Jumpin’ Joel Flash & The Magic Machine
Photos by helensphotography.ca and ryanlindseyphoto.com
Let’s time travel! For lack having a readily available DeLorean, we’re gonna’ jimmy-rig a blender, some duct tape and a couple wire I found in Uncle Eddie's toolshed. Kids, don't forget to ask your parents’ permission before building intricate mechanisms that could bend time and space.
Here's we are in O-town circa the wayyyyyyback year of 2017. We meet Joel Elliott attempting to join his parents in the unity of love at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Umm, no wait, he’s working a boring job for the government in a town where a lot of folks are working boring jobs for the government. Ho-hum. What are they to do? Mr. Elliott has a plan and in his kaleidoscope mindscape he's brewing a batch of songs to drone out the drudgery.
Toss away all they taught you in WHMIS training, folks. You're going to want to speed splash this musical concoction akin to mixing multiple flavours of soda, a couple of rainbows and some bap, bang, fizz of PopRocks down your gullet faster than you can say "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" backwards. Warning! Downing this mishmash of awesome juice might cause you to want to dress up in a pink duck costume, adorn a tutu and join a local theatre group whilst singing “I Feel Pretty” all the way to Canuck Crazy Ville and that's just fine!
Now, get your boogie butt back to the future.
The now christened Jumpin’ Joel Flash awaits. He's going to punch your ticket and see you on through the rhinestone gates where his Magic Machine awaits with a cotton candy cornucopia of delights. You’re going to feel a little bit country. You’re going to feel a little bit rock and roll. Comedy? Why sure! Bouncy bodacious beats? Of course!
The wizzbang wild-eyed Jumpin’ Joel grins glitter as he beams: “We create surprisingly hummable, temptingly strummable original tunes composed and performed in a manner that it is certain to make you smile.”
And how do you get to see it, you ask?
The lights flash neon.
Bang: Live! On Elgin
You glance behind and see Ottawa’s Drag Diva China Doll waving you on in. What's that you hear? Why, it's the comedic stylings of Rhythm and Burgundy singing about basketballs and Voldemort. And then there are The Ghost Lights all a’sparkle, the Strings, the Things and the Rhythm section…all cogs in the Machine.
You set down your time traveling blender because, let’s face it buddy-roo, you ain’t going anywhere but here to live in the pulse-pounding, heart-rattling, government town shaking now.
You take a step and suddenly feel the hand of Joel pull you back. He asks you in the voice of a thousand entertainers swooshed around in the hustle rush of a hundred carnival barkers.
“Don’t you want to know, man? Don’t you want to learn how this silly potpourri parade got started?”
And you do, man, oh man, you do… so you ask:
Ottawa Life: You were once a mild-mannered government drone. Just how did you become the man they call Jumpin’ Joel Flash?
Jumping Joel: I’ve been performing in bands around Ottawa for 15 years, but I always thought about it as my awesome hobby. Like so many in this town, I had a good job and was living a comfortable life. I resigned myself to the idea that music and performance would always be a ‘spare time’ endeavour. For 12 years I just tried not to think about what I really wanted to be doing, instead focusing on what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I call this guy ‘Corporate Joel’.
In late 2016, I was writing the score for Phantom of the Opry, a musical that is exactly what it sounds like. Rehearsal evenings were weird, rambunctious, and full of joy. Work was like, the exact opposite. This wasn’t lost on me, so the day we moved into the Gladstone, I gave my two weeks notice. That was February 2017. Since then, I’ve sold my house and moved to Centretown so I could be smack dab in the middle of what’s happening. I’m happier each and every day. Corporate Joel still shows up once in a while, but only at networking events.
So, while living this dual life you kinda’ roamed around town singing rock tunes and oozing out Disney ballads! What drew you into wanting to sing something…anything…and just be in front of a crowd?
Growing up, I had no experience or exposure to performance other than playing trumpet in high school band. I figured out I had a wild voice by singing along to tunes in my car. At 20, when I was in college, I decided that if I was going to grow as a person, I’d better get out of my comfort zone. So, I hopped on The Ottawa Musician and joined a local cover band named ‘Barrelhouse’. I was 20 years younger than the rest of the members. Over the course of 10 years, they taught me literally everything I know about rock and/or roll.
Barrelhouse’s repertoire influenced my personal songwriting in a big way. We played enough songs by two bands in particular that on any given night, we could be a tribute act for either The Allman Brothers –twang with crunch. Blues with a big spread of jam– or Steely Dan, often derided as ‘Yacht Rock’, which it absolutely is. But the smooooooooth grooves mixed with sometimes odd song structure are exactly what makes Steely so wonderful. When writing, if I think a song is going in a weird direction, I’ll ask myself: “Would Steely do this?” SPOILER ALERT: They typically would. As any performer will tell you, time away from the stage can be excruciating. 3 years ago I had no regular band, so I just started hitting up open mic nights with a mixture of my original songs and covers. To differentiate myself, I picked covers that:
- Everyone knows, even if they don’t think they do (Disney, Queen)
- No one else is doing (that I knew of anyway)
- Showcased my ridiculous vocal range. It was shameless showboating, but it was also my unique identifier.
Word started spreading, and fairly soon people were pretty happy to see me when I showed up! I met their enthusiasm with more energy, which led to more enthusiasm. It’s a vicious circle.
So, what went into building your background group The Magic Machine?
In May of 2016, I took my first foray into theatre, playing the role of ‘Freddy’ in My Fair Zombie (again, exactly what it sounds like) at the Gladstone. In between the vomit cannons and songs about eating brains, I forged a great friendship with two of my castmates, Robin Hodge & Zoe Towne. I was awed not only by their acting talent, but their voices and the way they could harmonize like nobody’s business. I demanded that they join my band, and I’m so glad they did.
From there, I added my best pal Brad Cutler on lead guitar and my wife Kim Valentine on ukelele. The team rounded out this past year, adding Carolina Arnoni on keys, Ashley Newall on bass, and Jasen Colson on drums.
The Magic Machine is a bunch of seasoned performers who are interested in having a good time. Our sound is big and awesome and I love it. You will too.
Your name and group kind of harkin’ back to when music seemed a lot more fun. You know, the 70s! Was that something you were trying to capture with your music?
Ohhhh snappppp that’s exactly what I’m going for!
When songwriting, I always start with a rhythm, adding vocal lines and lyrics near the end. My focus is on the feel and groove. If it ain’t groovy, it’s not going on stage! As a result, the songs all sound SUPER FUN, even if the lyrics tend to get a little sad. But hey, most songs are about love, and lost love at that. It’s something we can all relate to, and so I write lyrics about it. “The Magic Machine” was printed on an old T-shirt I purchased at Value Village years ago. I have no idea what the original Magic Machine was all about. I hope it’s nothing nefarious. “Jumpin’ Joel Flash” is a rip from a song by a famous band you may know.
Of course I know. Everybody knows the Bay City Rollers! Or is that The Stones? I always get them mixed up. Anyway, looking at the pics on your website, your performances look very upbeat, energetic. What is important to you when it comes to how you craft your stage presence with the band?
The time of our audience is valuable. To me, if someone takes the time to leave their house, come to the show, wait in line, pay their cover, and sit through our nonsense, then we owe them something they’re going to remember. People could be doing literally anything else with their time and money. The second the band stops appreciating that, then we’re in trouble.
I also feel that recorded music and live performance should be completely different experiences. I myself have left concerts and thought to myself “I could have just stayed home and listened to the record.” Technically impressive sure, but where’s the fun? The energy? The WOW?
Most of my favourite albums are live, and it’s specifically because you can feel the fun that the performers are having. The Last Waltz and Mad Dogs & Englishmen show what you can do when you take familiar tracks into outer space. Waiting for Columbus is probably the best example of this. I don’t really like any of Little Feat’s studio material, but this record is out of control. Not surprisingly, they were also one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live.
Live performance needs to invigorate, surprise, and leave an impression on the audience. It needs to leave them wanting more. That’s what I aim for.
It’s not just about the music for you though, is it? Looks like you want to add heaps of fun to your show….maybe a few laughs? Why was it important to you to add these comic interludes between the tunes?
Whether it’s a comedy show, concert, webinar, speech, whatever… dead air is dreadful. Dead air is boring. And if it’s boring to me as a performer, than I can only imagine what the crowd is going through. It all comes down to respecting our audience. They’ve taken the time to come and see us, so we should be offering as tight a performance as we can. It’s important to me to have a plan for every single second that we aren’t actively playing a song. And since our band has such a theatre influence, coming up with ways to fill that time is almost as fun as the actual show! There are scripted moments, wacky speeches, odd impressions, stupid dance moves, and a whole lot of pumping up the local music community. It also helps define us for what we are: Fun loving weirdos that will make you smile.
Tell me about the new single "The Rain"! What inspired the tune?
Hanging out in my basement one day, my wife started playing a uke line, and the chorus just popped into my head. The overall theme of the song likely came from the beat the rain was making that day. I don’t know who ‘Wendy’ is… all I know is that she broke my heart in a big, big way. Why Wendy? WHY? Currently, we have about two albums of original material that could be laid down. We recorded this track as our premiere single for pure practicality: It involved the least amount of Magic Machine members and thus was the closest to being finished! "The Rain" is our gift to the people of Ottawa and beyond. I’ve made it free for everyone to download and love. It’s our way of saying “hey, we’re here and we’re like, not going anywhere so you know” but more definitive and professional.
Just how did you get the timing down for the awesome, umbrella filled video?
I’ve acted in a few films by local directors, and thus got to know some awesome filmographers. Having a solid video budget of zero dollars, and knowing what the time of professionals is worth, I knew I had to come up with a concept that would be easy to film while also being visually awesome. When I told the very talented Jeff Campbell that this would be one shot with no audio capture, it became a lot more do-able.
OKGO was my influence for the video concept. They’ve taken music videos to another level. Their first big hit was that vid for ‘Here it goes again’, which was all one-shot choreography on treadmills. I figured we could pull the same thing off with umbrellas, so I brought Zoe and Robin over to my pad and demanded choreography to make it look like we were professional dancers.
It uh… didn’t work out that way. Our alternate titles for the vid are “Four Bars of Perfection” and “OKNO”.
What most do you want an audience to take away from a Jumpin' Joel Flash & The Magic Machine show?
After one performance, I heard an audience member say “As if that happened in Ottawa!” That about sums it up right there. I want people to be completely energized. I want them bouncing with excitement. I want their heads filled to the brim with ear worms. I want them wondering where the hell we came from and where they can find us again. I want them to go onto the facebook and post “OMGGGGGGGGG”* The show is an all-original audio-visual spectacular. It’s sequined joy with a sprinkle of twang. It’s harmonized rainbows. It’s everything you never knew you wanted, plus like, some more on top of that. It’s wow in a bottle. It’s a Magic Machine.