Wonderland talk to the duo behind Elephant about the breakdown of a relationship and the birth of an album
Relationships are difficult at the best of times. But when Christian Pinchbeck and Amelia Rivas embarked on one back in 2010, at the same time as forming Elephant, they almost certainly weren’t expecting its spectacular demise three years down the line. Determined to make their musical careers work, they kept writing and recording throughout their break up. This led to an album filled with songs that take the listener on a journey from romance to anger and anguish.
But perhaps this painful disintegration in their personal lives only adds to the brilliance of Elephant’s record, Sky Swimming. It undoubtedly provides an intimate insight into the pretty pair’s relationship – the lyrics in the album’s title song, reveal a painful past: “Do your eyes turn blue before you cry, I see the blue in you.” Their debut is a collection of Amelia’s dulcet tones accompanied by a mixture of Christian’s slow beats and floaty guitar work, that leave you feeling slightly fuzzy inside.
We talk to Christian to find out more about autobiographical songs, French influences and having your music producer as a relationship counsellor.
Your band name is quite unusual. How did you come to it?
Do you want an honest answer or the one that Milly [Amelia] wants me to say? It was seven in the morning, and we were mashed up on drugs. I initially wanted to call ourselves “Tiger Tiger”, but Milly told me that it was a really shit club in London. So I asked her: “what’s your favourite animal then?” – which was an elephant. So that was that.
So it’s got nothing to do with Hindu culture then, where the elephant is a symbol of dignity and reliability?
It’s exactly that.
How did you form your band? Where did you guys meet?
She was working at bar and the band I was in before was playing a gig there. She was a friend of a friend, so I saw her again at a house party a couple of days later. We got wasted and started talking about music. I invited her over to do some recording and we just hit it off really well. We kind of energised each other – the whole romance was very exciting. We’d meet up around 7pm, get drunk and write until six in the morning and record some shit demos. We’d then spend hours listening to the songs that we’d just written. But it worked out well for us though.
You then split up a few years later, but managed to work things through. Hasn’t it been difficult?
It was fine, until recently. There is some passive aggressiveness going on. But we’re okay when we’re actually together.
The album took four years to make. Are your songs autobiographical?
Yes, completely. But we don’t exactly plot the lyrics, so we never really know where they come from. A couple of our songs are about how in such a shit space we were. It’s quite depressing actually. That’s what the lyrics are about, but musically it’s about what we were enjoying at the time. We started by emulating different music styles, but ended up being completely different as we’ve built on it. The album took four years because we went through so many different changes and we were quite flippant about the music. We ended up with a weird disco album and the label was like: ‘What is this?’. We ended up going around in circles. I think the album we brought out was an accumulation of all those different styles, actually.
Your music is rather romantic, both the sound and the lyrics. Would you call yourselves romantic?
Our music is quite warm, isn’t it? If you would have asked us three years ago, we would have said yes. When we were together, I’d say we were extremely romantic. But we ended up stuck in a room, just writing all the time. We didn’t go out and do things together. It backfired, where the band actually broke us up.
I read that Shapeshifter was your attempt to capture Hollywood romanticism of the 1940s. Is there an element of nostalgia in the music you make?
Yes, I’d say that’s true. When writing Shapeshifter, I had this image in my head of Mary Poppins, where they’re at the Riviera in a cartoon landscape. So it’s that Dean Martin style, Italian Riviera, that’s the image I wanted to create when people would listen to the song. It’s completely nostalgic. But the initial songs, like Assembly, didn’t start out like that. Only with the last ones did we start getting into romance and nostalgia, like TV Dinner.
Your album arrived in April this year. You worked with music producer Andy Dragazis. What was it like working with him?
He’d probably tell you differently, but it was amazing for us. He was basically our counsellor. Andy and I wrote some of the early songs, like Skyscraper. I’d just do the music. I’d leave at 4pm, then Milly would arrive at 4.30 and do the singing. This went on for probably eight months, when we wrote three or four of the songs. So he got us through our breakup. He was awesome.
Amelia is half French. Is there a French influence to your music?
Yeah, definitely. It’s more of a European vibe, from Italy and France. We used to love the band Beirut, and use a lot more accordions with our music. I actually wanted to do a French sounding album, but I don’t know how in the world that would have happened. People in France also just seem to like us a lot more than anywhere else. It’s one of our favourite places actually, we seem to click more with our listeners. Maybe it is because on our press release it says that Milly is French.
What has been a career highlight so far?
Getting signed was my childhood dream — that was absolutely insane. It was also crazy how it happened. We’d been writing for about three weeks, and we’d written four tracks together. Milly knew Memphis Industries from her old band, where she supported a band that was signed with them. We sent our demo to these guys, as it was the only link we had. And they wanted to meet up with us the next day. I also think Memphis Industries got in a rut of working with American bands. They missed working with English bands, so it was a development thing where they wanted to help us.
You’re currently working on your second record, what can we expect?
We have loads of plans, but Milly needs to take some time to get her energy levels back up. I might be doing some collaborations for a friend of a friend. This could be a lot of fun and very different. We’re doing a lot of Grandmaster Flash style stuff. But we’ll see. We’ve got an amazing video coming out in a few weeks, for our song TV Dinner. Three producers pitched this crazy idea, of a spaceman walking along the beach in Margate. It even made it onto The Express and The Mirror after someone tweeted a picture of the spaceman and went viral. It was ridiculous.
Words: Leonie Roderick