ELEPHANT: Seek The Truth
Interview by: Edward Truth @EdwardTruth
As featured in Connextions Magazine, Issue 8 - Released Fall 2012
Coleman and Jackson Vrana, better known as the west coast rap duo Elephant, are rising stars in the queercore movement— raw, androgynous, spindly punks with loads of sex appeal and shameless lyrics who draw diverse inspiration and don't give a frack about what the world thinks of them. Elephant's latest single, "The Let-Go", features Tampa's dirty rap crunk Yo! Majesty, and sounds more mainstream "feel good" than you might expect from punk-twins-rap meets black-lesbian- Christian hip-hop. Get over it. Elephant's "Notorious H.I.V." is enough to make Larry Kramer cringe, and "Queer Nation" rumbles in a truck of a thousand expletives with writhing bodies to match. Now 26, the Vrana twins (fraternal not identical, as it's rumored) came out at age 14 in Oklahoma, a state whose mentality "screams south", as Coleman might put it. The duo loves to push buttons—a rebellious attitude learned from generations of ridicule and rejection; their great grandmother was a full blood Native American who lived to the age of 93. Elephant's first full length LP is slated for end of summer, then they go on tour. The dark complexity of the brothers Vrana is something Connextions is looking forward to getting into over time. For now, an introduction.
Connextions Magazine: "The Let-Go" is fast-paced and feel good, like an anthem. But your music is typically dirtier, angrier.
Coleman Vrana: More and more people tell me I need to be less angry. I don't understand it at all. The people writing us are just as angry if not angrier than I am. They tell me I need to focus on being more positive, that there's no real positive message. Like it's some sort of vitriol. How can you be a rapper without anger? It's impossible. The whole point of rap, well, not the whole point, but fighting back—that's the point.
CM: What are a few of your musical inspirations?
Jackson Vrana: I would say that Coleman and I really shared most of our influences as teenagers. Bands like The Cure and Placebo got us interested in pursuing a career in music. Nowadays I get inspired when I hear all kinds of things, like Fiona Apple's new album, the soundtrack to a horror movie, or an old Missy Elliott song. I think musicians eventually start to gather ideas from everywhere.
CV: The Cure was engrained in our heads since we were little kids. Certain melodies resonate, it's hard to explain. Placebo, too. You can hear a similar vocal style, the nasaly thing we do. But it's mostly in the melodies we write. It's hard to say. The first Cure album I listened to was Wild Mood Swings but Disintegration stuck with me the most. We would travel to see Placebo perform. Jackson lived in London when we were 18. I learned to play guitar listening to Placebo tracks—even their old rough and raw stuff I like. And their sexual energy resonates with us, why we're less shy about writing about our sexuality. I listen to both The Cure and Placebo to this day.
CV: A lot of people take offense to us using the word. Some people find it empowering. With "The Let-Go," it's more based on religion. We didn't try to make it less abrasive on purpose, it just happened that way. The band we worked with, Yo! Majesty, is a Christian band, but we didn't even know about that until later.
CM: The Huffington Post asked you what your ideal version of a ‘queer nation’ might look like. You said that gay men would be seen as generally stronger and tougher than straight men, and that people would finally be able to live in or outside whatever box they desired. How is "living in a box" a good thing?
JV: We're just saying that a queer nation would be a place where teens don't fear coming out of the closet. People would know that whether they want to lead a more traditional, socially conservative lifestyle or not, being gay is always acceptable.
CV: I'd like to imagine change happening in a way I can foresee it right now, maybe change happening in a way I can actually see. Same people, same society, same ideas changing in real time. So it wouldn't seem like such a distant idea.
CM: How do young queer people become themselves without giving in to mainstream messages that are built around exploiting them rather than building them up as individuals?
CV: I think queer people have a slight advantage with this, because they're told from an early age—sometimes at home, a lot at school, church, etc.—that being themselves is somehow wrong and to be avoided if they want an easier life. Deciding right then that you don't want to live as someone you're not is the first step toward individuality. Advising people to be themselves is telling them to do what makes them happy without feeling pressured by everyone around them. Most people probably give in to mainstream messages before they don't. You know, no one could have stopped us from becoming drug addicts when we were younger, as that's something you have to learn for yourself, too. I think there's probably some connection there. This idea of complete individualism is not something you can conquer when you're a teenager, but it's a good time to think about it.
CM: You guys are West Coast?
JV: L.A. is where I feel most at home. It's a relaxed place where everyone can find his or her cultural niche. My boyfriend, the dogs,
Coyote the pig and I have lived around Laurel Canyon for a long time now. Coleman tends to come and go from Portland. We have an awesome little circle of weird friends around here, and life is thankfully not very dull.
CM: New York, L.A. L.A., New York.
CV: One thing I noticed in New York is there's a huge amount of homophobia there. So many people bring their small town mentality with them from other places. I notice when we're on tour, it feels like there's almost as much homophobia in the north as there is in the south—even L.A. And WeHo is the least homophobic place. I mean, it's never perfect. I'm not expecting it to be
perfect. I would like for it to be but I'm still realistic.
CM: So what's next?
JV: Just finishing up the album, mastering, mixing, etc. And having it released late summer. Then will come a proper tour. Right now we're in major creative mode and it'll be exciting to start performing again. Playing live shows is such a different exercise in talent and creativity than working in a studio, and shifting focus in that direction for a while should be a fresh change.
CV: And Portland. I've got a house there. I'll spend more time with my boyfriend. Maybe we'll do more shows in Portland.
Find them on twitter: @Elephantwave
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