David Elias might just be the best folk song-writer I have ever heard. This is a man with much to say. We could all learn a thing or two from his wisdom.
GOM: How old were you when you started playing music?
David Elias: I was 8 years old when I started taking piano lessons. I had bugged my mom for 2 years before that. She finally went to a teacher and asked if my hands were big enough…I played classical piano for 6 years. I started playing guitar when I was about 10 or 11…it was my brother’s Goya classical guitar – I learned Neil Young songs on it and went from there.I still haven’t taken guitar lessons but still think that might be a good idea someday (lol)…I’m serious – but I also would like to get back to piano someday too. Some much to do when I grow up…
GOM: How do you go about writing a song?
David Elias: My songs happen so fast I don’t know exactly what happens. I always entertain myself on guitar playing things I never played before. Lots of melodies buried in chords. I think that comes from playing by myself (at home) for so many years! I had to be the rhythm AND lead player at the same time…So I will just make up these tunes and once in awhile I really catch it and start humming something with it. Then I might sing a line or two that makes some sense. Then I put the guitar down and write most or all of the lyrics…then I’m done!
GOM: Great answer David, how long does this process take?
David Elias: As I said, it is very fast. Most songs are really started and finished in less than 30 minutes. The “Half An Hour Away” song you reviewed was written in less than 30 minutes. My friend Miki said she was going upstairs for a minute – and I should write a song before she got back…that’s what happened! I swear it was like that…she would laugh for half an hour if I reminded her about it. She’s an *excellent* songwriter…
GOM: What are the key Elements in recording a song for you?
David Elias: melody – lyrics – melody – lyrics – harmony – lyrics – melody Another thing that is important to me about performing or recording is the affect other musicians have on me and my song “flow” I like space and I like rhythm. I like arrangements that compliment the content of the message (usually lyrics and the melodic flow). I’m a sucker for excellent harmonies in the right places and a punctual rhythm section (bass, drums, percussion)…
GOM: Tell me more about this “flow” you brought up?
David Elias: You might not know or guess any of this listening to my songs (lol) — I think the flow of the song is driven by the performers. They all have a collective understanding of what the song’s message is. The translation of that understanding is what gets recorded. I’ve recorded live quite a bit and like it a lot. Even in the studio. The whole Half An Hour Away CD is recorded live (one take in most cases) by the trio in an empty performance hall. It was done with good mics and put on digital tape in multi-track format. The ambient room was recorded (stereo) and each instrument mic’d. From that I mixed it with no effects or overdubs whatsoever (is that one word?) — The result is an ambient recording of a quasi-renaissance band playing “modern folk” music. It was a project recorded in about 5 hours and mixed in a week. Back to my original point. The musicians drive the outcome of the song’s delivery. It’s always that way whether the writer/artist admits it or not. They provide the song which is one element. The band provides the bottom, sides, top, all dimensions to that one idea. That is what music is….
GOM: David what is your philosophy of life?
David Elias: After many harsh lessons (who doesn’t have them I know) and losses and departures and recoveries I’d like to say and think that my philosophy of life is to learn as much as you can and be as kind as you can in the process. I don’t know about this “happy” thing. I think the conscious being is here to learn primarily and put something into the greater good. That is not always in a forward direction as measured by many many many many many standards…
GOM: David tell us about your live show?
David Elias: Good question — it is an evolving mystery in a way. I have a variety of shows that range from a solo acoustic act, to a trio (guitar/vocal, mandolin, flute/tenor sax) to a large band which is all the above plus a full rhythm section – bass, drums, percussion. We have often gone beyond that and added fiddles, more saxophones, harmonica, and i forget what else… I like the solo coffeehouse setting because it reminds me of what the songs are about in some original form. The trio is great because it is a bare-bones acoustic thing that has an uncommon arrangement. The instruments are very complimentary and we are good friends. This became “David Elias & The Great Unknown” a couple years ago. From there we added the ooomph rhythm for larger venues and that rocks! So it is a little misleading when people see my name billed and think “ok, acoustic, folkie, mellow….”. Not all all! We have people dancing on the bar and fighting outside (well, that happened but not because of us I guess)…It is a often a local scene on the coast south of San Francisco. It is a lot of fun for everyone. It is all my music with some covers thrown in there for recognition…and group singing!
GOM: You’re obviously dedicated to your craft what else do you enjoy doing with your time?
David Elias: I really like walking and visiting the seashore (we call it the coast here)…I like taking photographs off an on and spending time outdoors in general. I am a very spontaneous travelle
GOM: What other up and coming artists move you? Is there anyone out there you really enjoy listening to that isn’t a big star?
David Elias: Oh God there are so many non-stars. I can go on forever. Cory Sipper, Walkin’ Jim Stoltz (good friend), Danny Schmidt, Late Tuesday, Greg Tannen, Joel Cage, Sarah Harmer, Lars Jensen, Jennifer Knapp. Uncle Earl, Montana Rose — some of the best musicians I know have helped me a lot over the past few years: Scott Beynon (bass), Perry Thorwaldson (drums), Reid Dennis (percussion), Gary MacArthur (flute/sax), Lisa Kelly (mandolin), Calvin McElroy (guitar + everything), John Caulfield (fiddle), Roger Powell (guitar, keyboards, accordion) – how’s that? I hope they all get recognition – they are all on my cds!
GOM: Mr.Elias, do you have any closing thoughts you would like everyone to know? Is there anything burning inside that you just have to get out?
David Elias: My main thing for music is to continue to try to make some good recordings. That is really what I want to stick with – nothing’s perfect but it can sure be fun trying…I hope to have something done this year in the new Sony Super Audio format (SACD)…it’s a secret project!!
GOM: Great answer, do you have any words of wisdom you can share to the younger musicians out there?
David Elias: Heck yeah – to all you younger musicians – or musicians trying to get younger: don’t get too caught up in this instant-success-make-some-money-on-music thing — it’s a defeating purpose. Music is a form of communication – the best!! It is not supposed to be confused with making a million bucks. There’s nothing wrong with that I guess – but – music needs more space than that! It’s something I have to remind myself about probably too often…Listen to Tom Petty’s The Last DJ.
David Elias is a talented musician and a great songwriter. His lyrics take a back seat to no one. David’s songs are the meaning of life. This is a man with more talent than many stars could wish for. Taking a trip to David’s mp3 site might just be the cure to whatever ills you. This is a songwriter with a song to match every mood. It is my humble opinion that Elias is one the best folk artists I have ever heard on mp3.com or anywhere else for that matter. He is the real deal, heart and soul. I enjoyed my time with him. All those heavy hearted and even those who are not. Go check this man out for yourself! http://www.mp3.com/davidelias and http://www.davidelias.com Sara Ann Smith