The History Behind The Music
Music has permeated Elijah’s family for well over a century. As early as can be traced, one of his ancestors was a member of an Austrian/Hungarian orchestra in the late 1880s. Elijah’s great grandfather, Henry W. “Heine” Stebritz, an immigrant from Austria, played drums in the early 1900s. Throughout his professional career, he played for various bands that included Lawrence Welk’s. Heine passed away only four days after his last performance in 1969 at the age of 82.
Heine’s grandson, Turk E. Krause, brother to Elijah’s mother, Debra, inherited his grandfather’s famous drums and continued with the family’s passion for music. He formed several acts and at the age of seventeen, started to play full time and toured with a variety of bands.
Turk has been a longtime member of Molly Nova and the Hawk but prior to that, one of the bands he formed, Men Rockin’, had a group of young stand-ins for a photo shoot. Elijah, his cousins and a young friend posed for their first band photo when Elijah was not quite three years old.
“I can remember being in love with music when I was six, seven. I had a tape of The Monkees that I’d play incessantly. But when I fully grasped music, and the wide variety that it is, was probably around eleven or twelve, and I became obsessed.”
Almost immediately after his family moved to California from Iowa, Elijah’s first musical appearance at the tender age of eight was in a music video for Paula Abdul’s number one song “Forever Your Girl” in 1989. At the age of fourteen, he appeared in a second music video for The Cranberries’, “Ridiculous Thoughts.”
Traveling at a young age as an actor brought Elijah to meet all kinds of people and thusly, he was exposed to all sorts of music. He ate it up, has been passionate about it, and has been searching ever since.
Even though performing music on stage bypassed his immediate family, their love of music resounded. Elijah took piano lessons as a child and to this day collects instruments. He dabbles with the guitar, but doesn’t play that or any instrument proficiently. Elijah is adamant that he’s not a frustrated musician himself, though he admitted to fantasies of playing the mandolin or banjo in a bluegrass band. He recalled how his mother loved to listen to soul music and his brother Zach was a major fan of Prince. Both of these attributes along with his own embedded musical qualities passed along to Elijah.
Notwithstanding his claim to shun his inner musical being, in 2003, Elijah provided vocals on two tracks and played piano on one from The Lord of the Rings co-star Viggo Mortensen’s CD “Pandemoniumfromamerica”. And although it was a humorous affair, Elijah sang when he hosted a musically based installment of the late night comedy show, Saturday Night Live.
“Since I was thirteen, I’ve been utterly obsessed with music.”
It’s not surprising to spot Elijah at a record store literally pouring over hundreds of CDs and records of various genres. The first album he ever purchased was “The Very Best of the Temptations” at the age of eight because their song “My Girl” was his favorite. Names such as Elvis Costello and Ween were in his vocabulary as a teenager. When he heard jazz great Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” for the first time, music went from a pastime to a serious passion.
He found himself obsessed with bands such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead. Elijah had no limitations and his ingrained versatile tastes moved to Billie Holiday, Skip James, the Delta blues and 1950s jazz. He delighted on Django Reinhardt, The Strokes and the Glasgow band, Sons and Daughters. Mention most any band, artist or style to Elijah today, and he’ll enthusiastically talk your ear off giving more than you ever wanted to know.
That fixation has only grown and Elijah could easily qualify as a prototype for a human musical library. His knowledge is only outweighed by his extensive collection of music CDs towering over 4,000 copies, if not more. He has collected rare and expensive 78s by Leadbelly and Billie Holiday, but all of this didn’t quench his musical thirsts.
Elijah began to deejay and shared the music he loved with others. In his early 20s, for a number of years, Elijah would pack up his iPod loaded with thousands of songs and spin tunes for hours at a bar owned by a friend in Los Angeles. He deejayed for the wrap party of one of his films, and he still has opportunities to play songs to crowds with excepting ears and open minds.
“I never go with a set in mind and it’s a totally random mix of music. It’s completely improvisational and fun. There’s nothing like playing music for people.”
Any opportunity to attend a live performance is nabbed immediately. If eying Elijah at Amoeba, Virgin or Tower Records is standard, then a concert attendee at the Hollywood Bowl in LA or The High Line in NYC, isn’t uncommon. Music festivals are probably the best venue for Elijah, with a multitude of acts that would feed his musical ear. It was at one of these festivals that Elijah met one of his favorite indie bands, and that would prove to be a unforeseen undertaking.
Over the next few years, there were hints dropped by Elijah that he would love to be more involved with music, and the idea of a record label was always mentioned. At times he would even ponder the idea of being a spearhead of a television or radio show as well.
“People can call up sports radio stations and bitch about sports. Same with talk radio. But as a music fan, one of the most important things is discussion. You bitch about bands, you talk about new records and shows you’ve seen. And there isn’t really a forum for that.”
In September 2005, Elijah released his personal playlist of songs through iTunes that included sixteen tracks ranging from Pink Floyd to Sly & The Family Stone. Elijah finally made it official when he announced the embarkment of his own record label, and it would be named Simian Records.
“The idea kind of came out of wanting to be a part of music in some way and wanting to contribute. I feel like having a label, finding bands that I believe in and sort of just purely wanting people to hear them is kind of an exciting thing. It’s also nice to just simply work on something that’s my own, to create something from the ground up as well.”
He befriended The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, and Joel Cadbury of South, whose helpful tips were always on tap when he came up with the idea of starting a label. By the end of 2005, Simian Records joined with Yep Roc Records and the label had its first act signed. A band that’s been established for six years, but was looking for a new record company. It was nearly three years earlier during the South by Southwest music festival in 2003 were Elijah had the opportunity to meet The Apples In Stereo.
For Elijah, it took over a year to establish his independent recording venture with AIS with no staff or corporate offices. He operates his label from his home in Venice Beach, California… alone.
“I had no infrastructure when Apples in Stereo approached me. They heard I wanted to start a label,” he explains. “So I got an imprint of Yep Roc records, which allowed me to get started. They’re an incredible, 1960s, seventies bass-pop band, absolutely amazing. And this is their first record in about four or five years. I’ve been a fan of theirs, so to start my label essentially with a band that I love is really exciting.”
In February 2007, the release of The Apples In Stereo’s CD, “New Magnetic Wonder” was a major critical success. The collection of vibrant tunes broke into Billboard’s top ten on the independent charts within five weeks of its debut and Rolling Stone magazine listed the CD in its Best of 2007 list. Brilliant songs from their album can be heard in several television shows, commercials, and motion pictures. Elijah himself directed their music video, “Energy”.
“I always kind of fantasied about making music videos. I think some of the most incredible directors have started as music video directors. It’s an incredibly open genre of film making because it’s purely art, it’s not being judged in a theater, it’s not selling tickets, there’s a little bit more freedom and I’ve always admired some of the chances, some of the risks that people have taken in that format.”
Still on the success of AIS, Elijah continued to search for other acts. His Simian MySpace took shape to keep the public up to date with the progress of his label and stayed abreast to other unknown bands.
“I think the impact that MySpace had for independent artists, and new up and coming bands was pretty extraordinary just in terms of the reach. There are millions of people that signed on to MySpace and looked to MySpace to find bands to expose themselves to people that they wouldn’t necessarily find through other avenues. There are bands that literally got famous because of MySpace and then were signed to labels, so obviously it had a very strong impact.”
Before his label was established, Elijah met an exuberant performer, Heloise Williams through his former girlfriend Pamela Racine who was a member the gypsy-punk band, Gogol Bordello and Heloise and Elijah connected immediately.
“I just fell in love with her personality as soon as I met Heloise and then when I saw her play live I was blown away.”
Her group Heloise and the Savoir Faire, an underground disco-punk-rock band from New York City, was growing in popularity and were approached by small labels and producers but were hesitant about signing, and because of their friendship, Elijah was reluctant about asking the band to become part of his label once it took ground. But in October of 2007, Elijah overcame his hesitancy and they signed as his second act to Simian.
Their CD, “Trash, Rats and Microphones” was released in April 2008. There were a couple of tracks that had the extraordinary vocal help from Deborah Harry of Blondie. Heloise and the Savior Faire made television performance appearances on the Graham Norton Show and the Friday Night Project. The track Odyle is the theme song for the fashion reality show Rachel Zoe Project that airs on American cable channel Bravo.
Will there be more artists signed to Simian? More than likely because Elijah is so genuinely enthusiastic about the possibilities that his passion for music can bring him that, on reflection, he doesn’t think he would be terribly perturbed if Hollywood played a less important part in his life than it has up to now.
“I’d rather release music that I believe in, and try to get things out there that I think are interesting and worth hearing, for no financial gain. I didn’t start a record company out of need. Certainly it’s not the smartest thing to do financially. It came purely because I love it and am passionate about it.”
There may be another band on the horizon as Elijah told during one of his recent radio hosting gigs. A band he’s “working with,” Brian Scary and the Shredding Tears, who were probably discovered on that alternative musical agent MySpace, will have new material out sometime in 2009. A few months after the completion of this page, Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears has announced their newest EP, “Mad Valentines” will be released October 21st on the Simian label.
Even though being a record producer can be very time consuming with scouting out acts, Elijah still enjoys his favorite musical haunts. He has soloed a two hour slot on LA’s Indie 103.1 radio station in 2007 and 2008, co-hosted at 105.9 WOMM-LP in Burlington Vermont in 2009 and has helmed shows on the music channel, MTV such as, “Artists Favorites,” “Take-Overs” and their popular hour long afternoon video countdown “TRL: Total Request Live.”
Still wanting to be involved with music videos, Elijah made another appearance in 2008 for Greg Laswell’s video, “How The Day Sounds”. For the next Apples in Stereo CD, “Travellers in Space and Time” released on Simian Records in April 2010, Elijah jumped in front of the camera this time and appeared in the video “Dance Floor”, as well as “Full Of Regret” from the band Danko Jones released May 2010 and its sequel “I Think Bad Thoughts” in 2011. Also that year Elijah gained much acclaim for his remarkable portrayal of Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock in their half hour long, all star ensemble music video “Make Some Noise”, a continuation of their hit song “Fight For Your Right”.
Simian Records was Elijah’s venture into the music industry that he brought to reality. However, as time went by and with Elijah being the sole proprietor, he unfortunately had to relinquish the label. But he doesn’t regret one moment of the experience. Now successfully deejaying around the globe as half of Wooden Wisdom, a lot of Elijah’s time is spent collecting vinyl LPs and 45s from various establishments worldwide, acquiring genres from Turkish and Brazilian to Indian and African and everything in between, all sampling melodies from the disco era.
Looking back on the four year period of Simian, Elijah sums up his undertaking:
“It was a fun time. It was like a grand experiment and something I always wanted to do. I don’t know that I want to be involved in the music industry. I don’t know what that career would be. I’ve always fantasized about having a record store or to have my own radio show. For me expressing it through playing records and deejaying is really the most satisfying.”
“I don’t think I could ever be completely satisfied by acting. I have a lot of other interests, things I believe in and am passionate about. And there’s no reason not to go for it. Life is full of so many different things and so many different avenues, and I believe all of them should be explored.”
Resources: Billboard, Elle Girl Magazine, The Independent UK, Jane Magazine, Molly Nova and the Hawk, MTV, MySpace, PBS, Q Magazine, Roxwel, Times Online, Vimby, Yep Roc Records, YouTube. Family photographs courtesy of Laurie Keeling, Mason City, Iowa.