Brian: Elena Lacayo is the lead singer of Elena & Los Fulanos, a bilingual folk rock band based here in Washington DC. Since 2011, they've been creating music that ranges from twangy, heartfelt themed folk Americana to soothing, introspective, violin infused, Latin rock. Elena musical influences draw on her experiences growing up in two cultures, Nicaraguan and American. Elena & Los Fulanos creates a world where language and tradition meld with catch melodies and inventive chords in our increasingly multi-cultural world. Their debut album, help me with the pronunciation here. Debut album was?
Elena: This one's the harder one, Miel Venensoa.
Brian: Miel Venensoa earned a Washington Area Music Award or a Wammie nomination for the Best Latin Recording in 2014.
Elena: Miel Venenosa means poisonous honey, just for the.
Brian: Poisonous honey. Interesting. We just heard Himalayan Honey earlier from this so wow, we got all kinds of honey on this show today. I love it. I first came across Elena & Los Fulanos when I had, and her name escapes me at this moment when I need it, on the microphone, Maryjo Mateo was on the show. She was doing a show coming up with you guys and she said, "Oh you definitely got to check out Elena." I checked out Elena and my goodness, amazing things. Listeners, it's with great pleasure that I introduce Elena Lacayo.
Elena: Hey. How's it going everyone?
Brian: Now tell us about you Elena. How did Elena & Los Fulanos come about? Tell us the quick story.
Elena: Oh the quick story. You were starting to ask me about me, and I was going to go into that.
Brian: Oh we'll come back to that, I promise.
Elena: We'll come back to that because that is a big part of what Elena & Los Fulanos is, but I was working here in DC like so many people on policy. I moved here 10 years ago and I've been doing music and creating original songs. I was playing out and a couple of my friends were like, "Hey. I can play with you." That's kind of how we started it.
Elena: We started it kind of informally and I just realized with time that I liked a lot what we were doing and I quit my job and started doing it more seriously. That's where we are now.
Brian: Wow, so full time musician. Now tell us what you were going to say about how the music came about in your life.
Elena: It's just that I do bilingual music. You guys only heard a song in Spanish, but there's also songs in English. At this point, I mean basically when I started the project I was a little like, well what am I supposed to do? I have songs in English and I have songs in Spanish. Do I do separate projects? Are they the same thing? Eventually I came to the conclusion that if these two things existed in my own person that they should be able to exist in a music project. That's sort of what the point is, is that people will look at me and they'll think one thing, but I actually grew up in Nicaragua and that's where my parents live. I also grew up in the states. I was born here and then we moved back when I was eight. I really grew up between the US and Nicaragua. Those are both fully parts of me and I'm fully Nicaraguan and fully American. That's kind of what we do with our music. We show that identities are more complex than what meets the eye.
Brian: Yeah. It definitely comes across that way. The breadth, I love the breadth of your music. It's a very, not every song. It's not the same each time. There's different feelings. There's different emotions. It comes across in the music you make.
Elena: Yeah. I almost think I'm a little musically schizophrenic. That's how I kind of consider myself, which I've decided is a better place to be than listening to a band and feeling like every song sounds the same. I'd rather be more broad than not. Really, it's interesting. When I'm putting together albums, instead of trying to make things match with each other. It's almost more narrative and it's almost more about showing the diversity of things that we do. Making sure we kind of show. If songs are too similar, we don't put them on the same album.
Elena: Which is interesting.
Brian: Smart. Okay.
Elena: You know what I mean?
Brian: What about you, so outside of Los Fulanos. What's life like for you? What do you do in your spare time I guess you would say?
Elena: Oh man. Well, I mean I do a lot of solo shows, which is really fun. I do all kinds of stuff as a solo artist. Now that certain things have happened politically, I'm getting a lot of requests to play movement events. I play a lot of pro-immigrant events. This weekend was kind of crazy for me. I ended up playing planned and unplanned shows. People are really hungry for this kind of music. I also work at a café, a social justice café in DC called The Potter's House, which is awesome. They have a bookstore and I help run it because I'm into books. That's kind of what I studied when I was in undergrad. It's really cool though. I mean they are sort of similar. It's sort of related to be into books and into music, both in the inability to make money off of it unfortunately. Also, just like in the fact that these are things that really shape our culture and our collective consciousness as a people. It's really cool to be in the world of ideas like that.
Brian: That's cool. You said into books. Does that mean you read a lot of books or you just are comforted by being around them? What do you read?
Elena: All of the above. Since I work at a bookstore, I buy a bunch of books and then I don't necessarily always have time to get to them. Unfortunately I'm much better at going to shows. I'm much better about going to shows than I am about sitting down and reading books. I'm a bit of an extrovert and music is really my focus. It's really cool to be around the world of books because people always give you their opinions even if you haven't read them, or you learn about people that are important that even if you haven't read them, you know, oh this was a very important person in the Civil Rights movement. Sometimes those people come into the cafes too. Then they'll tell who they are. They're like, "Oh I'm a SNCC leader. I grew up in Mississippi" and she's like 92 or something. It's really cool to be in that world and social justice is kind of my background and so that's a lot of what also informs my music.
Brian: Yeah. I realize you said SNCC leader, and for those who don't know what that is, what is that?
Elena: Oh, what is the acronym. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. They were a big organization. John Lewis belonged to that. If you guys saw the movie, the one about MLK. [Some 00:06:53] I think it was called?
Elena: The SNCC leaders are the younger folks who are kind of the ones who are the ones out on the.
Brian: They come into the café. That's cool.
Elena: They're pretty hard core, standing up for their rights. It's really cool to meet people who confronted such bigotry and such hatred to their face. You know what I mean? And stood up for it.
Brian: What about you as an artist? The biggest success moment that comes to mind?
Elena: Our biggest success, just happened the day after Thanksgiving we had this awesome opportunity to play at the Kennedy Center here. We played the Millennium Stage.
Elena: It was something else. It's such a big stage in a lot of ways and nothing quite prepares you to do it until you do it. Then you realize, wow. You feel like the shoes are slightly too big for you to fill but at the end of it.
Brian: You jump in and you say, "Absolutely. I'll wear them. Let's go."
Elena: Totally, and it was so cool. I mean one of the things that I didn't expect from it as much is there's a lot of things I knew that would come with it. We had a huge crowd, like 500 people. It was the day after Thanksgiving so everybody was free and stuff. That was just amazing opportunity. They also had this amazing video that they did. They do videos of all of the Millennium Stage shows. They have multiple cameras and so they are-
Elena: A lot of people actually when I got off stage that came around and they were like, "Dude, the cinematography," or whatever you call the camera work, "was really great. You really need to watch it." Of course, as an artist, you take your time getting to watch yourself perform because you're very critical of yourself on stage, especially when you have to hear yourself talk. That was actually one of the coolest parts about the whole thing, is just having this really, super well produced video for your show, for your vision, for your art.
Brian: Do you have that posted somewhere?
Elena: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Brian: Can people watch that? Kennedy Center website or yours?
Elena: Yeah. There's the Kennedy Center YouTube. You can also go to our band's website, it's elenalosfulanos.com, E-L-E-N-A-L-O-S-F-U-L-A-N-O-S .com, or if you Google Elena Los Fulanos, it'll be the first one to come up. There's a video part there and you can go to that. You can also see our video for Amor Migrante.
Brian: Yeah check out the video. I've got those links on dcmusicrocks.com too so you can check them out after the show. Now what about your earliest memory with music?
Elena: Well, legend has it. I'm the youngest of four.
Brian: We started with a legend?
Elena: Yeah a legend. It's because I don't know if to believe my parents on this. You know? I'm the youngest of four so when they talk about things that I did when I was, and we were like refugees. We had just come to the states from Nicaragua and we were fleeing war. I don't really think they remember my first anythings. I kind of feel like they make it up a little bit.
Brian: Mom, Dad, we want to believe you but we're not sure. Okay.
Elena: I was like, "Mom, Dad, what was my first word?" They were like, "You didn't speak you just sang." That's what they tell me.
Brian: That sounds like something a parent would say.
Elena: I know that my first song was The Blue Danube. That's kind of high brow but it's because my oldest brother is trained in French horn and I guess he probably was rehearsing and stuff. I don't know how I got The Blue Danube. You guys know which one that? La, dum, dum, dum, dump, bum-bum, bum-bum.
Brian: Oh, and there's words to that?
Elena: No. I would just hum it.
Brian: Okay you were humming. Okay.
Brian: You were singing the horn part.
Elena: They were like, "Oh cool. She's in tune. This one has potential."
Brian: Real potential, and now look at you. You're here. You're performing the Kennedy Center.
Elena: I know, well that wasn't. I was very rebellious towards my parents and their desire for me to be a musician. I really never took that role and I didn't really care for music classes. I kind of did it on my own terms, which I'm not sure I recommend because I'm pretty uninformed when it comes to music theory and a lot of the rules but, it hasn't yet effected my ability to write it. I think it more effects my ability to communicate with other musicians.
Brian: Yeah I could see that.
Elena: It works out.
Brian: I was saying, it's working so far. Now, one of my favorite questions to ask is always, what's one piece of advice that you would offer?
Elena: To other musicians?
Brian: Sure. However, you want to answer the question.
Elena: I think, I mean maybe it sounds corny but I think it's being true to one's self and being authentic to the person that you are. Try to figure that out. It's actually much more difficult than you think when you start the exercise.
Brian: Say more on that.
Elena: Just in the sense of like, music is an externalization of yourself. Art in general is an externalization of your interior world. You know? The more that you explore yourself and you know yourself the better you will be able to access that so as to bring your vision to other people. There's something about reaching the authentic point of yourself, that connects with other people. It's sort of like you access this universal concept and you put it out there. Other people will access that same thing, but through their own experience. The more authentic that you are, it doesn't really matter what form it takes. That's the thing about music, it's so subjective. There's really no formula to what's great and what's not. I think what clearly comes through is when you're being authentic to yourself and when you're rounded in a vision of what, kind of who you are. It's weird. I mean it's like kind of a [inaudible 00:12:59] to talk about.
It's the same idea of you know when people have gone in to buy guitars or to try out guitars at guitar stores. It kind of doesn't matter how much the guitar costs, or what it's made out of or all these other specs, what counts is when yo sit down and play the guitar, do you feel inspired by it? There are some guitars where you feel that and there are some guitars where you're like, eh not really. I don't really want to play that much anymore. It's like this intangible thing.
Brian: Got it.
Brian: Wow, that's cool. Two questions then, together. One is, if folks want to find out more about you, and the exciting things going on wit Los Fulanos, where do they go for that, and you had mentioned to me before the show that there were some cool things coming up for you. Talk about that.
Elena: If you want to check us out more, you can go to elenalosfulanos.com or if you want to just Google Elena & Los Fulanos. That has all of our info. It has our videos, also has our music video for Amor Migrante, which you can check out there. We are actually raising money right now through Indiegogo. We have a campaign going on for our next album. If you all are interested in that, you can check that out as well on our website. We have a fundraising show for that on February 9th at Haydee's in Mount Pleasant and you all can come to that and check out what we're planning to do and if you want to go to an actual show, that's open to everybody and mostly about fundraising. This Friday I will be at The Black Cat with the Nine Songwriter Series. That's Friday, January 27th at The Black Cat. I can do this. Oh look at that.
Brian: There is video of this interview and if you check it out, she's holding up the card here so you can actually see her talking to you on video.