Elvis Cortez is often described as the hardest working musician around. Being in three touring bands, owning a record label and many other projects leave little time for anything else. Elvis’ band Left Alone supported The Interrupters at their record release show on August 4 at The Roxy in Hollywood, CA. It was a busy night with Elvis performing with both Left Alone and the surprise band, Tim Timebomb and Friends. By the Barricade talked with Elvis before the show to find out more about his start in music and upcoming projects. Check out the full interview transcripts that follow to learn more about what this talented performer and businessman is doing behind the scenes.
By the Barricade: Left Alone is planning to play a couple of songs tonight from your upcoming album, Harbor Area. I read that this is both an aggressive and personally reflective album for you. What are you most proud of?
Elvis Cortez: I am most proud of the growth of songwriting that has developed from the years of touring and touring and touring. You kind of get tighter with the band and you play off each other and you know your good points and work off those. We started recording it in 2012 and got busy in 2013 touring with The Transplants and then Jimmy Jam and I left with Tim Timebomb and Friends. When we came back, we already had twenty songs and we released an EP off of that but we still had the full album left. We went in there early this year and finished it up and now it comes out.
By the Barricade: Limited edition vinyl and cd preorders are available for Harbor Area. Is there a significance to the vinyl color choice?
Elvis Cortez: It’s funny because I am usually the guy who decides to do 300 in pink or whatever but this time I texted all of the guys with the colors we could pick from and said, “Each of you pick one.” I wanted to do 200 of this guy’s and 200 of that guy and they all came back with gold. So that was basically the thing. Later I told them that they all picked the same color and they said, it was because it was rad.
By the Barricade: You have a lot on your plate with Left Alone, The Transplants, Tim Timebomb and Friends not to mention your record label and other projects. What do you like to do if you have any spare time?
Elvis Cortez: I just opened a case company called Road Dog Cases. We build music cases for lighting equipment, guitar, everything. I like to work, that kind of works for me, I’m a workaholic. I like to do stuff all the time. I guess when I am winding down I probably would just hang out with my bulldogs. They are so rad and I miss them when I’m on tour. I have a ’63 Chevy Nova that I like to drive whenever I am home. I drive it to the store to get water or something just because I don’t get to drive it much. I hang out with my friends as much as I can because I miss them. Everyone gets busy lives and stuff like that.
By the Barricade: Tell us about your dogs.
Elvis Cortez: I have two dogs. An English Bulldog named Lily and an Old English Bulldog named Hope. Once in a while if I’m off tour I will breed them. I’ve been doing that on and off for 10 years that is really rewarding. Usually friends end up with them. Eddie from Voodoo Glow Skulls has one, Beats from South Central Skankers has one, and my friend Scientist Andy has one. It’s cool because they love my dogs and I let them know when I have another litter. It works out, is fun, and also is very scientific in a way. There’s C-section involved … it’s a whole thing. There is nothing better to me than a baby bulldog. I bought a Rancid skateboard at Dirty Mick Records and I was riding it and Lily bumped me off and just started riding it. No one showed her and now it’s hers. It’s a bulldog thing because they are so low and they are not scared of it. It’s weird because the board is pretty fast, but she is ok. She will be off and then turn it and come back. She has skills. I don’t know where she gets it from because I suck.
By the Barricade: What bands are you listening to these days?
Elvis Cortez: I really like Lucero they are amazing. I like Old 97’s, and Deathmarch is coming out with some new stuff. They are really good and aggressive. The Interrupters record is insane! I remember the first time Tim played it for me I was blown away. Seeing them live, they were really good. There is a new band with the singer from One Man Army has a band called Toy Guitar and I really like that, they have a 7” that I listen to over and over and I’m waiting for the full length.
By the Barricade: What inspired you to become a musician?
Elvis Cortez: My dad wanted me to play the violin, I don’t know why because it is not a guitar. I tried it when I was like ten and it wasn’t working out. I got into music because of my sister and one day I decided that I wanted to be in a band. She asked me to sing and told me if I could sing she would buy me a guitar. I turned on something, I forgot what, and she recorded it. She took me to the pawn shop on Avalon and Wilmington. I picked out a fake Les Paul and she put it on layaway and that is how I started. Little by little, even before that my mom bought me drums at the swap meet and I tried to get neighborhood friends play with me but they weren’t into it because it wasn’t rap. I think certain bands that I listened to inspired me. I was never taught or had anyone show me I just fell into it.
By the Barricade: When you were learning, what were some of those bands that you listened to that you wanted to play like?
Elvis Cortez: I liked Nirvana because they were so simple and I could learn them really quick. Then I wanted to learn Rancid and Operation Ivy ska stuff. it was different with the upstroke and stuff. There was a South Bay band called 13 Dead End Drive back then they were called the Backstreet Boys before the other guys so they should have patented it. They were so good. I remember being in the tenth grade and going to this backyard party and this band was playing. I made my way through the crowd and saw them. They were a mix between Social Distortion and real fast 80’s punk with a really good melody. They were greasers so it made me want to do this. They are one of my favorite bands. I actually got to put out their record some years ago and got them back together to play some shows. They really inspired me, Elvin the singer is a phenomenal songwriter. The guy is amazing and he is one of the biggest inspirations I have.
By the Barricade: You are a very DIY hard working kind of guy. Is there a significant person or event that you consider to have been your lucky break or particularly helpful in your career so far?
Elvis Cortez: For sure, it was The Vans Warped Tour. I took my backpack full of CD’s because I wanted to get my band on the tour so I got on as a roadie for Destruction Made Simple when they were the barbeque band. But then one of my bulldogs got sick and I had to leave the tour and fly home because she was dying. I remember going to Kevin Lyman and saying, “I know you don’t know me but I roadie for the barbeque band, and here is my band’s C.D. I am leaving but I want to talk to you about being the barbeque band next year.” He said, “Ok, just give me a call.” One day at work I did. I set up a meeting, we talked, and it happened. Warped Tour was the catalyst for us because it got us in to become friends with The Bouncing Souls and Casualties. At Warped Tour ’04 Tim (Armstrong) was watching Lars and the Bastards and that’s where the whole thing started for us with Hellcat. I’m so grateful for Warped Tour, we did ‘04, ’05, ’06, ’07 we didn’t do ’08 but we did ’09 and 2010. We did three years full (tour) and some we did a few weeks or a month. Kevin Lyman really helped us. You meet all the bands and there is a sense of community. One time we played to nobody but backstage Nick 13 would be watching us and Geoff Kresge. Jorge (Herrera) from The Casualties or Bryan (Kienlen) from The Bouncing Souls would be watching from the front row. Because they were there more kids would come and it helped us. We became really good friends and definitely Warped Tour was very important for us.
By the Barricade: You have accomplished quite a bit, do you have a next big goal in mind?
Elvis Cortez: It’s funny because when we started the band I wanted to be on Hellcat. I’ve always had these goals and I have always written them down. I wanted to tour the world and we have done a pretty good job of that. I wanted to tour do the merchandise. I have always thought I could do this in a way where I don’t really need much, but as long as I conquer these little dreams that I have I’m fulfilled. It’s worked. I’d like to have a gold record but those are kind of nonexistent these days. We are on a gold record, a Warped Tour compilation, but I’d like to continue to see new places and play to new faces and keep it going and put out the best records we can.
By the Barricade: When I talked with the guys from Death By Stereo, they were really honored that you asked them to be a part of the Rancid Tribute album. What news can you report about the status of Hooligans United?
Elvis Cortez: Wow! That was crazy because it started in 2011 when I was driving with Tim (Armstrong) and I kind of brought it up to him and asked what he thought about it. He thought it was great and said, “You do it, go for it!” I thought, oh man, they are my favorite band. It was cool and then I started contacting bands and right now it is done. It is mastered, songs are picked, and bands are picked. It started as one CD, one vinyl and then it went to two vinyl’s and one CD now the final version is a two CD set and three 12” pieces of vinyl. And then we did a contest and I wanted to add a band out of nowhere to give the little guy a chance because that has always been me. It worked! I got all of these submissions and I thought, I can’t leave them out so I decided to do a digital download card with all of the vinyl’s and put all of the contest runner ups and that was another 20 songs. The record itself is like 52 songs and so the package is 72 songs and they are so cool because they are so different! There are country versions and reggae and like The Phenomenauts do this crazy version of a song. It is very different. Every song is its own vibe and I like that. Rancid inspired so many different bands in so many different genres that it works. We have it mastered; we have to get it pressed. Vinyl takes about four months. We are trying to work out a deal and Tim and I are working on a faster way. We are hoping that by the end of this year it will be out. That is the goal. It has been a long time coming.
By the Barricade: When doing research for this interview I saw that you were in Punk Rock Holocaust. I will admit that is something I have never seen, what would do to survive a zombie apocalypse today?
Elvis Cortez: I live on a mountain now so if I stocked up on ammo and got a lot of canned foods because I am high enough up I can see them coming and pick them off. I can’t run out of bullets so maybe I can figure out some slingshot apparatus or be like that guy from The Walking Dead with a bow and arrow, or maybe a good bat. I used to play baseball so I can work with that.
By the Barricade: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of By the Barricade?
Elvis Cortez: Fans should support the bands that are trying to keep it going. Buy merch and go to shows. You can watch a lot of stuff on YouTube and that is cool, but there is nothing like the band playing right in front of your face. When bands are on tour, buy merch because that gets them to the next town. Buy the records even though there aren’t that many record stores, but please buy from the stores that are available. Keep it going! Music is life, it has done so much for me that I don’t know where I would be without music. I am grateful for you guys ordering the record. That means a lot to me because I package them myself. It is a very organic thing, it’s like if I sold strawberries, I would go to a farmer’s market it’s the same thing with a band selling music and t-shirts. We still print our own stuff. It’s an art. Life sucks without art.