Eric Alán has two distinct personalities. To bring in the bread, he works three consecutive weeks as an oil rigger out in the Gulf Coast. Then he gets three weeks off to immerse himself in music, his lifelong passion.
Alán’s unusual story is painfully complicated because he grew up in a multiethnic family who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, a faith outside the Christian mainstream that requires LGBT members to remain abstinent or face shunning. And in his case, after coming out Alán was “exiled” by his immediate family and to this day he remains estranged from his parents.
Growing up in a largely Hispanic family in California, Alán is bilingual and sings in both Spanish and English. His early music is sung in Spanish, but lately most of his music has been performed in English. He explains why he has made the switch.
Eric Alán speaks to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about being shunned by his family, his first big hit “Pornstar,” how he balances his work as an oil rigger and a performer, how branching out to the gay audience is influencing his music, and what the future holds in store.
SDGLN: Please describe your musical style, and the entertainers who inspire you.
Eric Alán: I would say my musical style is simple and direct with respect to its production value. It’s infused with electronic dance vibes, offering driving and infectious rhythms with a Latin flare. It's very expressive, a bit haunting and definitely danceable, cocky and fun. Many artists have inspired me over the years but on the top of my list would be Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode (the haunting inspiration) and Madonna (the cocky, expressive and danceable inspiration).
SDGLN: You’ve recorded in Spanish and English. What is your ethnic background, where did you grow up and how does influence your music?
Eric Alán: I grew up in Southern California (Granada Hills to be exact) in a predominately Hispanic household. As a kid, music was always a large part of my immediate and extended family. In one way or another, everything I create is an extension of me and therefore influenced by something in my life. That's the cool thing about being an artist in any media; you get to take different parts of yourself and reinterpret them into whatever you want. Just like with anyone else, with me you’ll find that there are inherent influences such as heritage as well as struggles and triumphs. I can't write or sing about anything that I haven't felt or don't believe in so my music comes from a VERY personal place, along with all my experiences and emotions.
The first song I recorded was in Spanish and about a failed relationship with another Latin guy. It just seemed right to sing it in Spanish; it was no accident that I knew he would understand it FULLY when he heard it if it was sung in Spanish. The second song was offered to me by a Latino producer, which just happened to be in Spanish as well. Plus, I was really into Spanish rock and pop at the time. Since then, songs sometimes come to me in Spanish and sometimes in English. Considering that I speak Spanish fluently, I will probably record in Spanish again. For the moment, I seem to be in an English groove.
SDGLN: You grew up in a strong Jehovah’s Witness family. At what age did you come out, and how did your family react to the news?
Eric Alán: I don't think there was ever a specific date that I came out to EVERYONE, all at once. It was something that I knew about myself for as long as I can remember but it wasn’t until I was around 20 that I just started telling people, little by little, what they seemed to already know about me. I finally did tell members of my family, including my parents, who also still happen to be practicing Jehovah's Witnesses. They were the last ones I wanted to tell because, as I suspected, they reacted just as I thought they would. My parents basically exiled me from their lives and they wanted to have nothing to do with me. Once the initial impact wore off, they did back off just a bit, but it was never the same between us again. I would never be accepted as their son again and sadly, we haven't spoken in years. I wrote a song about the whole experience that will be on the album. It's called “Something I Cannot Erase.”
SDGLN: Did you face bullying or anti-gay harassment after you came out?
Eric Alán: Strangely, I faced more bullying and anti-gay harassment BEFORE coming clean about my sexuality than I did after I came out! The religion and the people I was surrounded by at the time had a lot to do with that. Junior high and high school were no picnic either, but things were much worse at home. For years, I felt like I had to pretend to be someone that I wasn't. I would be subjected to anti-gay sermons and conversations, jokes and ridicule on a daily basis. It made me feel afraid and unworthy. However, once I took the power away from those people, I was set free, I can honestly say, I've never looked back.
SDGLN: You currently work as an oil rig worker in the Gulf of Mexico when you are not making music. How did that come about, and what is the reaction of co-workers to your being gay and an entertainer?
Eric Alán: People always seem surprised when they find out what I do outside of the environment they know me in. Generally, I don't mix the two.
The job offer as an oil-rig worker came about while I was working on the payroll of an oil company. I take pride in everything I do. Because of my diligence and attention to detail, my bosses to notice of my work ethic and offered me an opportunity to work directly for the oil company and I jumped at the chance. It's worked out really well because, while I work for 21 consecutive days, I am also off for 21 days, giving me time to really focus and dedicate to my art and all that it involves.
The oil industry in this country is predominately run by mid-Southern males. That presents its challenges with being completely “out” at work. There are other gay oil-rig workers out there; I'm not the only one. Some are closeted, some are not. Truth be told, sexual encounters between men in such environments occur frequently; gay or not. I do admit that I can't say I'm not cautious of who I confide in, but those I work closest with do know about me and what I do outside of our work environment. The gay part never has been an issue at all once I tell them. What surprises my co-workers the most is actually the entertainment/singing aspect more than anything else. I don't run around with a pink T-shirt that says “I'M A HOMO” but I don't hide it either. At the end of the day, it is a work environment; a rough one at that, but still a professional work environment -- and I treat it with the same amount of respect as is given to me.
SDGLN: Why did you branch out to the gay market, and how has that impacted your career so far?
Eric Alán: The gay community has always been there for me, and it's where I got my start. It has always been VERY welcoming and accepting. I've met and had the privilege of working with some very talented and well-known people in our community and I'm very grateful for that. I hope to continue catering to those who have supported me from the start, not only in my art, but on a human level as well. I also intend to continue giving back to the community through volunteer and relief efforts.
SDGLN: What is the background on 2011’s “Pornstar” single? Did it change the direction of your music?
Eric Alán: Music is only part to a whole. To be quite honest, “Pornstar” kinda took on a life of its own after I recorded it and put out the video. Initially, it was meant to be a fun, dancey and intimate dance song playing with the general acceptance of porn as part of mainstream gay and straight culture. Once, I started working with a new producer and on new material, we were looking for a thread that could tie the old with the new. The song “Pornstar” by virtue of its name, coupled with sexual images and its beats was a no-brainer. The music went in the direction of a more naughty and sexy, yet playful nature. This is also true of the concept for the new music video. I set out to include actual porn stars and/or models in my next video. I am happy to say that Latin pin-up model Gio Dell and the late Arpad Miklos are both featured in the video for my new song “L. O. V. & E.” I don't know that “Pornstar” actually changed the direction of my music but maybe it helped package and focus a little more what direction I wanted to go in artistically, at this point.
SDGLN: Your next single ““L.O.V. & E.” is due March 26, 2013. What is that single about?
Eric Alán: Yes!!! “L. O. V. & E.” is cocky, sexy and fun with a Latin flare. If Madonna, Dave Gahan and Ricky Martin all had a baby, I think it would be "L. O. V. & E.” It's about unabashed freedom of sexual expression. No apologies, no strings, just fun! It's also a deliberate play on narcissism, as the “E” does represent the climax of “love,” while also representing the “E” for Eric.
SDGLN: What’s the future look like for you?
Eric Alán: Busy! My main focus is finishing the album, along with another video or two, as well as some live appearances, interviews and performances along the way.
SDGLN: Single or taken?
Eric Alán: Single. Given my regular work schedule and then on top of that, my artistic endeavors taking up the rest of my time, I can't honestly see how I could throw a relationship into the mix. I'm not sure that would be fair to the other person. But you never know.
SDGLN: What’s playing on your MP3 player?
Eric Alán: I have my list of favorites. Currently it includes “Boys Will Be Boys” (Cahill Club Remix) by Paulina Rubio, “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse, “Let There Be Love” by Christina Aguilera, “Into The Groove” by Madonna, “Mas y Mas” by Robi Draco Rosa, “Precious” by Depeche Mode and “Eso Que Paso” by Moenia, among others.
SDGLN: If you could have the ultimate dinner party and invite three people, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Eric Alán: Only three? There are so many and each for different reasons! Literary references, icons in music and entertainment, incredible minds of science, great humanitarians and people in my personal life would all make the list. My guest list could easily change depending on current events or where I find myself at the moment. But these are three that immediately came to mind ...
1) I’ve been reading a lot and right now I'm very intrigued and inspired by people who have started from very humble beginnings and built huge empires despite opposition, harsh criticism and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I just finished reading Steve Jobs' biography. While many said he was peculiar and often difficult to work with, Steve Jobs had a vision and realized it to perfection! He didn't waiver for anyone! It takes a true visionary to create products that people now find indispensible, when they didn't even know they needed it in the first place. He was an artist, a businessman and a great showman. His work ethic and relentless pursuit of perfection speaks for itself. I, like many, I'm sure, would like to have learned from him how he managed to not only stay ahead of the curve but set the bar at such heights that haven't been seen before.
2) My mother had a son prior to me. Unfortunately, he only lived for two days due to complications at birth. Growing up an only child, I never knew what it was like to have brothers or sisters. Sure, I had my cousins growing up and we were all close, but from what I’ve seen, it’s very evident that the bonds between siblings are different from that of cousins. Though I never knew him, I would like to have gotten to know my older brother.
3) Finally (this one would NEVER change) and most importantly, my aunt who is known within the family as “Tia Lilia.” She was always my biggest cheerleader. She had a true love of the arts in all forms especially music and dance. I attribute my love and appreciation for both to her. She was a special woman with such strength and a gentle heart. She saw and nurtured something in me when no else did. I will always cherish my memories of us staying up late listening and dancing to salsa music in her laundry room. I would like to have one more meal with her and share how invaluable her contributions to my life have been. I’d fill her in with what I've done since she left us and for her to know what a large role she played in who I am and what I do today. What I wouldn't give to hug her, tell her thank you, tell her that I love her and to hear her voice say that she is proud of me and loves me back too.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.