With his rich, distinctive electronic sound, Alexander Kotz aka Elderbrook is casting his musical net further with the release of his debut album Why Do We Shake In The Cold.
The naturally experimental and musically curious, Grammy-nominated musician felt that the time was right to release an extensive body of work culminating from his years of experience in the industry. A sustained exploration into the human condition against the backdrop of our consumer, media-saturated world, Why Do We Shake In The Cold serves as social commentary that you can dance to.
Centering on Elderbrook’s metaphor about how we express ourselves to others as well as our incessant need for more of everything and anything is serendipitous that the album is released during a time when everyone has been forced to reassess their priorities.
Featuring the standout tracks ‘Something About You’ feat. Rudimental, ‘Numb’ and ‘My House’, the album features the musician’s distinctive style and rhythm. This collection of work is a strong demonstration of both his lyrical and musical ability.
It’s been 5 years since your first release with the EP Simmer Down. Does creating a debut album now feel like a natural progression of your work?
Yes definitely! When I did the shorter EP, people were asking me if it was an album but for me… I was still experimenting with a lot of different sounds and now I’ve done that experimenting and I’ve landed on the sound I wanted to always get around to. I think debut albums are important; you only get one debut album, so I wanted to do it right and make something that I’m proud of.
Titled Why Do We Shake In The Cold, the album explores relationships and needing people. Do you think that we as people underestimate our need to make a human connection?
I think this period of time has really shone a light on what people are looking for. People have always thought about it but not being able to legally, [see people] has really shone a light on that and made a lot of people realise how important it is. I didn’t make this album knowing this [the COVID-19 pandemic] was all going to happen, but it has coincided.
The idea behind the eponymous track from the album is this notion of shaking in the cold to let other people know we need them close. How did you come to this idea?
The way I write music is I kind of mumble things until they resemble words and once they resemble words, I finesse them until they actually mean something and that was the phrase I came across. It ties in with the whole song’s meaning; it’s a metaphor for showing that you’re sad or that you need help to let people know you need them close by. Scientifically, that is not why we shake in the cold. We shake in the cold so that we can warm ourselves up, but I just thought it was a cool metaphor; a physical representation to show how people need people. Also, penguins all huddle together to keep warm and I often think about penguins.
In the same vein as the rest of the album, the track ‘Something About You’ feat. Rudimental also analyses the theme of people needing people. The music video received widespread recognition for highlighting themes of toxic masculinity and mental health in men. Did you ever experience difficulty regarding expressing yourself?
I think everyone does to a certain degree and obviously, the video touches on how in a lot of cultures in the world a lot of men bottle it all up and ‘man up’, or other stupid phrases like that. When I was actually writing the song, it was more about a theoretical world where if I remained on the same path I would lose the people closest to me and that’s what the song was about for me.
When the video was made, the director [Luke Davies] took that idea and looked at this other theme and looked at toxic masculinity. That wasn’t what I was going for in the beginning but I’m super glad that he did do that because the video touched a lot of people, from it helping people deal with suicide in the family or addiction in the family, and I think it all turned out for the best.
Has music been a lifeline for you?
Definitely, creating music has always been a therapeutic thing for me. Just this morning, I was messing around on my laptop and I kind of zoned out for 2 hours making a strange techno beat; it’s never going to be released or anything but it’s always something I’ve done for myself. When I started releasing music; seeing how other people connected to it and how it helps other people has just brought a whole new life to what I do and a new meaning to why I do it.
‘My House’ is significantly more upbeat and depicts that ‘grass is greener on the other side’ mentality that our society promotes and, at varying degrees, we all possess. What do you think it is about the human psyche that feeds into consumerism?
I think, like you say, everyone has the ‘grass is greener’ mentality. I see it more as the goalpost’s getting further away so you think ‘I’ve just scored this amazing goal!’ but hold on, there’s another, even bigger, more impressive goal down the line. You buy your first house and think ‘Well, this is nice but now I want the bigger house.’
I, much like everyone else, have struggled with that but really it’s actually not important so this song was a reminder to myself that it’s okay, take a step back and look at what’s going on. Really, none of that other stuff matters. With the song, I was definitely taking the piss out of people who keep on coming back and back for more and hopefully, that came across otherwise I seem like a dick. It’s meant to be ironic. That ‘want’ culture is exacerbated by Instagram and all that stupid stuff where people are showing the best things [about themselves] that people really love following; the pages and the celebs who show it off. I think it’s kind of weird that people do that and others see that and think ‘one day, I’ll be like them’ and ‘they’ve got it all, they’re super happy.’
It’s really difficult to step out of that but I wrote this song to remind myself to just not worry about it, and there’s another song [on the album] called ‘Take A Minute’ which is all about taking a step back and looking at everything rather than focusing on ‘I need this and I need that.’
You are a self-taught, bedroom artist which can be said for many other popular and talented musicians these days. Has technology made creating music more accessible?
Definitely, and I often complain about social media and the way music is consumed. I struggle with it sometimes and if I didn’t need to have Instagram and Twitter, I fully would not be involved with it but then I think, I wouldn’t be where I am without it. Like you said, I came from just uploading songs on SoundCloud and then one got super big on the internet, on a social media platform, and that led to all the opportunities that I’ve now taken advantage of. But you have to be careful because that’s not the be-all or end-all of music and you don’t do it to put it on Instagram, or wherever, you do it for yourself or whatever other reason you want to do it for.
Your sound is multi-faceted, and it’s clear you’re inspired by a multitude of genres. What is the genre that you always deviate to?
I absolutely love country music which other people wouldn’t really expect. I like to think, in every one of my songs there’s a little bit of country music in there. Whenever I pick up a guitar, I definitely always find myself doing a little bit of that. The reason why I find myself in different genres in my music is because, much like everyone on the planet, I don’t just listen to one genre. I would never just want to make one genre of music, otherwise, I would just get so bored. So, I’ve started doing these cabin sessions in lockdown which has really allowed me to do stuff that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with Elderbrook. I did one the other day with Drake’s song ‘Toosie Slide’; I’ve done an amazing country music version of that track which is coming out in the next few weeks. I got my banjo out and played a little bit of banjo; it’s got such a beautiful sound, it pierces through wherever it is.
You’ve adapted to lockdown and the effects of the pandemic well with your Quarantine Global Livestream Digital Tour. What was like working on this?
I guess when I was doing it, I thought is anyone even gonna care? Because I think a lot of people know me for the sounds I release, and a lot of this was just me and a guitar. People have said before ‘Why are you doing this? You should just be doing what we know you for’, but I like doing lots of different kinds of stuff. So, it is important for me to carry on going because why would I stop? This is the longest I’ve not done a live show or gone on a plane in a long time. I am in France now, but I drove down here. So, it was important to keep it [the livestream] going.
As well as that you’ve been doing livestreams for Clash x WaterAid and Men’s Health MH Fest (benefiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI). In the current climate, it’s easy for people to forget that everything that mattered before still matters and perhaps more so in the current pandemic. What did it mean to you to be involved?
It’s super important to keep on doing these things but also be involved with organisations that are actually, seriously making a difference. Take WaterAid, water is pretty damn important for people’s survival all across the world. Though I may not be actually going to help physically, giving money and raising awareness is so so important and I was so glad to be involved in it especially because I have all this spare time where I’m not doing this and that or going on planes, etc. I have all this time to put my music to good use.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Well, I guess it’s pretty uncertain. Sometime next year I will be touring this album which will be out on the 18th September, but also some interesting collaborations with some great people which I don’t know how much I can say but they’re coming! I’m going to keep on doing those cabin sessions because country music versions of hip-hop songs are the best thing in the world, this ‘Toosie Slide’ one is so good!
It’s just weird that it’s so uncertain, and I guess nobody knows what’s coming next.
Check out Elderbrook’s debut album Why Do We Shake In The Cold below!