Alastor

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
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Songwriting inspiration comes to Elizabeth Elkins at unusual times, like while driving or at work. Get to know her and the process of creating beautiful music.

DM) What's the story behind the founding of the band?

EE) I moved to Atlanta in 1994 under the guise of attending Emory University, but it was really to develop my music. I played for myself for awhile, until I met a lead guitarist named Luke Mayes. We played as a duo for a while, but both of us knew that we really wanted a rock band. On April 1, 1995, we played a show at Mercer University's Earth Day with Scott Roberts (a pop singer/songwriter himself), and I instantly fell in love with the guy. He started playing some 12-string guitar with us (on a little cassette-only release we did called "Across the South"). Soon I discovered he used to be a drummer. He offered to play drums with us if I could find him a drum kit. So I borrowed a set from a friend of a friend. Alastor was officially born as a "full-tilt rocking juggernaut" ("Flagpole Magazine" said) on New Year's Day 1996 -- our first practice in Scott's garden shed. Luke Mayes left the band after the recording of our first CD, "Javelin Catcher" (November 1996). We currently are a bass-drums-guitar trio, with Brillo on bass. We'll be in the studio next weekend (April 9 and 10) to record our second album, due out by mid-summer.

DM) What will be different on the second album?

EE) I think the songs are a lot stronger, and we're all better musicians. Having Brillo on bass adds a lot of power. Also, there is no longer a specific lead guitar player. Though Scott and I will share some extra guitar parts in overdubs, there will not be the "blues" feel that the guitar had on the first CD. Some songs will have no lead guitar lines. We're going to have a euphonium player from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra come in on a song called "Wellington" -- a horn sounds that is a tribute to one of my favorite bands, The Mutton Birds (from New Zealand). The CD will also have more songs than the first one.

DM) What is your song-writing process?

EE) I tend to come up with phrases while I'm driving, or at work or in class, and I jot them down in a notebook I keep with me at all times. Later, I'll sit down and mess around on the guitar and see what happens. The best songs tend to happen all at once; for example, songs like "Billy Clegg-Hill", "American Universities", and "Startown" took anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes to write.

Sometimes I have to force lyrics and they end up in a rhyme pattern that I don't like much, but I can work with the right melody. Sometimes I'll just get a catchy guitar part and be able to piece together lyrics for it....so there's no definite pattern to how the song is created. Most of the songs are about several instances -- there are main themes within almost all the songs.

DM) What does the name "Alastor" mean?

EE) "Alastor" is the name of a poem by Percy Shelley. It's about the search for the ideal, and being really disappointed (to the point of insanity and declared permanent isolation), when you find that the true ideal is never as good as the imagined ideal. Shelley's "Alastor" is a reference to Homer's Alastor in "The Iliad" -- Alastor in "The Iliad" is the god of revenge, a form Zeus takes when he is angered. When asked, we usually give the short answer and say "the Greek god of revenge."

DM) Are you an avid reader of Shelley?

EE) I definitely used to be. He's certainly my favorite Romantic poet. I did a lot more reading from age 14 to 19 than I do now, which is sad. I guess I just had more time then. I used to be addicted to his poem "Ode to the West Wind" and to the tragedy of his life, and his addiction to all things classical. I'm also a big T.S. Eliot fan.

DM) What have you read lately?

EE) Most recent books I've read (some finished, some unfinished) are John Irving's "A Widow For One Year" (I love Irving...); A.S. Byatt's "The Matisse Stories" (the last one was the best); Daniel J. Boorstein's "The Creators" (still working on it); Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full" (just because it's set in Atlanta); some paleobiologist's (I can't remember his name) "The Time Before History"; and Anne Rice's "Pandora" (sadly, I'm still a sucker for this vampire stuff!).

DM) Is music your main focus, or do you have another job on the side?

EE) I wish music could be my entire life. Of course, it won't pay rent, it doesn't even pay for itself....I have a master's in Journalism, and I do a lot of part-time and/or freelance writing and public relations work. I also write poetry and fiction and attempt to paint, but I prefer to spend my time with a guitar in my hand.

DM) What publications have you written for?

EE) I have written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing, Athens Magazine, the Anniston Star, Atlanta Magazine, Dirty Linen, Etcetera Magazine, and Alabama Living.

DM) How did you get involved with writing?

EE) I've always wanted to write, though in high school it was always poetry and fiction. English was super easy for me in college, so it just kind of became my major since I loved it so much. What else can you do with an English major? So I started writing for local papers and magazines and interned at Atlanta Magazine as an undergraduate at Emory University. I applied to several English Ph.D. programs and was rejected (we're not going to talk about how hard the English Subject Test is on the GRE), but, oddly, I was accepted with a full fellowship to the Master's in Journalism program at the University of Georgia. I couldn't really turn a free ride down, so I interned with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during grad school. I still prefer songwriting, believe me!

 

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