On our way to the lakeside at Austin’s Four Seasons hotel, Eliot Sumner, her guitarist Nick Benton, publicist Sarah and I come across two birds engaged in one hell of a fight on a busy downtown roadside. We edge closer to see if they’re tangled in some painful trap, but we scoot off as we realised that no, one of the birds is actually getting the shit pummelled out of him/her by the other bird or there’s some bizarre David Attenborough doco-worthy mating ritual going on.
“No, no, don’t interfere with nature,” Sumner deliberates as we make a dash from the scene and down to the lake for our afternoon interview.
And thus, the ice for the day was broken.
For the 25 year old musician, this trip to Austin is not her first, having only recently played the Texan city near the end of last year. 2015 saw Sumner release her debut album under her solo name, Information, her first record since she put former project I Blame Coco to rest soon after touring the band’s album The Constant, circa 2010/2011.
“I love it here,” the English muso says of Austin, looking out at Lake Lady Bird and up at the sprawling lawns the hotel backs on to. “I love that you can just walk down the street and music is just so accessible. There are just so many opportunities to discover new music.”
Performing a run of shows around the city district over the next few days, there’s a glint in Sumner’s grin as she comments on her band’s schedule over the next day, even though she’s more than comfortable in admitting certain anxieties she’s felt during recent shows. Having been on the tour has changed the band’s dynamic more again, for the better and it’s clear that Sumner relishes her time on the road with her bandmates.
“We’re having a great year so far,” she enthuses. “We’re having so much fun. I think our lives have really changed in the last three months.”
“Being on tour is like being in a bubble! It doesn’t really feel real. We have fun every day. We’re basically a stag do on wheels, for a month! Post-tour depression is not the one, it’s not for me.”
What does Sumner do the beat the off-road blues in her downtime? Beats a punching bag/sparring partner, apparently. The keen Brit has recently picked up boxing and is loving the idea of getting tension out of her system via this release.
“I started boxing every day,” she laughs. “I’m making up for that lack of adrenalin every night, so that helps. I wanted to do something physical and be less in my mind, and more in my body and channel my anxiety. I’ve been doing it for a year now and I love it, it feels great.”
While The Constant featured some cool and shiny electro-pop sounds, Information gives the listener a larger insight into a deeply layered and talented writer and artist. The new wave influences are darker, Sumner’s husky, androgynous vocals ripple through with an edge perhaps not featured on the I Blame Coco material. This is an artist who is focused on the future and the music being made in the now.
It’s a perfect time for Sumner and her band to be piling into vans and on planes with Information, capitalising on the great deal of hype lavished upon them following recent successful tours with Lykke Li and ON AN ON. Their profile continues to grow Stateside, as it has already been solidified in Europe in recent years – Sumner carries more weight behind her creative output than her name and pedigree does, Information demonstrates as such.
The youngest daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, Sumner has managed to form a career for herself outside the shadow of her parents, despite a resemblance in physicality. Her popularity in Europe, particularly Germany, has been one growing for years now and for that, Sumner admits she has I Blame Coco to thank.
“My last album with my other project was really popular in Germany,” she admits. “There was that type of connection in being able to play there, playing new stuff in those places is really, really cool.”
“We listened to a lot of Krautrock that all of us are huge fans of.” both Sumner and guitarist Benton agree when we turn the focus back to Information. “There’s a huge influence of the German psychedelic scene and industrial drone stuff as well, but with more pop song structures.”
“We play a lot more in Europe, compared to the UK,” Sumner admits of the reception her music has had so far. “I think places like here [Austin] are so exciting and people are really welcoming, really respectful and it’s such a different experience. We play a lot in Germany, our Munich show was phenomenal, actually. I think we really set the mark there, actually. It was awesome.”
“I think that the last [US tour] one we did, we did about seven weeks touring in the US, which was mind-blowing.” Sumner remembers. “I think, collectively, it was all our dream to do that and just go and play in dive bars around America. The last tour we did, we didn’t have an album out and we were the support band, but it was really surprising how much people had caught on. I think word of mouth really works in this country, more than in other places. People would come up to us as said, “Our friends saw you last week and they told us to come down,” That’s the old school way of doing things, you know? Being a troubadour and saying hello to people and then they bring all their friends, it’s awesome.”
As we sit perched on a low stone wall watching cyclists speed by in sundresses and dogs being trotted along the cement path by the river, Sumner approaches each question with a solid level of thought and consideration. When it comes to talking about the band’s recent live shows, Sumner’s eyes light up beneath the shade of her Patagonia cap. When it comes to her satisfaction with Information as an album, Sumner speaks with the clarity of perhaps a shy artist who has found clarity and a solid vision with the creation of this new music.
“I think this is the record I was supposed to make and I was always supposed to make,” Sumner says, remembering the process surrounding The Constant in 2010 and how it affected the making of Information. “I just didn’t really know how to do it [then]. It was a confusing time and I was still really young. I had a head injury in the middle of it [too], so someone else took over…it was a confusing time for everybody. This album definitely has a direction and that’s easier for everyone, when there’s a plan and everyone just follows the plan. I’m really, really happy and I feel much more secure than last time.”
And as we would see later on that evening during her first SXSW showcase, happy and secure are definitely two senses Sumner represents well onstage.
Information by Eliot Sumner is out now. Sumner plays the following SXSW showcases this week:
March 17th | Austin City Limits (Afternoon) | GSD&M Courtyard
March 17th | Wild Honey Pie (Evening) | Swan Dive
March 18th | Culture Collide/StubHub | Banger’s
March 19th | Rachel Ray’s Feedback | Stubb’s BBQ
Head to here for more information!