Newcastle... Why Have You Given Us a Nirvana Tribute Band Fronted by an Elvis Impersonator?
Four Geordies came up with the idea for a laugh. Now they're selling out venues up and down the country. We spoke to them about how and why.
ELVANA is, well, fuck... it's Elvis Presley fronting Nirvana. Or a Geordie Elvis Presley fronting a Geordie Nirvana, really. Two of music's most iconic powers finally brought together in one tribute supergroup, in the Northern city of Newcastle.
Now if you're like me, your expression is currently trapped somewhere between confusion and absolute excitement. And it's that emotional limbo that has this curveball tribute group, within months of their incarnation, selling out venues across the country and currently taking offers internationally.
The premise is simple: they were a band who were pretty good at playing Nirvana covers, and, for a laugh, decided to spice things by getting the frontman to dress, act and sing like Elvis. They created a live performance that blends the two together, named themselves Elvana, and now they are selling more tickets than they ever did as serious musicians.
I know what you're thinking, because I am too: how are four ageing guys from Newcastle the band I'm most excited by in Britain right now? Is it something to do with the fact that I spent my early teenage years dying my hair blonde and buying granny cardigans from Oxfam? Is it anything to do with my dad singing "Blue Moon" around the house as a toddler? Maybe they're some sort of symbol of globalisation and all cultures becoming one? A satirical comment on the music industry? Or the greatest fuck about of all time? There were a lot of things I needed to straighten out, so I got the band's frontman Paul on the phone to satisfy my suspicious mind.
Hi there. You don't want me to do this interview as Elvis, do you?
Umm. Just do what comes naturally to you, I guess?
Ok – I'm really glad you said that. Paul here. This will be a lot less uncomfortable.
Nice to meet you, Paul. How are you?
I'm great, cheers. I'm just really pleased to be talking to you. It's a bit strange to be doing interviews with this weird little band that we've come up with. It started off as a joke, really, and it's getting out of hand now.
What are the day jobs of those in the band?
Different things really. Myself, I run my own business selling gift cards, candles, iPad covers and snow globes, which is going really well. One of the lads works for a housing agency, another is a town planner – he's a real barrel of laughs him – and our drummer works with troubled teenagers.
Tell me how Elvana started.
Well, we've been in bands for years, me and the lads. Just typical unsigned bands; wanting to make it when we were younger. But we were asked to play at a friend's birthday party and we wanted to do some covers. We used to do Nirvana covers when we were younger, so we decided we wanted to do something similar. But we've got three bald guys, and I've got long brown hair –none of us look anything like Nirvana. Then somebody said, "Well, what about we do it and you perform as Elvis Presley." And I thought, "That sounds like a good idea." Then somebody said: "Elvis Presley, Nirvana – how about Elvana?"
Seriously, Paul, this is like listening to the Beatles Anthology for me.
We thought: "Is this the worst idea or the greatest idea anybody has ever had?" And seriously, that's what Elvana has become. People read about us, see some footage, or their friends tell them about us, and it leaves them thinking: it's either gonna be really, really shit or really, really brilliant. The first gig we did was breathtaking – I don't know why people liked it so much! It's almost like they love Nirvana, so they love singing along. But any edge of worrying whether we look or sound like Nirvana is taken away by the fact they're pissing themselves at Elvis.
So how does the live show work?
It's just straight grunge, with sections that we've added. The lads, to be fair to them, have got Nirvana down to a tee. But we do little breakdowns in the Nirvana tunes into Elvis ones. We do "Breed" into "Viva Las Vegas", "Rape Me" into "Love Me Tender", which is a bit controversial but goes down really well. "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" into "Heart-Shaped Box" is our most popular. People love the Nirvana stuff, but when we do the Elvis stuff they go crazy.
How do people react when you come off stage?
I find it a bit weird, uncomfortable even, because I'm basically pretending to be Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain. Most people seem to have a soft spot for an Elvis impersonator – a slightly shit one, if I do say so myself.
Nobody has tried to punch you?
No, everybody who has come has been converted. We have had a fair bit of internet venom. Our promo video was posted by Nirvana's official Facebook – which went out to an incredible amount of people. Some thought we were taking the piss out of Nirvana and Elvis, but we're huge fans. I honestly believe if we got them to the show, we'd change their minds.
What about Elvis's voice lends itself to Nirvana?
It's incredible on some songs. On "Aneurysm" for instance: [launches into Elvis impression] "Come on over, and do the twist!" It's amazing. Now it's hard not to just slip into Elvis all the time.
Do you ever fear, Paul, that if this continues you may lose yourself completely to Elvis?
Totally. It's weird. Being in an Elvis costume and performing as Elvis does something really, really weird to an audience. I get down, croon into the audience quite a bit, and I've been groped so much. It's ridiculous. And I'm like "Woah! I'm just wearing a costume, don't get too excited!" But they do. Afterwards, I'll sell a bit of merchandise and I can't move from people wanting selfies. They're buying into the joke though, acting as an audience would with Elvis.
Have you, deep down, created the most desirable man on earth?
Yeah! Kurt mixed with Elvis; dear God, that's an icon.
What has been the most ridiculous thing that's happened to Elvana?
Billy Idol tweeted about us. That was the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life. If there is another guy who is a mixture of Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley, it's him. And my mum and I used to listen to his cassettes in the car when I was little. And the first thing I did when I saw the tweet was scream, then ring my mum. But otherwise, selling tickets, doing interviews is just bizarre. Truly bizarre!
So this isn't a get rich quick scheme, then?
Well, it isn't, no. But we've done bands for years and, notoriously, it's difficult. Kurt wrote a song about it. If you're in an unsigned band, you're over the moon if you can get a gig, let alone get paid for one. Now we're doing these shows where we're having a wonderful time, playing to a huge audience, then at the end somebody throws a wad of cash at us. And we're like, "Hang on!"
What did I do here!
Exactly! It's a total injustice of the way things are. Venues will shell out for covers bands.
You're making a living in a world that is impossible for musicians to.
If we did want to go full time, I've no doubt we could. It's interesting, having been in an originals band and dragged all over the country, to Camden or whatever to play to a handful of people at the Barfly – the way that feels. We've all been there. But going from all that, to booking a place like Glasgow – where we've never been before – and selling 300 tickets for an Elvis and Nirvana tribute performance... My god, it's insane. I think we'll go back and play to double.
Well, keep up the good work!
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