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This Is Northern New South Wales

El Vez

El Vez Gold suit in throneIntroduced as “El” our conversation starts off with comparing the weather, 30 degrees here and humid as hell, 4 degrees and clear in Seattle where El Vez now lives.

Born Robert Lopez on the border of Mexico and California, in Chula Vista, he spent most of his young life in San Diego and LA. He grew up loving Punk Rock, and in the late 70’s he became an art curator working in a number of galleries before in 1988 he became “living art”, his character “El Vez” – The Mexican Elvis was born.

Robert proudly tells me about how America knows him as “El Vez” and that he has been presented as “El Vez” in The Smithsonian Hall of Fame where one of his Gold Lamé outfits is on display.

Described as a modern multicultural hybrid of Americana and Mexicano, more than entertainment, a thinking person’s Elvis, a post-modern King with a Latin twist, the Chicano experience presented and told through the songs of Elvis.

Imagine Ceasar Chavez fronting a Punk Rock band, Liberace teaching Chicano Studies, Tom Jones singing about the Virgin de Guadalupe, throw in multiple costumes changes, dancing back up singers and a rocking band and you have imagined El Vez.

By now I was totally intrigued by this Mexican Elvis and asked him a few more questions during my allocated 15mins of phone time.

KP – Did you always know you wanted to be a performer?

El – Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm not really. Punk Rock gave me the balls for lack of a better term, to think “yeah I can do that” and it didn’t matter what happened. Punk gave me the opportunity to fail on numerous occasions and to learn to not be afraid to fail. I would think oh I can do this…even though I don’t look like Elvis, and I am not a white man, oh that is ok. Punk Rock gave me the way to do something that wouldn’t seem logical.

I enjoy performing, but I also enjoy writing, I work in theatre and write plays for other people. My love is music – I have worked in music my whole life in bands since I was 16 years old.

I am lucky that I love what I do and don’t always have to perform as I can also write and work in the studio with others. I shift gears.

KP – So when did your fascination with Elvis start? Was it always there?

El – It was always there, yeah, I know a load of Elvis impersonators say that there was a moment that they remember, but I grew up in such a musical household, Elvis was always there – but so were the Beatles, Vincente Fenandez’s Mexican music, Santana etc – so it wasn’t break through music. It was something that was always there.

KP – What keeps your passion alive?

I switch things up a bit. My next tour will be “El Vez for Prez” where El Vez will run for President of The United States, I have done Punk Rock versions of El Vez shows, I have done Gospel Shows, I will be doing some Christmas shows on the East Coast of the US. I have done shows working on border issues, rocking revolution and things like that. I am not your regular Elvis impersonator, so I mash up a lot of ideas Social, Political, Sexual and you know, it’s not just regular singing Elvis’s “Nothing but a hound dog” it might be an ode to Donald Trump and I might have a Piñata, a constant changing view of Elvis and what a Latino Elvis might use the platform as.

KP – You have opened for some huge names like David Bowie, Santana the B52’s, what was your most memorable show of those?

El – One of my favourite was opening for David Bowie – I didn’t learn until years later that he had thanked me from on stage, and you know, I wish I had heard that….he has always been, you know….Elvis and David Bowie have the same birthday, January 8th they are both Capricorns and those two performers have always been such huge influences on my performing career.

KP – So I watched your YouTube video, where you call yourself the lovechild of Elvis and Chara, how did you come to that conclusion?

El – When I first started out that seemed like the idea to me, now that I have become El Vez in my own light and my own recognition I don’t say that anymore…(laughs) the things I did in my early years!….but I am still proud of both of those people. El Vez is a character and he could be an orphan and that is a nice thing.

KP – Looking back, how well did you prepare for your own success?

El – I didn’t. That’s the nice thing. When I first started I had only planned to do it once. My very first show was in Memphis. Every year they have an international tribute on the death day of Elvis. I was running an art gallery at the time and though “oh I am going to do my tribute to Elvis” and I went off and did it, and when I got home there was a write up in the LA times! So it kind of just snowballed from there – something I had planned to do just once kept on coming! I never imagined to be doing it for 27 years! to tour the world, have albums all over and be in The Smithsonian Institute!

It is something I did not prepare for….but….I think my Punk Rock knowledge, my knowledge of art, and knowledge of Elvis and being a fan of Rock and Roll prepared me in something that I already had the tools for. Love of Rock and Roll, love of art and how to make social and political commentary.

KP – So I have to ask….do you practice in front of the mirror?

El – I DO NOT!…I am very lucky I get to practice in front of an audience! I learned very early you can’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself, so a lot of times if I am trying out new material I will do it knew songs and I will go ooops all in front of an audience. I am lucky I have great musicians, great costumes, great back up dancers and I would say great ideas….if I do say so myself!

I am brave enough that I will do my practicing on stage and still deliver something really good and if things go wrong, to me that is like my green light…like now I am free we can go in any direction we want to.

KP – As a woman who has incredibly curly hair – I have to ask, how do you keep your hair so perfect and looking so “Elvisy”?

El – My hair is not as good as it used to be! I am a 55year old man, and I am sure Elvis might have had this problem, but given he died at 42, no one has told Elvis impersonators what would have happened to Elvis’s hair later in life! So my hair is a little shorter now. Rather than where a wig like some impersonators do….I have taken Elvis into the future where men in their mid 50’s will have thinner hair. I am keeping it real even though I am an impersonator!

KP – What is your favourite Elvis song to perform?

El – It changes with every tour I do, my favourite Elvis song is “Treat me nice” because it has all these great polyrisms but I really like singing suspicious minds as it is my song, my ode to immigration issues – I have been singing it for this reason for 25 years and after all that time nothing much has changed in America it is still a huge issue here and the world!

KP – What is your most valued possession?

El – I have an exact replica of the throne that Elvis sits in in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven. It is an art piece and it was made for me, it is made out of bottle caps and tin cans and it says Elvis on it, it has a crown – it is a really beautiful piece.

KP – What is your greatest fear?

El – My greatest fearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr – I don’t think I have any fears, I mean if no one shows up I still have a good time, if a microphone goes wrong – I shout it, If my suit splits in the pants (it’s happened before – good thing I wear underwear). Life wise I don’t have a big fear….maybe losing my hair but that has already happened! I try to live fearless.

KP – What should the audience at the Falls Festival expect from El Vez?

El – I am doing a mixture of stuff, I am throwing in some of my “El Vez for Prez” even though Australian’s can’t vote for El Vez, I figure I could do an international debate on why El Vez would be a good President and toss some ideas out there to the people of Australia.

KP – Are you going to spend any extra time in Byron Bay

El – I hope so – I have been to Byron Bay before, it is very beautiful, the water is great – I think we have a day off and I am sure I will be at the beach.

KP – So surfing in your gold lamé outfit?

El – Yes gold lamé hot pants hahahaaa

EL VEZ in Blk