All of that is important, but even talent alone isn't enough these days when it comes to authenticity. Validation is still the bottom line, and the Los Angeles-born-and-bred Elan already has more validation in his genre than many artists have after an entire career. For three and a half years, between 1997 and 1999, Elan was the lead singer for the legendary Wailers. Night after night, in front of thousands, Elan sang the words that Bob Marley had written and popularized with--as those thousands and the Wailers themselves will testify with stunning authenticity. At first, people frequently thought he was lip-synching to Marley's vocals; later, many, including people in Jamaica, assumed he was one of Marley's children.
That authenticity has carried over to Elan's Interscope debut, which features a unique combination of the young singer-songwriter's musical influences which are heavy on the island sounds and rhythms, but also incorporate elements of classic American R&B and soul; Feli Kuti-inspired African rhythms; and even '80s new wave pop like Depeche Mode and The Cure. It also showcases the artist's philosophical duality, with songs that jump back and forth between strong spirituality or socio-political concerns as well as matters of the heart and libido, the difference between the sacred and the profane, so to speak. It's the difference between "I Wanna Yell," which he wrote about economic and other injustices he saw firsthand traveling the world, and "Feel My Pressure," which is all about getting freaky with the opposite sex. When Elan discusses the album's title track, he explains that being bound together as one is meant spiritually, politically and sexually.
The sexual motif is driven home brilliantly and sometimes comically by guest artists on three of the album's tracks: The legendary Cutty Ranks brings an old school DJ/toaster vibe to "You Don't Come Around No More." Assassin, a rising star and DJ in Jamaica, brings the new school vibe to "Girl." And Tami Chynn, also currently huge on the Caribbean island, half-sings, half-DJs on yet another pick-up anthem, "Don't You Go."
As a result of his spiritual upbringing, Elan strongly believes that "everything happens for a reason and I have just one word to describe my whole life – fortunate, and I thank God every day for that fortune. I don't believe in coincidence." Further, Elan's career as a singer and artist is practically a textbook example of that very concept. "When I was first with the Wailers, I'd wake up every single morning thinking, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe I'm singing with the Wailers!' And then I realized, 'Wait a minute! It is because of God.’"
There was a lot of singing involved in his upbringing. He still has an old family video of himself as a toddler, dressed in a cowboy outfit, strumming a guitar and singing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler," but he'd never thought seriously about becoming a professional vocalist. All that changed when he was in a club at age 18 with two girls who'd heard him sing along to his car radio and who told a Virgin Records A&R executive they'd just met Elan who was a singer. The A&R executive assumed they meant professionally and after Elan explained an idea to him that he'd once had about merging roots soul with a reggae dance hall vibe, keeping in mind that 311 and Sublime were just starting to hit big, the executive said he'd "love" to hear some of Elan's music. So the recent high school grad took some money he'd saved and went into a local studio with a few musician friends to cut his first album.
The singer was still looking for a guitarist when he was introduced one night to the Wailers' lead guitarist Al Anderson. "It turned out he lived two blocks from the studio where we were recording," recalls Elan. "So he ended up playing all the guitar parts." After completing the album, a lot of labels, including Virgin, were interested in signing Elan to a deal, but at the same time, Al Anderson was playing Elan's music for the Wailers’ band leader Aston “Familyman” Barrett who urged the guitarist to recruit the young singer after Junior Marvin, who'd been singing lead for the band since Marley's death, left the group. "When the Wailers opportunity came along, I had to tell all the labels, “Sorry, I'm going to sing with the Wailers!”
Elan had never performed with a band onstage before he did his first show with the Wailers in front of five thousand people. He didn't even have a rehearsal or soundcheck; in fact, he didn't have a rehearsal or soundcheck prior to his first nine performances with the band. At his second show, a reggae festival, he headlined a bill featuring many of his childhood idols, including the Itals, Toots & the Maytals, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown. Elan had always been a huge fan of Bob Marley & The Wailers, believing that the spirituality of Marley's music and lyrics had helped him find himself as a youth. Nevertheless, he was understandably nervous at first: "It wasn't so much stage fright as it was a fear of not getting all the lyrics right because Bob Marley's fans know every single word."
During his very first show, on a humid night in Iowa, there was thunder and lightning throughout the entire set. "It actually became part of the music," Elan recalls. But it didn't begin pouring rain until after the set was finished. Fate had seemed to intervene once again. The crowd roared with approval, although Elan was alarmed at first when they started throwing things at him. "It turned out to be joints and bags of herb," he laughs.
One of the greatest compliments of Elan's life came when some Wailers fans mistook three songs in the band's set taken from the album he recorded for Bob Marley originals. It was a sign that although he learned a lot during his three and a half years on the road with the band, it was time to move on to pursue his own musical vision. He was almost immediately signed to the London/Sire label where he spent a year and a half recording an unreleased album before the label got absorbed into another major. However, the experience did lead to a major track, "Dreams Come True," his first experience recording in Jamaica with Sly & Robbie for the Sex & The City soundtrack. The song was a hit for two years straight on five different radio formats in Hawaii.
Elan was later featured on another soundtrack -- this one for the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates -- doing a cover of Roxy Music's "Slave To Love," which also features vocals by Gwen Stefani. Elan met No Doubt for the first time in 1997, when the band came to L.A.'s House of Blues to see the Wailers perform. Elan especially became good friends with Tony Kanal. "Every time we talked with each other, it was always, 'We've got to work together!'” Finally, in 2003, Kanal got a break from recording and touring with No Doubt. "We went into the studio and started writing," explains Elan. "There were no expectations of getting signed or of anything, really. Whatever happens happens." Nevertheless, Tony was inspired by the sessions and signed Elan to his label Kingsbury Studios. Kanal then brought the music to Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine and A&R executive Mark Williams who immediately decided to support the album.
Which brings us full circle to Together As One. The album seems to represent a full circle in Elan's career thus far, featuring as it does a hybrid of the soul and island rhythms he's loved his entire life, as well as the philosophical themes he's explored up until now. It even includes a new duet with Gwen Stefani titled “All Nighter” which Elan compares to the classic pop track, “Summer Lovin” from Grease in its John Travolta/Olivia Newton John like give and take. "It's a blessing," concludes the very spiritual artist. "I feel very blessed." Music fans everywhere should undoubtedly feel the same when they hear the splendor that is Together As One. Or to paraphrase the title of that track he first recorded with Sly & Robbie, sometimes dreams do come true.