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In 2010, Eliot Sumner released her debut album The Constant under I Blame Coco, a childhood nickname. Now, after four years of writing, touring and good old-fashioned growing up, she’s back - and this time, she’s casting off the fake band name for good. “It’s now or never,” she says. “I’m proud of the music I’m making and it’s time to take ownership by putting my real name on it.”
Eliot’s brand new EP Information is coming from a renewed sense of focus and clarity. While its three tracks still bear the electro-pop hallmarks of I Blame Coco’s output, there are some more surprising influences on there too, from her favourite band as a teenager, the Bad Seeds, to even more obscure sounds. “This record is a lot more organic. There’s loads of energy. I’ve been listening to loads of Krautrock which has influenced a lot of it. I think it sounds kind of fresh but also quite familiar. It’s the kind of music that I would probably listen to, which is good.”
Information, which leads the EP of the same name, is a six-minute synth-and-strings song that plays out with a long, confident instrumental passage. It was produced by Duncan Mills, who has worked with The Vaccines, Spector and Crocodiles, and recorded at the Strongrooms studios in London.
“Information is a break-up song,” Eliot explains. “It’s about not understanding the situation. With social networks these days, everyone needs to know everything, all the time. But the problem is, people are so used to short snippets of information that no one has any attention span any more. I don’t, anyway. It’s about a quest to know everything. We recorded it in one take, so it’s nice to have that on the album.”
Come Friday, on the other hand, is a more guitar-driven track with an anthemic chorus, but again, its shiny, soaring melodies disguise a darker subject matter. “That’s one of my favourites, but it’s not a very happy song. It’s about still being in love with someone but not allowing them to have another life. It’s very selfish. I wrote it on a train, then we went back to Guildford and recorded it there at my bandmate’s house.”
Then there’s a Wobbler, a menacing, dirgey waltz, which Eliot wrote while travelling. It tells the story of a person who “kills people, ex-lovers, out of joy,” she explains with a smile. “Murder Ballads is one of my favourite albums, and I had wanted to write a fictional story about jealousy, which is a horrible, pointless emotion. It doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Now 24, Eliot has been playing music when since she was five, when she picked up a guitar and taught herself to play it. She was raised surrounded by musicians, and one day, she “started trying to mimic what people look like when they’re playing guitar.” She never looked back. At school she formed a band who trod the time-worn path of performing at talent shows - “I think we were one of the better bands! I thought we were really cool” - even sticking a number of tentative, half-formed early tracks online. Eliot is philosophical about their presence. “I can’t change it, so I just have to allow it to be, I guess. Maybe it’s supposed to exist forever.”
Signing to a major early on, after she had begun to play gigs and write songs as I Blame Coco, was an experience which brought with it both positives and negatives. Eliot says now that it was a very young age to have to learn how to exist in that world. “I can understand that it’s difficult working with someone who’s 17, because you’re not a fully formed person yet. Your mind changes every hour.” She put out the single Caesar, with a guest spot from Robyn, which set a clear template for her crisp, melodic electro-pop. Self-Machine, the second single from The Constant, remains a firm favourite - so much so that she’s going to release a new version of it, stripped back to its bare essentials. “I really love that song, and it deserves it.”
After The Constant came out, Eliot toured for two years, playing headline shows and festivals the world over, which suited her naturally nomadic nature perfectly. “It’s so much fun, I really love it. For any 19 or 20 year old it’s really really cool to go around the world and play songs.” She also liked being on the road because it offered her a bit of structure. “I’m really bad with my attention span so having order is good for me.”
Though it’s taken four years to write and record new material, she wasn’t exactly being lazy during that time. “I was experimenting with different things, with writing methods. I was working with Clint Mansell before, we were supposed to do the record together after we worked together on a soundtrack for a film called Filth. But he was really busy and we couldn’t execute it in time. I want to do film scores, so working with him was a real… I feel very blessed to have seen how he works.”
Then more simply, on a personal level, she needed some time to simply grow up. “And I’ve grown up a lot. I went into hibernation for a while, to search for my soul,” she jokes. Thankfully she located it, quite possibly in the Lake District. “I moved there for five months in total isolation, with just my dog. That was awesome. I felt like Bilbo Baggins. I wrote an album up there, not one I’m releasing, but a really dark record, slow and intricate.” It might, she says, even come out as a collection of b-sides at some point in the future.
Armed with new songs and new energy, it's obvious that since 2010, Eliot Sumner has learned how to be a star. “I feel like I’m starting a new chapter, life-wise and musically,” she says. And though she may be singing about heartbreak, 2014 is looking good. “I’m in a really happy place.”