INTERVIEWS ELLE VEN|
POP SIREN ELLEE VEN TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HER CD 'YOUCANBUYME',
THE STORY BEHIND HER MOST CURIOUS MONIKER
AND A LITTLE THING CALLED 'GROOVETONICS'
WRITTEN BY BRIAN LUSHI'm at a loss for words when it comes to pop singer ELLEE VEN. This raven-haired, wide-eyed sprite talks a million words a second. She's fast-paced and energetic, much like her music, which she has nicked GROOVETONIC (this will be explained later). Perhaps being a burst of energy stems from the "overstimulation" she had growing up in a conservative household where she and her older sister were expected to keep their minds busy. "The only way that I ever heard pop music growing up was through my older sister." says ELLEE. "Growing up, we were supposed to do penmanship. It wasn't like a punishment or anything. It was just really strict and very disciplined. If you weren't learning Spanish, you were reading. If you weren't drawing, you were playing the piano. There was always a lot of activity."
I first became acquainted with the artist known as ELLEE VEN when I attended the SOUTH BAY MUSIC AWARDS in November of 2007 in Redondo Beach, CA. The proceedings were kicked off with a side-splitting croon of the NATIONAL ANTHEM by the SOUTH BAY MUSIC producer KEN ANDREWS. From there, things descended into chaos; a dwindling crowd, hecklers, sound problems, the hosts (LEE REHERMAN and SUMMER JAMES) skipping segments of the program and butchering the names of the artists. That evening, It was ELLEE VEN that walked away with a SOUTH BAY MUSIC AWARD for BEST VIDEO for her song 'YOUCANBUYME'. When it was announced that "ELEVEN" was the winner, the diva ran up to the stage, got on the microphone and said "IT'S ELLEE VEN...IT RHYMES WITH TEN!!!"
This was my introduction to her.
Months later, I get a call from a publicist friend of mine who tells me that he's representing this new artist named ELLEE VEN and that he has just sent me her CD and press kit in the mail. I never got to see ELLEE VEN perform that night because I had stepped out of the auditorium to get a drink and meet with some bands that I had interviewed in the past. I thought it would be interesting to hear music from the girl that everyone was calling "eleven" that night.
Let me be the one to tell you that ELLEE VEN's latest CD 'YOUCANBUYME' (HOT SAUCE RECORDS) is the most fun this side of GWEN STEFANI from it's infectious opening title track to cuts like UNDERNEATH MY PILLOW and JAZZ AT THE SNACK BAR. "I'm proud of my music" declares VEN. " I realize where there is a lot of room to grow but there are a lot of things that I really love about it. With this album, I feel like there was a progression in my sound and that different genres are represented. For instance, 'YOUCAN BUY ME' (the track) doesn't sound like ROLL THE DICE and whatever comes after that. I feel good about"
Now, what about this video that earned her the award that evening?
The ERIC ZIMMERMAN-directed video for 'YOUCANBUYME' deserves some recognition for it's superb editing and sci-fi animation. In the clip, our pop princess zig-zags across the planet and up into the heavens while riding a motorcycle/robotic horse. "ERIC ZIMMERMAN is brilliant! I met him when I did my first album and he directed my second video, but it was the first video the counted for me." says VEN. "He did it for really cheap. He was just so brilliant with editing and producing and directing. He was cheap at first but then he started to get a little more work and a little more recognition and I started doing videos for some of my other songs with different directors. I tried doing it a little more on an "indie" budget . Then when I finally wrote 'YOUCANBUYME', I went to a student director that I had met during the making of one of my other videos. I had all these ideas for the 'YOUCANBUYME' video and there was just no way, because I wanted synchronized swimmers and I wanted to be on a motorcycle. After that I decided that I would be going back to ERIC ZIMMERMAN, becuase I knew that he could get it done."
I spoke with ELLEE VEN (JESSICA KUNIN) over the phone on a Tuesday night. I expected a gal like ELLEE VEN to be calling me from the side of some immense swimming pool in Beverly Hills, but no. She called me from Lexington, Kentucky. "I have a house here and I come here for solace. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I work in Los Angeles. When I'm there I stay in my parent's guest home. Kentucky is hard for me to describe. Today it was like, so slow and I thought 'What the hell am I doing here when LA is so beautiful and here it's 20 degrees out?' But I've got to tell you that the people here are sooo nice and interested in participating in the community. For the last couple of years, I've just felt safer here (in Kentucky) in a lot of ways. Here, people know so much more about you and in a way you are so much more vulnerable, but it's not like wierd. In Los Angeles, I just do music. All I do there is work and I don't think it's healthy to be around entertainment people all the time. Nothing against them, because I'm one of them, but it's nice to be around people who put together a car, work at the bank or who might be developing the next cure for cancer. For the past couple of years, I've been overwhelmed by work, and the pressure of relasing single after single, so I crash out here every other week and I'll have the band come crash out here and it's really fun. I love it here"
I may be at a loss for words for this technologically enhanced pop-songbird but VEN had a million things to say the evening she phoned me for the interview. Before our conversation turned to anything music related, ELLEE went on and on about the MARTIN SCORCESEE film KUNDUN - about the 14th DALAI LAMA and the begining of China's occupation of Tibet. "The movie is sooo beautiful!" cooed VEN.
Before we would discuss her life in music, there was one thing that I had to get off of my chest - why the name? Her reply had all of the moxie of a 1984-era MADONNA, from the film DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN. "Well, my favorite number is eleven so I doubled the L and doubled the E. I thought 'nobody has that name.' One thing that remains constant is that everyone is always asking me about it."
ELLEE VEN's story is not one typically heard in pop music. One would expect that she was reared by nagging stage parents who entered their little JESSICA KUNIN into a series of talent shows, but this wasn't the case. Education was the aim that her parents had marked for her, as opposed to those silly dreams of pop superstardom. However, it was through school that JESSICA was introduced to the world of performing." When I was in the seventh grade there was this teacher that wanted me to try out for this vocal jazz group. In this group we did all of these jazz standards like ALL OF ME and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY. It was really cool! It was my first real expereince singing in front of people. The teacher was totally into it. He would re-arrange the songs all of the time. A song was never the same. So that was how music sort of began for me. From then on I was doing plays and musicals."
While music had proven itself to be "the passion", her family pressured her to continue her education, which she pursued with a vengeance. She earned a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology from none other than Pepperdine University. She did all of the things that one is supposed to do; get a degree, get a job and get married. While JESSICA settled into marriage and a career as a high school teacher, she had serious misgivings about having made all of the "right" choices. "I got married really young. After nine months, it ended in a divorce,which was a complete disaster. I was totally repressing myself because I thought that it would be good if I could be a teacher, and be married and have kids by the time I was 30, but it didn't work out. He (the husband) was totally on drugs and I didn't know it and he wasn't the nicest guy in the entire world. All of this inspired me to not care what other people had decided was going to make me happy."
With a bitter divorce behind her and a new lease on life, JESSICA KUNIN metamorphosed into pop singer ELLEE VEN and started to pursue , in earnest, this music-thing that had always been at the back of her mind for years and years. However, there was one little hitch in her plan - She didn't know how to go about making music.
It was a night out on the town that changed everything. "I was out one evening dancing and I was talking to this guy and telling him that I really think that I can write but I'm very nervous. What if I can't do it? Then this guy said that he had this friends in Minneapolis who was a musician who had worked for PRINCE. I don't know why I trusted this person. He was a total stranger. So I exchanged numbers with him and he gave me information about the guy in Minneapolis. I sent a picture of myself tap dancing in high school 'cause it was the only thing I had. Then I flew out for five days and within those five days I wrote some songs. It was great. Then I went back and actually recorded them in an actual studio and that was it. I never felt prouder in my entire life! It just meant so much. This was even before the digital thing when they recorded things reel-to-reel."
While it's easy to label the music as mere techno-dance, ELLEE VEN has given a name to her brand of music; 'GROOVETONICS'. "I want a person to feel energized when they hear my music." says ELLEE "I want them to also feel relief,and calm. I want them to feel happier. I think GROOVETONICS is supposed to make you move and make you feel better and provide some sort of relief. I came up with that name because I was very opposed to being genre-specific. That was my big thing when I got started. I'm not like everybody else. I'm Spanish, Greek, Italian, Russian and German. I don't know anybody else that's like that and I don't know why my music should be like anybody elses."
Initially, VEN's foray into music was met with disapproval from her "conservative" family. Namely, her late father. "My Dad is up in heaven now, but he was alive while I was writng and doing the whole ELLEE VEN bit. At first he didn't mind that I used the name ELLEE VEN because he thought that he didn't work hard for me to stay up late at night and sing to the drunk people, you know? He didn't like that I was doing music. Then, as he was finally happy that I was getting heard a little bit, he was like 'Why aren't you using the name JESSICA!'"
Nowadays, ELLEE VEN lives her life doing the things tha she wants to do, rather than wasting time trying to please other people."I was so repressed. I was so consumed with pleasing people." says ELLEE. "I went to a small private school, and my parents were so much older. I was raised in a Catholic Church and my Dad was really Jewish, which is the total opposite. I never knew who to please. Then after the the whole marriage and divorce thing, I was like 'This is so ridiculous!' What I don't want to be is a 9 to 5er teacher/housewife. No way!"
As a line from YOUCANBUYME goes, 'I'm living my life well/I'm living for me!'