TUNE IN TO
|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS ELAN ATiAS OF THE WAiLERS
STiR iT UP
ELAN ATiAS OF THE WAiLERS TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT THE EXODUS TOUR, THE 'i WENT HUNGRY' CAMPAiGN
AND CARRYiNG THE TORCH
JANUARY 13, 2009
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ELAN ATIAS's life story up to this point is the tale of one lucky son of a gun. I can't help but make the God-awful comparison to that equally God-awful 2001 MARK WAHLBERG film 'ROCK STAR' where an everyday-joe becomes the lead singer of a successful rock band. However, the ante is upped in ATIAS's case. This kid with a taste for the hypnotic sounds of reggae found himself fronting the very band that defined the sound and provided backing for the legendary BOB MARLEY; THE WAILERS. In speaking with ATIAS, he speaks matter-of-fact-ly with regard to how fortune smiled on him and had found himself fronting such a legendary line-up. For a young man with no real substantial industry cred behind him until that meeting with WAILERS guitarist AL ANDERSON, this glory gig has provided him with the most exciting on-the-job training as I'm sure our President-elect will soon experience. Currently ELAN ATIAS and THE WAILERS are touring the country with a live front-to-back performance of the signature BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS classic 'EXODUS'. Aside from the music, ELAN has taken on the role of humanitarian, namely with a charity established by the band called 'I WENT HUNGRY', where a portion of the funds allocated to the band's rider are donated to the United Nation's World Food Program. "Both the band and I have a big passion about the message of the band and the message is more than just one individual." says ATIAS. "This band has seen so many different members but the most important thing is the overall message and the vibe that it brings to people and what it makes people feel."
ROCKWIRED spoke with ELAN MATIAS as the band was preparing for a show in San Diego. Here is how it went.
How far are you guys in to the EXODUS tour right now?
We're just starting. Tonight is our first show in San Diego at THE HOUSE OF BLUES.
And from what I understand you guys are going to play the EXODUS album from beginning to end.
Yes, and then we're going to play a few songs from my solo album 'TOGETHER AS ONE' and maybe a song from the new album that is still in production and obviously some more hits that weren't on the EXODUS album.
So I got you right at the beginning, which is good.
Yeah. We're all upbeat and getting back to work after a long vacation. At the moment, I'm just exhausted. I had to wake up in the morning and drive down to here from L.A. for two hours and I got to sleep kind of late last night and right now, we're waiting for the bus to take us to the venue.
How long is the tour going to last?
It's going to go until the end of January and then we're going to Europe and then three shows in Russia. The only things confirmed now are three shows in Ireland and two in Spain. And then we'll be back in February.
Being the lead singer for THE WAILERS sounds like the glory gig. How did it happen?
Basically, about twelve years ago, I met AL ANDERSON who used to be the guitarist in the band. We met at a club and at the time, JUNIOR MARVIN who took over for BOB MARLEY when he had passed on, was leaving the band to do some solo work. I was in high school and not even involved in the music business and I was working on a demo for an album. I just got inspired for some reason. I needed a guitarist to play on this demo so I met AL at this club and he played guitar and when he heard my voice and heard my song, he played my stuff for the rest of the band and then I was asked if I wanted to go out on tour with them. I had never played with a band, and I've never had a sound check and I've never had a rehearsal and I've never stood in front of six thousand people. I had to memorize the songs on the records that I had grown up with. My first show was in Dubuque, IA. I was nineteen years old.
What drew you to music in the beginning?
I've always loved music, I just never thought of doing it professionally. I always sang in the shower or in the car to others peoples music and I would always make up songs in my head. People used to hear me sing other peoples songs and say to me 'Man, you should really try singing for real!' and as a kid, all I cared about was chasing skirts and having fun and partying and I didn't think of anything else. Then finally, the day came where everything started falling into place like dominoes and that was when I met AL. So that was how I got in the band. I was with THE WAILERS for three and a half years and then I had left and did a solo album. It was something I had always wanted to do and also started working on a bunch of soundtracks ('50 FIRST DATES'). I did a lot of one-off things and then I had this idea to do a collaboration album with THE WAILERS doing all new material with contemporary artists who've grown up loving THE WAILERS. I remember ASTON 'FAMILY MAN' BARRETT called me and told me that he was interested in the collaboration project. I also remembered him telling me, back in the late nineties that he had all of these lost drum tracks that were recorded on two-inch tape by his late-brother CARLTON 'CARLIE' BARRETT and I suggested to FAMILY MAN that we use those tracks by converting them to wave files and digitize them so this way all THE WAILERS can be present on this album. The only WAILER who is not on the CD is BOB MARLEY, PETER TOSH and obviously BUNNY WAILER, but everyone else like SEECO, FAMILY MAN, TYRONE, and CARLIE and the original horn section like GLEN DACOSTA, CHICO, and NAMBO ROBINSON are all there and then we're bringing in all of these A-list contemporary artists who've been inspired by THE WAILERS over the years. Right now, we're about half way through it and we're hoping to get the album out sometime this year. It's hard chasing around all of these artists who have their own busy schedules and their own careers to deal with and priorities, but thank God it's all been coming together. Both the band and I have a big passion about the message of the band and the message is more than just one individual. It's more than just BOB, BUNNY, or PETER or whomever. This band has seen so many different members but the most important thing is the overall message and the vibe that it brings to people and what it makes people feel.
In speaking about the bands message, talk a little about the 'I WENT HUNGRY' campaign.
It's a charity that we started with the United Nations WORLD FOOD PROGRAM. It was inspired by this rider fund that that band has which essentially feeds us when ever we are touring. Some bands riders are completely outrageous and they are allocated by the promoters so it doesn't come out of our pocket. There is so much food that I would say eighty percent of our food would go to waste because there is only so much that you can put on the bus. So everyday, we would be like 'this is ridiculous!' There are so many people dying a day of hunger and hunger related issues and a large percentage of that is children and it only costs $0.25 to feed a kid a meal so we've told the promoters 'instead of giving us three options for dinner, give us one and use the money to donate to the World Food Program'. Instead of giving us a rider everyday, give it three times a week instead of six, if we do six shows in a week. All that money that is allocated to the rider won't be spent on food that is just going to go to waste. Another cool thing is that I educate the fans every night about what it is that we're doing and we sell these wristbands that say 'I WENT HUNGRY' and on them is listed the website where they can donate. We sell the wristbands for two dollars and if each person bought one of these and there are four thousand of us here, we can save a lot of people a day. It's a lot on our shoulders and a lot on our plate, but we are the ones, especially FAMILY MAN, who has been carrying this legacy since '67, that are holding the family together. That's why they call him FAMILY MAN. He's the backbone of the band especially as a bass player. It's all about making people happy and taking them away from their worries and problems.
Since we're heading in that direction, I'd like for you to talk about each of the members and tell me what each of them brings to this table musically and creatively.
Sure. I was just talking about FAMILY MAN and he is the backbone. He's the guy that's been there since '67 and has been on the road since '69. The only other original members that are alive today are BUNNY WAILER and EARL 'WYA' LINDO. The fact that he is the backbone of the band comes through in his talents as a bass player. THE WAILERS can't be called THE WAILERS without FAMILY MAN. We've got a guitarist by the name of AUDLEY 'CHIZZY' CHISHOLM. He's been in the reggae scene for a long time. He does great background vocals and he's an amazing guitarist. He's played for many many years with MAXI PRIEST. He's played with a lot of people. I think the most important thing about a band is the vibe off of the stage. We're about to start a tour right now and we're becoming a family thats going to be on the road for twenty two hours a day. Two hours of those days, you are going to be on stage. You could have the most amazing musician but if you have the wrong attitude, I don't care how amazing he is. It's not worth it to have him around if he's complaining all of the time and causing fights. Nobody wants someone like that around. It's hard enough being on the road. Everybody in this band has the right vibe and that makes it easy on everybody else. KEITH STERLING is on the keyboards and he's legendary. He was the original keyboardist for PETER TOSH. He's also played with JIMMY CLIFF. He had also done a little studio work with BOB as well. He was an amazing keyboardist throughout the late-sixties and early seventies and was one of the original members of BLACK UHURU. KEITH is a super character! He's hilarious and he's always telling jokes and he's always laughing. We have a young drummer out of Jamaica who is absolutely amazing! His name is ANTHONY WATSON and he's only twenty five years old and this is one of the first bands that he's ever gone out of Jamaica with and toured. It's almost the same type of story with me, but he's been drumming for a long time. He's amazing on the drums. He's got a great personality and he's got a great vibe both on and of the stage. Everyone in this band is super-easy and super-happy. The horn section is actually very famous. CHICO CHINS was one of the original horn players for BOB and played studio stuff with him back in the seventies. Sometimes NAMBO is with us as well on trombone and he's another original member. They are great people with great spirits. They are very happy, easy-going guys who are just making life easy on the road for everyone. Going on to the background vocalists we have BRADY SHUMAR who has been with us for a few years. She has done a lot of studio work. The backing vocalists are the younger members of band like myself and the drummer. RUFFIA has done some extensive studio work in Jamaica doing background vocals and solo work and has had a lot of success with that. She was on tour with MAX ROMEO for many years and has toured with a lot of big bands out of Jamaica. CEGEE VICTORY is the newest member of the band and is another background vocalist. Her Dad is a famous guitarist from Trinidad and she a mix; Trinidad and Jamaican from New York where she was born and raised. She's got a LAURYN HILL styled voice. This is her first time going out on a tour and she's really young and super-happy to be along for it. God bless that we were able to get really good people. Like I said earlier, the vibe offstage is just as important as being onstage. And that is THE WAILERS right now.
So growing up, was it the music of THE WAILERS that spoke to you or other things?
Yes, for sure. THE WAILERS music helped me to find myself when I was in high school. I loved reggae and listened to it ever since I could remember knowing what music was. When I was a kid I actually thought 'Oh, those are actually people singing this?' There was this old song I remember that my aunts would sing. It was like a CARPENTERS song or something and as a little boy, I just thought that one of my aunts sang it. I had no idea where music was coming from when I was six years old, but I've been loving reggae music for a long time. It's been a part of me for a while and it's helped me find myself around high school. When I first started with THE WAILERS, most of the people in the audience were my age from 16 to 24 and when I rejoined the band a year and a half ago, the demographic was about the same. The music speaks to everybody on a different level. No matter who you are or what language you speak, people can relate to the message. I've been influenced by a lot of styles of music. When I released my solo album, I brought all of those influences together and that was why I called that album 'TOGETHER AS ONE'. I grew up before the age of the internet and it amazes me how these kids, with the click of a button, can hear music from all around the world and the world is a lot smaller now because of it. When I was growing up, discovering music from around the world was easier because my father is form Northern Africa and my mother is from here so I had the best of both worlds. I just heard it all from Middle Eastern to Flamenco to Salsa and on my mom's side it was all old Soul music and THE BEATLES and AL GREEN, MARVIN GAYE and SAM COOKE. And as a kid, I came into my own, loving things like New Wave stuff like THE CURE, DEPECHE MODE and DURAN DURAN.
So you have this background with all of these different tastes and then all of a sudden, you are fronting this legendary band. What was going through your head?
I was like 'Oh my God! I can't believe this is happening to me!'
Was it intimidating?
Of course. I was nervous because everyone knows those lyrics by heart and word for word. I wasn't scared of the audiences. I wasn't scared of anything else other than getting those songs right.
Since you've joined THE WAILERS, what has been the biggest surprise for you? What didn't you expect?
Geez! I don't think anyone has ever asked me that question.
I hope it's good one!
It is. THE WAILERS was my first experience with touring so I'd have to say that I didn't expect it to be so hard. When people come to a show, they get a drink, have a seat, have a good time and then they go home. For us, we've got to drive around all day with very little sleep, go to the venue, do a sound check, do the show and when it's over, you go back onto the bus and you are on the road again. You do the same thing over and over again everyday. I love music and I love doing it, but it is a lot of hard work. It's not some glitter and gold type thing where everything comes easily. So that was the biggest surprise for me.
When you became the front person, what was the reaction like from the audience?
They were in shock. When I was onstage I would read their lips and they would say "he's white!" and they would freak out. Some of them were in shock because they thought I was one of BOB's kids and they wanted to know which one I was because some people have said that our voices are similar.
Why do you think the music of THE WAILERS is popular to this day?
The music is so popular because the majority of the people in the world are not the upper class. The world is crying out or rather wailing out. That's what the name THE WAILERS comes from. It's from wailing out and crying out all of the injustices of the world. There are a lot of people being persecuted and there are a lot people being treated wrong all over the world. The majority of the world doesn't get everything handed to them on a silver platter. This music is the music of the oppressed. It's the music of the ghetto and there are more ghettos than wealthy neighborhoods. That is why people relate to the music. It's the voice of the people and they can hear their voice in the music.