Left Alone Bio
The exuberant yet repentant punk anthem that launches Left Alone’s 2006 sophomore Hellcat offering is the kind of no bullshit, honest proclamation that fans of last year’s highly-praised Lonely Starts and Broken Hearts have come to expect. That lead-off number, dubbed “The Sinner,” is the sort of joyous chant along that has earned the devotion of punk purists throughout the globe. But as Dead American Radio unfolds, it reveals itself to be a far more adventurous, diverse and rewarding song cycle than its predecessor.
Simply put, Left Alone has concocted a stone cold classic album that artfully takes aim at corporate radio, suck ass emo bands and everything in between while incorporating elements of ska, cowpunk, pop contagiousness and old school punk. Yet according to Left Alone’s guitarist, songwriter and mouthpiece Elvis Cortez, that variety – which counts the efforts of saxophonist Noe, and the inclusion of Hammond organ and pedal steel – wasn’t necessarily a goal for the new disc.
“We were just picking up on different kinds of music and grooving on different elements,” Cortez says. “My only goal was to do a record I’d be 100% happy with. Lonely Stars was recorded in like four days or some shit. This time we had a lot of time. Plus we had been on tour forever and had a lot of songs. Everything just worked out. Much like our band, it’s just a bunch of weird shit that just all kind of goes together.”
From a pensive heartbreaker like “Waiting For You” to the charged punk firecracker “Drunk Again”, the flow of the record is somehow seamless thanks to the musical aptitude of Cortez, Noe and their rhythmic commando Ramrod (drums). With “La Pregunta,” recent tourmate Patricia Day (of HorrorPops fame) joins Elvis on the quirky ska-inspired, Spanish-sung duet, while Rancid’s own Tim Armstrong joins forces with the band for the upbeat, rock & roll road tale “City To City”.
“I brought some songs over for Tim to check out and he really liked “City To City,” so I asked him if he wanted to sing on it,” Elvis says of his hit-worthy collaboration with Hellcat’s founder. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’ So he wrote the verse he sings and he helped me arrange the song. He’s so good at that kind of stuff. The guy is amazing in so many ways. It was a trip working with him.”
If “City To City” is an instant classic that deserves to be an airwave favorite, Cortez recognizes that the likelihood that it and the other winners like on Dead American Radio – like the reflective, energetic “Every Night” and the terrestrial (a.k.a. testicle) radio critiquing title track – will be heard by the masses is slim. “People think that bands get popular out of being good, and it’s just not true,” Elvis proclaims. “I’ve always known it to be pretty much a money thing. It’s like the rich gets richer and radio is the worst example of that. For a band it sucks because there’s so much good stuff that should be on the radio but it never gets the chance because maybe their label can’t afford it or just chooses not to buy into it. I’ve always felt that if a song is good enough, it shouldn’t matter what label it’s on, but that’s not the way it works.”
If corporate radio still sucks, Left Alone’s frustrations with the medium haven’t kept the quartet from excelling on Dead American Radio. “It’s funny because somehow these songs wound up being some of the catchiest I’ve ever written,” Cortez marvels. “And some of the songs ended up sounding like they could be at home on the radio. But I didn’t sit down with that in mind. We just jam and then put the ideas together, it’s never a plotted out thing with our music.”
It’s amazing then, to consider that this big, bombastic sounding record was produced on a modest budget before mastering. A testament to Cortez’s skills as a producer, he says the band “just took our time and did what we always wanted to do. We did the drums on reel to reel analogue and dumped them into Pro Tools. I borrowed a Gretsch and a bunch of Les Pauls and different amps and cabinets. And Ramrod got a new, high end drum set and all of this equipment and we focused on the sound as much as the songs and it really worked out well.”
Of taking Left Alone’s music to a new level, Elvis acknowledges, “We could do the whole hardcore thing, and I started with it, but I’m more about melody and textures. That’s everything for me. We feel really good about this record. The whole band is excited. I can finally say that from start to finish, I feel so complete with this thing. It feels like we hit it out of the park. When I listen to the record we made, I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah!’”
If defying convention seems to be protocol for Left Alone, Cortez confirms this notion when he speaks of a recent House of Blues gig in L.A. with Hellcat labelmates Tiger Army. “We both had pedal steel guys!” the frontman laughs. “It’s like totally out of context for punkers with Mohawks. The soundman was like, ‘You have a saxophonist, a pedal steel player and an organist and you’re a punk band with Mohawks? What are you guys doing?’”
But despite the group’s willingness to try new things, the men of Left Alone are still ardent punk purists a disdain for a certain popular rock subgenre. Hence the delightful, revivalist kick in the ass known as “I Hate Emo.”
“On the 2004 Warped Tour it started for us,” Elvis confesses. “It was like attack of the clones. Emo bands… they look the same, they play the same, they talk the same. So the song started as a punk rock song called “Fuck Emo.” And the chorus was like, ‘Yeah, I said it. I said it.’ And then we did the Warped Tour Barbecue and all these emo bands would look at me like I was an asshole. And maybe I was.”
“I guess with me, I don’t give a fuck what music looks like or how it’s packaged,” Elvis says, in spite of his band’s own eye-catching Boombox-centric album cover. “As long as its good and genuine, it will shine through and people will catch on. If you play your shit with balls, and truly have some balls, it will shine through.”
Summing it all up, Elvis Cortez decrees, “We’re no Hot Topic band.” That’s for sure.