I sat down with metal shredder - Eli Santana. Our conversation covered music, Star Trek and everything in between! Eli is so sweet despite being such an intense metal player. He also has dipped his toe into the ocean of acting. This guy is very well rounded. Learn everything you could possibly want to know about him this week and #staynerdy!
I'm Eli Santana - the guitar player for Holy Grail and Huntress and now lead guitar and lead vocals for another band called Alien Satan. That's getting off the ground so you'll hear more about that soon. That's pretty much me. I play rock n roll and get into other stuff like....well I just started doing something else but I can't talk about it yet.
Ooooh - you're one of THOSE people!
I signed an NDA...the whole nondisclosure thing so I can't talk about it but I"m super excited about it! I can't talk about it until......
I mean you technically are talking about, "it", now soooooo
That's very true. I'm playing coy. It's a TV show on HBO.
Woah - that's rad! And you act on it!?
Yeah! It's kinda a new thing. We were touring a lot, both bands, so I was gone for a majority of the year. We got home. We got put onto hiatus until we write an album and we are kinda like Led Zeppelin with taking our time with writing. In that time I started getting into background and extras work - it fell into my lap. I was recurring on this one show...
The one you signed the NDA for?
Well what CAN you talk about that you've been in?
There's this one movie coming out, "A Star Is Born", with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. It's his first time directing I think. We'll see if I get cut out or not. It was fun, I liked it so I started taking it more seriously. I started doing the whole acting thing which is so not metal. This is kinda the first I talked about it.
Are you able to say what kind of show it is? Or is that too much info?
It's action with a little sci-fy. I've been doing that too and with writing/playing music..
It sounds like a great combination especially since it seems like you discovered a new found passion.
Well yeah that definitely makes it easier. I've always had a passion for it but I"m taking creative interest in it. There's a lot of crossover between music and acting.
Especially metal -- a lot of performances are theatrical in a way.
Oh yeah, exactly. This happened with Huntress - our drummer almost got in a fight with the tour manager we were on tour with. He told us we were on now and we had to immediately just go into, "Show Mode", and turn off those emotions. As much as it is metal and music there is a, "Show must go on" quality to it. I guess that's why Queen has their song. Definitely the fearlessness that metalheads have on stage helped me a lot as far as not being embarrassed to a point.
How did you get into metal specifically?
I always wanted to be a musician and stuff like that. One of my earliest memories was setting up my stuffed animals and trying to pretend to sing a Bryan Adams song to them. Of course my Uncle caught me doing that. I was trying to be Bryan Adamas and then I saw Quiet Riot on MTV. It's funny I saw the Looks That Kill video on MTV and it's scary but I couldn't look away. My mom wouldn't let me watch it. I thought it was because it was all Satanic but my mom later told me she didn't care about that it was just about the way they treated women in the video.
Got it. So your mom is pro Satan, anti abuse. Perfect.
Yeah, totally a Satanist, haha.
Almost every interview will ask who your influences are but that's boring. Who would you not want to ever be compared to or have said that you sound like?
Holy Grail specifically has gotten the Avenged Sevenfold thing a couple times. Or we're asked if we are going for that Avenged Sevenfold thing. It's a hell no. It's not like I'm offended because they're successful but I always took it as..."Well, you just don't have enough knowledge of comparisons if that's going to be the closest thing you think you can find". That's kinda the weird one for Holy Grail. I guess we are pulling from a lot of the same influences. Holy Grail got thrown into the retro Metal scene and we would get these true purists that would get mad that we aren't traditional, Diamond Head. It's like..why don't we just be a cover band if we aren't going to add anything? They'll also say we sound like Killswitch Engage and they'll get upset that we have a "Modern metal" sound. It's funny because I ran into the lead singer of Killswitch Engage at a bar in Savannah while we were on tour and we were just talking about how ironic it is that "modern metal" is still from almost 30 years ago so it's not...modern anymore, haha.
It's a lose lose situation because to those same people criticizing you - if you WERE a cookie cutter version of some band you would get hate for not being original.
There was this guy who came up to me after a show in Portland. He was like, "Hey man, I really like your band but I really gotta talk to you.."
What a way to start the conversation.
Right? I was thinking this is gonna go well. He was like, 'You've gotta stop doing the death metal screaming backup stuff." We do throw that in here and there. He was like, "The old schoolers are gonna hate you." The funny thing about this was that he was only like 19 or 20. I was like, "Ya know what man, we do what we want to do so that's on them - that's a decision they make. When I want to have my retro experience I will go listen to Power Slave - I don't put that on a new band." The funniest part is when we went onstage - I looked this kid in the eyes and let out the burliest scream. People want things their way and if that's the case...start your own band!
**Boring conversation about branding leads us to this story from Eli....**
Speaking of branding - we had a little bit of that with Holy Grail when we had this hashtag going around, "#yeahdad". We felt bad though because at the time we were on tour with this awesome bad called Orange Goblin. It's like stoner rock but...clearly their version of it. They're talented, talented guys. They're all a little older and are dads. But this hashtag had NOTHING to do with them and we think they think it did but how it happened was...I guess we had this hipster/driver guy /friend come along. Love the dude. He was working at a butcher shop and it's a daddyo-throwback thing. So we cut it shorter to "dad" and it just turned into "dad" everything. Any kind of song title we could throw, "dad", in - we would. We said it so much that this became the Dad Tour. I fear that they still don't believe us though - Orange Goblin.
I'm glad you cleared that up because they sent me here to find that out - they're here to confront you.
On Holy Grail's Facebook it has "Shred With Purpose" as your motto. What is Holy Grail's purpose and what's your purpose?
That phrase didn't come from me but it basically is like....we always get thrown into certain genres because of our guitar acrobats but we want to write songs. We want to write catchy hooks and stuff. We want to create a well written song - so if we are gonna do shreddy stuff it has to serve the song. I think that set us apart from a lot of bands that were just like, "Cool...we are gonna do the same trick/notes over and over again" We want you to listen to two of our songs and you want to actually listen to the rest of the music instead of just rolling your eyes and thinking, "Okay. You can play. I get it" because of the over shredding. I think a good way to say it too is just because something isn't hard to play doesn't make it bad. It may be better than something that is really hard to play.
It's a hard line. As a listener at a live show - I don't want to feel like the entire set is someone just showing off. I want to actually connect to the music and not feel like I'm at some talent show or something.
I definitely feel like if someone is trying too hard - there's a disconnect with the audience. We try to avoid that with Holy Grail.
That's respectable because I'm sure it's easy to want to show off in front of a huge crowd for the entire performance.
It's like..I have something to say and not just some trick I want to show you. I had just done a clinic demo performance thing at NAMM. Being able to do that was definitely, as a musician, a huge honor - it was for Peavey Amps. Ever since I knew that convention existed I wanted to do that so now that i did it -- it's super cool. It's weird that I treated it like a show and people are just there and are judging you. Also they rarely stay for the entire set because they want to walk around and see it all. It's interesting too because the first NAMM show I went to - I did one of these kinds of performances but it was for an in ear company. It was me and Seth and the other two guys were his student / fellow teacher. The brother was Mario from Chon and his brother. I was the singer. I basically thought it was how I did it this last weekend where there's a stage and it'll be a whole performance. But no - it was a tiny booth next to other tiny booths. The drummer's playing B drums and so....I'm singing and everything is all direct except you can't do direct vocals. So people would walk up and just hear me singing vocals acapella. They could only get the whole experience if they put the in ears in.
Hooly....were you comfortable with that?
No! I didn't know it was gonna happen haha. It's funny.....it sounds like some dude is just walking around singing at the top of his lungs. I was confident as a vocalist but not...that confident. Especially knowing nobody could hear the whole thing without putting the in ears in. I wish I could have told people with my eyes while singing that they need to put the in ears in! I always forget that happened...haha.
Your band is coming up on it's tenth year of being together. I wanted to ask - are you doing anything for that special anniversary? That's a long time!
We are writing a new album and are pretty close to having all the songs done so hopefully late Spring we will get in the studio. We might even do our first album in its entirety. I don't know how I feel about that but if I really like it then we will do that.
Weird Al is one of my favorite musicians. If he parodied one of your songs, what would the title be?
Oh wow. It was our single off the first record. We had a video for it too. It's, "My Last Attack". One of the lines is, "No other way..." We toured with the band, Black Tusk, and they kept saying "No underwear" .. so that's a small version of that, haha. If we got the Weird Al version - that would be special. We have this song "Dark Passenger" and change the lyrics to "Gotta Find a Whey". There's a couple other parodies of our other songs but they're kind of gross and overtly offensive just for the sake of being offensive. I don't think Weird Al would go for those, haha. I wish there was an underground Weird Al - the grimy shit. Like - you gotta know somebody to see it.
When people are listening to your music, what do you want the audience's emotions to be?
Whoa. Usually - for the high energy, metal stuff...I almost feel and hear music (especially with metal) the words aren't as important as the energy sent out from the music. I definitely want it to be uplifting and positive but it's like...Aggressively seize the day. You feel empowered and badass. It's on. I always do it for myself first, though, and hope that those feelings I just mentioned come across to others. You always do it for yourself first.
Why do you have a guitar named Gumby?
I didn't buy it, going in being like "That's Gumby". It's sparkle green. It's really shiny. It's a Jackson Pro Kelly - just for the record I exclusively play ESP because they're just the best of all time. It was the first guitar I had saved up for and really took it seriously. Marty Friedman from Megadeth - that was his guitar and I wanted to play like him. Gumby came from the fact if you turned it upside down and looked at the back - it looked exactly like Gumby's head.
Do you still have this guitar?
I do. The weird thing with that is Holy Grail toured with Marty Friedman and so for the first day -I showed up with that guitar in line with everyone else for the meet and greet. He saw me and was like..."What are you doing here?!" So I got it signed. It was a full circle kinda thing. I haven't played it since so I think I'm gonna put it up. It was definitely a cool, special thing. On that same tour I also got to jam with him on stage.
Why don't you post Alien Satan music online?
The stuff that I have is good but I'm trying to feel it out live. I'll put something out in the next couple months. I still need to record it too. The reason I haven't put anything out on social media is.....you just know everything about everyone. With a lot of bands, when they do the "mysterious" thing...it's like "Who are they??" even when you hear the music. We're trying to see how long we can get away with it, haha. We are going the opposite way. It's all personality and promotion but the mystery is you don't know what we sound like at all. It also is trying to get more people to come out to live shows to see what the sound is gonna be. We don't want to give the fans every little thing online. It's also nice to not have things locked in if I want to change stuff. In 2018 it's rad to not give everyone, EVERYTHING. If you want to hear it - come out to the show.
How do you #staynerdy?
I'm definitely a Seinfeld nerd where if someone misquotes an episode - I will correct them. I've also seen the entire series of Gilmore Girls. Luke is my favorite character. I don't know how I feel about the new one - it's rough. My friend's ex wife - is a huge fan of Gilmore Girls. You remember Kirk - the weird guy in the town? He would make shirts of random stuff happening in the town. There was another character, Babette, and Kirk made a shirt that said "Babette made oatmeal." My friend's ex wife bought me it and said I have to wear it onstage. So I did. I'm also a big Star Trek fan. I went to a Star Trek convention - she's a huge Trekkie. This was a long time ago. They had this contest of who could do the best Scotty impression. My mom is looking around and can't find me. She sees I'm on stage for this contest. I won! I was only 7 though so I think it's only because I was so little and tried. I won this model of the Enterprise. You had to put it together - it didn't come preassembled. In theory I like the idea of building a model but it's too frustrating. So..that never got built but is a cool story.
I really can't get over how sweet Eli was and how easy it was to talk to him. I'm not sure what I was expecting but with how intense his band's live performances are - I really wasn't sure how to anticipate the kind of personality he has. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Eli and until next week....#staynerdy
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