The back of 11th Street Records is filled to the brim with shuffling bodies, and the atmosphere is sticky with sweat from the exhaustion of three sets already being played. The air had become too heavy to breathe in comfortably, and my friends, just as drained as I was, were sitting in the corner contemplating if we should all leave.
A duo sets up for their set, relatively unnoticed until their introduction turns everyone’s heads: “Hi. We are Elephante King with an ‘E.’ Not Elephant-ay. It’s ‘Elephant’ with an ‘E’ at the end. The ‘E’ is silent.” A moment of uncomfortable silence. A tap of drumsticks. Then a riveting riff engulfs the backroom. A crowd of punk adolescents are captivated by the nostalgia of 70s rock. My friends and I found ourselves at the front of the crowd again, reinvigorated from the shake-up of the mood. Elephante King, a band I naively overlooked on the event set-list, had become my favorite act out of the eight that played that night.
Debuted in October 2021, Elephante King is a relatively new band in the booming Vegas music scene. The band consists of Fez Reyes (guitar/vox), Knicc Limbs (drums), and their new addition, Michael Westlake (bass). Although in their infancy, Elephante King remains to be one of the most memorable acts I’ve witnessed. With their enigmatic stage presence and characteristic swirl of classic-rock, prog-rock, and even notes of thrash metal, the flavor of their performances is never dull or amiss.
In a punk-driven scene, I was curious about the inspiration behind their 70’s classic flair, especially since their individual side projects are considerably different in tone than Elephante King. Fez’s stringing in Elevated Undergrounds is more reminiscent of 90’s soft rock and Knicc’s solo project is personally described as “multifaceted eclectic nonsense.” “So, my theory is that my dad always had me in the radio station with him. I was always singing in the car when I was young. When I moved here to the States, that’s when I picked up guitar and everything. And it was, you know, it was then when I was really listening to classic rock and stuff like ACDC, Guns n’ Roses and stuff like that,” Fez said.
With the addition of Michael on bass, the band plans for their sound to evolve as more genres are patchworked into their distinct style. “If you’re writing, say like rock music, you’re pulling from anywhere from jazz to classical, kind of pulling different elements to integrate into the genre that you’re focusing on…you can easily pull from different genres and make it into a rock song,” Michael said.
A notable element of Elephante King’s sound is Knicc’s in-house audio engineering, which fine-tunes their sonic landscape. With his passion for the production side of music beginning only at 14 years old, Knicc masters and mixes all of Elephante King’s tracks, “I’m very passionate about the creative side of mixing, not just making it objectively sound good, but making it sound good as an artist.” Fez elaborates on Knicc’s extensive influence, “A big part about our sound, I think is that Knicc, we do everything in house. You know, like our demos. Our most recent single was recorded and mixed and mastered by Knicc and having that amount of control. And having his influence, not just artistically with playing the drums, but you know, his influence in recording stuff and how things should sound sonically? That is a big part of our sound, too.”
Not only does Elephante King stun their audiences musically, but their eccentric stage presence eliminates any tension that comes with a set change-up. Fez’s lively shuffling is reminiscent of classic rock icons and his vigor extends past the stage and reaches into the audience. The Vegas scene is dominated by young adults who are often stiff for their first few tracks into a set, as they judge the energy of the crowd. It is refreshing to see a group with the confidence to command the energy of the audience from the second they begin playing. When I asked Fez what specifically inspires his presence during their shows, his answer was simple, “I guess when you’re going to see somebody perform, you want to see them perform, you know, I mean, at least that’s me, you know what I mean? I don’t want to go see a rock band just stand there and play, you know what I mean? Like, and oftentimes, when I walk on stage, that’s me getting into the mindset of whether you play the right notes or not, if you sell it, they’re gonna have fun watching you, at the very least you know what I mean? And you know, any mistakes that you do, which inevitably they’re gonna happen. That as long as you put on a good show, a good performance, then people like it, that’s kind of how I see it.”
While Knicc expresses each performance as a potential manifestation of their dream to play sold-out venues, “I’ve always been told by my mom, since I was very young, that in order to be good at anything, you just got to fake it till you make it. And so I go into every show, pretending I’m playing the biggest venue I could dream of. Yeah. And play like the ticket costs $80. Yeah. That’s super important to me. Because how are you going to play those venues? If you don’t play like that already?”
Speaking of shows, Elephante King finished their 2-week West Coast tour in August. However, in July when this interview was recorded, Elephante King were only planning their stops. When I asked about any initial excitement about their collective first tour, they were particularly enthusiastic about reaching new markets and experiencing the different local music scenes scattered around the West Coast. Especially since all 3 members are involved with Feature 52, a project that intends to highlight the rising acts of the Las Vegas scene. Recited from memory, Knicc describes Feature 52 as a “weekly multimedia showcase of underground talent.” With a new act spotlighted each week through interviews, recorded showcases, and photographs, Fez, Knicc, and Michael not only contribute to the Vegas scene through their own creative musical projects but also wish to expand Vegas’ influence as an underground culture.
As the interview came to an end, I asked the band my most burning question. Why ‘Elephante King’ and why the aforementioned signature speech at the start of each show? Knicc told me the ironic, almost understandable but not quite backstory, “Fez sent me a list of band names and Elephante King was on there. And I said, ‘Why is there an extra E?’ He’s like, ‘It just looks better. I think that’s how elephant should be spelt.’ I wrote out ‘elephant’ without the E and then ‘elephante’ with the E and I was like, you know what? He’s right. I can’t disagree.”