Friday, April 11, 2014
Interview with Ethan Luck + Hard Seas [EP]
After spending the largest chunk of his musical career behind a drum set and guitar for a variety of bands, Ethan Luck has stepped up to the microphone and has spent the last year working on his own material. He released his debut solo EP, Wounds & Fears, last November and has just recently released his equally gripping follow-up, Hard Seas. Mixing his punk rock roots with a West Coast country twang and a sprinkling of sparse folk simplicity, Luck's wide-ranging musical tastes produce a cohesively diverse outing that never loses its bearings. Even in the short space of just five songs, Luck's ambitous twists and turns make for a fun and worthwhile listen. Which, if you're like me, means that the singular "listen" quickly morphs into multiple "listens" before you know it.
With Hard Seas, Luck has also taken the opportunity to write about his recent struggles with anxiety. Using music as an outlet to address and work through everything that has accompanied it, Luck stated, "In the last year, for reasons I don’t need to get into, my anxiety went to places I thought I would never see or deal with. While trying to figure out ways to deal with it, I would write songs about it. That was a very therapeutic and painful process, but I needed it."
NoiseTrade: You released your debut EP, Wounds & Fears, last November and you’re already back with your second one, Hard Seas. Were these songs hold-overs from Wounds & Fears or are they the prolific product of brand new moments?
Ethan Luck: The only things that were left over from Wounds & Fears were half done songs. Those are still sitting around. The songs on Hard Seas are all brand new, after I finished the Wounds & Fears EP. I write music in any downtime I have. So, I started on songs for this new EP before Wounds & Fears even came out. I had a completely different goal in mind. I wanted to write an EP of songs with one constant theme. I wrote most of them while on the road, in hotel rooms.
NT: As someone who does all of the writing, playing, and recording on your own, what does the process look like for you from initial idea to song completion?
Luck: Mostly, I start with playing a couple chords and singing a melody of gibberish. Once I find a good melody that works well with the chords I'm playing, I record a quick memo on my phone, so I won't forget it. I do that most days. I'll revisit those ideas and decide which are the strongest and figure out what to write about and go on from there. It's been fun to write while on tour, as a guitar tech. I'll finish a few songs in hotel rooms and when I get home, I go straight into my garage studio and start tracking. I already know what I want to hear with other instruments so I make quick progress the day I start tracking. My normal tracking times are in the morning or late at night. I feel that I can focus better, especially at night. When I take a short break, I'll go in my backyard and it's silent. That helps a lot when finishing lyrics. I don't spend a lot of time over-producing anything. If I'm happy with it, then that's what you're gonna hear. I'm not trying to be anything I'm not. I'm not trying to please or impress anyone. Plus, I like the idea of capturing good moments as opposed to making it perfect. I have the same approach to photography. I'm never going to be perfect, so why pretend to be?
NT: On your website, you spoke candidly about your struggles with anxiety. What role does music, specifically the creation of your own music, play in that?
Luck: Music plays one of the biggest roles in dealing with something like anxiety. I've been surrounded by music since birth. When anxiety became something real in my life, music became one of the few things that made it diminish or drove me right through the hardest parts of it. Even if a song isn't about what I'm going through, maybe the mood of the song is. When I listen to a song about pain or heartache, it hits me pretty hard. It pulls things out of me, whether I like it or not. When I've had an anxiety attack, I can't tell you how many times I've put on "The Cure For Pain" by my long time friend, Jon Foreman. It's a sad song with so much hope, to me. I'll send him a text from time to time, thanking him for that song. In regard to my own music, it's one of the best therapies out there. I've even listened back to this EP and it's helped me. I have many ways of dealing with anxiety and I'm still working on ways to do so. For me, to put what I'm going through into a song is like having someone to talk to. It's a perfect way to get across what you're going through and I can only hope that it might help someone else, dealing with similar things. When you meet someone with similar struggles, it becomes that push you need to get through the day. Music often does the same to me.
NT: In the song “Can’t Sleep Sound,” you sing the line “I hid myself so well, well enough to not be found.” How do you reconcile attempts to do that with your job as a professional musician whose job is in the public eye?
Luck: That line is talking about hiding from what's real and hoping that it will just pass. It won't. In the last year or so, when anxiety got worse than ever, I felt embarrassed. I feel like I'm a pretty social person and transparent. I love being around people. I want to love people. I didn't want anxiety to take over and change who I am. I felt like it was about to at so many times. I had to get to a point where I could deal with this and still be myself. So, what better way than to write about it. It's out there now and I feel great about that. "Can't Sleep Sound" is specifically about how I was feeling last summer, when I started a new job that was pretty unexpected. I got thrown into a situation where I barely knew anyone. Although I feel I can walk up to anyone and make conversation, this felt different. On top of that, I was dealing with the feelings of having to set aside my life of 16 years, playing music for a living.
NT: In regards to the sound of Hard Seas, your country influences and guitar tones seem to be pretty West Coast in nature, like a mix somewhere between Buck Owens and Mike Ness of Social Distortion. Do you feel that as well or does living in Nashville play a part too?
Luck: Where I grew up and where I live now definitely have an effect on me when it comes to my "sound." Growing up in California, I discovered bands like Social Distortion, Face To Face, Rancid, Green Day, Black Flag...etc. While living there, I also was exposed to the "Bakersfield Sound" by my Dad. That led me to artists like Johnny Cash, The Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams, just to name a few. When I got to the point where I wanted to write my own music, writing with all of those influences made sense to me. The sound came naturally. Believe it or not, there actually is influence from my love of ska/reggae on this EP too. The chorus to "Set Me Free" is where you'll find it. Mostly, with the "Oh-Oh's" on the chorus. Put an upstroke guitar and a kick drum on 2 and 4, you have a mid tempo ska song.
NT: You created a gorgeous 48-page photo book of your photography to accompany Hard Seas. What's the association between the photos and the EP?
Luck: The digital photo book was a bit of a last minute decision. I had all these photos I had taken over the time of writing this EP. I wanted to do something with them. So, I went back and found my favorite photos from all the places I was while writing and touring. I picked my favorites and made a digital photo book. Each photo was from the surroundings of where I was writing, arranging or recording. You'll see photos from Australia all the way to my backyard.
NT: This may be a bit of a music nerd question, but what do you think is special about EPs, as opposed to singles and full-length albums?
Luck: I don't know every artist's reason for making an EP. Maybe you're taking to long to make a new LP? Maybe you have a batch of songs that are different than what people know you for? Who knows? To me, they do seem more special and leave me wanting more. For me, I want to put out music in shorter time frames. I don't want to work on a 12-song album and have it come out a year later. I like recording songs about life at that point and having it still be fresh when people hear it. My good friend, Nathan Thomas, mixed and mastered Hard Seas a week before I released it. I love that. If I end up writing 12 songs in a few months time, then who knows, maybe I'll have a full length out. For now, I like the idea of just EPs.
NT: As a fellow fan of the format, what are some of your recommended EPs you’ve dug over the years from other artists you’ve enjoyed?
Luck: Good question! Here's a few that come to mind...
The Clash - Black Market Clash EP
Fishbone - Fishbone EP
Jon Foreman - Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer
EPs OFF! - First Four 7" EPs
Metallica - Garage Days Re-Revisited EP
Noah Gundersen - Family EP
MxPx - Small Town Minds EP