharing everything on social media things, which is probably the best place to keep updated. PB: Thank you.

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