LEFT ALONE (interview with lead guitar/singer: Elvis Cortez; (Thrasher Magazine Issue #300, pg. 190; November, 2005)
Hearing LEFT ALONE for the first time is sort of like discovering you've been living next door to a super hot chick for the past two years. Part of you is pissed you didn't notice them sooner, but mostly you're just thankful you caught on before it was too late. Luckily, even though LEFT ALONE has been around awhile, they are here to stay. Their newest album "Lonely Starts and Broken Hearts" (Hellcat/Epitaph Records) represents the best of what they've always done really well: fast, melodic punk with some ska thrown in for good measure. Lead singer Elvis Cortez has "HARD WORK" tattooed on his knuckles. Talk to him and you'll realize, that's the reason Left Alone is finally getting the recognition they deserve.
When and how did Left Alone get started?
Elvis Cortez: In 1993, after seeing a backyard punk rock show. It took us two years to learn how to play. I didn't know you had to tune a guitar. I heard you just change the strings every week, so that's what I did. I remember looking at pictures of Rancid and paying attention to their hands. I learned bar chords that way. I got a tuner and within a month, I knew how to play. Then some buddies from high school joined. Our first official show was May 5, 1996, in Carson, CA. We kept playing backyards, little clubs and we eventually found ourselves playing in Southgate area, which is between Wilmington and the heart of LA. We got a pretty good following there. Then we started playing The Whisky, The Roxy. I also opened a club in 1997 called the PCH club. There we got our chance to open for big bands coming through on tour. That kept going and then in 2003. I went out as a roadie on the Warped Tour. I was 24 then.
So that means when you started Left Alone you were only 14?
Yep, I was just a straight up kid. But when I went to shows, I paid attention. I watched what the bands did, how they worked it, the merchandise sales, everything. When I was on the Warped Tour as a roadie, I met the tour's founder, Kevin Lyman. We talked, and he liked my work ethic, so he made us the Warped Tour BBQ Band.
BBQ band, what's that?
You get to play every stop of the Warped Tour and you get to haul this big BBQ on wheels. You don't haul a normal equipment trailer. You tie your guitars and other gear to the BBQ and haul that. You cook every night for 300-500 people. It's one big party. Sometimes it's hot and tiring but it's fun. We were really grateful for it. Hell, we get to do it this year too. I wanted to do it so badly that I actually made a fake application that said "In high school I was voted 'most likely to have fat kids someday' because I was such a good cook". Stupid shit, but Lyman liked it, so we're the BBQ band again.
Has Left Alone always been the same band members?
No. I'm the only original member. Some dropped out because they didn't like the style we were getting into. Others got jobs, or real lives, or the drug thing killed it for them. But I stayed determined. Our drummer, Ramrod, he's been in the band since 2000. Once he joined, everything changed dramatically. The style evolved and we progressed a lot.
You have 3 Rancid Tattoos, so obviously they're a heavy influence.
Yes. I like other stuff too, but they're mainly what I like. They're what I grew up on. We take bits and pieces from other people, but we always make it our own. Left Alone has always been DIY. It had to be, no one wanted to put out our records! I financed it all, even bought the tour van myself.
Now you're signed to Hellcat, which is Tim Armstrong's (Rancid/Transplants) label. So what's that like for you?
We always wanted to be on Hellcat. I remember giving Tim our tapes and CDs. No matter how big Rancid got, he was always good about talking to us. He and I spoke on the Warped Tour and at the Knitting Factory (at the Give Em' the Boot release party) and now we're signed to Hellcat. He likes us and he backs us. It's Tim Armstrong, you can't go wrong.
So can you survive off your music now?
I've been working since I was 13 in order to survive. Now we're doing the music thing full time. It's not making us rich, but we get by. The album is out, so we'll see. You know, people think we're a new band, but we were doing this for nine years before we got signed. It's a lot of work. You give up a lot- jobs, relationships, time at home, time with friends. You just set the goal, decide you're going to hit it, and go.
Does anyone in the band skateboard?
Yes. That's actually how I chipped my two front teeth. I've been riding since the late 80's. In fact, right before we left on this tour, our drummer, Ramrod, and I were skating.
Yes. Thanks to Chris LaSalle, Epitaph, Hellcat, Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen and all the kids that come to our shows and buy our albums. I'm one of you. I still go to shows. No matter what, we'll be doing this as long as we can.