“It’s not just a band – you’re seeing a full production”: An interview with Donner Social

After checking out their website, it wasn’t long before I was singing along to ‘Train Spotting in the Atlantic Ocean’, and it was clear I’d be interviewing two motivated, hardworking and passionate musicians. Donner Social, made up of Josh Ellis and Elanna White, have been making music together since the age of 13 when they met through a mutual friend, and their close relationship was shown in the interview through a real personal connection with each other and their sharing the same fervour for music. Their genre is an Experimental, Electronica vibe, and it brings such a fresh stance on modern music.

I was initially welcomed into the studio where the magic happens and the music is created, but even through a camera it was easy to see that the pair were comfortable in a place where the band fully expresses itself. The band name itself was quite unexpected, and when asked where it came from the story behind it showed how judiciously it had been chosen. “The particular story is the Manifest Destiny in America, and there was one particular group of people who were going from East to West who were called the Donner Party” explains Josh. “They ended up getting stuck in the mountain and eating each other to stay alive”, and Elanna added “as you can tell, it’s a really happy story!”

Based in Astoria, New York, the pair grew up in the same enchanting surroundings that many people dream of visiting one day. Many days are spent by the east river that separates Queens from Manhattan, so inspiration is flowing from the city of dreams that they live in. “We spend a lot of time in that area, on the rocks and by the river”, says Elanna, “and a lot of settings for the story in our music take place in New York, whether it’s in the city or in the suburbs”. Although the lyrics included in their songs aren’t direct references, it is evident that in a city as fast-paced and lively as New York, insight from the area they live will be injected into their ideas for stories in their songs.

But the tough lifestyle and animated place they live doesn’t stop them, as they both simultaneously agreed that juggling music and everyday life was a challenge. “We like it” said Elanna, closely followed by Josh adding “we thrive on that. We don’t ever like to be stagnant, we’re always doing a bunch of stuff all at once; I just can’t stand to be doing nothing.” The hectic lifestyles need a lot of planning and scheduling, “that’s why I have a little book that I call my Life Book” said Elanna, “because it actually has my life in it!”

This love for being busy is certainly clear in their other personal talents, with Josh constantly producing, writing soundtracks to films and running a record label in New York, whilst Elanna continues an acting career at drama school. When asked about other hobbies they partake in, Elanna was quick to add that she enjoys word games, to which Josh laughed. “I love to read, I think I can say for both of us we love going to museums” says Elanna. “We have a really cool sculpture park right here actually, we spend a lot of time there”. Elanna’s passion for picnics also showed when she said “It’s getting colder out now, which is sad, but when it’s warm out we like going to the park, having picnics… I could lay on the grass for hours.”

With a released EP, Archetype for Defeat, which they distributed at their National Underground show in New York City, and  their first full length album released early next year, Josh and Elanna really showed an enthusiasm and drive for letting the band reach its full potential. “I feel like a lot of electronic bands don’t ever end up really playing shows, a lot of them become a studio album kind of thing, that’s what happened with The Postal Service” explains Josh. “I think at least one of my goals in particular as we start to release music, is to have a show that’s not just going to see a band, but more like going to see a piece of performance art. Our music should really be in sync with that so when you’re coming to see a show, it’s not just a band – you’re seeing a full production.” We can be expecting a lot from Donner Social as they bring new material to the music industry, with a different outlook on how they want to storm their genre of music. “Bringing something a little bit different to the music world is important to me’ says Elanna, ‘something fresh, new and interesting I think would be lovely.”

However, it’s not just the surroundings that inspire Donner Social with sound and ideas that are portrayed in their lyrics, but the influence of other artists such as The Postal Service, The Prize Fighter Inferno, Imogen Heap and Canadian band Reverie Sound Revue. “We both take inspiration from The Postal service for the original melodic electronica rather than the club music” says Josh, yet they realised a new inspiration on Josh’s part after a deep ponder about other artists. “You’d be surprised, I actually really like Beirut a lot” he said, to which Elanna replied “I don’t really listen to Beirut… Obviously they’re somewhere in my subconscious!”

By using the electronica and synthpop genre, it creates a new sound that many may not be familiar with. “I think it has a lot of surprises in it” explains Elanna, “a lot of different qualities. Maybe if the effects don’t really appeal to you, then the lyrics and the stories to the songs will, or maybe the melody doesn’t appeal to you but the background to it or something does.’ Josh continued ‘it depends on what you’re interested in, because a lot of people tell me that they only like this type of rock and they don’t really listen to anything else, and then they hear it and maybe something about it just happens to appeal to what they like about rock music.” After collating their answers together, I think the lesson I’d learnt was to give all genres of music a try – don’t be afraid to listen to something extraordinary just because it’s out of your comfort zone!

When asked to describe their album ‘In Suspended Animation’, both Josh and Elanna had so much to say about their music that it was tough to put it all in one sentence. Yet, the emergence of a more philosophical side to the duo was prevalent. “I think that imagination has a lot to do with it” says Elanna, “and I think that getting lost in ordinary places and regard nothing as ordinary has something to do with it… I can’t put that in one cohesive sentence!” Josh continued “we focus on so many different things, but I’d say finding something wonderful in just a regular place, being able to see something a little more beautiful than what’s on the surface.”

With such a superb answer, I thought I’d throw them another tricky question and ask where they saw themselves in ten years time, yet with such a motivation behind them, it seemed to be an easier question. “We have so much music ready!” said Josh, going on to explain his hopes of touring and releasing a third, or maybe even a fourth album by that time. Music from Josh and Elanna will be released on iTunes by the end of the year, and with an album coming soon titled …In Suspended Animation, we will all be kept in suspense ourselves awaiting for the first full masterpiece from Donner Social.


Interview by Holly Braine

Pictures by Matt Holmes

5 Responses to ““It’s not just a band – you’re seeing a full production”: An interview with Donner Social”
  1. Tristan Young says:

    This is my cousin’s band! Josh is my cousin!

  2. Jenny says:

    the link to the website is broken. please use http://about.me/donnersocial instead!

    : ) Jenny

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