Eternal Sumner: Catching up with Eliot Sumner
Photos / Santiago Felipe
Interview / Jay Loyola
For several years, singer/songwriter Eliot Sumner, child of Sting and Trudie Styler, performed under their nickname Coco and as the frontwoman for the band I Blame Coco. Under that moniker, Eliot released 2010’s electro-pop debut, The Constant. The record produced two well-received singles, “Caesar (feat. Robyn)” and “Selfmachine.” Now, after withdrawing from the spotlight for almost five years, Sumner has finally re-emerged with an exciting, confident new sound and an upcoming record entitled, Information (out January 22 on Cherrytree/Interscope).
Preceding the album’s arrival, Sumner released two enticing EPs in late 2015: Information (same as the album title) and Early Reflections SMPLR. Both EPs provided a taster of the singer’s grittier, yet pop-friendly, synth-infused rock sound.
While Sumner was on tour, we managed to catch up and chat about the artist’s absence from music, touring hardships, a potential collaboration with Lykke Li, and the concept behind the striking visuals for the latest single, “Firewood.” To mix things up, we concluded the interview with a candid game of word association (sort of).
You seem to have been in hibernation for a few years, what have you been up to all this time?
Yeah, I just kinda went away for a while. I think I needed to figure out a few things, so I moved to the Lake District, this mountain area between Scotland and England. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere; very isolating and very dark and very rainy. It’s where [William] Wordsworth has a house near Coldridge.
Was it comforting to start writing again there?
Yeah, I kind of had this romantic idea of going to the mountains, to a little cottage to start writing and trying out new stuff.
Are most of the songs written there from the Information EP?
No, actually. I wrote an entirely different album up there. But I think it was too depressing to put on record. [Laughs]
Too much isolation?
I think so, yeah. Just too much time with myself. But I think it was good to reset myself and to actually just be alone for a while.
Was it difficult to leave the I Blame Coco project behind and start anew?
No. [Laughs] It was the easiest thing to do. I just said goodbye to the past and moved on.
Are you still attached to any of the songs from that record?
No. Not at all.
Was there any specific song that you’ve written that eased the transition to Eliot?
No, not really. I think I’m just really excited about the new music I’m making and the sound. I tend to shed and leave stuff in the past!
Your music has a very catchy, 80s new-wave rock vibe. Do you take inspiration from that era?
I think for me it sounds very modern; we use a lot of analog and synthesizers on the record so that’s maybe where the 70s, 80s sound comes from.
Can you tell me a little bit about the concept behind the videos for the singles, “After Dark,” “Firewood,” and “Dead Arms and Dead Legs”? They all seem to have been done in one place…
Yeah, we shot all four in one day. It was my idea to do a conceptual live thing, and I found these guys from a production company called Flat-E… Umm, have you ever seen the Jon Hopkins live show?
Yes, on YouTube. His live shows are great!
So you know the interactive orbs?
Yes, the inflatable LED balls thrown into the crowd that when touched they glow in different colors.
Yes, they designed that! And they pitched me this great visual idea. I was like yes, I don’t even need to read the treatment—and I would never want to read a video treatment—so it was this instant mutual enthusiasm that brought the videos together.
What’s the meaning behind the broken mirrors on the floor in the video for “Firewood”?
We wanted an elemental vibe. So for example in the video for “Dead Arms and Dead Legs,” it had sort of a forest vibe, because I wrote that song after having been in a long walk in the woods, so it has lyrical imagery. And the broken mirrors I would describe as a combination of violence and also vulnerability, probably. I think those two things fit into the meaning of “Firewood” very well.
I know that you tour a lot, does it ever get tiring?
Well, every night so far has been incredible. This current tour is the most intensive thing I’ve done physically. And I was sure I was gonna get sick by the second week of tour because I’m a big hypochondriac. [Laughs] I haven’t gotten sick, no one else is sick, so it’s been incredible and it’s been five weeks on tour now.
Do you prefer performing outdoors or more an intimate club setting?
Well, every gig we’ve played so far has been in clubs; we did play one festival outdoors and it was really refreshing to have a different environment. So a bit of both, I think.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about touring?
If there is bad side to touring I would say it’s the traveling and the air conditioning.
Air conditioning, really?
Yes, I have a bit of an issue with air conditioning. I think it’s because I’m English and I’m not immune to it at all. We don’t really have it in England. What I noticed about America is that it’s on all the time, even when it’s cold outside. I think there is an immunity in the country. I get sick quite a lot because of the air conditioning. I’ll get an ear infection, so I worry about that. That’s the only bad thing so far.
What’s the most rewarding thing you can think of about touring?
The most rewarding thing? Well, when [we] started the tour we didn’t expect anybody to show up to our show because we were supporting a band called On And On and I didn’t think people would show up to see us, the supporting band. We were worried no one would be there. [We thought] this is going to be one of those tours that we just had to just get through it—and every night it’s been packed! We weren’t expecting that at all, it’s been incredible. So that was the most rewarding to me. I was pleasantly surprised of the reception
Your NYC shows are always packed! You have a huge fan base here.
Yeah, last night at Pianos was great fun. Last night was actually the first time I was quite nervous in a long time, because I knew we were coming back. Throughout this whole tour it’s been on my mind; I have to sustain this stamina just for New York. [Laughs]
Your upcoming new album is called Information. Will the current singles released so far appear on the record?
Yeah, everything I’ve released so far is on the record. I guess I’ve been slowly releasing pieces of the album. The complete album will be released in January.
When you’re not touring what do you do in your spare time?
I cook and I watch Netflix. That’s my meditation, I watch Netflix!
Really?! What are you watching now?
Well, when I have time, I watch a show called Bloodline, it’s really quite good.
In the past, you’ve mentioned that you don’t really pay too much attention to fashion, has your mind change about the industry?
Yeah, I think a little bit. I think before now, I didn’t really know that kind of world until I found what I like to wear. Now I think I have more of an understanding of it. It’s cool.
How would you describe your own style
I like practicality. I think my style is quite normal in a way; and I only wear black which makes it easier to style.
You have toured with Lykke Li what was that experience like?
It was great! It was awesome touring with her. We are great friends so we had a lot of fun.
Has there ever been a chat about a collaboration?
Well, on the tour, we got together during her encore. I wanted to play “Get Some” with her and her band, and that was a lot of fun. But we didn’t talk about a full collaboration. Although, I would love to—she’s really one of the best out there.
Okay, now to changes things up, let’s play a game I like to call “What’s Your Favorite…?” I’ll throw a few subjects out there and you tell me what your favorite is.
Lady Gaga, Spice Girls or Grace Jones?
Grace Jones, definitely. A great artist.
Bowie, Freddie Mercury or Prince?
Really?! Which era?
Well, I think Bowie, musically. But maybe Freddie Mercury on a superhuman level. He’s one of the most magnetic characters in music history.
Ice cream or gelato?
Neither. I don’t like ice cream. But if I had to pick, it would be gelato because I was born in Italy.
Beer or wing?
Um, difficult! Can I have both? [Laughs] Well, it depends on the day though. On tour I’m drinking beer because you can’t drink wine in a club, it’s just not done. But I drink wine for dinner.
Cats or dogs?
Winter or summer?
I would say spring… but summer too, because I’ve been touring for most of it.
Game of Thrones or Walking Dead?
I haven’t seen that one so Game of Thrones for sure.
New York or London?
I live in Brooklyn. So, New York City! I love it here.