Interview with John Elefante by Paul Braoudakis July 1997
Paul: The very first thing I noticed when I was listening to Corridors was that the personal pronoun ďIĒ was in almost every single song. This is an intensely personal album, isnít it?
John: Yes, absolutely.
Paul: Can you tell me why?
John: Well, itís the truest thing to my heart. Itís my own personal relationship with God and how I see it from my perspective. Even though I do have an evangelistic side, I just really like to sing about what God does in my life. Itís easiest to sing about, because itís what I know the best.
Paul: Is there a reason why this particular album is so introspective?
John: I guess Iíve learned more about myself. Iíve learned more about my relationship with God. And a big thing is Iíve adopted two children from birth.
Paul: I was waiting for your to say that.
John: And thatís had a major, major effect.
Paul: Did it affect your songs?
John: Yes, absolutely.
Paul: All of them?
John: I donít know about all of them. I mean, I feel it comes from a different place. But itís just that it affects me in my whole life. I think the most amazing thing about it is that you really understand how God views us when you have a child.
Paul: The father/child relationship...
John: Oh yeah. You can discipline. You can love. You could be willing to lay down your life. You understand all the things, all the reasons that God loves us. And if Godís love is as intense ó which I know it is ó as a fatherís, thatís got to be off the scale! In fact, hereís an interesting story: We have a little deck outside our house. And itís really dry. Summerís hit, and we havenít sealed the deck yet. And my little girl was running down the deck to go out in the backyard and play. She got a huge splinter in her foot, just underneath the skin. It took us about an hour-and-a-half to get this thing out of there. It took five of us to hold her down because it was hurting her so bad. We had to dig into her foot with a pin. And she was saying things to me like, ďDaddy, youíre killing me! Why are you killing me?Ē She thought we were intentionally hurting her. It just broke my heart. I said, ďHoney, we have to get this splinter out of your foot. Itís going to get worse. Itís going to get infected.Ē ďBut youíre hurting me! Tell me why are you killing me? Why are you killing me?Ē And my wife and I that night talked about it. It really affected us. Because when God prunes our tree, when heís chopping away and cutting away all the dead stuff, it hurts because that stuffís grown. Itís like he just keeps chopping and pruning away so weíll bear more fruit.
Paul: And we wonder why. We wonder, ďWhy are you killing me?Ē
John: Oh yeah. ďWhy are you killing me? Why are you doing this, God? Iím going through a really rough time...Ē And I understood it at that time. She didnít understand it because she is too young to understand that Iím pulling the splinter out because youíre going to be hurting if we donít get it out. Itís going to get infected. But she didnít understand that yet.
Paul: Her mind didnít have the capacity to grasp what was happening to her.
John: Just like we donít. Exactly. It was such an incredible depiction of that.
Paul: How do you feel this album is different from Windows of Heaven?
John: Well first of all, it was written and recorded over a four/five month period. Windows of Heaven was about a four-year process. It didnít take four years to make, itís just that we would slide in two songs here and then find time and record two songs here and two songs here and another two songs here. Lyrically, the influence of having a family now definitely plays out in the record. But musically, itís not as busy. Itís definitely more stripped down. I think the vocal, the sonics of the record is more set to feature my voice and really get me out there as a singer. In the recording process, the record company really wanted to hear my voice. ďWe donít want to just get bombastically blown away with all the music and everything going on. We really want to get in touch with the singer.Ē
Paul: Was the last one recorded in the new studios also?
John: No. The last one was entirely recorded ó except for a few things ó in California.
Paul: At Pakaderm ?
John: Right. This one was recorded solely at The Sound Kitchen in Nashville and my house.
Paul: It seems after listening to this album that youíve abandoned the hard rock edge that was so prevalent with Mastedon. Is that something that was intentional, that youíre trying to get away from, or can we expect to see that resurface in a project later on?
John: I donít know. Thatís hard to say. Iíve still got rock and roll in my blood, but right now I donít think with these lyrics that setting would work. But itís definitely in my blood.
Paul: The bands that you guys used to produce really established you as having a sort of ďhard rock edge.Ē
John: Well, that died about 1990. Everything started getting a lot more vibey and acoustic in the 90s. But I did make a very conscious effort to not be trendy with this record. I wasnít into ďOh, weíre going to make an alternative, acoustic, vibey...Ē I just did what I do and made it melodic and recorded it the way I know how. Iím not into trends too much.
Paul: Will we see another Mastedon album?
John: I donít know.
Paul: You havenít thought about it at all?
John: Well, we havenít discussed another record. What we have discussed is getting both records, combining them together, remixing, maybe me singing some of the songs that some of the other singers sang, and doing three or four new tunes. So it would be a compilation of both with three or four new songs.
Paul: When you guys did that one incredibly successful show at Cornerstone (1991, the only full live performance of Mastedon), did that not prompt you to say, ďWow, maybe weíve got something hereĒ?
John: Well, yes and no. But I think if you see my show now, youíll see all those elements. We do some Mastedon stuff. We do some Kansas stuff.
Paul: What Kansas stuff do you do?
John: Believe it or not, weíre doing part of Wayward Son, Fire with Fire and weíre doing sort of a Pink Floyd version of Dust in the Wind.
John: Itís wild. We did it the other night, man. People freaked out just as soon as we started it (sings the intro) ... Like the whole show just comes to a stop. Itís a killer.
Paul: You once said that your days with Kansas werenít exactly all glamour and joy. Can you tell me about some of the bad times and what they taught you so early on in your career? What did you learn?
John: Well, I think what I was shocked into learning is that the business sometimes and almost always was more important than the music ó the aspect of the bottom line. See, I went in thinking it was all about the music. And that if it was all about the music, in turn the business took care of itself. But I was shocked into reality real quick. Most of the decisions were made from a business perspective in that band and somewhat a musical.
Paul: These guys all came from a small town in the Midwest. Most of them knew each other since they were kids. Did you feel like an outcast sometimes?
John: Oh, absolutely. Totally.
Paul: The whole time?
John: The whole time. Yeah.
Paul: Is that something you felt, or were you made to feel that way?
John: Well, I donít know if it was a conscious effort for anybody to make me feel that way. But I just was an outsider.
Paul: And your age...
John: Yeah. I was much younger. Itís just the way it was.
Paul: Have you heard any of the stuff theyíve done since then or have you seen them live since you left the band?
John: I heard early on, right when I left. The record Power I thought was good.
Paul: And then Freaks of Nature, which is one in the last year...
John: Iíll just come right out and say it. I donít think the band is Kansas anymore without Kerry Livgren. Never will be.
Paul: People are dying to know: Is there a possibility of you ever doing a project with Kerry?
John: God would have to put it together. Thereís nothing planned.
Paul: Do you guys keep in touch?
John: Yeah. We talk.
Paul: It seems like it would only be natural. You both have a history, youíre both musicians, youíve both got studios, you both are Christians..
John: Every time we get together we talk about it, but nothing ever really materializes.
Paul: Is it just the busyness of both of your schedules?
John: Yeah, pretty much. But I donít know. Who knows? We could be out on tour next year. Who knows?
Paul: He still jumps on stage once in a while when Kansas comes through town and does Dust in the Wind.
John: Yeah, thatís what I hear.
Paul: Have you ever met Steve Walsh?
Paul: When you were in the band or after?
John: Before I was in the band.
Paul: Did he just come to a show?
Paul: What was that like?
John: It made me extremely nervous.
Paul: Was he out in the audience?
John: Oh yeah, he was staring at me from the soundboard on the first show we did. Freaked me out.
Paul: Was he cordial?
John: Oh yeah.
Paul: Did he talk to you after the show, say ďGood jobĒ or anything like that?
John: Yeah, he did. Yeah.
Paul: Lots of people say that Drastic Measures was primarily an Elefante album.
John: It was. I was just about left alone with a producer to make a record myself.
Paul: You and Dino (Johnís brother)?
John: No. Dino wasnít there. But it was basically me, Rich Williams, and the producer.
Paul: Tell me about your recent project with Lou Graham (of Foreigner).
John: Well, Lou Graham was my mentor vocally. He was the guy that I listened to. I mean his vocal ability just kills me. I listen to him a lot. Then actually singing with him on the Petra record was one of the biggest treats of my life.
Paul: How did that happen?
John: Well, I sang with him at a Harvest Crusade out in California. The song We Need Jesus was the theme for that crusade. He was in town with Foreigner, and he loved the tune. We sent a car out to pick him up, he came down for two hours, sang his part and went back. But heís a straight ahead believer, man. Heís for real. Great guy.
Paul: Thatís great. So heís still doing the Foreigner thing. Howís he dealing with that?
John: Well, heís going to a Calvary church, which I trust, because Iím a Calvary.
Paul: In California?
John: No. In Rochester, New York. But itís associated with the Calvary churches in California, which I completely trust. I think heís been discipled right. I donít necessarily believe that you become a Christian and stop everything that youíre doing. Some things you need to stop, thatís obvious. But I donít think that he should necessarily leave Foreigner all of a sudden and do a Gospel record.
Paul: Kerry didnít leave Kansas.
John: No. In fact, that still might be going on if he hadnít given in to some of the pressure from people saying ďOh man, you got to get rid of this Kansas thing and go out and do your own thing and sing about the Lord.Ē
Paul: Tell me about the tour for this album (Corridors).
John: Weíre planning a fall tour. Looking ahead to next spring, weíre carefully planning a tour.
Paul: So thereís no tour itinerary as of right now.
John: Not yet. We have a tentative sketch.
Paul: Are you planning major metropolitan areas, Christian festivals ...?
John: It would be festivals for next spring, but yeah, primarily big cities.
Paul: Okay. So whatís next, John? Whatís next for John Elefante? You do the tour and then you get back...
John: Well, we see what happens with this record, do some dates. I donít know. Itís like wherever this thing takes me. We have big plans for this record, and I can only see that far right now. Thatís as far as I want to see for right now. But I already have some new stuff for another record, so thereís always that coming in.