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LAist Interview: Elemenopy

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Deep in the heart of Los Angeles' theater district, after all the patrons have gone home, there is a lot of rock 'n' roll going on. Surprised? I was too. Specifically, one evening a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of stopping by the Unknown Theater after hours. This is where Elemenopy hold court every other Thursday. With a motto like "F the genre police," Elemenopy that is a band that will play what they like when they like. Their catchy melodies and funny lyrics reminded me strongly of They Might Be Giants or the Barenaked Ladies. But what is more exciting is the way they perform.

The founding members (well only members) of Elemenopy Joel Rutkowski and Nick Liberatore are like kids who are never satisfied with their instruments. In the middle of a song they will loop their sound switch guitars, drums, keyboards, or really whatever is handy, therefore creating a new song. I saw Andrew Bird use a similar technique, but his was very strict, where as Elemenopy is wild and fancy free. Each show from them is different. The night ended with a giant drum off from with three drummers from the audience. It was incredible. Joel and Nick were kind enough to speak with me this weekend:




"Tell Kim I Say Hi"

So you guys are from Syracuse, what made you move out here?

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Joel: Well, I came out here to pursue film, which is what I studied in school. Nick and I have known each other since high school. We did the whole garage band thing. We’ve been playing with each other for years. Eventually I decided to do something more realistic…like film. (laughs) But after a year I managed to convince Nick to move out here and try the music thing again.

What do you think of the music scene out here? Did you feel embraced by the community or more like you had to prove yourselves?

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Joel: I don’t think I’d call it a welcoming mat. Not because of other musicians but because of the way the music business is structured out here. Especially with the clubs out here, you know, the pay to play people. Or the club owners who ask, “Well how many people can you draw?”

Jesus, do you guys have to like fill out applications to play at a club?

Nick: Almost. There seems to be this unspoken rule where if you can’t draw people then you can’t play. But when you first move out here, and you don’t know anyone, then how can you get a draw if you don’t play somewhere?

If you could change anything about the music industry what would it be?

Nick: Record labels should hire people based on the creativity and the energy and the originality of the band, you know, instead of looking at it as a commodity. I mean, they have to it’s a business, obviously, but from the artistic standpoint you want to be appreciated for what you do, not how much money you make.

Joel: I mean real talent is rarely rewarded in the music scene anyway. A certain fashion sense or a style…

Yeah, or a certain sound gets really popular and suddenly there are five bands who all sound the same because that’s what sells.

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Nick: Exactly!

So how did you guys decide on your style of performing?

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Joel: Well when Elemenopy first started it was just Nick and I on guitars, like sort of a singer-songwriter outfit. It was just two guys on acoustics, but it slowly started to build. One night we would bring bongos to a show and the tambourine, just to get some rhythm. It was a gradual process, a few years in the making, but I started buying foot pedals. Originally we were trying to form a full band with a bass player, you know, a typical band, but the more and more we started playing just the two of us with the looping and the effects the more songs started to form. We started having a lot of fun with that too. It keeps us interested. You know you’re less likely to get jaded and get sick of playing the same song you were playing last night. It keeps us involved in our own music. You know you could have four guys play one song perfectly, but it’s a really easy way to get bored with your own stuff.

Do you like playing the guitar better or the drums?

Joel: Well, I know how to play guitar better than I do the drums. We always say that I’m the guitarists who can play a little bit of drums and Nick is the drummer that plays a little bit of guitar. But you know for the sake of the song or for the sake of ourselves, we’ll switch it up.

When did you first realize that this was what you wanted to do?

Nick: Oh man, since always. I’ve always been obsessed with music. I mean if I like a band, I will go out and get every album they’ve done, every side project and solo project. You know I actually got grounded from playing the drums when I was a teenager and that’s when I picked up the guitar.

Joel: I picked up the guitar in middle school. I just did what many, many teenage boys have done before me, saw a guy on tv with a guitar and thought, “Wow, I wanna play guitar.” Maybe it’s a puberty thing. You grow some armpit hair and then all of a sudden you’re holding a guitar. (laughs).

Is it easier to write a song when you’re heartbroken or when you’re in love?

Nick: There’s a difference?

Yes, most of the time.

Joel: For us, I think a lot of our songs come from places of heart-ache or longing or bitterness or frustration. I think a vast majority of our songs are written when we’re bummed out.

Nick: It’s interesting. I think I’ve always identified with sad songs. I think part of what I like about them is that there is this aspect of hope inside them. It’s an expression of a want for something more or the idea that there is something more out there. It’s not all just doom and gloom.

Ah, which reminds me who’s Kim from your song Tell Kim I Said Hi and who does she belong to?

Joel: Kim was my first love. My first real girlfriend, you know, and that song is a reflection on being a teenager and thinking that this person is the whole world.

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Has she heard it?

Joel: I don’t think so. I’ve not spoken to her since. I mean, it’s been over a decade since that song came about.

I really like your song, God Is a Funny Guy.I don’t suppose you guys are religious at all?

Nick: (Laughs) No, no no. I mean both of our parents are religious, but neither of us are churchgoing.

What inspired you to write that song?

Joel: I think it’s pretty much summed up in the first line. “God didn’t give me a good voice, but filled my head with songs.” Just that frustration of wanting to do more with stuff you don’t have. I have no illusions about having a great voice. I can hear it in my head sung a certain way and just can’t reproduce it.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen at a show?

Nick: What about that guy that just started playing the drums?

Joel: Oh yeah, but that’s happened a number of times. I think there is something about being a two person band and having lots of instruments on stage that are unoccupied. People feel, without reservation, that they can just hop on stage and start playing.

Nick: Which we’re usually ok with. I mean, oftentimes we have guest musicians on stages. But this guy just came up to the stage and started yelling, “I want to play drums! I want to play drums!” Which we were cool with, until this guy started playing something completely different.

How did you get rid of him?

Joel: (laughs) Well, actually my girlfriend, who is now my fiancée, got up on stage and kind of had to wrestle him off stage.

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What’s up next for you guys?

Joel: We are finishing up our new album at our friend’s studio in the desert.

Nick: Yeah we’re gonna lock ourselves up in a room and let it all out.

Elemenopy will be playing tonight at the Unknown Theater. Show starts at 10.

These photos were taken by the tremendously talented Timothy Murray.