Making quality kids’ music is very important to Steve Elci. Having recently released his fourth album, Jump in the Puddles, Steve spoke to Celebrity Parents about growing up in a musical family, coming into your own as an artist, and why it’s all about the art — and not the glitz and glory.
Let’s talk about the new album.
The new album, Jump in the Puddles, took a long time to make. My albums normally take a longer time to make, but this one was different because my mom developed cancer. She ultimately died from it; it’s hard to talk about it still. But it stalled production on the CD, everything that we were doing. Life stopped.
After everything settled, I got back in the studio with sort of a re-energized approach, knowing that my mom would have loved for the music to continue. So I went in with a few new songs to finish it out. It felt really right; the artists on my CD were even more energized because they knew there was more at stake going on in my life. The end result was the best complete work that I’ve done.
It’s ironic, isn’t it?
I know somehow she is looking down and saying, “This is exactly what I want. We’ve been supporting you your whole life with music.” That’s why I want to continue this and at the highest level that I can.
Well, you were born into a musical family.
My father’s big band, which consisted of 18 pieces, they would come around the pool table, with my father directing them. I would have a friend sleepover, and we would hear Count Basie every Friday night. At the time, it was hard to wrap my head around it. I wanted to hear what was playing on the radio.! It wasn’t until later that I had a better understanding of the music.
You didn’t originally go into music.
I was always a musician in a band, but I was originally a video editor at Channel 8 News in Connecticut. I got out of that and went back into music, and now I balance my music career with being a supervisor at a facility for traumatic brain injury survivors—I do music for them. It works perfectly; playing and writing for kids, and then playing for traumatic brain injury survivors, since some of them are kid-like. I’m trying to help them recover and have a new purpose in life.
What I’ve found is that there’s a connection. The circle continues, and for me, it’s pretty powerful to watch these families come to the shows, and then these folks who have suffered an injury singing along with me.
Now, Jump in the Puddles is your 4th album. How would you describe your progression as an artist?
In 2009, when I released my first CD, I wanted my kids to hear something a little different from what was on the radio. It was a smattering of ideas. I didn’t quite know where to go. Every CD, I got a little more defined with what I liked. By the third and 4th, now it’s really starting to come out. I think I found my style and my vision of what I do. That’s why this album is a complete look at it all. It’s everything I wanted it to be.
In the beginning, I would use my kids as a barometer. If they were jumping around and dancing, I knew they liked it. So now, I know what kids like, but I have to like it, as a guitar player, want to play it, too. And the band around me has to be entertained by the music. I’m following this line of writing music to keep myself as an artist and my band interested, and that speaks to the parents and children we’re playing for, too. I’m writing for my band members to show their skills, too. I take the writing of the content and how it’s portrayed very seriously. It’s a very fine line of—is it kids’ music, or adult music?
I love a fan of the format of a song, I love a great verse, and a big chorus, and a bridge that takes you somewhere new. Each song has that poured into it. Each song was designed to be the best it can be. It really comes down to the flow of the CD, too. How do the songs go together? I create a storyline that keeps you pulled into it. I have to tell the story musically, and arrangement-wise, too. The flow is what the parents will find the rhythm in.
Your kids are 14 and 16. How do they react to their rocker dad?
They were my biggest fans for the longest time, but now, not so much! They’ve moved on to bigger and better things, but I’m okay with that! They still respect what I do, and it’s all fine and great. One of them is a musician.
They’ll come back to it in the future.
Like I came back to my Dad.
For the longest time, I was like, “Big band music? I want to rock!”
They’ll come back with a greater respect, just like you did.
That’s the greatest thing about music. Your tastes change and you grow, as an artist. What I liked when I was 10, 12,14, is not what I like now. When I first started learning guitar, we were doing Crosby, Stills, & Nash. So a lot of the harmonies that you hear, I still take that with me. But boy, the 80s became my thing. My dad was playing big band music, and U2 is kicking it and I’m thinking, “I want to do that.” Peter Gabriel is speaking to audiences with incredible messages — I want to do that. Sting is saving the rainforests — I want to do that! [laughs]
There’s a sense of accomplishment when you write a song that kids love and it has a positive message, too. For some of them, it’s their first concert. And if they’re leaving singing “Bumblebee” or with friendship and environment in mind, that’s all I can ask for. There’s the glitz and the glory, and then there’s the doing it because it’s your art and it happens to work right.
How do you make it all work?
I make it work, in part, because I have an amazing family. They all support what I do. My wife is a special ed teacher. We have this circle in interests and work performances that we’re all doing. One of my kids plays bass, and the other one is a sporting son, so it works because we have similar goals as a family. Helping kids, music is a goal, art is a goal, and it’s really just teamwork. There’s too much going on to have it any other way.