Jack Ellister is a UK based musician who started out creating heavy early Pink Floyd inspired psych rock, but has turned to more experimental and contemplative audio explorations on his recent album Lichtpyramide (2020, Tonzonen Records). Now he is back with a second part of those kosmische kraut explorations, also released on German krautrock cult label Tonzonen.
What we hear here is some high quality synthesizer based experimentalism, ranging from the early German kraut wizards to Kraftwerk to even some more modern Radiohead-type beat mongering. It is altogether a rather introvert affair, forward moving, but quietly, like an astronaut slowly finding its way in zero gravity. It made me curious about the man behind these sounds. Luckily I found him willing to talk to Weirdo Shrine!
How have you been? How has life been as a musician in lockdown and afterwards?
Thanks, I’m fine. Life is good. I think my situation wasn’t very different than that of other musicians in Western Europe. Spending time at home, trying to do something useful. I’m glad we’re moving back to normal. Yesterday I went to a packed concert. I’m glad this is possible now, although at first it felt a little bit awkward to be sweating among people again.
Can you tell me your story? You are London-based, but you are from somewhere else, right? How did you end up making music in the UK?
I started making this type of music in the Netherlands. The conservatory in Arnhem has an amazing collection of classical percussion instruments in the cellar. Few people ever go there. Once discovered, I found it really inspiring. I would often be there to try the various, often home-made, instruments and record weird sounds. For shows with the psychedelic band that I had at that time I used to borrow metallophones, tubular bell sets and other sonic excitements from the classical department until they decided that it had to stop. They needed those instruments for their own students they said. I kept borrowing gongs for the performances and I bought myself a tubular bells set from a local orchestra. A pity I couldn’t take it to London when we moved here in 2014. It’s still standing in the woods near Apeldoorn in a shed that belongs to my mother-in-law.
In what way has your personal background played a role in the way your music sounds today?
Having lived in different countries for several years and knowing each culture a bit can help in becoming more open minded in general. Also there was a Denazifizierungsprogramm in Germany after WW2. In the 70s and 80s you had socially aware, slightly leftist children’s programs on TV that had a high educational value. I wouldn’t say TV promoted socialism as such, the establishment there was just as conservative as other countries in the West, but it definitely had those bits where other countries and cultures were portrayed from a non-imperialistic, equal point of view. In public libraries in Stuttgart I would find films by Werner Herzog, which led to listening to Popol Vuh and other kosmische music. The concept of a cosmic music would indicate an absence of national identification. I think it’s okay if people are proud of their origins, as long as it’s not for establishing a hierarchy. At the same time it’s easy to see how uniform mass culture often is. It’s important to at least try and offer an alternative.
Where did you pick up your fascination with psychedelic music? Who or what has been your greatest influence in that respect?
I was eight years old and borrowed the blue Beatles compilation album (1967-1970) on cassette from the local library. Discovering mid era Beatles as a young kid just defines your taste for a huge part. Next thing was Piper At The Gates Of Dawn when I was 9. An uncle bought me the cassette in Poland and Astronomy Domine blew my mind. Other 60s/70s bands followed but the craving for good acid rock clearly dominated.
Your earlier work was much more band-based and guitar oriented, how did it transform to its current form and will your sound ever return to more song based guitar structures with singing vocals?
It started as experiments. And because they lend themselves to unpressured free-wheeling they tend to be more fun to do. Combined with shifting listening habits it felt like the right thing to explore. Still feels that way, but I’ve noticed I try to find combinations nowadays that might work as an arrangement. Like parts in a song. Ideally when I complete the circle and be back to writing melodic songs, I’ll have an extended sound palette and a unique sonic signature to draw on.
Can you tell why you have moved your music from Fruits De Mer records to Tonzonen in Germany?
It’s not moved. I continue to work with both labels. Because the first Lichtpyramide album had a lot of German lyrics, I felt it would be a good idea to reach a German speaking audience.
Can you tell about your collaboration with Dave Schmidt aka Sula Bassana? How did that come about?
I incidentally met Dave when he was playing a secret show with Electric Moon in a small London venue, prior to a their main gig the next day in a way bigger place. For the first half hour of chatting we didn’t know who the other was. Of course at some point we realized. It was funny. We knew each others music so obviously we stayed in touch.
I like collaborations in general. So during lockdown I showed Dave some of my new material, and asked whether he wanted to contribute any sounds. He chose the ones he felt that would make most sense to add something.
Do you listen to contemporary music these days? Anything to recommend? What are you mostly listening to anyways when you are not making music?
I listen to Beethoven symphonies on repeat lately, but apart from that I like Prince Rama’s Shadow Temple and Architecture Of Utopia albums a lot. London based bands Soccer 96, Vanishing Twin and Snapped Ankles just released great albums. Russian duo Simple Symmetry have made a very interesting album recently, that I’m very impressed by, and I like their leftfield techno productions too. Gerald Donald’s Der Zyklus EPs are great. Klaus Schultze made some fantastic music, I especially like his Clara Mondschein album.
What are your future plans immediate and long term?
Immediate is actually releasing Lichtpyramide II and starting to play shows.
I’ll soon start compiling the third Lichtpyramide record and will see if I can get it a bit of song structure here and there to provide potential pattern recognition for the workoholics among our little grey cells.
What should our readers do immediately after this interview?
Same as me: The laundry and then go to see a live show.