I sat down with Elias for a profile in March's Discorder. Pick up a copy if you can--the pictures are worth it.
They Work Hard for the Money
By Andrea Warner
Elias, the alternative indie band from Vancouver, is perched on the brink of success—they have a major talent agent behind them, the brand new album All We Want, and camera-ready faces to get the girls’ hearts racing. So how does a fledgling local rock band make the jump from local following to national (or international) fan favourite?
The Elias boys continue to work hard to pay their dues. Cross-Canada bus tour horror stories? Check. Labour-intensive day jobs to pay for their demo? Check. Long, long hours rehearsing to perfect their sound and stage presence? Check.
There is even photographic evidence of lead guitarist Rob Tornroos as a five-year-old strumming a tennis racket while rocking out to Jon Bon Jovi. So, check off embarrassing/endearing childhood dreamer off the list, too. Elias is ready to kick it up a notch and take Canada by storm with their sweet sound and urgent rhythms. Oh, and to find Rob a girlfriend. That’s also on the agenda.
Elias was still pretty far in the future when the band started to take shape in 2000. Lead singer Brian Healy and his brother, bass player Jonny, joined forces with Rob and drummer Dominic Coletta, and by 2005 they’d released a self-titled EP that garnered media attention and had built a loyal fan base through dynamic live shows throughout Western Canada. This is also where Elias attracted the attention of the venerable booking agency, and Canada’s largest, Sam L. Feldman & Associates.
With careers and futures entirely intertwined, the teasing and self-deprecating humour Brian and Rob share over coffee make it easy to assume the entire band is like a family.
“You get to know how to push each other’s buttons pretty well, piss each other off. Rob and I actually live next door to each other now, and work together and are in a band together. He’s sick of me,” Brian jokes.
And, that’s not even the familial bond at Elias’s core. Brothers Brian and Jonny contend with personal and professional dynamics, and minimize the impact on the band.
“We fight all the time,” Brian says, while Rob laughs knowingly. “Had a fight earlier today. Not physical, but I might have punched him once. Usually it’s just verbal abuse and as fast as it happens, it’s resolved.”
“Well, it’s over,” Rob interjects. “I don’t know if it’s resolved.”
Right now Elias isn’t living the glamorous rock star lifestyle. They spend at least three or four nights a week rehearsing in a Gastown space, and have played almost every venue in Vancouver. They’ve also spent long road trips in a cramped van driving from Vancouver to Toronto, meeting new fans, getting on each other’s nerves, and discovering their own personal Bermuda Triangle: Regina.
“We broke down three times going across the country, and every time it was in Regina,” Brian says. “Every time!”
All We Want has also been a labour of love, and it pretty well sums up Elias’s dream to play music and bring their music to a wider audience.
“We’ve been recording All We Want for about two years,” Rob says. “Some of the songs we wrote before, but we kept writing while we were recording.”
“I think the newer songs, inevitably for a band, will ring more true because they’re more current,” Brian says. “The meaning behind them is more recent and the music’s fresher for them.”
Musically, All We Want has received comparisons to Radiohead and Mars Volta, to name just a few. And while Brian and Rob can list off a long list of bigger bands who have influenced their sound, they are also mindful of the smaller bands who have found big success through smart choices.
“Arcade Fire’s celebrity is incredible, because they sort of did it themselves,” Brian says. “In the past it was about getting that label to sign you, but that’s not ideal anymore. It’s better to get out on the Internet or over the radio that way and enable yourselves. Like Rob says, go overseas and tour more. That’d be ideal. We had MySpace feature us in the spring and that brought tons of people and crazy plays.”
By day, Rob and Brian toil as landscapers, facing off against dirt, heavy lifting, manufactured greenery, and buckets of Vancouver rain. Their outlook is refreshing in its determination: these day jobs paid to produce Elias’s debut album, and the band is doing it their own way. The hard work is starting to pay off, and the perks, though not plentiful, have a neat shine.
“We played North by Northeast last May and we went to the Feldman barbecue held at their Toronto office and there’s lots of signed acts there. You’re partying and drinking with a bunch of people you recognize,” Rob says, of one memorable experience.
“We opened up for the Subways once at the Commodore and that was an incredible experience,” Brian says. “We’ve seen umpteen shows of our favourite bands and here we are walking out on stage. I remember, almost in that pause-time moment, walking out on stage and being like ‘here we are’. This is so bizarre to me. Looking out where you were looking in before.”
“And we opened up for Fiction Plane at the Plaza Club, Sting’s son’s band, a couple nights before the Police tour kicked off here in town, and that was pretty surreal because Sting showed up,” Rob says. “After we had played, but regardless. We looked up and everyone’s staring at Sting. We are huge Police fans so it was just crazy.”
The mixture of the heady fun stuff and daily real-life grind does take it’s toll, though.
“It’s tiring and stressful. You just pick yourself up and keep going,” Brian says. “Come home from work and motivate yourself to head back out.”
“You get a half hour off [between work and rehearsal], and then head back down to Gastown,” Rob says.
And the coming year won’t be much of a reprieve, as Elias burst headstrong into 2008 with a list of goals to achieve.
“We want to do a lot of that background stuff,” Rob says. “More videos, touring to support the album, and getting the word out there across Canada. Maybe branching out to the UK or the US.”
And, finding Rob his life mate, of course, by turning this article into a personal ad.
“I’m a single, 25-year-old male, searching for a suitable life partner,” Rob says. “Must like watching movies,…”
“Long walks on the beach,” Brian adds.
“Long walks anywhere. Driving and holding hands. And cats. Can you put that in there?”
“And a picture. No shirt,” Brian says.
Elias may be the hardest working local band, but boys will be boys.