"I guess that I should throw out that I'm extremely scared of phone calls," LA's Eli Raybon says by way of kicking off our interview in his gentle southern drawl. The 19-year-old is green to the city's hype machine, having road tripped over from Louisiana about nine months ago, alone in a hatchback full of music gear after ditching a computer science and mathematics double major at New York University.
Raybon has called several southern states home—he was born in Ohio, moved to Mississippi, then to Louisiana, then back to Mississippi, then to North Carolina, and then back to Louisiana—but doesn't easily fit the stereotype that his background, or relation to Marty Raybon of country act Shenandoah, might conjure.
"In LA, people hear my accent, and it's kind of like my secret weapon, because people can't help but have preconceptions when they hear me speak," he says with a laugh. "I have never in my life wanted to drive a big truck with the windows down on a dirt road. My family has always lived in the south, but we're not country."
Raybon instead grew up on rock and new wave acts supplied by his musician and oncologist father. Most recently, he finished devouring The Smiths's discography, which Raybon says has immeasurably influenced his songwriting. "I kind of realized they were the band that I had been looking for but hadn't quite found," he says, explaining how he traced his love for the Smiths back through acts like the Killers and Phoenix. "I've learned to pay attention when [my dad] tries to recommend something. He has good taste. I can take synthesizers a little more than him, though."
Raybon's love of synths is loud and clear on his latest single, "30 Cents," a track inspired by an early morning trip to his favorite pizza place, germophobia, and the search for a sense of belonging. "I was given 30 cents in change, and I'm really weird about germs, so I hate change…I was just very aware of the fact that I was holding 30 cents," he says, describing walking around Sherman Oaks after midnight, green duct tape on his clothes (more on that below), and scribbling down lyrics on a napkin while humming to himself. He started staring contests with whomever looked his way, and thought the whole thing was pretty ridiculous. "I didn't have a care in the world what anyone else was thinking, which I guess kind of sounds cheesy, but again, I'm coming from a small town in Louisiana [where] keeping up appearances is kind of the only thing that matters."
Imagined and directed by duo Samuel Markus and Jen Thorington (who release as Markus Thorington), the video captures that same late night surreality via a retro spy thriller unfolding in reverse, inspired by the "30 Cents" lyric, "I want to go back to where everything made sense." The short film was shot in the small Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild, opening with Raybon laying on the ground, a nickel and quarter rolling out of his hand, as a pink-lipped femme fatale flees the scene. We soon follow Raybon up a hill, through the windshield of a vintage sedan, and caught up in a robbery, all while trying to put together the mystery of why he's being followed by the secret service in the first place. Raybon's emerald green suit remains the visual thread throughout, a nod to his latest EP, Green, named for the hue he saw as he composed his tracks. "I'm not a clothes person or a shoes person, but for things like [a music video], you know, I try to throw something good on that's a little tacky, and a little goofy," he says. "If only to demonstrate how uncool I am."
Watch the premiere of Eli Raybon's "30 Cents" below.