Being the son or daughter of a famous musician when you’re a musician yourself can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ll probably receive a lot more attention for your music than if you were some unknown soul playing in the local coffee shops, desperately trying to get your name in front of the right people. But on the other hand, the general public will most likely be unfairly critical of your talents and aspirations and much too quick to accuse you of nepotism and undeserved privileges.
In the case of Eliot Sumnor, she’s not only managed to make a name for herself, but did it all on her own without relying on the name of her very famous father — Sting. At only 25 years of age she’s already fronted the very successful English Electropop outfit, I Blame Coco, and with only one full-length album release under her belt, has played several hugely popular music festivals including Glastonbury and Leeds/Reading. Under the name “Coco” she was nominated as “Best Newcomer” at the 2010 Virgin Media Music Awards, went on tour with Laroux and headlined her very own UK and European tour. Most recently, Sumner has started a solo project with the help of some of her favorite musician friends, using her birth name as the band’s moniker.
Currently, Sumner is embarking on a U.S. tour that will take her across the country to 31 cities to promote songs off her second LP that’s set for release in January of 2016. Somewhere between Chicago and Milwaukee, she was gracious enough to pick up the phone and talk to us.
Louis: Where are you right now?
Eliot: I am stopping at a supermarket between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Louis: Ah, life on the road. Is tonight the first date off of your U.S. tour?
Eliot: Yeah, it’s tonight! At the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee. And, um yeah, from there everything falls into place.
Louis: Can you tell me a little more about the tour?
Eliot: Um yeah, so there’s 31 dates. Pretty much all across the country. Yeah, I mean, none of us in the band have ever really experienced anything like this before, so it’s very new and exciting and I’m really happy to be here.
Louis: Is this your first time playing in the U.S.?
Eliot: Yeah, it’s my first time playing here.
Louis: Are you looking forward to playing in San Francisco?
Eliot: Yeah, I can’t wait. That’s actually one of the dates I’m really looking forward to. I went to San Francisco once when I was very small, but it’ll be good to experience it as an adult, hehe.
Louis: Are you going to be playing tourist while you’re here?
Eliot: I mean, I hope so. We have a lot of driving to do. But hopefully we’ll have some time to check out Chinatown and everything else you have to offer. Cable cars and lots of hills is what we’re expecting.
Louis: Getting back to the music, can you talk a little about your new single “Firewood.” What is it about and what inspired you to write the song?
Eliot: Um, on the album I call it the adventure song because it has kind of an adventure theme to it. Two people that are living in the moment, on this adventure together. Um, I think it’s also about things that are very temporary and you have to seize them as soon as they arrive. It’s about that really.
Louis: When are you releasing your first LP?
Eliot: We’re thinking about releasing it in January. So, we’re going to keep on releasing bits and pieces of the album and then in January, pretty much all of it will be released already, but that’s when the complete album comes out.
Louis: How many songs are you going to have on there?
Eliot: I think there are 12 on the album with a bonus track.
Louis: Do you write all the songs? Can you tell me a little about the songwriting process for the band?
Eliot: Most of the songs I wrote by myself, and the others I collaborated with friends. Probably like 70/30. But, yeah, I like to collaborate, especially with people that I know. It just makes the process much more enjoyable. Less lonely.
Louis: If you had to describe the music, how would you describe it?
Eliot: I think I would describe it as very “motor-ic.” The perfect environment to listen to the album would probably be in a car because it has that high-energy drive to it. It’s very Kraftwerk-rock inspired. It has little bits of psychedelia, but the structures are both traditional and progressive, I guess.
Louis: How is this project different from I Blame Coco?
Eliot: It’s totally different actually. It’s a really different style of music. I Blame Coco was much more commercially accessible and at the time that was cool because I was touring a lot and that was great. But I didn’t really connect with the music that much. And also I was very young and I think I’ve matured a lot over the years, and made this album.
Louis: I read somewhere that your first producer liked you because he said you were a punk rocker. Do you think that you’re still a punk rocker today?
Eliot: I think so. I think once a punk rocker, always a punk rocker. It’s an attitude and a state of mind.
Louis: From reading your bio, it looks like you started playing music at a very early age. What’s your earliest musical memory?
Eliot: I mean there are many. I grew up in a very musical surrounding. I guess I first connected with music when I was given my first guitar when I was about four or five. And I just fell in love with it. I felt like I had made a friend and something that I could carry with me forever. And then at a really young age I decided that I was going to dedicate myself to music, because it made me…happy.
Louis: I read that you’re also a multi-instrumentalist. Do you have a certain instrument that you prefer over others?
Eliot: I mean, I’m a bass player primarily. And I like it because I like the sound of the bass. And I find it easy to kind of lead the band with that instrument because for me the bass is everything. You can take out guitars and synths, but the root notes and rhythm I think are everything.
Louis: What are some bands that you’re currently listening to?
Eliot: Probably, umm, I listen to a lot of Crocodiles. New bands, right? Wild beasts. There are so many. This new band that my guitar player is in is coming out with some really cool music. And um, yeah, there are so many, that’s actually a really difficult question.
Louis: Let’s talk about your father a little. Has his music influenced yours?
Eliot: Yes, by default it’s influential because it’s the first kind of music that I heard when I was young, so yeah. It’s a huge influence. I’m a big fan.
Louis: What do you like to do for fun?
Eliot: I like to cook, and I’m quite into my boxing. I box maybe four or five times a week. It keeps me focused and I really enjoy it. I don’t know what that says about my character but yeah, I like getting punched in the face — and punching other people in the face.
Popscene presents On an On w/ Eliot Sumner, Dosh, plus Popscene DJs Thursday Sept. 3, 2015 at 9:00 pm at the Rickshaw Stop. Tickets are $13-15 and can be purchased here. http://www.rickshawstop.com/event/880749-on-on-san-francisco/