One of the success stories in the New Zealand music boom of the early millennium, Elemeno P quickly skyrocketed to stardom after the release of their debut album Love & Disrespect in July 2003. In the twelve months preceding the band had released four alternative-rock smash-hit singles: ‘Fast Times In Tahoe’, ‘Nirvana’, ‘Everyday’s A Saturday’ and ‘Verona’. New Zealand rock had a new darling.
Love & Disrespect was constructed like a championship basketball team. Elemeno P had surrounded the four superstar singles with eight quality role-playing tunes, perfectly complementing their more talented songmates. There were even one or two duds to make the star songs look really good. The winning formula nestled somewhere between guitar driven Ramones power punk and melodic Weezer pop rock. Simple lyrics about geography and girls were also helpful.
Initially, success came from the Channel Z alternative rock crowd. However, Elemeno P’s irresistible blend of pop hooks and identifiable lyrics saw the band quickly welcomed by the mainstream music market. Universal- the label that commendably took a gamble on the unestablished act- ushered them into the realm of ZM promotions and KFC commercials. Love & Disrespect debuted at number one and eventually went on to sell a crisp 45,000 copies – an astonishing triple platinum. Dave Gibson, Justyn Pilbrow, Lani Purkis and Scotty Pearson were suddenly legitimate music celebrities.
The underground music scene quickly became detractors of Elemeno P. Chinese whispers began. ‘There were all sorts of crazy rumours going round’, vocalist Gibson muses. ‘One I remember was that Elemeno P was conceived by a record company and put together’. Gibson’s rapping vocals and shaky lyrics were savaged.
Nevertheless, the band had cashed in on the naive teenybopper market and would consequently suffer heavy scene demerit points. ‘We got a lot of shit in the beginning because we jumped the queue, but I never felt guilty because I knew we’d all paid our dues. I’ve worked my arse off in probably fifteen bands before this one, the same with [bassist] Lani , the same with [drummer] Scotty Pearson – holy hell, that guy’s played in a million bands, the same with [guitarist] Justyn’.
Beneath the pop exterior reveals eclectic, well-groomed, music minds. ‘I grew up listening to hip-hop, or ‘rap’, as it was called back then’, Gibson points out. ‘Stuff like N.W.A., De La Soul and Public Enemy.’ Gibson began as a drummer, surprisingly a stalwart of both the, er, hardcore and jazz circuits. This was before he DJ’d at dance radio station George FM, of course. Pilbrow, meanwhile, moonlights as a bass player in jazz band The Relaxomatic Project, when not writing music for TVNZ, that is. ‘We met through the jazz circuit’, Gibson adds. Rounding out the formula is Purkis, who also plays in all-girl punk group Foamy Ed, and Pearson, a fan of older kiwi rock
A year or so in the limelight followed Love & Disrespect, but soon enough, Elemeno P were no longer flavour of the year. The make or break time for a hit band in its recording infancy. Elemeno P persevered, and in 2005 came the anticipated, high expectation, always difficult, second album. Enter Sal Villanueva, a New Jersey punk rock producer with claim to several Taking Back Sunday and Thursday gold records. The band went on hiatus to Melbourne’s Sing Sing Studios and returned with the freshly crafted Trouble In Paradise in October last year.
Where do you go when you want to redefine the sound that made so much sense in 2003? Love & Disrespect was a welcome relief from the gaudy garage rock grunt of the day, yet times have changed. Surprisingly Elemeno P looked to define the punkier edge of their sound with Trouble In Paradise, using Villanueva to bring out sharp, layered guitars and chant-along choruses. Gibson tried singing properly. Purkis even lent her voice to a ballad. Together, it didn’t all work.
Nevertheless, some of it did (particularly the cover of old Flying Nun band The Verlaines’ ‘Death and the Maiden’), and it’s supposedly the record that the band really wanted to create. ‘You want to make a better record, Gibson points out. ‘You don’t want to make the same record and you want to progress, you want to move forward’. According to Gibson, a major difference is that, where songs went unaltered from original conception in Love & Disrespect’s recording process, in Trouble in Paradise Villanueva had his own input. ‘[He] provided a lot of change, basically just through good direction’.
Criticism aside, Elemeno P has used the recording experience to work on their impressive live act that already carries a hefty reputation. Gibson thinks this puts squash to the haters who don’t take them for real. ‘You can’t bullshit having a good live band, and that’s why we’ve worked our arses off the last four years becoming a good live band.’ Make up your own mind this orientation. You’ll be treating yourself to one of the best in the business.