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December/January 2013

by Westley Holdsworth

El Schlong: Playing The Sch-Long Game

by Westley Holdsworth

El Schlong: Playing The Sch-Long Game

For the last four and a half years ex-Dunedin metal threesome El Schlong have been embarked on the self-proclaimed ‘slowest world tour ever’. To date it has mostly taken them around northern Europe, to the kind of countries where their sort of ‘avant-metal’ and DIY ethics are well regarded by avid live audiences. The band are returning home for the summer and Westley Holdsworth took the opportunity to quiz guitarist Leah Hinton about their forward plans, back history and, well, that name.

One thing I personally love about metal and its many sub genres is the uncompromising approach. A large proportion of metal bands just aren’t afraid to do whatever they want, any commercial success is just seen as a bonus. El Schlong are a perfect example of this mantra, their most recent release ‘Time/Place‘ jumps between singing, spoken word, growls and chants. Musically it’s both technical and intense with complex structures, stops, starts and time changes and yet still maintains a strong sense of a ‘song’ with the ever present sense of some very accomplished and road hardened musicians.

“I guess we are a bit wanky at times, but hopefully never at the detriment of the song,”” says guitarist/singer Leah Hinton. “Our aim is to play music that is fun for us to play, but that flows together as a coherent whole and evokes a mood.

“I grew up a classical pianist and also played the oboe and cello in my school orchestra, so my background is definitely a classical one. The guitar is my creative instrument though – I taught myself the guitar and still don’t even know my fretboard very well! Nick Baldwin [bass, vocals] used to play in the orchestra and jazz band, and [drummer] Jordan Treday did a year at jazz school in Wellington, so we’ve got a bit of that floating around in there too. We sound a lot more classical than we do jazzy, but it probably all has a bit of an influence on our ‘avant-metal’ thang.”” 

Leah recalls hearing a band’s demo, with a great rhythm section, whilst living in Nelson in 2003. She was planning on tracking them down but upon returning to Dunedin to finish her music degree found the pair were on the same course. Nick Baldwin and drummer Callum McLean completed the initial line up. He left the band, on the first of many location moves, in 2005, and after a few different members passed through, Jordan Treday joined. In addition to the standard guitar, bass and drums, El Schlong utilise loop pedals for second guitar tracks, keyboards and orchestration, creating a bigger than usual sound.

As Leah says, “We discharge quite a bit of sound for a three piece I guess!”

The band are less pre-occupied with studio time and maintaining their online presence or image and more focused on playing live in as many different places, to as many different people, as possible. A refreshing take on being a working band in the age of the internet, their self described ‘slowest world tour ever’ saw seen them travel all over Europe, concentrating on Germany, Poland and the UK all of which are known for their welcoming metal scenes. But it hasn’t been easy for El Schlong. 

“It seems like we are always moving or about to move. We lived in Dunedin for two years, then Wellington for three, then London for two years, then Berlin for two years. We toured NZ a bit when we were in Wellington, but most of our extensive touring has happened from Berlin. Europe is amazingly set up for touring as it is densely populated and not too spread out. We always really enjoy touring in Poland because people there think we are ‘exotic’ and they are very friendly and welcoming. We probably had the best shows in the UK though because there is no language barrier so it’s easier to promote tours over there.

“The two best places to play in the UK are London and Leeds, because the music scenes are going off in those cities, so you always share a stage with real quality bands. We’re probably more concerned with playing with great bands than with playing to huge crowds, to be honest.”” 

El Schlong 3Not being a European citizen does however present complications and is part of the reason El Schlong are returning home to NZ this summer. Leah remains optimistic about having to leave all their hard work behind.

“The biggest challenge has been starting again so many times. Every time you move cities or countries you start from scratch with general scene knowledge and contacts, and with building a fan base. And just life in general as well – jobs, houses, friends – it can be disheartening at times. Each time we have left a city we have left a big fan base behind. I found London in particular quite hard to leave as we built a really solid reputation there as a live band, and it felt like bigger things were about to start happening for us. But then the visas ran out and we were off again. The upside is the excitement of new people and places and of not being anywhere long enough for it to get boring. And now we have little pockets of Schlong fans all over the place, which is nice.”

Another upside is that with touring slowing down, the band can spend some time writing and recording, and playing shows at home over the Kiwi summer, something Leah is looking forward to after living in grey Europe for so long.

“I haven’t had a NZ summer for five years, so a mini-tour is the perfect excuse. Also, Jordan has just had a kid, so he won’t be going anywhere for a while. I am staying in Berlin, so the plan is for me to come home a couple of times a year for us to write, record and tour. It means that our ‘Slowest World Tour Ever’ will become even slower, but I think all three of us are pretty keen to stay in one place for a while after all the madness of the last four years in Europe.”” 

El Schlong 5Leah is quick to admit the band prefer playing live than recording and that El Schlong has also doubled as a vehicle for travelling the world, not just a musical outlet for the members. 

“I have always wanted to travel, and touring is a great way to do it because you meet so many people who are into the same things as you (the other bands and the people who come along to see live music). We would have liked to have written more songs and recorded more albums along the way, but constantly moving and touring is both expensive and time consuming, and playing has always been our priority. Now that we are a bit older and have family stuff I guess there will be more time to focus on writing and recording. 

“I am really looking forward to taking our time with the next album as both our previous albums were done in a rush due to impending moves, and we have never been happy with our recordings. It’s possible that we will never record well – we have spent 10 years trying to perfect our live show and I think it’s safe to say that we are definitely a live band.””

Indeed it’s fair to say their previous records do lack the polish you’d expect of a band with a reputation for incredible live shows. The next step in the evolution of El Schlong could prove them to be one of the most accomplished metal acts to come out of NZ in recent years. All relentless touring to date was done completely DIY and seemingly the road hasn’t managed take any of the passion out of the process. 

“We wanted to get out into the world and get on the road, which is never going to happen unless you make it happen yourself. Not that we would ever turn our nose up at help (compromise dependent of course, we are who we are and play what we play). It would be fantastic to have people doing all that leg work for us, but we’re not about to sit around and wait for that to happen.”” 

Asked if they’ve ever been approached by labels or management Leah points to the obvious wall. 

“Heh, yeah, but it seems that being named after genitals isn’t very marketable…””

Luckily El Schlong are in no mind to change or compromise their band for anybody.