Ela Minus and DJ Python on Love Poetry, Caribou, Tom Robbins, and Other Inspirations Behind Their New EP ‘♡’

    From the moment they linked up, Ela Minus and DJ Python’s friendship revolved around the things they loved. When the New York-based DJ and producer, also known as Brian Piñyero, was commissioned by Minus to remix a track from acts of rebellion, the Colombian electronic musician’s excellent 2020 debut LP, the pair started texting each other not just music recommendations but also films and book excerpts. When it came to making their EP (referred to as “corazón”), which is out Friday, they didn’t talk about how the music should sound – Piñyero describes the process as “unspoken communication” – but this back-and-forth did lead to philosophical discussions about love and life that are, in an organic way, reflected on its three spacious, strikingly intimate tracks.

    Press materials cite specific influences such as Tricky’s debut album, the Belgian new wave band Bernthøler, and Leslie Winer’s 1993 record Witch. On the early single ‘Pájaros en Verano’, Minus goes through a list of things she’s grateful for during the pandemic – “clouds, food, sleep” – that could also be considered inspirations. That none of these were mentioned when we caught up with the duo is less of a surprise than a testament to just how much music, literature, and wisdom they absorbed through their collaboration. Read about Caribou, Tom Robbins, love poetry, and other inspirations behind their new EP below.

    Dettinger’s 1999 album Intershop

    Brian Piñyero: I just really like that album, and I was listening to it a lot when we were making stuff. It kind of just has everything it needs. I feel like it doesn’t add more, so maybe that’s why the songs might feel spacious or something like that. It just lets things breathe, and it’s one kind of feeling that can be a bit nuanced. But the more it repeats, the more different parts of it you can feel. I think the drums are interesting, but it’s more strictly downtempo drums of a different era, where people were referencing certain kinds of breaks. And then I was thinking of doing that with other kinds of drum breaks or rhythm. We were just exploring that kind of stuff.

    Would you share these kinds of musical influences with Ela?

    BP: I think we chatted about it. We send each other lots of stuff, so it’s hard to remember. We would definitely share stuff, and that was one of the things that we shared. But it’s more so just to share, it wasn’t “Let’s sound like this” or something like that.

    ‘Hello Hammerheads’ by Caribou

    I hadn’t revisited that album in a long time – it’s an excellent record. And this is an interesting track, because it has this Elliott Smith-like, folky quality. 

    Ela Minus: Honestly, it’s one of my favourite Caribou songs, which is kind of weird, because it’s such an old album, different from everything he’s done after. But there’s something about his voice and the melody and the fact that it’s just like guitar and his voice, at the beginning at least, that’s very sweet and intimate. And I love that. Since the first time I heard that record, it’s always been a go-to song, that I go when I’m in that mood and I just want something sweet and warm. And that’s why when we were making this, the melodies just felt like that.

    Given how you focused on vocals and lyrics for this EP, I can see how it could be inspiring to hear how an artist like Caribou would approach such a sparse song.

    EM: Yeah. I mean, in general with the EP, it never was a rational thing. It was never, like, we were listening to stuff and being, like Brian said, “It should sound like this,” or I was looking for references for how to sing or write the lyrics. We made it so intuitively, and then after the fact, hearing it back, it reminded me of certain things that I obviously have listened to before that influenced me when I was doing it, but on a subconscious level.

    There’s something not that interesting about the difference between my own productions and what I did with Brian, and it’s that I usually stack up a lot of vocals on my own songs, like at least eight tracks with my vocals. And with Brian’s, it was one, a single one. And I haven’t done that since I first started. It’s very different, and obviously way more intimate. That affects the interpretation and also the sound, and I think probably Dan from Caribou does something similar, but on that track, it’s only one vocal, you can really hear him so much closer. It’s a silly thing to talk about if you’re not into producing, but it does make a very big difference in the sensation.

    Was the vocal approach that you took with this EP a conscious decision?

    EM: I think it was sort of an accident. I just recorded one, which is obviously how it starts, and then I just felt so much when I heard it back. I did one and I was like, “This is a good melody,” and I just bounced it and send it over. And then he really liked it. He was like, I just didn’t feel the need to add anything else, kind of the same as he was saying with the instrumentals. Like, I have one vocal take, this is it. I don’t need to add anything else. It just feels right.

    Tove Ditlevsen’s collected memoirs The Copenhagen Trilogy

    Were you reading it around the time you were making the EP?

    BP: Yeah, while the EP was being made, I was reading it a lot. I don’t know, it’s just really good. Have you read it before?

    I haven’t.

    EM: Me neither.

    BP: I highly recommend it. It’s an interesting memoir from a great writer. But I think it kind of went in line with some of the stuff Ela and I would talk about, about life as an artist or something like this. And just making stuff – feeling like you gotta make stuff, I guess. That’s about it, though.

    How do you each remember those conversations?

    BP: Ela’s definitely helped me feel more comfortable with just thinking of myself as an artist and kind of going for it more, and not to worry about other aspects of life as much as creating work. We just had conversations where I’ve been working other jobs and feeling a bit frustrated or something, and Elsa’s been helpful in helping me feel comfortable in my decisions.

    EM: [laughs] Sorry, it’s sweet, so I smile –

    No, it is sweet. How about you, what do you feel like you’ve learned about living as an artist by talking with Brian?

    EM: Yeah, I think it was very evident since the first time we talked – something about the things we talked about since the first conversation and how Brian sees art and life just made it very comfortable to exist in this realm of melancholy and sensitivity. Being melancholic, but also comfortable in that realm. It hadn’t been in my life before very common to talk to people, to other musicians, about such nuances; it’s very specific sentiments and sensations that come along the craft, the profession, I guess. But it’s not very common to talk about them so quickly with someone you just met. I think also, in the type of music we both make, you meet people and you don’t usually talk about right ahead, like, about how you feel right now. Even if you’re down, it’s not very common to be like, “How are you?” “Ah, not feeling great today.” You know? The honesty about how you’re feeling was very special. I feel very comfortable talking about all the aspects of the realm of feelings that come alive as an artist. It’s very precious to have a friend like that. You can be completely honest and don’t feel like you have to be positive all the time, or don’t question yourself, the decisions you’ve made, all of those things.

    Why do you think that vulnerability is something that’s maybe absent in certain circles of electronic music?

    EM: I wouldn’t say electronic music, I think just music in general, in my experience. Because when you said electronic music, I thought back to when I was in bands and stuff, and I think it was the same. I don’t know, I think capitalism got very into the core of artists, and this idea that you have to be tough and always be very positive if things are going well in your career and not question it or question why you’re doing it after a certain point. There’s something very external that got inside the core of artists of just having to always be proving yourself, always be going for it. And once you’re “living the dream,” whatever the fuck that means, you just have to be thankful for that and always happy and positive and keep going, and not question yourself or accept that maybe you’re feeling down because of it or whatever. I think that core is what has made it be more like that, even though it should be the total opposite, I think.

    Brian, do you have an early memory of having conversations with Ela that made you realize you were kind of on the same wavelength?

    BP: I feel like a lot of people – this is kind of in line with what Ela is saying – culturally, for some reason, we move forward very quickly, and we’re constantly trying to improve ourselves. But it’s not really improvement, it’s like we’re trying to think of ways to be able to be more productive, which doesn’t really mean living a happier or a truer life by any means. And I think Ela and I just connected quickly because I think we’re both really reflective, and for whatever reason, felt really comfortable doing that with each other. So a lot of this sharing and discovering with each other has just been really natural. It feels good to know someone like that, that you can be with.

    Still Life With Woodpecker (1980) by Tom Robbins

    EM: He’s a writer that I actually was reading another book by lately, and I was just texting with Brian about how I wonder why he isn’t more known. That book specifically – it’s not literally about love, but the two main characters fall in love with each other, so it ponders a lot about relationships. It’s very surreal, but also very down-to-earth. I just like it a lot. And I think I was rereading it when we were making the songs, had just finished rereading it. I was actually thinking how the love aspect of it completely went over my head the first time I read it, because there’s so many other layers. And it was just part of the story, but not really what I thought the book was about. I didn’t think it was a romantic book by any means the first time I read it. And then when I was writing the songs and I had just reread it, that was the main thing that popped out. It’s just a very cool book, very inspiring too.

    Just by reading the synopsis, it seems to encompass so many different things that I can see why the romance aspect might slip by you.

    EM: Obviously I understood the love aspect of the story, but it was sort of love towards something, like each of the characters is very radically committed to a cause – extremely different causes, like one is an anarchist and super radical, but it was love towards those things themselves and what they were trying to achieve, the first time I read it. And then the second time, I was like, there’s that, obviously, but also love for each other and things they did or didn’t do to be together. It’s a very surreal book, so it’s hard to talk about it – the entire thing happens inside the Camel cigarette.

    Mark Leidner’s poetry collection Returning the Sword to the Stone

    BP: I think it just came out when we were writing stuff. I really like his first collection of poems, called Beauty Was the Case That They Gave Me. But I think this one’s better, actually. He was a little bit on that lit bro trip on the first one. The second one is amazing. He’s just older now. They’re really beautiful – some of it’s funny, but a lot of is just beautiful. There’s really nice love poems in there, poems about friendship and relationships. My favourite, I think, is “Having ‘Having a Coke With You’ With You’”.

    Ela, do you remember it coming up during the process?

    EM: I don’t remember, I don’t think so. Again, we share so much. Actually, I ordered it when I saw that Brian sent it over, because I also read the first one and I kind of had a similar vibe as what you just said, kind of bro-y. There are glimpses. But then I actually didn’t know he wrote another one, so I ordered it yesterday.

    The poem that you mentioned is the one I read, and it really struck me. I actually was reading him discussing the events of the poem, and I wrote down this quote: “When I reflect on this moment, I feel inspired by love, by its ability to inspire the good kind of risk-taking, and the happy surrender to a mind outside your own simply because you respect and admire it.” When you think about this EP, were there moments of love that inspired you in a similar way?

    BP: Yeah, definitely. And I was reading a lot of books about love, like I was reading In Praise of Love by Alain Badiou. With Ela, at least on my end, I feel like we just get to be each other and share each other. Kind of what he’s saying, like you’re just discovering someone and trying to look at the world through their eyes in a bit a way. That’s been really nice working together, but also just getting to know each other.

    Ela, when it came to writing these songs, does that sentiment resonate with you?

    EM: Yeah, definitely. Like Brian said, we were exactly on the same page. And I was very moved by it, because it hasn’t been very common in my life, that feeling. But also, I think I was definitely channelling something that he was thinking about while he was making the instrumentals. The lyrics definitely surprised me, hearing them back again. I didn’t write – I think that’s a big thing, I didn’t sit down and write and then sing. I sort of just sang, and words came out. And then I write them down to try and make sense of them and see if I need to change anything. When I was writing them back, it was just surprising to me. But also very transparent and honest, which is also how the relationship feels.

    Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings

    The way that he writes about love is just really wonderful, really unique, really touching. Ela, tell me why you picked it.

    EM: Precisely that. I mean, it’s one of my favourites. And I just love also how free it feels, his work in general, but that’s the only physical book I have from him. And I love it. The love ones are probably my favourite ones. I actually don’t really like poetry that much, but when I love something, it’s, like, completely. It just changes everything, right? A good poem. Anyway, those are probably my favourite love poems. I have it around usually, but also, I remember specifically when we were writing this, I had it on my desk. I wasn’t reading through it or anything, I just remember the image of it being there.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Ela Minus and DJ Python’s  EP is out September 16 via Smugglers Way.

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