The story so far…
“My songs are vehicles for storytelling, but they’re also my way of taking something that is subjective and making it objective; allowing me to move beyond whatever hardship or pain might have been the reason for the song in the first place,” says Oszajca (pronounced OH-ZSA-KUH, as in the French children’s song “Frere Jacques”). “In contrast to my last two records (From There To Here – Interscope and First Sign Of Anything – Warner Bros.) which were both very tailored records, meaning they were very consciously crafted to project a very specific sound, my new record, ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD, is a return to what I have always done most naturally.” When asked what that is; “specifically”, a smiling Oszajca replied, “Listen to the record.”
Indeed, ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD immediately strikes the listener as an emotionally honest and purging album, and as a celebration of John’s life long country/folk influences such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Hank Williams, just to name a few. The albums first track, “The Day I Died”, showcases John’s original blend of those classic American influences with that of Oszajca’s own modern message and sound, while “Baby Bye Bye”, “Damn That Woman”, and “Angalyne” vaunt a more Alt/Country sound that is both classic and refreshing with the first listen. Songs like “Sinkin’ In” boast a healthy dose of acoustic verve, while “No Turning Back” is hauntingly stripped bare. The album even contains a reprise of the much loved “Where’s Bob Dylan When You Need Him”, A song that John says he has “recorded so many times he could release it as a double album” but that it is on ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD that he “finally got it right”.
Oszajca recalls the life changes he’s weathered, particularly the culture shock of moving from the small Hawaiian town of Waimanalo where he was raised to the major cities of Seattle and later, Los Angeles. “I was this dumb kid from an island confronted by this fast-paced, ultra-hip scene,” he recalls. “There was a lot of confusion and angst and just figuring myself out. It was a struggle. I’d gone to Seattle to “make it” and had no idea what I was doing.”
Not that this fish-out-of-water experience was completely new to Oszajca. For the first 18 years of his life, he was a “Haole” (a derogatory Hawaiian slang for Caucasian) in the tiny Oahu town of Waimanalo. “I wasn’t the only white guy in town,” he concedes, “but we were definitely the minority, and that was no fun at all, I know what it feels like to be picked out of a crowd.”
At the age of fifteen, Oszajca began taking guitar lessons on the instrument his folks had purchased for his birthday. He recalls, “During my first lesson I met a guy who also played guitar and I asked him if he wanted to start a band. We didn’t really do anything with it but after that it was band after band. I probably played in at least seven bands before I left Hawaii. Many more since.”
A few weeks after his high school graduation, John relocated to Seattle where he quickly joined a band in his new hometown. Before long a friend asked him to play a solo show, without the band, for a local benefit. “The club I played just kept asking me back,” he says. “So I made this tape, playing all the instruments myself, just for fun, and eventually quit my band,” thus a solo career was born. “After a while, I went from small gigs, where you got paid in sandwiches, to opening for national acts (Eve 6, Jewel, Brian Setzer, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Moe Tucker, etc.).”
However, during his rise as a solo performer in Seattle, Oszajca decided to make a move. “I knew I was at that make-or-break point,” he states, “and I knew it wasn’t going to happen unless I made it happen”. So he packed up his belongings and headed south to Hollywood, where it quickly became apparent he’d found his niche at last. “Rather than being a solo act playing at eight o’clock for 12 people in a town where impressions are everything, I figured I had to kind of create my own scene first, and then put myself right in the middle of it. So in addition to being the artist, I also became a club promoter.”
“I started redeveloping the concept of what I was doing,” Oszajca says, then presiding over a few hole-in-the-wall nightclubs, Goldfinger’s and the Dragonfly to name a few. Within six months he had begun packing the clubs, drawing several hundred people a show. “In retrospect, I was leaving the Seattle guy behind and embracing the more edgy sound and personality of this new album”.
John began the road to making ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD in the fall of 2005 with a phone call to producer Dave Darling, founding member of the critically acclaimed group Boxing Ghandi’s and producer of such artists as Brian Setzer, Meredith Brooks, Sprung Monkey, and Echo Brain. Frustrated with his major label experiences John wanted to return to what he felt he had always done best. “I began making music as a teenager, just making the kind of music that I love. That sort of roots/country/folk thing, but with contemporary lyrics and a more experimental sound…”Oh Brother Where Art Thou” on acid. At the time I didn’t even know who, if anyone, was gonna put the record out. But I knew I needed to record it. I felt like it was the record I should have always made. I scraped together my own money, called my producer Dave and asked him if he wanted to make a record. Three Weeks later Elephant Graveyard was born”. It must have been fate because when a major-label-weary Oszajca called a meeting with movie producer Ryan Page (Moog, Lords Of Chaos, What is it, and now founder of Dreamy Draw Music) with the secret plan of convincing Ryan to start a record label with him on which to release John’s passion project ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD, the first words out of Ryan’s mouth upon entering the meeting were, “say, did I tell you I started a record label?”
In the past Oszajca has been known for his wild stage antics, confetti guns, Mariachi bands, scantily dressed back-up singers. John even once had an impersonator perform on his behalf. But much in the way that ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD is a return to John’s roots so too is his live performance in support of this new album. “The show will be much more intimate than some of the ones in the past. For the most part it will just be me and a drummer with the occasional accompaniment of perhaps an accordion or even a fiddle player. But one of my favorite things is to just be up on stage alone, just me and my guitar.”
He also cites one of his earlier band mates for helping him see the big picture. “He taught me a lot about manipulation, not manipulating people, but manipulating the presentation. I learned how to conceptualize what I was doing, how to push buttons to provoke a reaction. It was a way of getting people to care about these songs and the sentiment behind them, which is very real and very personal.”
When asked the meaning behind the album’s title ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD, Oszajca explained, “According to popular myth, older elephants instinctively leave their group when they reach a certain age, and direct themselves toward a special area known as the Elephant Graveyard.” John laughs, “Then they die there alone, away from the group. In the case of my record, the title is certainly not intended to be a foreboding of any end but rather a personal acknowledgement, however cynical, that this record really represents who and what I am as a songwriter, as an artist. It suggests that if I only got to make one more album, ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD would be it.”