Eliot Sumner: An Adrenaline Junkie on Stage (Governors Ball 2016 Interview + Photos)
Eliot Sumner's second studio album Information was strongly influenced by Krautrock. She's currently on the road, including a stop at Governors Ball Music Festival.
Governors Ball 2016City: New York, NY
Venue: Randall's Island
Let's get this out of the way. Eliot Sumner is done with the music she created under the moniker I Blame Coco (a nickname of hers). Sumner is looking ahead and currently touring on the back of her album Information, which was released this January. The electro rock album is tinged with darkness and fortified by her lower register voice, a voice that a casual listener may find similar to the one possessed by her father Sting (Gordon Sumner). She also shares his capacity for playing multiple instruments, including the bass, during performances.
But the familial connection doesn't direct Sumner's music. Information is a strong album permeated with Sumner's talent. I knew I had to catch her early set at Governors Ball since she had no other dates scheduled for the New York area at the time. After a very enjoyable set under the midday sun, Sumner sat down to chat with PopMatters about her album, performing live, and some of her current favorite things.
Although I had prepared for the conversation by reading other interviews Sumner had given, I still asked her if audiences would hear any the Coco songs on the tour. It seemed like a missed opportunity to have Robyn join her for the song "Caesar", when both were at the same festival. But, as expected, Sumner affirmed, "The last nail in that coffin happened about four years ago."
While transitioning away from Coco, Sumner spent time in England's pastoral Lake District, using it as a training ground for Information. "None of the songs on the album I wrote up there. When I came back to London, I started writing the album. The Lake District was just... I was writing songs every day. It was good to learn. I taught myself how to write songs again. Treating it more as a job instead of a hobby."
Many of the songs on Information were released in 2015 across a couple of EPs and Sumner noted that she and her band, which includes Nick Benton on guitar, her old friend Jan Blumentrath on synths and Adam Gammage on drums, had "been on tour since, August last year really" /kbut were only a few days into the current trek. "We've had three gigs now. So this is our fourth. Now we're settled."
She couldn't settle on which songs are her favorites to perform live, though. "It changes from time to time. Now we're playing them every day [and] I tend to like the ones that are a bit more fun to play. 'Come Friday' is one of my favorite ones. I also love a song called 'Let My Love Lie on Your Life' and 'Information'. I love to play all of them actually."
The Governors Ball stage was a milestone for the band given the festival setting. Sumner remarked, "It's awesome. It's a nice change. It's a lot more exciting because you don't really get a soundcheck and it's a bit more unpredictable. I quite like that. Also, we've never played on a stage that big before so it was quite daunting to begin with. I could easily get used to that."
From my preparation I was surprised to read, in another interview, that Sumner was quite a shy person. She admitted as much, "I'm terrified in everyday life. But [being] on stage for some reason, makes me feel stronger. It just comes naturally. It's adrenaline I think. I'm totally addicted to it."
I had interviewed Philippe Petit, a friend of her father's, and he had created a character for his live performances. Was there something similar for her? "I've met [Petit] a few times. He's a very cool guy. He's really insane. You have to be. But all the best people are I think."
"If I was the same person I am on stage in real life, I'd probably be a bit of an asshole. I think I have a lot of energy and most of it is quite aggressive energy. But in a positive way I think. It's like a positive aggression."
Turning the conversation towards recent music or art Sumner liked, I asked her if she had heard Radiohead's new album A Moon Shaped Pool and of course she had. "I love it. I'm still kind of getting into it but 'Burn the Witch' I think is really really great. My fave song on the album is 'Ful Stop'. It's got that kind of kraut rock thing going on that I really enjoy."
Was there anything in art that had a strong impact on her personally? Sumner noted that there was "a [German] film called Victoria [dir. Sebastian Schipper]. It's all shot in one shot. Like very very low budget but amazingly done. [The girl] kind of gets wound up with these guys in Berlin that turn out to be kind of, sort of, low tier criminals and then things start to go wrong. What I loved about the film was Nils Frahm's music. He's one of my influences for sure. We know each other a little bit. I love his stuff. I listen to it all the time.
And also, [I appreciated] how it was done in one whole night and with one camera. Very low budget. I find that very inspiring."
What should fans look forward to from Sumner in 2016? "Hopefully new music on the way," she said. "I've started writing again. I want to get them out as soon as possible. For me, I love testing stuff out during sound check. I don't know why. There seems to be this really amazing energy when we have a time limit and we're all a bit rushed and we start jamming. That's when magic stuff kind of happens."
GOVERNORS BALL 2016
6/13 St. Louis, MO @ The Firebird
6/14 Tulsa, OK @ The Vanguard
6/16 Denver, CO @ Lost Lake
6/17 Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheep
6/19 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
6/21 Los Angeles, CA @ The Troubadour
6/22 San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.