It’s not on the level of Bob Marley or U2, two of his biggest discoveries, but legendary Island Records founder Chris Blackwell has his plan in place for newcomer Elwood.
First, last fall, he enlisted Chris Prynoski, creator of MTV’s “Downtown” series, to create a cutting-edge, X-rated animated video for Elwood’s track “Bush.” Then, since it was obvious “Bush” would never see the light of an MTV day, he made it available on the Internet for all to see.
Let the buzz begin.
Now, with his Palm/Rykodisc debut album, “The Parlance of Our Time” (released May 16), Elwood is making good on Blackwell’s faith in him. College and alternative stations are already latching on to Elwood’s bouncy, creative cover version of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1974 No. 1 hit, “Sundown.”
“The ‘Bush’ video just put the name out there a few months before the record was going to drop, actually about four or five months before it came out,” Elwood said recently. “That was Chris Blackwell’s idea. When I met him, the first thing he said to me when I sat down with him, he was going on about ‘Sundown’ and the demo, and he said in his great English accent, ‘You know what song I really like? ‘Bush.’ I like this ‘Bush.’
“To do it this way and have someone like Chris Blackwell come along and say, ‘Hey, I’d like you to make a record for me,’ that’s when the dream comes true.”
For 10 years, Elwood – born Prince Elwood Strickland III in North Carolina – worked the dials as an engineer at the Greene Street Recording studio in New York’s SoHo section. He weaved his magic with the likes of De La Soul, Tricky, the Jungle Brothers, Pete Rock and Prince Paul, soaking up the high-tech atmosphere with his sights squarely on developing his own recording career.
“When I was downtown, I’d always be working on something, even late at night if a session were to end early,” Elwood said. “I’d be cleaning up the studio, hanging around and would program some music and grab a mike and work it.
“This was always the dream. That’s why I got into the business, so that I could be next to the music that I love and work in the music industry. The dream was always there; it was always at the tip of my tongue, trying to say ‘I’m going to have a career in this,’ but it’s really hard to make it a reality. You can release records yourself independently. I would put out a record every day if I could. You just have to hang in there, and I did.”
Elwood wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen, even though he was very happy with his demo, but when Blackwell – who formed the multimedia company Palm Pictures after departing Island a few years ago – caught wind of it, he knew he was headed in the right direction.
“When we sat down and when I heard from his lips that he thought this was a smash record, then I was like, ‘Okay, this is on,’ ” he said. “Obviously, it built my confidence, that and trusting my music and where it was coming from. That was the sparking point.”
“The Parlance of Our Time,” co-produced by Elwood and lyrical collaborator Brian Boland, is a rich musical stew, containing chunks of hip-hop, rap, pop, country and jazz. Elwood is a chip off Beck’s block, but unlike Beck, he has a bankable voice to go along with it.
“I don’t mind if people compare me with Beck,” he said. “They can compare me to whoever they want. I mean, Beck is amazing. If they compare me to Beck or Everlast or Sugar Ray, the Backstreet Boys, whatever they want … as long as the people like the music, I’m cool with it.
“This is a producer’s candy album. That’s what I am and what Brian is, basically. It is a culmination of music from the past 20, 30 years. It’s got every little vibe in it, and like right now, I think music is definitely at a crossroads where things are so meshed together, everything’s a fusion, that it’s hard to describe music. Not being able to describe my music is definitely the parlance of our time.
“In my eyes, it’s very simple. It’s not methodical; I don’t sit there and go, ‘Okay, this is how I capture the listeners.’ No, I just grab a guitar and feel it. You program some beats and have fun with it. That’s why the tracks all end up different. I definitely have a hip-hop background and a country background, so if I’m singing on one track and rapping on another and rapping and singing, it doesn’t bother me.”
He makes it seem effortless, especially on “Sundown.” He pulls it off, relying enough on Lightfoot’s original melody to make it faithful and using enough contemporary hip-pop feel to give it a unique twist.
It easily could have bombed. In fact, Elwood says it did – four times – before he got it right.
“I made four different versions of the song,” he said. “The first one is a straight cover of me singing like Gordon Lightfoot. The next one was like a jungle sort of thing, then we ended up with this mutation of all three of the other ones.
“We started doing it at first, then when we were done with it and we realized we were going to put it out, we went to his publisher and got permission. Then the publisher turned around and let Gordon Lightfoot hear it so he could give it approval. He gave it a thumbs up. That’s all I needed to hear.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Kiss. The one with ‘Beth’ on it. The double album, I forget what the title was. It was the first album my mom bought me that I can remember. She was pissed because I only bought it for the tattoos. There were tattoos inside, stick-on tattoos. She got mad at me, because it was pretty expensive for a double record.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Public Enemy and the Jungle Brothers, playing in Fayetteville (N.C.). I mean, I went to a concert when I was really young, a Waylon Jennings thing, but I barely remember that. I was really young. I was big into Public Enemy. It was at the Cumberland County Memorial Arena in Fayetteville and there was a KKK rally down the street protesting Public Enemy being there. There were only six white people in the whole coliseum. On my way out, I asked the guy, ‘How many white people were here?’ He said, ‘Five besides you.’ I was like, ‘Man, that’s crazy.’
“When Professor Griff was out there hyping up the crowd before Chuck and Flav came out, he was saying, ‘We are pro-black but that does not mean anti-white. We have the KKK down the street protesting us, but we’re going to overcome.’ And when he said ‘anti-white,’ he laid out his hand in reference to me. I was standing right in front. It was funny because it got kind of quiet, and everyone looked at me, and I was like, ‘Well, you heard the man.’
“Then Chuck and Flav came out, and I’d say I was like three rows back, three people back from the stage, and Chuck came over and stepped across the little canal area where the security sits, and gave me a big high five for coming out. That was really cool. You get shit, walking into those shows, and all the white people are standing around giving you a hard time. It meant a lot to go to that show. It was definitely a stepping stone for me.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘No. 4.’ It’s a great record. I actually ran into Scott (Weiland) in Miami and talked to him. He looks great. Before that was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Californication,’ which is another great record.”
BWF (before we forget): Hook up with Elwood on the Web @ www.elwoodonline.com.