<Writer’s Note: The contents of this interview occurred over the course of the past year through different tour dates and events.>
Chris Carrasquillo (for CHPTR.co): State your name and occupation (laughs)
Ela Minus: My real name is Gabriela Jimena, and I go under Ela Minus from Bogota,Colombia via Brooklyn, NYC.
CC: Start out in the beginning
Ela: Of Life!? (smiles)
CC: Growing up you where in a couple of bands, what parts of each band influenced you to where you are now?
Ela: I started playing when I was around 9. I began playing piano but moved rapidly to drums. I was really into rock, Metallica, Pantera, bands like that. I had a band with my closest friends called “Raton Perez”. It was like rockish emo stuff. We played together until we where around 18. After that, I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. I studied two majors there; Drum Set performance and Music Synthesis. Definitely drums have been my main thing. At Berklee I formed another band called “Balancer” with whom I moved to Brooklyn in 2013 after graduating Berklee
CC: What artist got you away from the rock to playing with synthesizers ?
Ela: Off the top of my head: Aphex Twin and Radiohead. But it was not a transition that happened from one day to the next, you know?
CC: Cause its influence has been there?
Ela: Well, yeah, and it because it happened in the course of so many years. I mean, I played rock for ten years or more — all through my adolescence! And synthesizers and electronic music was getting in there as I grew, of course, It was generational thing, I think. Once I moved to the states, because of the age I was in too, I started to become more mellow. I remember going to a few metal shows at first, but I was listening to way more mellow music, like Death Cab For Cutie, and all those early 2000’s soft rock, plus a lot of Radiohead, and in those bands the use of electronics and synthesizers was also slowly growing, until it was on everything, like I said, I think we where a generation that grew on more “old school” rock and gradually turned into more electronic music, first bands that used electronics, and then finally completely electronic music, like techno. We where part of the transition, as listeners, and as a musicians as well.
CC: We’ve heard a lot of raves about your dress that you wore at Estereo Picnic.
Ela: (laughter) Yes! Its funny that dress is from a Colombian designer. I didn’t know her, I just wanted to have a special dress for my shows and saw that one at a boutique and loved it, so I got it! After using it in a couple of big shows and seeing the attention it got I actually emailed the designer and told her I loved her work, to see if she wanted to work with me on designing garments for my live performances, showed her my music, etc. and she did not pay any attention to me at all. (laughter) She was like “sure, here is the address to my shop, you can go there anytime and buy some pieces.”
I thought it was a bit cold of her, but I also completely understood. I just think its funny that even you ask about it.
Anyway, yes! The dress has got a lot of attention! I hope she reconsiders, because I really like what she does and would love to work with her.
CC: Is this something you want to do coming out fashion wise for your shows?
Ela: Well, It came along very naturally, I guess like all things regarding “ela minus” I don’t really plan any of it. The first Ela Minus shows where very, very, very unplanned. I mean, I made the first EP without any plans to perform live, I just wanted to make songs. When I decided to perform live the first time, I had a white dress, like a dress i wear on my every day life, that I chose to wear, and a lot of people liked it. The white went along well with the concept of “minimalism”. I like thinking about what I wear when I perform, is like another “tool” to design the live show, I think visually I don’t have a lot to work with on stage, just my setup, which also has to be very very functional and practical for now, so not a lot of room to work with it visaully, and myself, my own body, so fashion plays a big role, plus, I really like it.
CC: When you moved from Bogota to Boston how old where you?
CC: I wanna talk about growing up in Bogota. There was a period there that was intense with guerrilla warfare and that kept many American acts to travel there and tour. How this period influence you?
Ela: It influenced my life heavily. In one way, like you point out: the lack of international acts that came by the country made us grow up without untouchable “idols” in a way, we didn’t have role models, also not a lot of Colombian musicians had big carriers to look up to back then, which made us be running around in the dark as teenage musicians growing up in a third world country. Still heavily influenced by the state’s music, of course, I mean, Metallica was what I was listening to, out of all the music in Colombia, hehe, but I didn’t see a metallica live show until I went for the first time to sxsw in 2008, for example. (laughter)
Both of my parents are journalists, and they they are very immersed in politics —especially back then. It was reality for my family, just as it was for thousands of families back then. My family was constantly under threat. It was very real and still is. Our history, as a country, is very complicated, and violent. And of course, that influenced me heavily growing up.
CC: How did you stay positive during all this?
Ela: Well…there really wasn’t a choice, you can’t afford not to be. If you are surrounded by death and violence, you don’t “get used to it”, you just become more thankful to be alive, and have nothing but appreciation for life.
I always remember my dad always use to say to me when I would complain about anything I “had” to do, like going to school, he would always say “The one thing you got to do is die… everything else is optional.”
Thats just something that relates to growing up in a country in war… we Latinamericans are warriors, we’re survivors. Growing up in Colombia i think, just made me feel more free, when death is “bottom” you truly become free, the best thing we can do ir dark times is try to understand as much as we can so we can make things better. However we can, I try my best with my music, which is the only thing I know how to do.
CC: And its a beautiful thing! Colombia is on a rise. A lot of companies are moving there. We saw you at Estereo Picnic and were so impressed!!! People are now flocking to Bogota and experiencing this beautiful country again.
Ela: Exactly! I was gone for 7 years and when I left, I never thought I would go back. To live, I mean, it just didn’t make sense work-wise to go back, and I felt lucky I got a chance to study and live outside. I love my country, deeply. However, now not only do I want to go back, but I plan to do so very, very soon. There are so, so many exciting things happenng, artiwise, and in everything, the culture is rising, latin america is rising, I feel the south is in a re-birth rising up, while the rest of the world seems to be spiraling down.
CC: Who would you like to perform or collaboration with in Colombia?
Ela: There are a lot of artists that I would love to collaborate with; Gladkazuka, Mitú, Meridian Brothers, Los Pirañas, and the list goes on, so many really amazing music and musicians.
CC: What ideas do you get from performing live? Do you any hip hop, rock ideas, etc?
Ela: Everything I make is directly related to the live performance, I think contemporary music is laking a connection with the live performance. When I was going to school, I went both to a lot of jazz shows, and also was heavily studying jazz, and electronic parties, (not shows, parties). And on both of those contexts I could see so clearly how the live experience was about being in the moment, present, there with everyone that was on the same place as you where, connected, dancing together, or listening together. It was about this powerful moment that was never going to happen again, and you where there witnessing it.
I’ve always seen producing and recording music as a different art form as live performing. And I want to make that distinction in my music. What I am looking for is that connection with other people, I want to make music for the people, to make them feel something, to make them feel like they are not alone.
When I improvise live, it’s a journey that I wanna take people on. It’s way more aggressive — Not really a lot of hip hop rhythms, but definitely lots of bass and not so many vocals. I am spreading the frequency range, like going way low on the low end, high on the high end, while still being minimal with more of a club influence. Very different to my recorded tracks.
CC: Your voice is very high pitched, is this something that just out of singing in the shower?
Ela: (laughter) I don’t know how to answer that! (laughter) I am not a singer, ha! I have always played drums… always hated singing. People would say well you play drums you should do [vocal] harmony. I would say no way! Hated singing! Its very weird! Then just one day, I was like I am just gonna do this, for the tracks on the first EP, because I’ve never done it, and the first EP was about challenges and getting as far away as my comfort zone as I could. That literally meant singing.
CC: Is it because a lot people who play drums don’t want to be in that spotlight?
Ela: I don’t know about that, I just didn’t like singing. I feel like playing drums and singing at the same time is sorta like being a circus monkey — it makes it look like I can do everything at once, and i hate that. I do hate the feeling of being seen like a circus (trained) monkey.
CC: Don’t let Phil Collins hear you say that… haha!!
Ela: I know, it’s just very personal. When I see it, I don’t think that; Its just when I do it, that I feel the “circus monkey” thing.
Plus, I was always just really bad at singing, I learned to drum on my own. In college I was terrible at all the ear training, solfage, or anything that required any other skill aside from drumming, it was really difficult for me, plus and going to school with all these incredibly talented and trained singers, singing next to them, was just hard and intimidating. So im sure that also didn’t help.
When I decided to sing it was a challenge to myself more than anything. I wanted to do something I have never done before. I did not know my voice, so I wrote the music and produced it before I started singing on it or coming up with melodies. So, actually some of the high pitch was just a consequence of me writing without singing and then realizing the key was just way to high haha…I don’t think it was a mistake, but I was just getting to know my voice when I recorded my first 3 songs. It was really hard to keep up with on tour, as I would lose my voice from not using it properly. I am still finding my voice, and It’s gonna keep changing.
CC: What one sentence would describe you when people listen to your music.
Ela: Wow! Wow, that’s so hard. One thing would be, ‘be honest.’ [My music], It’s music from the heart. So honesty? I am super cheesy when it comes to questions like that. Haha, yup, I am just cheesy…
Ela Minus will be releasing ‘Adapt’ this month.
She is also performing at LPR Presents: Ela Minus at C’mon Everybody 325 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11238 Feb.17,2017
In Mexico City,Mexico at El Imperial Alvaro obregon 293 Esq. Oaxaca Col. Roma Norte,06700 Cuauhte’moc,Mexico Feb.24,2017
Her past EP’s are: