Since the mid 1980s, John Elefante has been forging his own path as a multi-award winning vocalist, producer and member of the band Mastedon. Elefante and his brother, Dino also founded the popular Sound Kitchen studio which became a hot spot for artists like Buddy Guy and Bruce Springsteen.
But Elefante is perhaps best known for his tenure as lead vocalist for the band Kansas in the early ’80s, contributing (among other things) the guitar driven song “Fight Fire With Fire” while performing alongside guitarists Richard Williams and Kerry Livgren.
Fans of the Kansas sound will be delighted to discover that Elefante’s new solo album, “On My Way to the Sun” showcases Williams’ guitar work (along with Kansas violinist David Ragsdale) on the roller coaster track “This Is How The Story Goes.” The album also features the song, “This Time” which Elefante wrote about his adopted daughter who was nearly aborted. The video for the song has since gone viral on You Tube.
I spoke with Elefante about his latest album and video. We also discuss how he joined Kansas and his most memorable moment with the band.
James Wood (JW): Tell me a little about the making of “On My Way To The Sun.”
John Elefante (JE): The record industry has changed so much over the past few years that for this project I decided to hook up with Kickstarter. The cool thing about it is, your fans don’t give you money apprehensively. They’re glad to be a part of the project and that really inspired me. It was a team effort and I really wanted to deliver the best record I could.
JW: You have Dave Cleveland doing a brunt of the guitar work on this record. What’s it like working with him?
JE: Dave Cleveland is one of the most underrated guitar players in the world. He’s carved out a niche in the Christian market and is the go to guitar player for any style of music. I can’t say enough about him. He’s the most imaginative guy I’ve ever worked with.
JW: Tell me how you recruited Kansas members Rich Williams and Dave Ragsdale for the song “This is How The Story Goes.”
JE: Originally, I had sent the song to Phil Ehart (drums) and asked him if he’d like to play on it. Phil loved the song, but couldn’t commit because of a scheduling conflict. That’s when I decided to send it to Rich. He loved the song and then sent it to Dave, who also wanted to be a part of it. You have to admit, for a song that sounds a lot like Kansas by nature it becomes even more validated when you have a few of the guys in the band playing on it [laughs]. I really wanted one roller-coaster ride of a song that takes you on a journey, and this one was it.
JW: What was the inspiration behind the song, “This Time”?
JE: I wrote that song from a very honest point of view. It’s based on the true story of how my daughter came into the world. She was almost aborted and thank God she wasn’t. I was literally writing two lines at a time and singing it when I wrote it. The song just flowed line by line.
JW: Were you aware of the controversial nature of the song as you wrote it?
JE: When I sat down to write, there was never any intention of me writing a pro-life or anti-abortion song. But in telling the story, I had to write about how she almost didn’t come into the world. When you put the visual to it from the video, all of that stuff suddenly comes into play. The first week we had over 100,000 views. Comments on it were both good and bad, but that’s to be expected. People are passionate on both sides. But I believe in the sanctity of life, and this is my side of the story.
JW: Tell me how you got into Kansas.
JE: I was out in California trying to score a record deal when I heard that the singer in Kansas had left the band. So I called up my attorney and asked him what he thought about trying to get my demo to those guys. He says “Done.” I said “What do you mean, ‘done’?” Apparently, the attorney for Kansas was literally right in the next office. So my attorney walked my demo over to their attorney [laughs]. Next thing you know, I’m hearing from their manager. Everything all came together.
JW: Kansas was one of the biggest bands back then. What was it like going to the “big time”?
JE: Everything was happening so fast that I didn’t really have much time to think about it. I was concentrating on getting songs on the new record and putting my best vocal performances forward. Then, we immediately started rehearsing for a tour.
JW: Can you tell me the origin and meaning behind the song “Fight Fire With Fire”?
JE: My parents had converted their garage into a studio and my brother and I used to spend hours and hours there. That’s where we wrote it. I think the whole song came together in about 45 minutes. The message behind it is “I’m not going to be a wimp about what I believe. I’m going to stand up and fight fire with fire.” It’s kind of the world we live in. Whenever the band plays it live now, they dedicate to the military, which is awesome. Everyone’s fighting for some kind of cause.
JW: What’s your best memory of being in Kansas?
JE: I remember we played this all day event in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was in a big stadium and there were probably around 50,000 people there. It was us and bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon. We were going on right as the sun was going down; the perfect time. I remember feeling like there was a competition going on, and I wanted to show everyone that Kansas was the best band there. Everything was perfect and the band was so on. I’ll never forget that day.
For more on John Elefante, check out his official website.