Five & Five: ELEW

For the last three years, EMURG has been the haven for up and coming hard rock acts. However, more recently, we’ve evolved and have been more inclusive in what we provide musically on this site.

Eric Lewis, or ELEW as he is professionally referred, has been putting an interesting spin on rock tunes for the last three years. His first album, Rockjazz Vol. I, was a taste of the refined meeting the revolutionary. Jazz music, once the radical response to classical has become old hat and ELEW is looking to change that with his unique brand of rock and ragtime once again with Rockjazz Vol. II.

His take on rock music has taken him all over the country and all over the world. He’s played the White House and he’s even been on the nationally televised America’s Got Talent.

In my very first phone interview, I caught up with the self-professed Internet chess hustler while he was kicking someone’s tail in chess.

A bit of a disclaimer in being that it was a phone interview, I tweaked the questions for this interview and therefore it is your typical Five & Five segment even though it has ten questions.

Part I:

1. CFW: What artists/bands/songs/albums influenced you?

ELEW: Linkin Park – Somewhere I Belong, Mudvayne – Death Blooms, Eric Prydz – Call On Me, John Coltrane – Transition, Miles Davis – Nefertiti, and anything by Art Tatum are all very big influences on my playing.

2. CFW: What are you listening to right now?

ELEW: I listen to Art Tatum to bone up on my piano skills and I listen to Thrice for fun.

3. CFW: What’s the best show you’ve attended?

ELEW: I went to see Coldplay and their latest show, I really enjoyed that.

4. CFW: What’s your favorite show been as a performer?

ELEW: Porto Corvo has always been a favorite of mine and anytime I play Italy is always good. I also have upcoming shows at fashion stores playing for a bunch of models, which is always a good time. Another favorite show of mine was playing the Oscar afterparty at Chateau Marmont (in Los Angeles) for The Artist (Movie that won five Oscars at the 2012 award ceremony).

5. CFW: What’s the best cover that you feel you’ve recorded?

ELEW: I had a really good time making “Firebreather” (Thrice) and getting the indie rock flavor of that, “Believe” (The Bravery) was also fun. I also had a lot of fun with People are Strange (The Doors). The sound engineering and production from Bryan Williams is genius on this record.

Part II:

1. CFW: You put out Volume I in 2009. What have you learned recording wise and what did you do differently with Volume II?

ELEW: Well, for one, the technique improved. We introduced beats and grooves and I was also more involved in the mastering process of this album. Bryan Williams, who also mixed the record, did the mastering process as well and it’s not very often that you get that from the same person, but Bryan made it possible to get a 100% representation of how I wanted the record to sound.

Lot of bluesy arrangements on the record, such as “People are Strange”.

We had a lot of covers for the record, but we also put an original song on the record, “Thanksgiving”, to please the jazz critics I guess ’cause I don’t do enough jazz on my record.

2. CFW: Have any of the bands you’ve covered approached you to work on music or go on tour? Who if anyone would you want to work with in the current music scene?

ELEW: Interestingly enough, none of the bands have contacted me, but fans of the bands that I cover have. For example, Josh Groban’s a big Nirvana fan and he heard my take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and took me on tour with him which is why I had to drop out of America’s Got Talent.

Lil’ Wayne’s people got a hold of me to do the opening track on his upcoming record. Sam (Endicott) of The Bravery, who wrote “Believe” really liked my take on their song and Bryan, who also does live sound at some venues sent my cover of “Firebreather” to the lead singer (Dustin Kensrue).

As for who I’d want to work with, I’d really like to work with Skrillex, Martin Solveig, and Calvin Harris because electronica does a lot of piano based stuff and I think I could really make something rocking with those guys. I’d like to work with Katy Perry and speaking of which, I went to school with Doctor Luke (Lukasz Gottwald, who writes for Katy Perry and other artists). We went to the Manhattan School of Music together and played chess a lot.

CFW: Did you beat him at chess?

ELEW: No, I never really beat him at chess then. Though I might be able to now.

3. CFW: I’ve always personally been a big fan of your cover of Evanescence’s Going Under (they happen to be one of my favorite bands). How did you come up with such a creepy intro for that song?

ELEW: An assistant at the office got me to listen to that song and I was researching sounds inside the piano board and the dark tones of Evanescence’s music allowed me to give it a darker kind of cinematic sound. There’s really no mood in the jazz world for those kinds of distorted, dark sounds.

Jazz has a rigidity in its music that makes you think 60’s or Dixieland, ragtime, Afrocentric, gospel, but I’ve never heard jazz be scary or have its lyrics be scary or angsty.

[Quoting Linkin Park’s “Crawling”] Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal, fear is how I fall, confusing what is real…

I needed lyrics like Linkin Park’s “Crawling” that are psychological. I’ve played around the world for years and there’s not one jazz tune that expresses that type of angst. With songs like “Crawling” the fires burn free and getting to express the music this way serves as the perfect foil to fuel that fire.

3. CFW: Do you prefer playing at more intimate venues like jazz clubs or do you prefer playing arenas like you’ve been playing more recently with Josh Groban and company?

ELEW: I like jazz clubs because of the intimacy of being able to see everyone’s face. I like arenas because even though you can’t see as many faces, the sound systems are really cool and you can really make it sound like a rock concert. I think though that I’m going to go with jazz clubs ’cause that’s the jazz musician in me, but then again, I like MSG (Madison Square Garden in New York City) because that’s the kind of place where you can have a club feel, but the sound is awesome in that arena. It was an awesome experience to play The Garden.

4. CFW: Do you find it weird that a site more dedicated to hard rock and heavy metal is covering your interesting take of rock music?

ELEW: I don’t think it’s weird at all. Hard rock music set me free and I love it for that. It helped me to create this technique of Rockjazz to cross over commercially and take the hundreds of years of spontaneous modifications of jazz and the purity and the power of rock and flip it to make it rock hard.

5. CFW: What do you have to say for those EMURGers who are curious to listen to your brand of music that haven’t yet listened?

ELEW: I would say…enjoy! I hope you rock as hard as you can, turn it up and crank it in your car. If you’re at home, turn it up at your house. Hard rock gave me a second chance, it set me free and   once again, I hope you enjoy it.

I only spent about 25 minutes talking with ELEW, but I learned a lot about his journeys as an artist. He runs Ninjazz Entertainment, a record company devoted to the music that he performs. That DIY mentality is the epitome of the site that we run with the artists we represent.

ELEW is proof that if you can be creative in this industry and if you can find a way to stand out that you’ll find success just as he has, starting from humble beginnings to playing all over the world to packed arenas, all without major label help.