By Rick Coates
For the past couple of years Ann Arbor based My Dear Disco has been making regular stops in Northern Michigan. The band recently headlined the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival and just last week they performed to a packed house at the Loading Dock in Traverse City.
Voted Best Band in Northern Michigan, the players are getting ready to embark on a national tour. Guitarist and band co-leader Robert Lester sat down to give an update:
Northern Express: A month ago when you came to Traverse City you were My Dear Disco. This past stop you unveiled a new name, Ella R!ot. What is up with the name change?
Robert Lester: There is a band out of Australia named My Disco that has been starting to gain popularity and touring internationally. We actually met them in 2009 at the South By Southwest Music Conference and both bands laughed about it. But when our management heard about them this January they took a different perspective and felt it could cause problems for us down the road.
In many ways we were ready to discuss a name change. We had changed our line-up from seven to five musicians, we were getting ready to release a new album and a new video so it all just made sense. We felt it made sense to do it now rather then later.
NE: Okay, why now and why Ella R!ot?
Lester: When we went to change the name we wanted to make sure we would avoid any trademark issues. It is a strange thing renaming an established band; we had this name for three years and built a following as My Dear Disco. We came up with Ella R!ot after the great Ella Fitzgerald. All of us in the band are fans of hers and Ella in Greek means bright light or torch and that is an image that we like to apply to what we do. Riot we came up with because that evokes our performance energy on stage.
Obviously, there is no violence in what we do but if you were to describe our stage show with one word it is riotous. So we put the two words together and it rolled off the tongue nicely so we went with it.
NE: When will you release your first CD under the new band name?
Lester: We are now embarking on a new tour around the country with a new CD that is being released this week called Love Child.
NE: How long has the band been together?
Lester: Essentially, we evolved out of the band Toolbox that was an instrumental project that had Irish bagpipes as the lead instrument and that band started five years ago. My Dear Disco/Ella R!ot has been together for three years -- all of us attended the U of M School of Music.
NE: Do you credit your U of M attendance in aiding your approach to music and what you describe as a DanceThink sound?
Lester: The band became an outlet for us because during the day we were doing academic music. Eventually we built up this band to seven players we were all friends. Five of us lived together for three years so we were like a musical family.
Then school ended and we decided we had a unique chemistry and we decided to take this band to see how far we can take this.
NE: For your style of music do you think being based in Michigan is best?
Lester: Michigan has its own music scene and it is known around the country. Music is one of the great exports from this state and it is a real calling card. When you are traveling around the country and people hear that you are from Michigan there is this sense you are going to bring it. The Michigan music scene is thriving, there is a lot of diversity.
NE: It is tough keeping a band together? What do you guys do to make it work?
Lester: Being in a band takes a lot of work, it is crazy just how much work it really is. I think maybe for some people who have never done it wonder how it could be so hard, but it is all of the little things that go into touring and recording and it is a very draining enterprise at times.
So you have to figure out how to do it so that experience fills your cup back up. Our secret to this point requires a lot of explicit communication. I think we are lucky because everyone in the band values that and while it can be easy to slip into a non-communicative environment... Our rule is anything can be talked about as long as it is talked about respectfully.
NE: What are you trying to accomplish musically?
Lester: We want highly danceable, multimedia displays of funky, songful, meaningful awesomeness. We have always tried to be something of a spectacle on stage but in a way that people want to get closer to.