After leaving Atlanta and studio environs, she is trying to establish herself as a performer in New Orleans.
"I don't need a jetpack / I'm jazzing' like the Rat Pack," Elon Hornsby proclaims to start her debut EP, Only Elon. The track, "Get Offa Me," is powerful funk-rock groove with Shane Theriot's fuzzed guitar giving the chorus heft and energy while Big Sam Williams' trombone plays a fanfare line again and again as if it were a sample. In the middle of this, Hornsby sings the title hook with enough sass and vitality to make it credible, even if you're wondering who she is, why people are on her, and where this defensiveness comes from.
It's a nervy introduction and the heaviest moment on Only Elon, an EP that sketches out her musical world. Her songs are generally more melodic than the opener, though she raps and swings when moments call for it. "I Mean That" and "I Want You" are lovely bits of R&B pop, while the closer, "Us," is a dance rock track that builds on a U2-like chiming guitar.
Hornsby debuted the material from Only Elon last fall at an invitation-only party in the bar at The Saint Hotel with a band that included Theriot, Big Sam, John Gros on organ and Better Than Ezra's Tom Drummond - the EP's producer - on bass. She's a petite woman, but onstage, her obvious belief in herself and her talent made it seem as if she willed herself to be taller and bigger. Friday night, she'll make her public debut at The House of Blues' Parish.
Hornsby was raised in Houma but developed her talent in Atlanta, where she got a degree in music at Agnes Scott College. She didn't see singing as her future at the time; instead, she wanted to write and produce. "I wanted to create the song," she says. "The artist is only half of it. The ones that work behind the scenes really, really matter." She was mentored by a producer in Atlanta, but she found the relentless, hit-oriented R&B scene exhausting, so much so that it took some of the fun out of music for her. During that time, she started to hear herself as a performer when she sang some hooks for hip-hop tracks in the studio. Before she left, she was performing in concert as a rapper, at times with a live band behind her.
Hornsby moved to New Orleans a year and a half ago and found a manager who in turn connected her to Drummond. They began talking about her EP, and he suggested a major change for her when he proposed recording with a live band. Her music had largely been MIDI-based, but the first time she heard herself in front of a live drummer, it changed things. "I became somebody else," she says.
Having worked in production, she found it hard at first to let Drummond produce. "I learned to let go and it was liberating," she says. "I fell into the right hands."
Although she looks forward to blending electronics and live musicians in the studio in the future, she now understands how live musicians make the concert experience special. Live, something different, even if it's only slightly different, will always happen. "You have to be there to experience that show because it won't be the same as the next show," she says. "Something different's going to happen in the third show."
The experience working with Drummond was a learning process on a number of levels, though. He also asked her to reconsider some of her songs' structures. Because she often wrote to loops, she admits her songs tended to have similar structures, and he suggested that she move parts around, cut parts, and shorten choruses. "It hurt at first," Hornsby says. "It sounds so great in my headphones. He said, 'Yeah, but you have to think bigger now. You have to think on a larger scale because you want to reach so many more people.'" She had to admit that the changes paid off, giving the parts more impact as well as giving her chances to breathe in the songs.
That recording experience now has her raring to go. She's booking dates for the future and is already writing for an album that she hopes to release in the spring. After recording with Drummond, she's motivated and finding it easier to write than she has for a long time, so much so that she sometimes has to go to the bathroom at work to record a melodic idea or jot down a line or a thought.
"It's an iPhone thing, an iPad thing," Hornsby says. "I don't use paper."