They're the British pop acoustic group who opened for Tori Amos and are now touring their way to Coachella. Uinterview talks with One EskimO's leader Kristian Leontiou here.
I started working with a publishing company for writing songs when I was 16, and I got signed to them when I was 17. It was a whirlwind experience to belong to a major label. I wasn’t involved in the production of the songs. I’d written these songs, and I think it was just really difficult to be promoting something that you haven’t put your heart into, so I just took a step back from that because I really didn’t feel too happy about where everything was going visually and with the sound of the songs. Then, I started One EskimO, which has the specific sound that I was looking for. We’ve got a real kind of core acoustic instruments, and then we’ve got an electronic blanket that goes over it. We spent a long time trying to create a sort of tribal-meets-2010 sound, so I think it was a kind of specific sound I wanted.
Yeah, these are [One EskimO] songs fall into the category of pop songs as well. I just spent a long time writing these songs. I spent a long time on the production. They were just a lot simpler, whereas now I feel it’s just much nicer to be trying to promote something you’re proud of. And then I started working with [drummer] Adam Falkner, and we were just like, 'Who are the best guys for this job?' And living in London, it’s been difficult to keep hold of everyone, because they’re such good musicians, but we’ve managed to keep it going for like four years now. And secondly, we did this animation that goes along with the album and overall those are two years worth of anime that has gone into that. Our first animation was four and a half minutes and this was independent. We won this British animation award for it. And then during the making of our second one, we had Warner Brothers contact us and say, 'We like where you’re going, how do you feel about us giving you funding for the whole album?' So that just gave us time to go out and gig and get the band pretty solid. It feels like we’ve done the ground work, it feels like we’ve put the time in.
I really like the film-sounding albums. I really like those big soundscapes and on top of our core acoustic songs we’ve got these filmic sounds.
For the whole band, we’re all quite different, but for me I think a big influence comes from movies I've watched. The soundtracks, the nice beautiful sounds, like the Donnie Darko soundtrack. It was time to create these ambient sounds and because I think it’s such a visual thing, and while you’re writing lyrics, you end up getting images of whatever in your head. It was a nice opportunity to pull that together. While I was writing the songs, I was just doing little sketches into this character.
I’m not good, I don’t finish the stuff off. I did character designs and storyboards, and I did the Eskimo that’s on the album. It definitely was secondary to the music, but because it grew of the music, they really complimented each other. It wasn’t like we got an animation team in to just come up with something to tag on to the end of our album, this was something that everything grew together. Everything grew together, so it feels like it’s natural, it doesn’t feel like we need to come up with something. A lot of time and effort has gone into it all.
It’s strange. The core of it is acoustic. All the drums are played on the wooden drum box and one of the guys plays an acoustic fretless bass, and I think it was just nice to add all these kinds of pads and sounds, just sounds really. Everyone says, 'What genre would you put it in?' And it’s difficult to put it in a genre. I came up with ‘ambient electro-acoustic,’ the three words that sum it up the best.
Me and Adam had worked with each other in the past. I wanted to get us in a room to learn the songs and play it live as a four piece, which is how we recorded the core of the album. And I knew the guitarist from before I met Adam – I couldn’t get a hold of him, he was usually too busy doing stuff. We booked this tiny little rehearsal room. I really didn’t want any drum kit sounds, so we started from the bare basic of what do we need to take on the road with us, what do we need to get the sound. Being in London, like New York, there’s a lot of musicians that kind of work together. We’re just lucky enough to have started working together and back then it feels like there’s a nice dynamic on the stage and in the bus and however many years down the line it still feels like it works.
We were really lucky there. Back then, we weren’t signed to a record label, we’d just started talking to a couple of labels out in the States, a couple of options happened for us in England. At the time, all of us had done stuff with British labels. We were really hesitant to get involved with everyone. We came over here and our first show was in New York and we met up with the guys from Shangri-La Records, it’s an independent label in L.A., and it was a really nice connection. They’ve put a lot of faith and love in, they paid for our tour to come out with Tori Amos. We just started talking to CAA, the booking agent, and one of the CDs went on [Tori's] desk. Tori always picks her opening act and we were lucky to get that call. Especially since we hadn’t put an album out, and we’re doing this big tour. It didn’t make sense. It was brilliant. She had a great group of guys working with her. I think it was good to watch someone like her, fifteen years down the line and she works hard all day long. She was recording an album while she was on the road. It was just good to see someone play the shows as well. She’s got the venues down to the best venues in town. We managed to play Radio City with her, which is probably the most impressive stage we’ve been on. So, yeah, it was a great way to start.
I went to Coachella two years ago just to watch. I’m glad to be going back there because I watched Prince and Portishead two years ago, there were plenty of other things there as well, but it was probably like five hours worth of a great sets – but Prince was probably one of the best shows I’ve seen. So that was really good. I didn’t go with the guys then, so it’s nice to be going back. I don’t know what the rest of the festivals are like over here, but I’ve grown up going to Glastonbury [music festival in England], places where it’s deep in mud and people just falling all over. Then I turned up at Coachella and there’s immaculate grass and everyone’s walking around with champagne, and it’s a little bit different from festivals I’m used to. It’s nice to get these guys and go, 'Hey, look, this is Coachella!'