An Interview With Eliquate frontman Elliot Wright
It’s a Sunday evening in the Fine City as I sit down to conduct my interview with Elliot Wright, singer and lyricist behind up and coming Santa Cruz hip-hop-rock band Eliquate. At half 8 in the evening, it seems likely that Elliot is hardly awake (11:30 am on a Sunday and I’m usually still asleep), but I find him in lively spirits. We talk British beer (great), UK rock music (the best) and Gordon Ramsey (they love him). We even touch on Mel Gibson (Australian?), Bono (douchy-sunglasses, of course) and Brighton beach (nothing like California) before remembering the real reason we’re here – to talk about Eliquate, their latest album and the plans they’ve got for 2014.
The first topic we come to is, inevitably, their sound. Labelled as alternative hip-hop, rap-rock, indie and underground, Eliquate create a melting pot of socially aware but uplifting and enjoyable genres, touching on jam band rock and, as I mention (having watched footage of their live shows), good old fashioned punk rock.
“I think most kids, most guys or girls my age, went through a post-punk phase,” Elliot muses. “I think at some point we all went through it and, being from the Bay Area, punk was always part of the music out there when I was younger. And something that the punk scene and the hip-hop scene have in common is that it is really like a community – and whether you’re discovering cool rap that you connect with or cool electronic music, it just sorta opens a whole new window.”
There must be something in the water in California’s Bay Area, famous for its ever-growing list of home-grown talent: from the classic and alternative rock of Primus, The Grateful Dead and Faith No More to the punk and hip-hop of Green Day and 2Pac. With a list like that lying around to inspire and instil an appreciation of good music, it’s no wonder that bands continue to develop.
“Honestly, Santa Cruz is a really terrific place for us to be from. We’re kind of DIY, off the beaten path, doing our own thing, which is very similar to how Santa Cruz is. It’s like — we’re weird, it’s weird. It just works out.”
So how can a band like Eliquate be heard over the noise and buzz of the bigger, more saturated cities whose musical legends are, well, legendary? For Elliot, the answer is simple.
“The internet has taken a lot of power out of the big cities. Back in the day, to make it you had to make it in NY, Chicago, LA, but nowadays, it’s more a matter of just getting it to people, and we’ve honestly found more success in smaller towns. People are more interested in getting behind something because rarely do artists or bands come out to them. Also, bands are more inclined to want other bands to succeed, whereas sometimes in the bigger cities there more of a competitive nature behind it, which defeats the whole point of creative expression and bringing people together.”
It’s hard not to agree that the internet has effectively shrunk the world. Through the likes of Facebook, Twitter and in this case Tumblr, the gap between Norwich, UK and Santa Cruz, USA is as minor as an eight-hour time difference and an uncooperative webcam.
“Look at what Rhymesayers did out of Minneapolis,” Elliot continues. “It’s never really been much of a hip-hop hub, but now because they were able to get through the web and get across the US, they were able to have a major impact on hip-hop, and to make Minneapolis a hub. What we’ve been able to do is travel around, sort of pirate style, and bring a little bit of the Santa Cruz ethic/style/whateveryouwannacallit around the US and focus on playing smaller towns.”
So whilst the benefits of breaking a major city are obvious, it seems like the Santa Cruz scene is alive and well, and Elliot has no shortage of local talent to recommend.
“Our buddies, Boostive – we’ve been friends with, and playing with them for a long time. They’re kind of reggae, but a bit more like dance – they call it reggae-hop. Also Wooster’s always been good friends of ours, and a really talented bunch of musicians in Santa Cruz.”
“A lot of them actually have hip-hop undertones. They’re are all kind of different in their own way, but I’ve always come from the mindset that’s there’s only two types of music: good music and bad music.”
Good music, it transpires, can be found in some unexpected places.
“Shortly after that What The Fox Says song came out we did an epic battle acoustic version of it. We’ve also covered Backstreet Boys,Larger Than Life – if you listen to the lyrics that song is kinda sad. And extremely hard to sing. That’s another thing I can say, having covered the Backstreet Boys – those guys are fucking talented. Even if it was all processing, I mean… Jesus.”
The ‘inspiration can be found anywhere’ ethic has been present from the outset. Since 2007, Eliquate has grown from a solo act to a group effort, taking in new experiences and influences along the way.
“[Debut album] Arch Rhythm happened before we really got the band fully assembled. It was basically Jamie [Schnetzler, producer] making the beats – he wrote most of the leads and then the band would learn how to play them.
To use James Murphy’s quote, with Arch Rhythm, we were like an Eliquate cover band, whereas [latest album] A Chalkboard’s War Against Erasers we wrote together as a band, and everybody played their own part for the album, so we got to dive in a little bit more of everybody’s musical influences.”
Chalkboard’s… is certainly a much more diverse beast, with (in this interviewer’s opinion) an overall richer sound to it.
“We recorded Arch Rhythm in Jamie’s closet, with a microphone and a sock over a coat hanger. With Chalkboard’s…, we actually went into a studio; had help with the more technical aspects of recording an album, making it actually professional.”
And there’s a brand new video out too.
“New Country is about the power of words and encouragement – of being told you’re doing a good job every once in a while. Since we couldn’t really show that through any sort of dialogue, the approach was two old geezers playing golf and, the corny metaphor here is, that before they end their game, they take a second to go enjoy the finer things, and just live. It’s about getting through those parts of life – you know, take some time to enjoy. Enjoy what you’re doing, enjoy the game… take the long way round.”
The video looks great, and, it sends out a message that we would all do well to remember from time to time. But whilst Eliquate’s music is full of message and metaphor, can it – and music in general – really make a difference to society?
“Absolutely, I think it can” Elliot enthuses. “Music can have what I call a Trojan horse effect, where you get people’s attention by entertaining them, and then you use that attention to spread a message. It is sort of the responsibility of an artist to be accountable for what they’re saying and the message that they’re portraying.
Imagine if candy was really good for you. There’s the initial seduction of the sugar, something enjoyable to have fun with, and then there’s all the fortified vitamins and everything that actually serves your body well – a.k.a. the words and emotions of music. Ultimately it can make you a better person if done right. To me that’s one of the most humbling and awesome things of being able to play, being able to make music, and such a feeling of gratitude that I can’t describe. I’m just so fucking happy that it exists.”
Too many artists lose sight of what is true and the real reasons they are doing what they are doing, but Elliot has been writing for a long time, and he was putting pen to paper a long while before he started recording. But the idea of being a rockstar was always in the back of his mind.
“Everybody wants to be in a band. I think it’s every kids fantasy. But I don’t take myself seriously. I take the craft seriously. I never wanted to be famous rapper, I just wanna be a good rapper. I was told by somebody very wise that the thing you think about the most often is probably the thing you wanna do with your life. The first time I recorded a song I sat down and spent 16 hours straight just working on it and maybe got up three times, to pee or drink water or something. It’s the one time I’ve ever done that and to this day I’ve never found that kind of joy in anything else.”
That commitment has really paid off, and now the desire is pushing Eliquate further, with 2014 shaping up to be a very busy year. They hope to release Arch Rhythm on vinyl (though Elliot prefers MP3 – “I know, it’s so hypocritical”), shoot at least seven more videos and get the Patchworks mixtape series completed.
Now the moon has fully risen over UK skies and the midday sun will be staring down on California. This meeting of two worlds has been great, another testament to the importance of the internet in bridging the gap between communities. Before I settle down in front of a few episodes of Breaking Bad, I round off by asking what Elliot has in store for his Sunday…
“Honestly? I’m just gonna smoke and watch Breaking Bad.”
And with that, there’s been another bridge built right over the Atlantic.