When singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Eliot Sumner began her recording career, she used the name I Blame Coco for her project. That choice was based at least in part upon her desire not to trade on her famous name. As the daughter of bassist Gordon Sumner (that's Sting to you and me) and actor Trudie Styler, Sumner wanted to be measured on her own musical merits. She was sensitive to suggestions that nepotism played a part in her getting a record deal.
That was then; this is now. On her latest album, Information, the now more self-assured Sumner proudly goes by her given name. "I'll always be in this shadow," she admits, pausing and then adding, "Well, for now, anyway. But I don't see a problem with it; I just get on with my job, turn up and play music."
Information has been receiving near-unanimous critical praise. "This is the album I was always supposed to make," Sumner says. She's less enthusiastic about The Constant, the 2010 album she made fronting I Blame Coco. "I wasn't very happy with it," she says. "I wanted to distance myself from it."
Sumner has clearly moved past The Constant's pop-leaning sounds and into darker textures influenced by krautrock, a largely synthesizer-driven style that came about in 1970s West Germany. "I think it's more natural for me to write darker songs with moodier textures," Sumner says. "Positivity seems very two-dimensional to me; I like to explore the darker end of things."
But Information does have its lighter moments, as well. The tongue-in-cheek "Halfway to Hell" draws its inspiration and vibe from a completely different place, sounding like an updated pastiche of Slade, Gary Glitter and other early '70s British glam rock acts.
Other tracks on Information — most notably "After Dark" and "What Good Could Ever Come of This" — still have plenty of hooks that can attract and hold the attention of listeners. But Sumner says that isn't a conscious goal of her songwriting. "I don't tend to think about that too much," she says while conceding that composing catchy melodies is "a natural way of writing traditional pop songs."
Though she plays many instruments (she's often photographed playing electric bass, her father's instrument of choice), keyboards are the centerpiece of Sumner's newer songs. She experiments extensively on modular synthesizers, and says that a favorite activity is "going into a room and fooling around with synthesizers all day. It's great fun."
Meanwhile, Sumner credits producer Duncan Mills with helping her incorporate the structured aesthetic of krautrock — especially its hypnotic "motorik" beats — into her own work. "Before Duncan got involved, my song structures were really, really obscure," she admits. "They kind of went off into total chaos."
In fact, it was Mills who introduced Sumner to the joys of krautrock. "He opened the door to that world for me," she says. "And you can get lost in it, because there's so much to discover."