Talking Music: John Elliott of The Little Unsaid

Led by Yorkshire-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Elliott, The Little Unsaid have spent the last year travelling the UK and Europe  with their album Imagined Hymns & Changing Mantras, recorded with Radiohead engineer and acclaimed film score producer Graeme Stewart. 

Andy Howells recently caught up with John Elliott to discuss The Little Unsaid.

How did you first start out in music?

I played in sweaty alt-rock bands in my early teens like most of us, shouting down microphones and trying to get served beer in the bars we played in. Then in the long dark of later adolescence I spent many lonely hours in my room making strange album after strange album with an old PC and a £5 microphone from Argos. These records were mostly pastiches of anything and everything I heard in my dad’s record collection and in the mystifying abyss of this new thing called ‘Internet.’

A producer friend of mine eventually suggested I go into a studio and make a proper album with him using the best bits of material from all these lo-fi albums I’d made. I released it under the name The Little Unsaid in a futile attempt to avoid being another John with long hair and a guitar. And then, over the next few years I had chance to work at it and hone my songwriting and self-release more records to try get closer to what it was I heard in my soggy brain.

Fortunately, there was never much pressure around me to do certain things because no one was remotely interested in commercially releasing anything I was doing! So I had time to slowly work at the craft and just try get better without the big scary industry looming overhead too much. That was a blessing in disguise, being ignored all those years! It’s nice that people are listening now though, of course…

Who or what has inspired you most on your musical journey?

Mostly experiences and exchanges with the people around me who I’m incredibly lucky to spend time with. This probably sounds very sentimental and weak-kneed, but why the hell not! It’s true. Seeing life unfold around me and being a part of the lives of friends, family and other creative people I collaborate with is the thing that always inspires me to continue making music.

Being a living, thinking, dancing, skipping, jumping creative being in the world is an absolute privilege, even when it’s painful and traumatic, and to this day nothing else makes me want to bang a drum or write a song more than that. 

Can you give us some background about your latest release?

Imagined Hymns & Changing Mantras is an album about the resilience of the human spirit, the unfathomable way in which trauma helps us grow. The songs came out of a series of very dark and traumatic experiences, but for me it’s a celebration of how we can somehow reignite the imagination, love and desire after a complete shutdown and reset of that kind.

I made it with the band I’ve been touring with for about two years, so our friendship as well as the musical bond we’ve built is entwined in each track. Making it has been a hugely healing experience for me and I’m so pleased it’s resonating with some other people who’ve gone through any sort of trauma in their lives, as most of us do at some point or another. 

You’re touring shortly, are you looking forward to that?

The band and I love life on the road. At our level it’s often an uphill struggle, finding places to stay, trying to promote the gigs, the constant financial insecurity – such joy! But all that is completely outweighed by the incredible experiences we have sharing music with people and chatting to everyone after the show. For us, those little pockets of community you build up at the gigs are what it’s all about. We can’t wait.

What can people expect from your current tour?

We’ll be playing the album in its entirety, as well as some of the old dance-floor classics from our back catalogue. Some of it will be loud, some will be quiet. I will probably flail around a lot. We’ll play our little hearts out for a couple of hours and then chat to people afterwards. Maybe wave some merchandise around if anyone likes things to take home. And hopefully we’ll all share something you can’t get whilst sat in front of a screen at home…so people should most definitely come

What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?

The new Colin Stetson album comes out tomorrow, I heard it all the way through for the first time last night and it’s phenomenal. The new Father John Misty album is cracking, too. 

What else have you got planned for the rest of the year?

Touring and more touring! The spring tour ends with our Glastonbury Festival performance, then we might have a few more festivals through the summer. Then we’ll be touring again in September I think, and in-between all that we’ll be getting material together for our next album, which is bubbling away in my brain in moments of stillness and that we’re already itching to make.