KRISTINE ELEZAJ TALKS “OVER & OVER” & LOOKING TO THE FUTURE 0 76

Having first been noticed while performing at the Sugar Bar in New York, Kristine Elezaj has grown considerably both personally and professionally over the last couple of years, with such growth being displayed most evidently through her music. The video for her new track “Over & Over” has already amassed hundreds of thousands of views, and she chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about artistic inspiration, her dreams of playing MSG and her excitement about the future.

TITL: For those who have yet to discover you and your music, who is Kristine Elazaj in a few words?

Kristine Elezaj: I’m a passionate and curious person who has never stopped dreaming. I never stopped wanting to soak in everything life has to show me and put it into my art.

TITL: Which artists have you been most inspired by throughout your life and how do those inspirations filter through to the music you make?

KE: When you love music, you are inspired by every artist in some way. Growing up and with my dance background, Janet Jackson was always one of my idols. I love to be able to create music but also have the ability to bring it to life through dance. Through movement, I’m able to add another layer to the story, and that is very inspiring to me.

TITL: You first started out at the Sugar Bar in NYC, where you were discovered by hit song-writing duo Ashford and Simpson as you performed Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Looking back on that time from where you are now, did you ever imagine a single performance like that could change your life so drastically?

KE: At the time, I didn’t know when I started that performance that night that Nick and Valerie were actually in the audience. Not knowing that they were there helped my performance because my stage fright might have kicked in. I would have felt the weight of the performance even more. Looking back on it and just some other things that have happened, it’s really important to live in the present moment and to realize how precious each moment is. You never know what’s around the corner for you. It was a small intimate venue, performing that evening, started one of the greatest ripple effects of my life and I’m forever grateful.

TITL: You then came to more public attention in 2016 when you placed within the top 20 of Macy’s iHeart Radio Rising Star contest. How much of a boost in confidence, and also in your audience/fan base, did your involvement in that contest give you?

KE: The Macy’s iHeart contest was a huge boost in confidence for me! I was coming out of a place where my career had tested my soul. It was reassuring to know that I was still on the right path and have people appreciate the art I was making. It wasn’t about winning; just being noticed was a win enough. I had another chance to be on a platform to do what I love and hopefully inspire others a little. Even more special, it inspired me all over again!

TITL: You’ve been referred to by Billboard as a cross between Britney and Rihanna. Would you say that’s a fair comment, or would you like to be seen more as an artist in your own right?

KE: Of course you want to be seen as an artist in your own right. I have my own life experiences and point of views that I want to give to the world, and I didn’t take that article in a bad light. They are two of the most successful female artists and I saw it as a compliment to be thought of as being able to be at the same level.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing?

KE: It might sound simple but for me, just really living my life, and trying to be as much in the moment is the biggest inspiration for writing. Even if I’m going through a hard time, it’s a blessing to be able to try to witness all of my emotions and feel them completely. I’ve loved that my sessions have become a safe place for me and my team. All of them start out as just conversations with a core group that I trust. It has been the best environment for creating music because it’s pure raw emotion.

TITL: The video for your new single “Over and Over” has already had close to half million views since its release. What do you think it is about the visuals in particular that have drawn people in to watch it?

KE: I’m so excited about this video; it’s been the first one in my career to be growing in the way that it has. I think it has a lot to do with the energy and space that I’m in. I have such a great relationship with my team, I’m able to just be myself and create authentically. I have a team that supports my visions and that’s so inspiring for me! I believe my fans can sense that with my music this time around. I’m not trying to create a character, I’m just being myself, showing people what I think is beautiful. In the pop culture world, especially today, I think that is hugely important and is what’s making the difference for me.

TITL: The director of the video, Jose Omar Hernandez, is perhaps best known for his work with Justin Bieber on the likes of “Purpose”, so how did the two of you come together? How did you find collaborating with him to shoot the clip?

KE: I’ve known Jose for years, actually back to the start of my career. Jose wasn’t even directing then. He’s an incredible dancer and has worked with all of the top artists. He’s been a part of many live stage and music video performances. I later found out that he had a passion for directing and was shooting things on the side. Jose’s background and knowledge of dance plays a major role in how he shoots and edits his videos. His style of shooting inspired me to want to work with him. We first collaborated on my song, “Echo” and creatively fed off of each other. From then on, I knew I wanted to grow with him when it came down to all my visual content. Since then, we’ve done four videos together. Every time it gives me the same feeling I had when I was a little girl just having fun with the arts. I’m so grateful for him as a collaborator and more importantly as a dear friend.

TITL: Do you have any upcoming performances you can tell me about and are there any plans for you to head across the water to Europe?

KE: There are not hard dates set right now for performances but that is definitely on the agenda for the near future! My focus has been to engage more with my fans outside of the states. Some of my most loyal fans who have been with me since the beginning are overseas. I’d like to go out there and give back all the love they have shown me over the years. There are some remixes in the works as we speak which I’m really excited about.

TITL: Which one venue, anywhere in the world, would you most like to play and why?

KE: I think every artist dreams of performing at Madison Square Garden. I’m a native New Yorker so that would be incredible. I’m not greedy though. Just being able to perform anywhere someone cares enough to go see you is a blessing, especially considering how hard this business is.

TITL: With the year inching ever nearer to a close, what have been your biggest highlight so far, and what are you still hoping to achieve in the remaining 3 months?

KE: I’ve learned a lot this year. The biggest highlight for me has been how amazing my team is. I just feel that for the first, time I’m in a really good and safe place. I’m watching that result in how my work is being received. I’m excited to see how that energy keeps me growing artistically. In the next three months, I’m looking to have more new music finished and release new singles as well as show dates to share.

TITL: Looking further ahead, what are your artistic and personal goals? What one or two things would you have to achieve for you to look in the mirror and say ‘I’ve made it?’ or do you already feel that way?

KE: The biggest thing for me as an artist is being able to voice my opinion without being scared when it comes to my career. I feel like I have that now. It sounds easy but that is a big hurtle. Now that those doors are open, I’m excited to see where that takes me and how far I can really push myself now. Whatever comes from that space comes and that’s what I’m most excited about because I’m at peace.

Check out the video for “Over & Over” below and for more information on Kristine Elezaj, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

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GHOSTE CHATS NEW SINGLE “HAUNTED” & HALLOWEEN PLANS 1 50

Having had a long-time fascination with the “other” world, it’s perhaps not that surprising to find that the acoustic performer once known as Jenny Bruce has now adopted a new moniker – Ghoste – and has just shared her new single, aptly titled “Haunted”, in time for Halloween. ThisIsTheLatest caught up with her to talk all things spooky, song-writing inspiration and what 2019 has in store.

TITL: You’re perhaps best known under the name Jenny Bruce as an acoustic singer-songwriter, so what exactly brought about the transition to Ghoste and your new, electro-pop sound?

Ghoste: Precisely! I was ready to break the mold. Create something new and unexpected. The term singer-songwriter felt constricting, limiting, even if I am still writing songs and singing. The ghost of Lilith Fair! I realize that it’s just my own perception, but when you’ve been doing something for a while, it’s hard to break away from the thing you feel you’re expected to do!

The artist name “Ghoste,” actually came to me in a dream, but I believe it was my subconscious mind showing me a way out of feeling stuck. Creating as “Ghoste” has been liberating. I can be more groove oriented, soulful, and explore a more moody side. Set aside my acoustic guitar and try on some new sounds. Somehow, taking my name out of the equation sets me free.

Also, there is a lot going on in my personal life that makes me feel like I need a secret room where I can hang out. A place to be weightless, ageless, unburdened and creative. That room is Ghoste.

TITL: Which artists have you been most inspired by throughout your life and how do those inspirations filter through to the music you made and now make?

G: I think people hear the Annie Lennox influence. I have always loved her as an artists, and just as a human. She was so daring vocally and creatively. I know she’s a relatively shy person, but she lays it all out on stage. I’ve always been outgoing, but shy artistically. I’m working on growing up to be Annie. Prince was a huge influence throughout my life. I memorized every riff and growl. Loved how free and funky he was. Never mastered the dance moves…

As a female singer songwriter, for some reason, I felt like I had to fit into a girl with a guitar folk thing. I have no idea why I did that to myself. I think I did it pretty well. But inside of me is a whole gospel choir wanting to escape.

Lyrically, Sting was always an inspiration as well. “King of Pain” might be my favorite song ever. Whenever I go for an easy lyric, I think of Sting. He would say it better. Then there were all the ladies, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Carly Simon. I loved them all and was, no doubt, influenced by each. Shawn Colvin inspired me to teach myself to play guitar in my 20s. Before that, I was just a piano girl.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing?

G: Firstly, my father. He was so passionate about music. He would bring home new albums all the time and blast them at full volume. Everything from Puccini to the Bee Gees. When the music was funky, he would get up and dance with me. When it was moving, he would weep with emotion. Then he would stroll over to the piano and figure out how to play whatever we just listened to. Music was the family religion.

As far as other artists are concerned, I think those first three I mentioned are my top music heroes. I started writing songs when I was around five years old before I even knew what a songwriter was and I grew up listening to so much amazing music. My dad was a music fiend. Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Carly Simon, The Beatles, The Police, Fleetwood Mac and tons of classical music and jazz. I devoured music my whole childhood like a kid eats candy on Halloween. I couldn’t get enough – except for country. I just never figured that genre out. It doesn’t typically speak to me and I’m not sure why, even though I grew up listening to a lot of traditional Scottish and Irish music. Contemporary Country. Meh.

TITL: Your new single “Haunted” has been released just in time for Halloween. Is there a story behind the song and where did the idea for it come from? Do you have any ‘spooky’ plans for October 31st?

G: In that dream I mentioned earlier, where I got the name Ghoste… there’s more. It was kind of spooky in that it was a very lucid dream. I was on stage, surrounded by moody blue lighting and the letters GHOSTE appeared behind me as an MC introduced me. I woke up and had the chorus of “Haunted.” I didn’t originally intend for it to be a Halloween release, but it worked out that way! I’m reluctant to give the song a literal context as it can mean different things to different people which I like. But let’s just say, I believe.

For Halloween, I have two boys and will be taking them trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. New York goes crazy on Halloween! However, on November 10th, I am going on a Paranormal “Ghost Hunt” at the Morris Jumel Mansion. It’s the oldest house in New York City – mid 18th century – and is supposedly haunted. I am very excited! Of course, George Washington slept there! That’s the American gold standard for spooky old houses. I confess, I’m kind of obsessed with ghosts. Most of the music video for “Haunted” was shot in castle ruins strewn about the French countryside…all supposedly haunted sites.

TITL: The video is due out soon. How did you find the shoot, and how much input do you have when it comes to the creative aspects?

G: It’s all me. I do everything. The glory and downfall of being an independent artist. Full creative license. No help. As an independent artist, you kind of have to be able to do it all. My husband, who is French, helped me find the castle locations and often held the camera. I do all the editing. I’m a one-woman production company, graphic designer, and webmaster. All the funds I raise go towards making music and getting it out there.

TITL: You’ve teamed up with producer Matt Anthony to create the track, and your upcoming album. What has he brought to the creative process?

G: Matt is a gifted producer and composer with decades of experience that began straight out of high-school when he was working alongside industry giants in NYC’s top recording studios. He works with such a wide variety of artists and always manages to pick up on the sound they’re going for. He makes us all sound good. With Ghoste I asked him to feel free to try anything! I tried to not be the controlling singer-songwriter, not easy, and invited him to set the tone. He creates such beautiful musical landscapes. We’ve recorded two songs so far and are beginning a new song next month.

Matt also produced my Jenny Bruce EP, “Firefly in a Jar” where I came in with all kinds of ideas about how I wanted the songs to sound. While Matt was still an integral part of the creative process, I feel like with Ghoste the process has been more like riding a tandem bike. We’re both pedaling, but he’s got the handlebars. Except when “Jenny Bruce” comes out and grabs!

TITL: You’ve often said that you feel strongly connected to the ‘other world’ so what is it about the spirit world that makes you so interested in it? Have you ever had any ghostly encounters and, with that in mind, have you been to Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum yet?

G: I’ve been a long-time fan of Ghost Adventures, but I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Zak’s museum. I think I’ve watched every episode and dream of tagging along on one of their adventures! Alas, I don’t get out to Vegas much…

I watch pretty much every ghost show out there and have always been fascinated with the paranormal. When I was eleven I wrote a short horror story called “The Crack Behind The Closet Doors.” It was pretty spooky! I still have it, written out on lined paper with all kinds of creative spelling and illustrations.

While I have always been intrigued by ghosts, I didn’t truly believe until I actually saw one. Years ago I was touring in Pennsylvania. We were staying at the Inn at Jim Thorpe and arrived late at night. This was pre-internet and I knew nothing about the Inn. That night I saw a full-bodied apparition of a woman in a corseted dress with her hair up in a bun. She was translucent and standing at the foot of my bed. Green. Glowing. She turned and looked me straight in the eyes before gliding off toward the bathroom and vaporizing. That was it. I became a believer. Especially when I found out the next morning that many people have reported ghostly experiences including my bandmates in their respective rooms.

I’d had other odd, spooky experiences prior to this, but I had dismissed them. I do have a very active imagination. Not enough, however, to conjure up the woman at the inn. That was incredible. Never seen anything like it since. Never thought I would. Took my breath away.

TITL: Your album is due out early next year. Without giving too much away, is there anything you can tell me about it?

G: We’ll continue with the electronic, moody vibe of “Haunted” but each song is pretty different. The second song we recorded has a very sexy groove to it.  I’m trying to be less cautious in my vocal, melodic choices and hopefully that will come across. With each song, I’m getting a little more daring. That’s pretty much all I can say!

TITL: Do you have any performances coming up and to date, which show would you say has been your best and why?

G: I’m looking at booking some fun shows in the New Year. I’ve had my eye on a few speak-easies and unconventional spaces. I’ll post shows on my website when I get it together. My life is crazy right now, so no time for gigs.

As for my best show…it’s hard to pick one. A favorite was my CD release gig for “Firefly” at Rockwood a few years ago. The room was packed full of family, friends and fans. There was such an incredible feeling of love in the room. It was almost other-worldly. I can’t explain it. That connection that you seek as a musician, as a human, I felt it….like I was connected to each and every person in that room. It was magic.

TITL: Which one venue would you most like to play and are there any bands or artists you’d like to share the bill with?

G: I would love to do a tour of haunted venues! I’ve been compiling a list over the years. It’d be difficult to pull off, but at some point I will do it! I’d love to share a bill with Tracy Thorn. I’ve always loved her music and her voice is so unique. She seems very cool. Sarah McLachlan seems like the nicest person on earth. She’s brilliant. It would be fun to perform with her since I’ve been compared to her my whole artistic career! I would say Annie Lennox, but I’d be petrified! I don’t think I could make a sound in her presence.

TITL: With the end of the year quickly approaching, what’s been your highlight of 2018 so far, and what has been your biggest career highlight to date?

G: That’s tough. It’s been a difficult year on many levels. I take care of my father who is in the end stages of Parkinson’s and it’s been an emotional long-enduring roller-coaster. I have amazing friends, and a wonderful family. The quality, fun times I’ve spent with them are the highlights of my life in general. I definitely had some amazing, memorable weekends with friends this year. I’ll take those stories to the grave! Of my career? I’ve had some incredible moments, but I don’t think I’ve hit my highlight yet. I believe it’s still to come.

TITL: Finally then, aside from your album release, what does 2019 have in store for you? What are your main objectives and, looking further ahead, what are your long-term goals, both personally and professionally?

G: This is out there, but I’m currently in graduate school getting a master’s degree in Education Technology as I’m passionate about education and improving our failing educational system here in the United States. The program I’m enrolled in at Teachers College, Columbia University has a big focus on educational reform, innovation and educational equity. I don’t know where that will lead me, but I follow my heart and my passion. Education, especially early childhood education, is critical to a child’s success in life. That will be tied into my future somehow. Other than that, I want to be a loving mom, a good human. And, of course I want to connect with people by making music until I, myself, give up the ghost.

For more information on Ghoste, visit ghostenyc.com.

THE AQUABATS TALK KICKSTARTER SUCCESS & BIG PLANS FOR 2019 0 39

With a career already spanning close to 25 years, The Aquabats are certainly no strangers to the music industry and thanks to their recent – and hugely successful – Kickstarter campaign, fans of the group can rest easy knowing they won’t be going away anytime soon. While the group were on tour, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with member Christian Jacobs AKA MC Bat Commander to delve a little deeper into the Kickstarter campaigns’ success and what fans and backers can expect as a result and also to gauge his thoughts on the business he and his band-mates have been a part of for so long.

TITL: As a group, you’ve been around since 1994 and have outlasted many of your artistic counterparts. What do you think has been the key, or the secret, to your longevity?

Christian Jacobs: Wow! Ha! I guess we have been around for a little while. I don’t want to guess why people decide to keep listening to us, or watching the show we made, but I think one reason we’ve kept going for so long is because one of our goals has always been fun first! We’ve been having fun for a long time, and it’s still a ton of fun. Also, I think anytime we’ve had strain on the prime directive (fun) or when things got hard, we’ve pulled back and took care of what really mattered, and that was our friendships and our families. Life first, band second.

TITL: Your line-up has undergone a number of changes over the years, including one which saw renowned Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker join you for a time. What impact did those changes have on you as a group and do you foresee any further line-up changes occurring in the coming years?

CJ: Yeah, we’ve had quite a few amazing people come and go over the year.  Sometimes we knew it was going to happen, and other times life just sort of happens, and you don’t have any control over it. In those moments of change, we just tried to roll with the punches and not get too stressed out about it. After all, this is a fun project… it’s not life and death! So we’ve had a bit of a revolving door policy, and we’ve mostly remained friends with our former band mates, including Travis! That’s also been great. because sometimes we’ll have past members come back to play shows and songs, and it’s always been super fun. In fact, we’re hoping a few of them will also join us for a few new tracks next year, since we’ll be working on two new albums… and we know that a lot of our fans would be psyched if we had our horn section back for at least a few songs! And we don’t have any specific plans for the band to change in the immediate future, but like I said, life happens… so if something comes up, we’ll figure it out then!

TITL: Which of your releases, both as singles and albums/EP’s are you most proud of and why? How would you say each one charts your musical and artistic evolution?

CJ: Man, that’s a tough one. I think we’re especially proud of “The Fury of the Aquabats,” for the obvious reasons – it’s kind of the “big” record from our past. I guess when I look at a lot of our past albums, there are things now that I wish we’d done differently… but at the time, we all thought that they were pretty good. I also like “Charge”, released in 2005, a lot, because it was kind of the record that kept things going for us. We were gonna hang it up before that record, but making it and touring it really changed things — it showed us that there was still an audience for The Aquabats, and some kind of magic left in what we were doing. And I think “Hi-Five Soup” is probably the best example of how our musical direction has grown. It’s all over the place – which I think is good. We have that luxury, as a band of weirdos: We can go in any old direction… as long as it’s fun!

TITL: In the past two plus decades, how has the industry changed in your eyes, and have those changes been good or bad?

CJ: It’s so different. The big shift is really just that more of the power keeps moving into the hands of the artists. If you’re motivated enough, we’re kind of in a time where you can be super successful without “the industry.” You don’t need a label. You don’t need an A&R team or radio support. You can do it all yourself, and you can market it yourself on the internet. It’s pretty awesome, actually, because we were never really understood by the “expert executives” anyway. We’ve survived through being connected to our fans through the web, which we think is a big reason that our Kickstarter worked out so well.

TITL: You recently wrapped a Kickstarter campaign to bring back your hugely fan-popular music comedy action show The Aquabats! Super Show! For those who never saw it upon its debut in 2012, how would you sum it up?

CJ: Well… I guess if you’re over the age of 35, I would describe it as Batman meets The Monkees. If you’re under the age of 35, I would say it’s Power Rangers meets Flight Of The Conchords. And if you’re in your twenties or a teenager, I’d say, “It’s like these totally random chubby dudes fighting way random monsters and like…trying to win and stuff!” And if you’re a kid, I would say, it’s the newest, funniest superhero TV show ever!

TITL: Can you tell me a bit more about the campaign?

CJ: Wow. Yeah. It’s been a lot to process…but mostly, it’s been a blast. It’s also been a ton of work! I think really connecting with the fans and finding out what they want and expect from us was really important to us! It’s been so humbling, and amazing, to realize how much our fans wanted to do to support the group, and to make sure we keep going. That’s why so much of our Kickstarter campaign was focused on bringing all of our fans together, and forming a group that we called “The Legion of Righteous Comrades” — which is basically anyone and everyone who believes that the world’s better off with a group like The Aquabats out there, making people laugh and fighting the forces of boredom and negativity.

But for anyone who didn’t hear about it while it was running: we ran this huge Kickstarter, and raised enough that we’ll be able to get back to work over the next few months, so that we’ll have a ton of new stuff to share in 2019, including two brand new albums, a 12 episode web-series and a private livestream concert for everyone who supported the Kickstarter. And if anyone missed it but still wants to jump in, we’re still accepting pledges, and will use whatever we raise to make even more stuff next year. So, it’s not too late to be part of the team… you can still join at bringbacktheaquabats.com.

TITL: Ultimately you’ve been and are relying on technology, especially social media, to hopefully bring the show back, but do you think it would be AT ALL possible to have done or organized a campaign like this even five, ten years ago? With that in mind, even away from the show, how big is and has been the impact of social media on your careers? 

CJ: Man, I really can’t say, but… probably not? I mean, it’s been almost five years since they did that Kickstarter campaign for Veronica Mars, which was sort of the first time I think it occurred to us that fans could raise enough money to make entire movies or television shows. But ten years ago, probably not.

And either way, social media has DEFINITELY saved The Aquabats from extinction, period! We haven’t had a new album out in almost 7 years, or new episodes of our show since 2014… so there’s absolutely NO WAY we’d still have so many friends and fans ready to help us, if we hadn’t been able to keep in touch with them on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube. It’s been really great for us, just keeping the connection alive, and realizing there are still people out there who want us to do more, and who make sure we know it… a lot!

TITL: Away from the campaign, what are the future plans for the group? Do you have any plans to return to the studio or hit the road and engage once more with your die-hard, almost cult-like following of fans?

CJ: YES! Thanks to the huge success of our Kickstarter, we’ve got a ton of plans for the next year… and beyond! And you know, the way it worked was that the more we raised, the more we promised we’d do. So, just from what we’ve already raised, we’ve promised our backers that we’ll make two new albums, plus release our long-overdue soundtrack album and a live concert album of our “Fury Of The Aquabats” 20th anniversary show back in April. And, of course, we’ll be making a new “online season” of Super Show, and we’re definitely planning to hit the road and see as many people as we can next year.

If we’re able to raise a little more over the next few months, there’s even more we’d love to keep doing…including music videos for some of our old songs and some of our new songs. I think that was one of our big mistakes in the past — not making more music videos. And now we can fix it and go all out! WOO!!!

TITL: Finally then, in the twenty plus years you’ve been together, you’ve seen and done a lot, but are there any plans or goals you still have left to tick off your personal and/or professional bucket lists?  Which one, as yet unfulfilled objective, do you most want to complete and why?

CJ: I think we really just want to reach all of the people that we – or you – would THINK would be Aquabats fans, but never discovered us yet! We go to comic conventions – including San Diego Comic-Con – pretty much every year, and we see thousands of people who are SO hardcore about superheroes and pop culture and all of this stuff that the Aquabats have been heralding for 20+ years… And it just always makes us think. “Look at all these people who are so ready to discover the Aquabats!” I mean, when I was in grade school reading Marvel comics, I would have never imagined the entertainment world would be so totally conquered by the MCU… it was just unfathomable! Did you see Ant-Man and The Wasp? It was so ridiculous… it totally could have been an episode of The Aquabats Super Show! So, I really think the Aquabats’ time is still coming… and based on the response to the Kickstarter, our plan is TOTALLY WORKING!