Tonight, SLO Brewing Co. is in for a different kind of concert.
Instrumental indie rock duo El Ten Eleven will bring its combination of a double-neck guitar, bass and electronic drums to the stage, sans musical lyrics. So, when people aren’t singing along at a concert, what are they doing?
Bassist Kristian Dunn said he’s seen some pretty interesting reactions.
“Often times, if the crowd is crazy enough, they’ll sing along with instrumental parts — and I love it,” Dunn said. “When people sing along with instrumental parts, it’s the ultimate compliment.”
The Los Angeles-based group, comprised of Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty, started layering and looping its sounds in 2002 and hasn’t changed much since.
“It makes it much easier to schedule band practice,” Dunn said.
Since the birth of the band, the two have released four albums, the most recent being “It’s Still Like a Secret,” which was released last November. Despite the success of their past albums, Dunn and Fogarty decided to take a different approach to recording the album.
Dunn said in the past they’d record an album and then tour after the release to promote it. Yet the two felt frustrated with that formula because, after an album was recorded and released, they couldn’t make any changes.
“The songs would inevitably change as we played them on tour,” Dunn said. “They would get more refined, and we ended up liking them better.”
Thus, the formula for “It’s Still Like a Secret” was backwards — they wrote the songs as best they could, took them on tour, and came back and recorded the refined pieces. Dunn said sometimes they’d find that their songs would go through both dramatic and subtle changes — yet all were noticeable to Dunn and Fogarty.
“When we’re in a practice room, we can feel like it’s working really well; but then you play in front of 200 people, it can feel completely different,” Dunn said.
Another interesting route the band has taken is releasing its past few albums on the band’s own record label, Fake Record Label. Dunn said the two were inspired by a do-it-yourself ethic, mainly because they knew what they wanted and couldn’t find a label on the same page.
“Every single one of them — they just wouldn’t really have brought to the table that we couldn’t bring ourselves,” Dunn said. “So it was like, well, what for?”
And with ideas in mind to sign a few other bands to the label, Fake Record Label is holding out strong.
“We decided just to do it ourselves — we’ve done pretty damn well for ourselves,” Dunn said.
Thus, without being under the umbrella of someone else’s label — or any baggage from extra band members — El Ten Eleven has what any successful band ultimately wants: freedom. And this freedom clearly presents itself through the duo’s experimental, yet melodic style.
Cal Poly graduate Ben Eckold, a listener for more than three years, said he’s gained an appreciation for Dunn’s looping riffs on top of riffs on guitar and bass.
“Just the back and forth between the drummer and guitarist is cool and cohesive musicianship,” Eckold said.
Eckold said the music sounds similar to Ratatat but with less synthesizers and more guitars.
“It’s really melodic and has almost hip-hop drum beats and really awesome guitar work,” he said.
Electrical engineering sophomore Kristine Carreon said she is a fan because she feels the music is just, well, good.
“It’s really soothing, and it’s cool all that good music only comes from two guys playing,” Carreon said. “But it’s not simple because it’s only two guys, there’s a lot going on.”
The fact that the group is strictly instrumental has opened many doors. Dunn said their international recognition could be attributed to the absence of English lyrics.
“Not having English vocals may help that because, to people in Japan or the Philippines, it’s just the music,” Dunn said.
However, he said it’s hard to know if they’d have more or less fans if they had vocals.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people that aren’t into us because we don’t have vocals,” Dunn said. “But we’re fine with that. Beethoven didn’t have vocals, and Miles Davis didn’t have vocals.”
Further, the band’s unique musical aesthetic allows fans to use their music in mashups. Dunn said he takes this as a high compliment.
“It tickles me when I see those things,” Dunn said. “I think it’s great — I love hearing Lil’ Wayne rapping over our music, it’s so fun. And every once in a while it works surprisingly well.”
However fans are listening, the band has been on tour promoting the album to either sold out or packed audiences across the western region since mid-January. Dunn said they’re feeling optimistic because of the numbers coming out to their gigs.
“It’s going great because we’ve never played a lot of these places before,” Dunn said. “Phoenix usually sucks but for us it was great.”
Dunn said he hopes San Luis Obispo can continue the band’s packed-house streak.
“If Phoenix can pull it off, then I’m sure SLO can too,” Dunn said. “I have faith in your town.”
Tickets for the all-ages show are available for $8 at the door, online at ticketweb.com and Boo Boo Records. Doors open at 7 p.m.