by Max Miller
When I called up Ivory Deville frontman Johnny Elkins, he was cruising down the highway somewhere between Oklahoma and Los Angeles, “drinking TheraFlu and ‘Tussin and trying not to die over here.”
As much as this behavior appears to emulate tales of ‘70s rock ‘n’ roller excess, Elkins wasn’t downing cough syrup because he’s some wannabe Keith Richards; he actually had the flu.
“We were in Taos [in New Mexico] for a night and we went out and found the hot springs where they did the nude swimming scenes from Easy Rider. I got in that thing and when I got out it was cold as hell outside, so I picked up something,” Elkins says. “But if that’s the price you pay, that’s alright with me. I’d do it again.”
Elkins gives off a vibe more in line with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s trans-American wanderlust than any debauched rock star. This might explain why he up and left Lawton, Oklahoma after living there for 25 years in order to pursue his musical aspirations in Los Angeles, and why the resulting group, Ivory Deville, ended up sounding like “an authentic roadhouse band for our time,” as the band’s Facebook page proclaims.
“I needed to get out of Oklahoma. L.A. was about as far out as I could get, and I’d never been there before. So I just packed up and drove out and decided to see what would happen,” Elkins says. “I had traveled around Europe for a few months and kind of got a feel for different large cities, so L.A. wasn’t really a culture shock for me, strangely enough. I felt very comfortable as soon as I got there.”
Ivory Deville, formed in January 2013, is comprised of other Los Angeles transplants who were all drawn to the city’s formidable musical reputation. The band went through a few lineup changes in the short time they’ve been around, but the current lineup of Elkins, Wolf Ramirez, Ryan Wykert, Laura Marion and Tia Simone has united strains of rock ‘n’ roll, honky-tonk and soul to create their self-titled debut album and stand out in the crowded L.A. scene.
“One thing about L.A. is it sort of makes you figure out what you’re made of. It makes you better. I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room or the best player in the room. That’s one of the reasons I went to L.A.,” Elkins says. “It felt good when I figured out, like, ‘Man, I can more than just hang in. I can actually contribute to the city and to the scene in some meaningful way.’ That was a good realization for me, because you don’t know if you’re gonna’ get your ass handed to you.”
Locally-based Kill/Hurt Records is releasing the debut, putting Ivory Deville in the same league as other promising rock ‘n’ roll bands — the Record Company, Rainbow Jackson and LA Font, just to name a few mentioned by Elkins. And while they have plenty of classic chops that would delight any fan of, say, ZZ Top, the Black Crowes or the Black Keys, the band subtly injects influences all across the spectrum of popular music history in order to prevent their music from disappearing amidst the many bands riding the throwback wave.
“Wolf, our bass player, has turned me on to a lot of new music over the years. I was kind of a stickler for a while, and I couldn’t get out of the lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll thing. But he’s into hip-hop and some noisier music. I listen to a lot of old ‘30s music and old jazz. As long as it’s honest music that’s just trying to tell a story, that’s what I’m looking for,” Elkins says. “I don’t want to make it sound exactly like it came out of a time past. I want to make it sound like it’s still relevant, but something that sounds familiar. In my dream world, it would be cool to go in and say, ‘That sounds like it came right out of 1959.’ But it’s about to be 2015, and we’ve got to tell our own story now.”
Of course, the tracks committed to wax can only do so much justice to the tale Ivory Deville are weaving. A band doesn’t gain the roadhouse reputation without putting on a rousing live show, but, at the same time, it can be tough to win a following one gig at a time. That’s why the band decided to put together an Indiegogo campaign to fund the filming of a live performance video. They initially asked for $700. In only 10 days, fans donated $1540.
“We were all surprised. I didn’t even really want to do it, to be honest with you. I’m bad at asking for help. But I was really surprised,” Elkins says. “People came through for us, and we’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Ivory Deville were able to film live videos for four songs, which will no doubt be helpful in enticing concertgoers when they tour on their debut in 2015.
“I don’t really like to see myself on camera, but they did a good job of making me not cringe too much. Everybody looked good and sounded good,” he says. “When you’re watching the videos, you’re watching us performing live, more or less. That’s what you’re gonna’ get. We’re not doing any trickery.”
Ivory Deville’s record release show will be at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood on December 11, and in January the band will join Los Angeles country-rock band Jackson Tanner for a residency at the Echo every Tuesday. Beyond that, Elkins hopes the group will be able to expand their touring circuit, which so far has included the West Coast, the Southwest and some dates in Austin for SXSW.
“A lot of times we’ll play a show and someone will say, ‘Man, I’m from Alabama, and you guys need to get out there pronto.’ I’d love to make that happen this year.”
Ivory Deville’s self-titled debut is out on today on Kill/Hurt Records and can be purchased here.