“The World doesn’t need you to sell ice-cream. It does, however, need you to play music,” said producer/drummer Don Kerr (Ron Sexsmith, The Rheostatics) to then Montreal based Peter Elkas in a determined attempt to encourage him to move to Toronto and work on some songs. “Who wouldn’t hop-to after that?” says Peter, “it was a huge compliment.”
So in 2002, after nearly ten years as multi-instrumentalist and songwriter with Montreal indie rockers Local Rabbits, Peter packed his bags, quit his job selling ice-cream and made the move to Toronto with little more than four songs he had written with a new Local Rabbits record in mind.
Though the initial plan was not to become a solo artist, it became clear that the Rabbits were not in a rush to work on a new record, so Peter continued to work with Don on developing his own songs. Don, who had produced the last Rabbits’ album, produced and played drums. Peter sang and played guitar. Together they enlisted the help of Doug Friesen on bass and began recording at Don’s Toronto Island Gas Station studios. The end result was a six-song EP entitled Party Of One, which the Halifax Daily News called an “artful lyrically bountiful gem.”
For Peter, the idea of being a solo artist took some getting used to. “The problem is that people don’t normally high-five themselves, so it seemed a bit odd not being a part of the four-headed monster I was used to,” he says. “On the flip-side, ‘he who travels fastest, travels alone’ has become true for me. I am able to get more done because I don’t need buy-in from the rest of the band.” But, he continues, “On the flip-side of the flip-side four heads are better than one. It’s hard to replicate that kind of camaraderie. We were a goddam walking party.”
After being part of a “walking party” performing as a “party of one” was a daunting task. Peter ventured into unknown territory when he took the stage as a solo artist armed with only voice and guitar. He admits that at first he missed the companionship of the Local Rabbits and it was a challenge to go it alone. Occasionally the situation called for a band and when it did Peter looked to various musical peers to assemble what he dubbed the “Elkaholics. ” Over the last year Peter and band have supported an impressive list of acts including Jet, Sam Roberts, Sloan and Joel Plaskett.
These musical peers occasionally call on Peter as well. Since moving to Toronto he has collaborated with Leslie Feist, toured with Neko Case as part of her band The Boyfriends and joined Mathew Barber’s band on guitar.
The Party Of One EP, which singer - songwriter Ron Sexsmith listed as one of his favourite recordings of 2003, has since evolved into a full-length album. Also titled Party Of One, Peter’s debut full-length album will be released by MapleMusic Recordings September 14.
Musically, Party of One is a more soulful experience than some of his previous work with the Rabbits, showcasing Peter’s rich vocals and skill on the guitar.
“This record talks about loneliness, bad decisions, moving on, searching, and working,” says the self-proclaimed “woe-is-me” lyricist. The album, written during a transitional period in Peter’s life, is a perfect example of an artist finding his voice. Emotions are effectively, yet simply, captured and reflected. He writes with poignant honesty, singing about experiences to which all listeners can easily relate, although few would have the nerve to broach with such candour.
In the overly suspicious “I See Fine” Peter confronts the impending doom of a relationship as he croons, “Where’d you go that night, you prob’ly had comp’ny… if he gives you butterflies try to see what it could mean…”, while in “In My Den” he seductively and unabashedly invites “in my den you’re welcome every day, I can’t pretend I don’t want you to stay…” The title track, “Party Of One” hears him calling on his friends as he laments his lonely state.
Party Of One is a rewarding debut for Elkas, the result of traveling unfamiliar terrain and taking risks. “I still think the Rabbits is the most exciting band I’ve played in, or even heard, in a lot of ways” he says, “but I like solo. It’s easier to absorb. It’s a bit more palpable.” As a party of one, he certainly holds his own.