Who the F*ck is Eli Santana is pretty close to what I was thinking on September 17th, 2021 when Ignite broke their silence about their choice to replace long-time frontman Zoli Teglas. Teglas left the Orange County icons in late 2019 leading punks around the world to shake their fists at the sky and wonder how Ignite could replace such a recognizable voice. "Anti-Complicity Anthem" was the track that was released along with the announcement of Mr. Santana's arrival and right from those early moments I knew Ignite made a great choice. On March 25th Ignite released their first new album in over 6 years containing 9 more new tracks featuring their new singer and it's been business as usual lately as Ignite is back into their heavy touring schedule. I was doing detective work almost immediately to find out more about Eli Santana and later would reach out to him on his social media to see if he would be willing to answer some of the questions I had bouncing around in my head. The whole experience was super easy and this is the end result... and as you will soon find out Eli is no stranger to the heavy music scene. Ignite 2022 is rounded out by: Nik Hill on guitar, Craig Anderson on drums, Brett Rasmussen on bass and Kevin Kilkenny on guitar. Graphic by: Paul Turano. All Tattered Press live shots were taken at the Punk In The Park Fest in Silverado, CA on November 7th, 2021.
IE: Hey Eli. Can you start us off with a little introduction about yourself and your musical path?
Eli: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. It’s an honor to be talking to you. So I’ve wanted to play music as far back as I can remember. In preschool, I got caught by my uncle performing a Bryan Adams song to my stuffed animals and while I was mortified, I stayed the course. Like every kid, I wanted to be a rock star, movie star, professional football/baseball player and astronaut. Most kids? Some kids? Guess I was always ambitious. But I picked up the guitar when I was 12, learned the blues from my dad’s friend and then decided I wanted to be Kirk Hammett, which was the gateway to death metal and hardcore. I started a band in high school (Vista High, Go Panthers) in San Diego that was kind of like a Biohazard/VOD/Life Of Agony meets Sepultura/Morbid Angel meets Yngwie abomination. Not saying we nailed any of those influences but we got close enough to be abrasive at pep rallies. I took some guitar lessons in junior high and high school but it wasn’t until I studied music and business at Cal State Northridge with a minor in classical guitar performance that I felt like a musician. I stayed in LA for about 15 years after college and after working at Capitol Records and Alfred Publishing. I had a band in college that played “Space-Core”, which was a genre we thought we invented. Giving yourself a genre name is like giving yourself a nickname, I suppose. I then started my own solo band, which would eventually become the band; Alien Satan that after all these years might have a release this year.
IE: Were you friends or acquaintances with any members of Ignite before this experience or were you just a fan of their music?
Eli: My first hardcore show was actually Ignite with Death By Stereo in Corona at the Showcase Theater (2001). It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. It seemed like kids were falling from the ceiling and everyone was singing along. I was hooked. About a decade later, Ignite’s drummer Craig would become a Holy Grail fan and we’d become friends. So it was super special to have the drummer of one of my favorite bands come see me play and have a beer with me. I might’ve drunkenly bragged to a friend via text that I got to hang out with him.
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IE: How did joining Ignite come about? Who contacted who, were there tryouts and if so what were they like?
Eli: So after some searching for a new singer, Brett asked Craig if he knew of any metal guys that could hit the notes and would be into trying out. Craig texted me one night asking if I knew of anyone… I happened to be well into my cups and had enough liquid courage to ask if I could try out. When I woke up, I had two instrumentals from “Our Darkest Days” in my inbox. It was real. It felt like a long shot but I didn’t care, I had so much fun hearing my voice on two of my favorite Ignite songs, “Poverty For All” and “Bleeding". The fellas liked what I was doing and sent me two new songs to sing on that Nik had demoed vocals on and I was blown away. They were darker and more complex than anything that I’d heard Ignite do before. Even without the singer change, I feel this album would’ve been a big change for Ignite. So after I sent them the audition vocals on the new songs we got in a room and played them live to make sure I wasn’t all Protools, smoke and mirrors. I think the final hurdle was seeing how I handled their longtime producer, Cameron Webb. He dug into me a bit but I was hungry to be the best that I could be so it was good for me. I was worried the whole recording process would be like that but Cameron created an amazing work environment where he pushed me to deliver not only the right notes but also the right emotion. So I realized after about a year of working on demos for the album, I more than likely had the job.
IE: Incite, Holy Grail, and Huntress are three metal bands you are also in where you play the guitar. What can you tell us about your time in each band?
Eli: So I joined Holy Grail in 2008 because I felt like the sound that would later be described as retro-metal, I think, would be fun to play and piss off scenesters in LA. We ended up signing with Prosthetic Records and touring for about a decade before things slowed down and our singer quit. My whole goal with that band was to really embrace the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden/ Diamondhead/ Witchfinder General) sound but replace the riffs with more of an early 90’s death metal sound like Death, Cannibal Corpse and Carcass with dual leads like Cacophony. It’s funny that on our second album “Ride The Void,” I wanted the lyrics to read like a hardcore record, specifically Ignite and Hatebreed. I felt like I kept getting thrown into the shredder category, which I never felt comfortable with. I always just wanted to be a songwriter and performer not a YouTube guitar teacher personality.
So Holy Grail had an accidental year hiatus after our second album and Tyler (Holy Grail drummer) and I got asked to go do a tour in Europe with Huntress (think Mercyful Fate with a badass female vocalist) while vocals got worked on for the next Holy Grail album. It ended up being an amazing fit so we joined and wrote and recorded the album “Static.” Some of my favorite memories were with Huntress. Unfortunately, we lost Jill in 2018.
Holy Grail had toured with Incite (a ballpark comparison would be Lamb Of God/ Pantera/ Sepultura/ Obituary) before and I made friends with them immediately. When they had a spot open for a guitar player, I was excited to play some extreme riffs and hang with my buddies. We played a European tour and then the pandemic hit so I felt like the lady in “Interview With A Vampire” that turns into a vampire and gets immediately burned alive. I got to work on their most recent album “Wake Up Dead” with Steve Evetts who I’ve been trying to work with since the first Holy Grail album. So the way that the pandemic worked and Incite changing labels, Incite and Ignite had their albums come out at the same time which means lots of touring conflicts. It was in their best interest to replace me on guitar. I’m excited for them… they’re truly one of the hardest working bands in metal. I’ll always be down to pinch hit for Mike, their new guitarist, if he has scheduling conflicts.
IGNITE FROM LEFT: BRETT RASMUSSEN, KEVIN KILKENNY, ELI SANTANA, NIK HILL, CRAIG ANDERSON
IE: Is singing in Ignite your first ever frontman gig and what about possible scheduling conflicts with any of the other bands you have mentioned?
Eli: This is not the first frontman gig I’ve had but it’s the first gig I’ve had not playing guitar in addition to being the lead vocalist. I was always the lead vocalist in my bands up until Holy Grail… there just isn’t any searchable evidence of it. Please don’t search it out, haha. I wanted to join Ignite because I love the band and it makes me overjoyed just talking about singing their songs live. Also, as a fan of the band I would hate for them to stop making music and touring so I’m honored to be able to do my part to keep the band out there spreading their message. So with so much touring with Ignite coming up, the only conflicts have been with Incite since Huntress is done and Holy Grail is kind of done for the time being.
IE: From the accounts I have read the songs on the new Ignite album were pretty much done and written when you hopped on board. I don't know if that included the lyrics being done as well when you joined. Outside of laying down some excellent vocals on the album can you give us some insight as to what other stamps you left on this new release?
Eli: They definitely had enough for an album or two when I came on board and that includes lyrics and melodies. It made me realize how collaborative Ignite’s creative process is and how the source of a lot of my favorite Ignite melodies and lyrics were still in Ignite when I showed up. Luckily, I was able to contribute in that writing period. I actually brought in a couple of songs and one of them ended up on the record (“This Day”). It was fun to write not only the vocals but also the music for Ignite and have them be receptive. I finally got to write the old school hardcore song I’ve been trying to write for decades. I think my nature is to Mike Patton everything vocally, meaning I’ll try to showcase everything my voice is capable of on every track. What was amazing about the process of working on this record was that I ended up focusing on getting out of the way of what my voice does naturally. I just wanted to deliver the message. And sometimes that message meant screaming my ass off which is a new element on an Ignite record.
IGNITE @ PUNK IN THE PARK SILVERADO, CA NOVEMBER 7, 2021. PHOTO BY: TATTERED PRESS
IE: I think your vocals on the new album are amazing. What kind of feedback have you been getting on it?
Eli: Wow, thank you so much, that means the world to me. And while it’s my voice, I feel like the finished product of the vocals was a team effort. There’s no way I would’ve been able to lay that performance down without Brett, Nik, Kevin, Craig and Cameron. I’m just the avatar. So as far as the response goes, even the handful of bad comments online have been respectful, sans the one lady that called me ugly, haha. But it’s been overwhelmingly positive online and in person, I am absolutely humbled and grateful. It makes me excited to work hard to give the best performance live that I can and give people their money’s worth.
IE: Can you give us your three favorite songs off of the new album?
Eli: So the 10 that are there came from a pile of like 60. So narrowing that down to 10 was like saying which organ can you do without? So this question is gnarly because it changes every day. But right now it would be the darker ones because that’s my current mood, so “Let The Begger’s Beg” because it’s really special and was on the chopping block every minute because it felt like a vulnerable leap and a gamble but it’s a glimpse into the future and a statement that we’re not afraid to take chances. “The River” is one of my favorites because Kevin created this musical landscape that cuts right through me every time I hear it and Nik wrote these lyrics that are what I’ve always wanted to say but didn’t know how to or maybe was afraid to. Also, Rob Wallace added to the depth to this song with his amazing video. And currently, “Butcher In Me” is a favorite because it really signifies closing chapters and opening new ones which is kind of where I’m at right now. But if I’m in a party mood, it’s “Call Off the Dogs,” “The House is Burning” and “Anti-Complicity Anthem.”
IE: What is your favorite Ignite album prior to you joining the band?
Eli: “A Place Called Home” is always so meaningful to me because that’s what introduced me to Ignite but there’s no denying “Our Darkest Days". Lately I’ve been all about “Call On My Brothers"...such a unique contribution to hardcore.
IGNITE @ PUNK IN THE PARK SILVERADO, CA NOVEMBER 7, 2021. PHOTO BY: TATTERED PRESS
IE: Where and when was your first show with Ignite? Who else played and were there any jitters?
Eli: So my first show with Ignite was at the Punk In The Park Festival (November 2021, Silverado, CA) for thousands of people with Strung Out and NOFX. I got chucked into the deep end so to speak. I didn’t really sleep the night before but I’m also inherently an insomniac so it gave me time to run the set a million times in my head. I definitely had jitters in the fact of not wanting to let my dudes down but once we got on the stage, the only thing I could think was “Oh hell yeah, I love this shit!” It went really well but it armed me with a bunch of things I wanted to improve upon, I’ll probably walk away from every performance with some degree of that.
IE: What types of things are different for you in regards to preparing for a show from a guitarists and a lead singers standpoint? I have seen many memes and jokes about the singer of any band just showing up and grabs the mic while everyone with an instrument usually has a lot of setting up to do.
Eli: Ok, so it’s funny you ask this because on the first show I truly didn’t know what to do with myself. Because vocal warmups and stretching were always just part of my preshow routine but to not warm up on guitar or setup equipment made me think I was forgetting something crucial. I kept asking the dudes if they needing any help or water while wandering the stage.
IE: Outside of heavy music you seem to have a lot of other activities going on as well. Tell us about Ramona, its scope and what you do in it please.
Eli: So the Ramona Pageant is the longest running outdoor play in America and California’s official outdoor play. The play is based on the novel, “Ramona” by Helen Hunt Jackson from the 1800’s. And while it is a love story, it was designed to show that the Native Americans were not just savages but actually being mistreated. The play takes place in a very interesting time when California was handed over to the Americans from Mexico and many Spanish landowners; missions and Native American tribes were driven from their land. It also brings to light a lot of racism that’s actually reminiscent to issues prevalent today. The play is in an amphitheater on the side of a mountain that’s been in the same place it was in since the first performance in 1923. The play shut down for the past two years because of Covid and the only other time it shutdown was for World War II. There’s a cast of hundreds ranging from 5 years old to 93. There are cowboys, horses, Spanish dancers, and native singers. There are live musicians whose family/group have been a part of the play since the 40’s. I also have to ride a horse, play a flute, fire a rifle and kiss a pretty lady. Oh and I have to sprint up that big ass mountain multiple times. I’m hoping to come back for the 100th year. It’s been a life changing experience.
IE: I saw one of your social media posts where you were in an Amazon commercial as well. Can you tell us about that and any other acting gigs you may have had?
Eli: The Amazon commercial was a lot of fun and I’m still not used to seeing myself while being immersed in “Better Call Saul” in the commercial breaks. I also did a vaccine commercial for the CDC in California so I accidently yelled “I know that guy” during the Padre game before realizing that it was me. I got my start as a recurring Ghost Nation Warrior in the HBO show ‘Westworld’ and hung out with Anthony Hopkins and got to watch him work up close. I wanted to learn the craft of acting after that, I mean who wouldn’t, after seeing Zorro and Hannibal Lecter throw down. I was in a virtual reality movie based on the graphic novel “Here” where I played 5 different characters. I played an Apache warrior in the show “Lost Gold”. Most notably was being part of the band, Dream Widow as a demon in the Foo Fighters movie “Studio 666.” I also played the bassist for Third Eye Blind in the Hulu show. “Pam And Tommy.” I’ve been fortunate to have worked consistently when I’m not on the road. There’s worse ways to make a buck. (Click HERE to see the Amazon commercial).
IE: You seem to have a really busy schedule from the music and acting standpoints. Are there any other hobbies or activities that you get into in your free time?
Eli: I’m lucky that music and acting bring so me so much joy but being raised an athlete, I have to do something physical everyday whether it’s weight lifting or running. I try and get into the outdoors as much as possible, I’m always looking for hikes that aren’t too challenging but have a scenic payoff. I’ve really enjoyed horseback riding since having to learn for the Ramona play. It’s a great way to force yourself to be present. But when I’m home I really try and spend as much quality time with my friends and family, so drinking.
IE: Thanks for your time. Any last words or anything we may have missed? Favorite ice-cream perhaps?
Eli: Chris, I don’t think I missed anything because these questions are awesome. I had a lot of fun thinking about these answers. I think my favorite ice cream currently is Phish-Food from Ben & Jerry’s, I’ll crush a pint in one sitting. I am addicted to coffee so a big part of touring is finding where I can get well before starting the day. So feel free to bring me a good cup of black when you see us on tour. While, I’m a slow reader and am not sure if I mouth the words when reading I love reading. My ADD usually has me reading 4 or 5 books at the same time. Makes misquoting things fun though. I also realized I haven’t said anything controversial so um…. people who like pineapple on pizza should just eat food out of a trough! Luv yooooo! FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ELI SANTANA BY FOLLOWING HIS INSTAGRAM.