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“I just wanted to kind of present each song as its own thing” – An Interview with Elephant Stone

Today sees the release of the new album from Montreal psych rockers Elephant Stone. Back Into The Dream, the band’s sixth full length project, dwells on the mysteries of dreams and capturing the cycle of sleep and wakefulness with a blend of power-pop, psychedelic rock and frontman Rishi Dhir’s trademark sitar. The record starts with three fantastic tracks: “Lost In A Dream”, “The Spark” and “Going Underground” are bursting with upbeat choruses and Byrds-esque harmonies. Amongst other highlights are “Godstar” which is a mystical instrumental while “Pilgrimage” is a sprawling epic with hints of Beatles and Pink Floyd mixed in.

Rishi Dhir is the driving force behind Elephant Stone, writing all the tracks and providing vocals, guitars, synths and many other instruments. Rounding out the rich soundscape of Elephant Stone are stalwarts: Miles Dupire on drums, Jason Kent juggling keys and guitar, and Robbie MacArthur on guitar.

We caught up with Rishi over Zoom in his home studio to talk about the new record and getting more sitar into his music.

Your new album Back Into The Dream comes out in a couple of weeks. I think I may have just seen it but where did you write and record it?
Yeah, this is it. My writing process is here, my demoing here, the recording, the mixing; it all happens in the studio. It’s a small room. This is the first full-length album since Hollow in 2020. I did like a French EP, I did a soundtrack and I’ve been slowly chipping away at this record.

You mentioned that the album has been ready for a while – what was the delay in releasing it?
I’m releasing the record on my own label, but I also partner up with the US label Little Cloud Records out of Portland and Fuzz Club in Europe. I also wanted to find an Australian label and I’m working with Cheersquad there. I guess the plan for this record was that we hadn’t released a full length in a while, so rather than just releasing the album, I wanted to put out some singles as like a waterfall release. It’s funny; when you release an album, a lot of songs just get lost. People focus on a few, and I just wanted to kind of present each song as its own thing. The song I find that people have been connecting with most is my favorite too, “Pilgrimage”. It’s our last single. It’s a really mellow saxophone one but that’s not a song you’d think for a single, though.

Which classic album cover art is your current mood?
I guess Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden. I’m just in a Talk Talk mood these days. Conceptually, I love the covers they had for The Color of Spring and Spirit of Eden.

With Hollow being released in 2020, I was wondering if Back Into The Dream is your COVID record?
The French record that I put out – that was my real COVID album! It was about the end of the world and this new one was kind of coming out of COVID.

You’re known for your sitar playing and there’s not a lot of sitar in modern music. When did you start learning to play?
I guess in February 1997. I’m Indian and I went to my cousin’s wedding in India with my parents. I was 19 at the time, in a band and I love the Beatles so I was like, “Oh, I’ll buy a sitar.”
So I bought a sitar and brought it back with me. I didn’t have a teacher for a few years. I found my teacher who is a German fellow named Uwe Neumann. He looks a bit like Charles Manson and he studied in India for 10 years. And I took lessons pretty regularly for about 10 years. I had a band. I left that band. I started this (Elephant Stone) and I wanted to incorporate more sitar in the music I was making.

Listening to your albums, there always seems to be a sitar-heavy track (“Godstar” on the new album), almost like a mystical interlude, very reminiscent of late 60’s Beatles. You don’t hear that with many modern bands.
Well, CornerShop! When I Was Born For The Seventh Time and Teenage FanClub – Bandwagonesque were my albums when I was younger.

Back Into The Dream is the sixth full-length Elephant Stone record in fifteen years – how have you kept the project going?
Well, the band is just me but prior to Elephant Stone, I was in another band, The High Dials, for about 10 years. I was like a side man in that band. I didn’t write the songs, I was the bassist and I left that band because it wasn’t satisfying me artistically. I felt like I needed something else.
I went on a big journey. My wife and I were trying to have a baby. We had a miscarriage and I think that was the catalyst for me to start writing music. It was my therapy – writing songs became my therapy. Our first record (2009’s The Seven Seas) was me going on a journey. We packed up, went to India for a few weeks, and I wrote a lot of songs there. So, this band is very much me.

You’ve worked with some amazing musicians outside of Elephant Stone – does working on other projects help keep things fresh?
Yeah, I guess it’s part of the journey. Along the way you meet so many amazing musicians and you’re inspired by them. I was in the Black Angels for a bit, I got to play with Beck, and moments like that, it just kind of makes you feel like, okay, what I do is of value to people and it is worth continuing.

What’s one piece of advice you would give the 2009 version of yourself if you could?
Relax a bit – things will come when they come.

We touched on some of your influences earlier but who were you listening to when you were growing up that made you go “I want to be a musician”?
I mean, the Jam or the Who. When I was like seven, it was The Who and The Beatles, and then in my teens, it was Teenage Fanclub and The Pixies. Then, as I got into my late teens, I got into the whole mod thing and I was all about Paul Weller. I had my scooter and everything was Small Faces. At every stage, there was always something that I was obsessed with.

If you could only listen to one record, what would it be?
Revolver. I mean, that’s just my easy answer because it’s the album I’ve listened to most in my life.

Where did the name Elephant Stone come from? Was from it The Stone Roses or somewhere else?
I wanted to name the band Elephants, because I had a sandstone statue of Ganesh, the Hindu god of new beginnings. So, when I started the band, I wanted to have some kind of Indian reference in it. I’d just gone on the travels through India, and I was thinking of “The Gandharvas” but there was already a band called that. And then elephant, and I was like Elephant Stone. I love that first record (The Stone Roses). It just made sense.

You’re going on tour in March – is there somewhere you’re really looking forward to playing or a favorite location that you’ve played before that you’re excited to play again?
The album comes out February 23rd, and then in March, April and May, we’re doing the US and then going to Europe. So it’s going to be a busy few months. Europe is always exciting – I think we’re playing Sweden for the first time, I’ve never toured there. We’re going back to Italy and haven’t been there in years with the band, so it’s gonna be nice.

What’s one thing you can’t do without when you’re on tour?
Good coffee!

What would go on your signature pizza and what would it be called?
Well, it’s funny because I make a pretty amazing pizza. My signature pizza that I’m known for is my “Pickle Pizza”. I make my own pesto. It’s basil, dill, oregano, garlic, olive oil. It’s a white pizza so some parmesan and mozzarella, and I slice up some naturally fermented pickles. And then garnish it with dill.

What else do you have planned for 2024?
Yeah, you mentioned that I play with a lot of other people; I have another band, Mien, which is me, Alex (Maas) from the Black Angels, Tom (Furse) from the Horrors, and Jon-Mark from The Hurleys. We put out our debut in 2018 and I’ve just finished mixing our new album which will come out in early 2025 after we finish the Elephant Stone tour.

You can find out more about Elephant Stone, buy a vinyl copy of the album and get tickets for their upcoming tour by visiting their website. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter for all the latest news.

Feature Image Credit – Laurine Jousserand

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