Shira Elias Talks Turkuaz’s Evolution, Their Unreal Bonnaroo Set, Funk Of Ages, And More (B.Getz on L4LM)
If you’ve ever had the pleasure to experience the exhilarating thrill of a Turkuaz live show, no doubt you have noticed a brunette vocalist radiating in her canary couture. That boisterous voice and captivating stage presence belong to one Shira Elias, who along with co-conspirator Sammi Garett, make up Turkuaz’s dynamic, dazzling vocal duo. In wild anticipation of this weekend’s massive Funk of Ages in Philadelphia, Shira chats with Live For Live Music’s very own B.Getz, and the two cover a lot of bases, including her band’s already-legendary virgin performance at Bonnaroo, how crucial it was to get back to Disc Jam, and why Michelangelo Carubba’s birthday is such a special night of community collaboration. And, of course, lots of juicy Funk is Ages chat too.
BG: Shira! Thanks for making the time. I want to start with a little look back at the past few weeks. Turkuaz basically broke the internet with your Thursday performance at ‘Roo. Tell us, had you been to Bonnaroo before, either as a fan or as a performer?
Shira: No, I had never ever been to Bonnaroo. We rolled up early in the day, and it’s a huge festival — I didn’t realize how sprawling it would be. It was kind of like a whirlwind of interviews and photo shoots. We got to do this dope photo shoot with Danny Clinch — I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he’s an amazing photographer. It was kind of like the first time there were more people working on our shoot than there were in our band! You know it’s a legit photographer situation when there are tons of people working on it, so that’s always cool — got the whole ‘rock star’ vibe. We did the show, and it was a huge festival. It’s one of those super high-stakes shows, where you get the least time for sound check, stage, load in, everything, but the energy is just so high and crazy. It was a really amazing experience. It was kind of like Red Rocks, where it’s surreal. You finish it and you look out and are like, “This is really happening,” you know? Also, I gotta say, seeing the Entertainment Weekly article putting us as a highlight up there with U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers!? All pretty fucking surreal.
BG: Can we pivot to talking about the evolution of the band? Please fill us in, how did you come to get down with Turkuaz? How did you and Sammi and the whole thing develop with the band — a band that was already happening, already touring, already alive?
Shira: I’ve been in New York for about eight years now, and I was kind of doing the singer-hustle thing — taking whatever gigs I could get and trying to make it happen. A friend of a friend in the singer community told me about this band that needed a new singer. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know of Turkuaz or the scene. I was kind of a newbie, but I went to do the audition and I didn’t know what I was getting into at all. That’s kind of how it all happened. I went to do a few weekends, see how it was all going to work out, and I don’t know, it seemed pretty abstract. There was something inside me that said, “You got to do this. You got to see what this is all about.” There was something really compelling about the family vibe of it all — the size of the band, making it all work in that way — not to mention the music! I got really, really lucky. I just got to plop into a situation that was already so established. I think my attitude was to add to what already existed and bring however much of “Shira” that I could. I like to think that in the last almost-three years, I’ve had my own little stamp on the band. It’s all just been a huge whirlwind. I had never even toured heavily before Turkuaz.
BG: You guys are like a well-oiled machine. I talk to a lot of fans, and they crave the jam-band aesthetic of “every night is different,” but they still want the best of everything all the time. It’s a tough line to toe — for a band to bring the show every night and still make it different in some way. You guys nail that. You guys bring the show every night and it’s never the same twice. For an ensemble like you guys, that’s quite a feat.
Shira: Thanks. I mean, with so many people too, it’s hard to make each show exactly the same twice. There are just so many parts to it. With our crazy schedules, we are just going, going, going, and just working really hard. Like even this last weekend, we drove to Bonnaroo, did the thing, drove who-knows-however many hours back from Tennessee to do a two-hour set in New York at Disc Jam. You’re like, “I’m really fucking tired right now, but it doesn’t matter cause I am just putting it all out there.” I think that’s the whole thing. Why else would we do it?
BG: You said it right there, why else do you do it? Playing at Bonnaroo with all the bells and whistles and then driving through the night — a dozen-plus deep no less — to go play such a core community event like Disc Jam, which is such a solid top-to-bottom festival. Disc Jam is held in a niche area — a region where you guys came of age — so for you guys to hit those two fests in merely a weekend is just a testament to the mission.
Shira: Wow. You just gave me chills. You are right. It was really special. To do Bonnaroo on that level and everything that means, and then to do Disc Jam, which is like New England hardcore, O.G. Turkuaz. Exactly. I should add that we haven’t really done a lot of festivals in the NE lately. We’ve been missing our family, you know what I mean? Going off this super big high from Bonnaroo and then to coming home to the family in the NE was really, really special.
BG: Let’s talk Philly and Funk of Ages with Lettuce and Snarky Puppy on June 24, which also looks to be really, really special.
Shira: Back when I joined Turkuaz and came into this whole world, Lettuce and Snarky Puppy were just like, it. That’s who everyone talked about — it was like, they were the guys! Since then, they’ve become really good friends and mentors. This will be our second show this summer with Lettuce. I mean, Rage Rocks, that was amazing, so just to be on another show with Lettuce . . . they’re the homies. To be on the lineup with both of them, I couldn’t be more excited. I’m really looking forward to this show — maybe the most of any of the shows we’re playing this summer. I mean, if you’re looking for a party to go to, this is the one, right?!
B: Just observing the Lett machine from afar, they don’t take that kind of shit lightly. The artists they put on, the names with them up on the marquee, whether it’s Rage Rocks or Funk of Ages or even direct support on tour, they believe wholly in the artists. So that means those cats feel that way about Turkuaz — high praise!
Shira: That means the world. I’ve seen it from the beginning of my journey with Turkuaz, like especially with those dudes, you’ve got to earn it with them. You know, they want to mentor, but you got to prove it, you know?
BG: Yeah exactly, you get it. You’re doing it right.
Shira: I totally get it. They just need to have a few more chicks on their stage every once and awhile.
BG: I love when Alecia comes out and sings. Hey maybe, just maybe, that will manifest itself at the Funk of Ages. Maybe this will be us being like dudes, let these ladies sing!
Shira: Hey, maybe we will just put it out in the air. And it will happen.
BG: Are you playing Michelangelo Carubba’s birthday party too? What are those gigs — the Mikey curated all-star throwdowns —usually like?
Shira: To be honest, I look forward to his birthday every year. We play with Turkuaz together all year long, and we hustle, hustle, hustle. That’s awesome but the second we get to play with someone else and play something else, we get to spread our wings in that way. Those gigs are, to me, some of the most fulfilling shows. It’s totally different. And, the best part is I get to play with Jen Hartswick on that gig! She’s totally my lady crush, I want to be Jen when I grow up.
BG: Who doesn’t? I am right there with you.
Shira: Right? So just playing with her and all the dope people that are going to be on that bill. I mean, you don’t get to see lineups like that all the time. I know, the super jam thing can be a little played out in the scene, but I think this one is going to be a little bit different, a little special. Mikey’s been talking about stripping down some of the groups. Instead, we pair up into little special moments and not just have the whole band. I think it will be really meaningful, and, you know, he always puts together a raging show. I mean, Louis Cato is on it! Just all these different people sharing a stage for the show.
BG: Louis Cato might be the best musician on planet earth.
Shira: Yeah. That night we have so many different genres — you got Louis, and then Ryan Montbleau, too. Genre-wise, you have something you don’t get to see often, and it’s really exciting.
BG: I think it’s a testament to Mikey as a guy, musician, facilitator, and the force of his whole vibe. Good to have those type of hits, so you can slow down the Turkuaz freight train and have a night of music for yourselves, and we all get that too. It’s a pretty beautiful thing. I ran into you a lot at Jazz Fest. Now that I know that you don’t really come from the scene, from the culture, as much as some of the other cats in the band, for you to just dive into the Jazz Fest and the sort of community vibe.
Shira: Yeah, don’t tell anybody, but I come from a theater background back in the day. (laughs) But the community element of this scene is a similar thing. It takes everybody to make it happen. Every single person involved is a key element, everybody on the tour, working the venue — each person’s role is essential. I feel so lucky to be in the scene like I have. At Jazz Fest, I just want to play with everybody and soak it all in, too. That’s the thing. The shows Mikey puts on, people get to see another side of me and what I can do —things or styles that I don’t always necessarily get to do in Turkuaz. I think that’s cool with those shows you get to see other colors of artists, you know? [laughs] No pun intended with the color thing.
BG: No, it works! There’s only one Turkuaz, and you can see the theater background. I think that the theatrical nature of the production and the pizzazz you and Sammi bring make you guys unique and special. You’ve cultivated that, made your thing a thing, and it’s fucking working.
Shira: Well, thanks man! It’s a good fucking time!
[Photo: Ellison White]