Last updated: 12/11/2007 11:00:00 AM
Okay, I’m putting my name on this one.
Why? Because this is one bio where I want to go on the record.
Because I’m talking to you about a new artist who’s unlike any I’ve come across in quite some time.
I’m talking about ELAN, a singer and songwriter who at age nineteen came roaring out of Guadalajara by way of Southern California and straight into my heart.
Maybe, like me, you remember when rock and roll was something close to a spiritual thing. It wasn’t about slick and snappy dance steps or machine-bred grooves. And it wasn’t about focus groups or demographic targeting.
Those days--if they ever really existed--were probably gone before ELAN was born. But somehow, she was there. That sense, that music can save your life, courses through her debut album, STREET CHILD. It’s raw, rough, full of soul and impossible to ignore. Her voice cries, shouts and whispers through songs that feel timeless, bottomless, searing and ecstatic.
From the world-weary resignation of “Goodbye Jeremy” to “They Came From the City,” a rhythmic hymn to visions that beckon from just beyond the horizon. This is epic, visual music. Colors seem to flare and deepen as we ride down this sonic highway. This is music about which myths will be spun…except that it’s here now. In our time.
Only the rarest kind of artist can do something like this. An artist who somehow can plug into young passions while drawing also from lessons that come through hard times.
The ELAN story is a story of a brother and sister who gave up everything in search for their dream and didn’t stop until they got it.
A few names come to mind: Janis Joplin. Bonnie Raitt. To me, the women hold a special place in this pantheon, carved from pain and poetry, and from the ecstasy of empowerment.
ELAN belongs on this list too. But I’ve said enough…let her words, and her music, make the case…
“I grew up on Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday…I’m very disassociated from my generation. But I’m not disappointed in these kids, because they’re not responsible. They’ve had to grow up on soulless, fake pop stars that are told what to say and when to say it by sons of bitches who don’t want to give us anything to believe in…”
ELAN speaks quietly, in a husky hush that’s punctuated in equal measure by laughter and blunt, honest ire. She makes no apology for her opinions, which are about as provocative as her singing and the emotionally turbulent songs she writes.
“I didn’t know modern pop until I came to the U.S.,” she continues. “Up to that point all I knew were the real legends. The singers who said ‘even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.’ That’s why I have a problem with pretty little boys and girls who think that shaking their asses and doing their happy little dances are all it takes to get onto what was once sacred ground--the cover of Rolling Stone.
She was the younger of two children; her brother Jan Carlo DeFan remains her closest friend and collaborator. He is her producer, manager and the president of their label: Silverlight Records. He also joins her onstage, live as her guitarist.
Both parents were musical. ELAN began to play the piano by the age of three, then added guitar and drums to her regimen a few years later. But she was ten or eleven years old when she actually began performing. Her first appearances were at parties in her own home. Eventually she started singing at similar events around town. But everyone knew that her future was too big to be contained in Guadalajara.
And so, when ELAN was fifteen, her family made its move to the US, where ELAN and Jan Carlo began scouting out the music world. All four were, and still are, tight and they all still share a home.
“It was very rough,” she remembers. “My whole life was in Mexico. When I left, I felt I was the only person on the planet. But music was all I ever wanted to do. I knew this was the price I had to pay. So, forget it. I did what I had to.”
Jan Carlo’s street smarts, polished by his experience as an Producer and an A&R executive, helped ELAN edge into the American music world. They drove back and forth between cities, lining up gigs. Already her hard-edged, dramatic sound was taking shape. “Because of all the pop they’ve been given to listen to, people didn’t take it in easily at first,” she admits. “But if I could play two or three songs for them, they’d say, ‘you’re really saying something. I haven’t heard anything like this in a long time…’”
The songs on the album were culled from the more than 100 songs ELAN (who plays piano, guitar and drums) wrote. She and brother/producer Jan Carlo cultivated these tracks in studios all over the United States and Mexico. They began sifting through them, recording the ones that felt right. Their approaches complemented each other perfectly: “ELAN just bangs her music out,” Jan Carlo says. “You get most of her vocals in one take. I, on the other hand, love tweaking stuff. I think I recorded fifty or sixty different guitar tracks for ‘Street Child’ alone: I’d wake up in the morning, pissed off at what I’d done the night before, erase it, and do it again.”
Jan Carlo recruited some amazing talents for this album. Among them the renowned Mexican composer and arranger Eugenio Toussaint, to write the chart when strings began to feel right for the piano/vocal track “Time.” For other songs, Jan Carlo brought in long time friends Juan Carlos Paz y Puente for string arrangements and Grammy Award Winning Engineer Jeff “The Pirate” Poe to assist in the recording and mixing process.
Some high-profile guests signed on along the way as well: David Immergluck of Counting Crows and Alan Weatherhead of Sparklehorse, as well as David Lowery from Cracker. But for ELAN, having Slash solo on the title cut was “Amazing,” she says. “Jan Carlo and I always wanted him to do the song… we had thought of him in the song YEARS before we had actually tracked it. He heard about us through a friend of ours, listened to ‘Street Child,’ and called us up. I was floored. I was always a fan of Guns N’ Roses and to me Slash has always been REAL rock & roll. Making music together was… magic.”
That, in briefest sketch, is the story of STREET CHILD. But it is, of course, much more than that. It’s a monument, if you will, to the determination, and the talent, and the bond shared by a brother and sister, who were willing to leave a world behind and stare down everyone that stood between them and their dream. And it’s more even than that: It’s an expression of faith in the power of rock and roll-- a power that’s been dormant for too long.
“Everything that once made music magic has been slaughtered,” ELAN says, “by fat guys in suits and rich kids with cell phones. I haven’t lost hope. All I need is a few kids behind me, saying, ‘Hey, you’re right! Forget them! We’re going to make the music we want to make the way we want to make it, because that is rock & roll.’ I want to make life a little less painful. If this record can do that, reaching one person at a time, then I’ve accomplished my mission.”