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John Elefante - Called To Be Faithful

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
John Elefante - Called To Be Faithful

The light is subdued in {{John Elefante}}'s office on the second floor of The Sound Kitchen, the posh, Franklin, Tennessee recording studio he founded with his brother Dino. Country music superstar, Vince Gill, is recording downstairs, as is Christian music vocal band, {{Avalon}}. On any given day he might be sharing this office with Jimmy Buffet, Julio Iglesias, or Wynonna Judd, but John seems genuinely unimpressed with his surroundings. Other than a framed tour poster proclaiming the "Kansas/Heart World Tour," and a Dove award surreptitiously peeking out from its back corner perch, there are none of the expected trappings of success you would expect to find adorning the walls of a bona fide rock 'n' roll legend.

Staring into the dark, piercing eyes of the former lead singer of seventies supergroup, Kansas, it is apparent that the occupant of this office has no need of past accolades to affirm his worth. There is a sense of quiet confidence that seems born of past successes, and honed to razor sharpness by past failures. He is a man who has confronted both of those giants, and found them to be impostors. He is a man on a journey - a quest of sorts. To where? He's still trying to figure that out.

"Where is John Elefante?" He repeats my question, muses for a moment, and with gut-wrenching frankness replies, "John Elefante is wondering where he fits in. HonestlyI don't know where I fit. But while I am trying my best to find my place, in the grand scheme of things, I think God looks at it very differently than we do. And I'm trying to focus more on God's perspective, than on my record sales, my soundscan, my radio position."

"A friend of mine told me something the other day," he confides, "that hit me like a stinkin' ton of bricks. I was wondering aloud 'I feel like God gave me a really good record, so why isn't it doing just phenomenal?' And he said to me, 'God called you, not to be successful, but to be faithful.' Wow! Now that is God's perspective. Can you imagine what would happen if every single Christian record company in America suddenly adopted that theory across the boardtomorrow? Take that as your priority; and now rethink your career."

It is advice John is trying to apply to his own multi-faceted life. As a recording artist, producer, songwriter, and studio exec he confesses that it is easy to get distracted. He is currently overseeing a 20,000 square foot expansion to The Sound Kitchen that will add a mastering room, another mixing suite, a cartage building, and additional office space to the six studios the building already houses. He is preparing to tour in support of his latest release, ==Defying Gravity==. And then there are the inevitable production chores that go hand in hand with owning one of the hottest recording facilities in the Nashville area.

Throw the added pressures of being a husband and father into the mix and the ability to keep life in focus becomes increasingly more difficult. While working on ==Defying Gravity==, he says he discovered just how distracted he had become.

"You don't have to go out and get drunk, or have an affair on your wife to not be walking straight," he says. Sometimes it doesn't happen overnight with one big sin that you commit. You can be in the Word, and going to church, but the cares of the world can start to pull you away form God. It happens slowly, but it happens. And that is where I was."

Confronted with the reality of his own complacency, John says he broke down and wept like he hadn't done in twenty years. Fresh from that experience, he decided to try to translate the transformation in his spirit onto the new record.

Lyrically, ==Defying Gravity== is John's most blatantly spiritual album to date. Filled with references to family and faith, the album chronicles his quest for holiness amidst the daily slogging through the mud that makes up life. "I want there to be a distinctive point to every song that I do," he says emphatically. "We are all sinners in need of the Lord. At least that's where I am. I don't want to point my finger at anyone, but I do want to talk about my own fallible qualities, and maybe show how you can relate to them."

"I embarked on a quest, looking for some fresh, new stuff," he says. "Now there is some stuff on this record that is similar to things I have done in the past. But I wanted to try some different things, too. I wanted to write with some different people, to go outside for some influences. And I wanted to try my voice in some different areas. One person I really wanted to write with was George Marinelli. He is an incredible guitarist that plays for Bonnie Raitt. We sat right here in this room and co-wrote two of the songs on the record."

"==Defying Gravity== is a little more roots-ey, a little more Americana than ==Corridors== or ==Windows of Heaven==. I didn't really attempt to do that. I wantedwell, I guess in a way I DID attempt to do that," he grins. "I was reminiscing a lot about the seventies as I was writing the music for this record. And I really dug some of the old Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Supertramp. I don't want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but back then it was all about albums. Album Oriented Radio, AOR, ruled the airwaves. There was no video, so all you knew about the band was what was on the album cover. It was intriguing.

"I wanted to make an album like that - an album that just played; where the lyric just kind of followed the music; where every song wasn't the same," he continues. "And I think I did. I am proud to call ==Defying Gravity== 'an album'. Will it be successful? I don't know. I did everything I could to make the best record I could, but whether it is a success is up to the record buying public. I just hope it is a success in God's eyes. I'd be content if, when I see Him face to face, He said to me, 'John, it didn't sell a million records, but I put it right where I wanted it.'"

The interview draws to a close. In addition to everything else John has to do, there is the small matter of taking his kids to the movies. Toy Story 2 is showing. There is a light in his eyes that wasn't there a moment ago. Perhaps John Elefante has finally figured out where he fits in.