Reggae Star Elan Atias on His New Album and Memories of The Wailers
By Alexander Britell
IN 1997, ELAN ATIAS began a musical journey as the frontman for legendary reggae group The Wailers. Since then, his career has brought him across the globe and the industry – spreading his talent across genres and working with artists as varied as Gwen Stefani and Carlos Santana. On Wednesday, he performs at the Sports Illustrated Beauties and Beats music festival in Last Vegas. His latest album, “We Are,” is something of a fusion, one that includes sounds of reggae, acoustic and pop rock. To learn more, CJ Arts talked to Atias about his memories of the Wailers, the process of creating “We Are,” and what the future holds for the California native.
Talk about “We Are.”
The album is my baby. I love it – I put in a lot of work. Out of all the other albums, and all the other experiences I’ve had, working and making music, this was the most gratifying. I executive produced it, which was my first album on my own label, and I got together with friends and musicians and decided, I’m going to make this album. This was the type of album I wanted to make – I did it in my studio, at my house, and the majority of it was recorded there and written there. It was very invigorating. I asked some people’s opinions, and still got influenced, but would say it was still more, at the end of the day, my decisions – it was my way. I did it my way – the famous words of Frank Sinatra.
How would you describe the sound on the album?
It’s definitely not straight-ahead reggae/dancehall like the last one. It’s more singer-songwriter, soul, acoustic pop rock, with hints of reggae in it. That’s how I would describe it, in terms of genre.
This week you’re performing at the Sports Illustrated music event. How did that come about?
It came about because one of the guys at Sports Illustrated heard my song “Step into the Sunshine,” and they were working on this new thing they’re going to do with the Swimsuit Issue, and they were thinking of mashing up music [with the issue]. On photo shoots, there’s always music in the background, so they were listening to my music and wanted music that related to it, and I think that’s how “Step into the Sunshine” got their attention. It’s a positive, uplifting type of song. You think of summer, you think of the beach, you think of girls in bikinis. And that’s how the marriage happened. It’s kind of cool – I’m really excited about this event, and what they’re trying to do.
What is your greatest memory of playing with The Wailers?
There are a lot of great memories. The times I played with them are special to me. Not only because we were playing for 250,000 people on this beach, a beach town called Essaouira [in Morocco]. We were on the beach, in this old Medina, with 250,000 people. It was a free concert, and the first time the Wailers had played in Africa for many years. I read a story that people watched it from other countries. It was my first time there, and I thought the vibe was just unbelievable. I was playing in front of the King there, and, me having Moroccan blood, my dad being from Morocco, it was special. It was unbelievable how the people react and feed back to you. Also when I played in Israel for the first time, I was at the Dead Sea on the lowest point of the earth, right where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were in this canyon, and here we are, playing and singing these songs, with the lights upon the old rock, right next to Masada, and so much history. It just touched me, and I got choked up. I almost couldn’t sing the song. They basically said, take the moment for one second and keep going. Playing with Kenny Chesney at the CMAs was unbelievable too. That was a great experience. Playing with Carlos Santana. I could just keep going forever – over 10 years.
You’ve seen first-hand the global reach of reggae.
It’s big. It’s been big for a while. Since Bob put it on the map in the 70s, reggae is huge. You wouldn’t believe it. America doesn’t even see a quarter of how big reggae is. Because reggae is not as big [in America] as it is in Europe, in the rest of the world. It’s like one of the biggest genres. I’ll give you an example. Another moment with the Wailers: We’re in Buenos Aires. This is 2 or 3 years ago, probably 2010. We’re doing a Pepsi Music Festival for three nights. The first night is headlined by Black Eyed Peas. The second night we headlined, and the third night it was Marilyn Manson. Who do you think drew the most people? We did. We outdrew the Black Eyed Peas, the promoters told us. There are videos of it on YouTube.
The first night is headlined by Black Eyed Peas. The second night we headlined, and the third night it was Marilyn Manson. Who do you think drew the most people? We did.”
This was Buenos Aires, when the Black Eyed Peas were huge – they’ve had a couple of peaks, but they were huge. Marilyn Manson, very hard rock is big in South America. And he drew big, but we, on Saturday night, we outdrew both of them, and this is from a band whose leader has been dead since 1981. So that is crazy – that’s how relevant and how big reggae music is in the world. Groups like Groundation. Emerging artists in Jamaica. Jamaican Reggae has shifted to more hip-hop, dancehall, but there are more artists like Protégé and Tarrus Riley who are going to be the next movement of the traditional roots reggae. Obviously all the Marleys. Their father’s movement is still alive.
What’s next for you?
Pushing and promoting the album as much as I can this year. And trying, toward the end of the fourth quarter, to start working on a new album. I’ve been working with some other projects. I have a band called White Elephant that is more rock reggae and that whole genre. I’ve been working with another artist, Major Laser [made up of DJs Diplo and Switch], and working with this band Jesse and the Toyboys. So I’ll do some collaboration, I’m going to tour and going to promote and try to get this out to as many people as possible. And get heard by as many people as possible. That’s what you make music for. You make it for yourself, but I love what I do. So I make it for myself, I make it for them, and what you’re doing is trying to take people away from all of their worries, and that’s what I hope my music does. People listen to it and feel uplifted and positive and get a positive inspiration, and it ignites them to maybe do the same through their life, through their love. Today’s day with social media, with the music business, all the mediums, you dno’t need major labels to do it. So it’s a great time. It’s a renaissance time for artists.