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Dollars to Pounds: Sunless ‘97

May 31, 2012

On a sticky summer evening in London I sat down for a pint with Ed Eke and Alice Davies, two thirds of Sunless ’97 (the third member is bassist Matthew McGough). Sunless is a world away from Eke’s previous incarnations, Larrikin Love and Pan I Am, and his first musical collaboration with Davies. The pair often compose sitting side-by-side in their apartment. With their first EP, last year's Making Waves, the trio initially seemed to offer blissed-out, boy-girl harmonies, gliding over the synth-rendered sonic equivalent of an undulating heat haze hallucination. But with their latest release, double A-side “Azul/Body Weather,” they’ve expanded their palette, concocting a deeper and dancier brew of aural hypnosis, accompanied by the rather pleasing addition of a sax. Check out the debut of “Azul,” fall in love with their liquid grooves and read an interview below.

Stream: Sunless ’97, "Azul"

So you both met in high school 10 years ago… DAVIES: People thought we were brother and sister! We were always together and everyone thought it was so nice that we were siblings and hung out all the time. We used to dye our hair a lot and we had similar colors, bleached and black.

Have you two been a couple for all those years? DAVIES: That’s always been the context. It’s a long time. It’s like a common-law marriage now!

Ed, how do you view your previous musical endeavors—Larrikin Love and Pan I Am—now? EKE: Everything I’ve done before has never had a common thread. Alice and I are with each other 24 hours a day, and I really don't mean this in a cheesy or disgusting way but it's a product of us. But it's not, "Oh, cute! Let's just make music together!" It's just two really big music fans going, "Fuck, let's do this!" DAVIES: With Ed’s first project he was really young. Those were the first songs he’d ever written and it all happened quite quickly. Then he had a rebellious stage when he was Pan I Am, and then I think you just opened your mind up again. With Sunless from the beginning we’ve been open to absolutely everything. EKE: And that was so refreshing to me. There’s no point in talking about it too much, but the whole Pan I Am thing was such a bad phase. I was in a dark place for two years. I was going mad and it was coming out in the music.

Was that a reflection on your experience in Larrikin Love? EKE: Maybe. I don’t know.  It was a million different things. And it was also discovering Neubauten and a lot of industrial German music. Sunless is 100 percent the purest, most real thing I’ve ever been involved in. DAVIES: I think also a new thing for you was sharing. Obviously you’d been in a band before, but it’s about being able to share something equally with someone else. It’s hard for you. Not in an egotistical way, but in the day-to-day running of things you’re used to not having the final say and having to discuss it with everyone else. You do that in a relationship anyway, so maybe you were trained up for it. That’s been something you’ve had to overcome. EKE: But it’s been something that I’ve enjoyed. Not having it all rest on your shoulders is so good. Being in a band is such a weird thing because you’re putting yourself on the line constantly with different degree of intensity. I’ve now got to the point where I feel really happy making music and I really enjoy it, whereas before it was a struggle.

What’s your connection with filmmaker Jonas Mekas? EKE: We’re really great friends with Benn Northover, who is Jonas’ assistant, and we collaborated with Jonas in 2009 at the Serpentine Gallery, presenting a multimedia thing at this poetry marathon evening. Then we went to Berlin to hang out with them because they were at the film festival. It was 48 hours of the best time ever! Jonas is 89 years old… DAVIES: And Agnès B was there and we were just up all night with them. They don’t stop! EKE: They’re so creative, endlessly so. It’ll be 6AM and Jonas will be like, “To the next bar! Whiskey! Whiskey! Whiskey!” It’s diary filmmaking. Some of his films are one minute long; some are an hour.  In the ’50s and ’60s he was at the forefront of avant-garde filmmaking. Scorsese said Jonas is the boss, Warhol went to him and said, “Teach me,” and he filmed John and Yoko’s bed-in.

I like that you’re reclaiming the sax on this new release. EKE: My uncle Yebka Likoba is a really wonderful saxophonist from Cameroon, and we've always really liked his music, and we were a little bit scared to see if he'd ever want to do anything. DAVIES: I don't know why it has a bad rep. Sax is beautiful to listen to. Yebka was meant to come in for a few hours and then he spent the whole day. "I've got to do it one more time!" But each take was beautiful.

Summer's finally hit, where do you guys like to hang out? DAVIES: We want get out. We’re going to go to Greece. My family have been going for years, and Ed and I often go there via other European cities. We went there on the train last year and I nearly lost him in Bulgaria. There was no food on the train and we didn't have any water either. Not even a sweaty cheese sandwich! So Ed braved it and got off at a stop at 3AM, but then the train pulled out and I freaked out because he didn't have his phone… EKE: I didn't have my passport or anything. DAVIES: We were going between countries so he would have been completely fucked. I tried to jump off the moving train and the conductor massively bruised me trying to hold me back. It turns out the train was just pulling out to pull back into the next track. I felt like such an idiot, can you imagine? So much drama! EKE: The best bit was when we got back together there was this Turkish guy we’d been speaking to earlier who was at that point completely naked apart from these tiny Speedos. He was leaning on his cabin, he was just like, "Hey man, she really missed you."

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Sunless ‘97