Elan in Aspen: Mexican rock, without the accent
ASPEN – Like a lot of young people of a certain personality, Eln DeFan was deeply into and heavily influenced by Janis Joplin.But unlike most Janis devotees, DeFan grew up in the ’80s; she was born more than a decade after Joplin died. And unlike most, she starting warming to Joplin’s raw, sensual belting at the age of 6. And perhaps unique among hardcore Joplin lovers, DeFan is from Guadalajara, Mexico. All of which set DeFan – who is tall, thin, blue-eyed, blonde, and, in the latest publicity photos of her band, which goes by the name Elan, has her hair short and spiky – apart from her peers.”It made me a little different, listening to Janis Joplin,” the 29-year-old DeFan said. “But it made more sense to listen to the Beatles and Janis. I guess there were other people who were listening to stuff we didn’t listen to. But we didn’t hang out with them.”Instead of following the mainstream, and tuning into whatever toddlers in 1980s Guadalajara listened to, DeFan, who now goes by the single name Eln, saw a neat little music bubble form around her. Her parents – her Mexican-born mom, and her dad, who was born in Boston and moved south of the border at the age of 12 – were rabid fans of late ’60s, early ’70s classic rock; Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and the like played constantly in the house. The music helped create in the suburb of Tlaquepaque a community of people more in touch with the music that had been made in California, London and New York 20 years earlier than with what was coming over the Mexican airwaves. “It was weird. We grew up in this place where everyone wanted to be around our house, listening to what we listened to,” Eln said.Out of that listening scene came a desire to play. At 3, Eln was gravitating to the family’s piano, and demonstrating an uncanny ability to play the instrument. By 10, she was writing songs; before she hit her teens, she had put together a band that included her brother, Jan Carlo, on guitar, and their cousin, Michel DeFan, on drums, along with Mauricio Reyes and Carlos Maqueo, both childhood friends. The band sang almost exclusively in English – partly because of Eln’s musical influences, and partly because her parents would not give her anything unless she asked for it in both English and Spanish. “So that makes you learn how to say things just right,” she said.In 2000, after playing a showcase event in Los Angeles, the band was signed to Arista Records. When Arista went through a corporate shake-up a few years later, Elan hired Aerosmith’s former manager to help them through the record label turmoil. Finally landing a suitable producer, the band had recording sessions in Los Angeles, where the legendary Jim Keltner played some drum tracks, and in New York and Virginia. When their debut album, “Street Child,” was finally released, in 2003, it featured contributions from Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, the Counting Crows’ David Immerglck, and Beck producer Brian Paulson.Despite all the American influences and activity, Elan are virtual strangers to the U.S. Aside from a small handful of special appearances, the band has barely played in the States. Their albums have sold nearly 2 million copies in Mexico, and they have toured frequently in Australia – all of which they see as preparation for entering the U.S. Elan is in the midst of their first genuine American tour, which began two weeks ago at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, and comes to Aspen for a gig at Belly Up on Friday, May 18.”It was important to grow as a band before you do this U.S. tour. Everyone says it’s the Shangri-La,” Eln said from Lubbock, Texas, of breaking into the U.S. “Music isn’t sports, so I hate to say this, but it’s a competition. It’s a challenge. You have to really be on top of your game. But we were ready for a new stage of our careers. And fortunately there is a demand for it.”In a lot of ways, touring Mexico a decade ago held challenges that Elan won’t likely face north of the border. It’s safe to say that most venues they will play on the current tour have actually hosted rock bands before and will have adequate electricity. The audience showing up for their shows might not be familiar with Elan’s music, but they will have been through the ritual of a rock show before.That was not always the case in Mexico, where Elan was breaking new ground. “We wanted to do it like people did in the ’60s. Instead of getting on planes, we got into a van with a trailer and drove everywhere,” Eln said. “We wanted to play everywhere, which no one had done before. We’re the type of band that will play anywhere – very messed-up clubs, big clubs where no one knew who we were.”That approach meant playing towns and venues that had never really experienced a traveling rock band. The band, though, welcomed the challenges of dealing with all sorts of logistical glitches, having to round up an audience by themselves, or playing sometimes to a tiny crowd. Eln says all the experience has strengthened the band.”If you play very little, you’re not really secure when you go up onstage. Now we just go up and kill it,” Eln said in her rapid-fire voice. “It’s maybe maturity or growth between the five of us. You’re not scared; you’re not trembling. Everybody’s screaming and waiting to see what you have.”Things have changed in Mexico since Elan’s early days of touring. A small handful of bands have come up behind them, solidifying something of a touring circuit. Eln even says there are bands from her home country she is interested in. “There are now,” she said. “Before it was very scarce. But now people are into it, there’s a big following. A few years ago, it was not where it should have been.”Still, she continues to look north, and into the past, for her artistic inspiration. Elan’s latest album, “See Us Spin,” is reminiscent of early ’70s hard rock.”It came and it stayed,” she said of the bands she learned to love as a child. “I don’t think a lot of bands will be that good again.”email@example.com
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