Ethan Burns just released his first solo album, Illusion, March 13th of this year. His unabashedly soulful voice has a way of reaching straight into the soul of his listeners. During these wild times, Ethan found the time to answer my questions about his musical history and musical process. Read below.
MFL: I read that you taught yourself how to play guitar. Is that when you and music began your relationship together or did your musical beginnings come before the guitar?
Ethan Burns (EB): I always loved singing along with songs as a kid but I didn’t start writing songs until I started playing guitar.
MFL: Where did you grow up, where are you now, and how did these locations influence you as a person and a musician?
EB: I grew up in Grover Beach, California. I moved around a lot in my early 20’s and now I’m back in Grover Beach.
As a writer you draw on experiences within your surroundings so maybe in some subconscious way certain imagery is absorbed and reflected within the songs.
MFL: Illusion is your first solo album which is incredibly exciting! When and how did the idea for Illusion come to you?
EB: I started recording half of the songs for Illusion back in 2014 with my friend Chandler Haynes and they ended up becoming unreleased material, demo tapes you could say. Those “demo tapes” resurfaced early last year and I had written a bunch of new songs that I felt fit into the concept so I had my friend Brenneth Stevens play pedal steel guitar over the whole collection and it completed the Album.
MFL: Now that Illusion is out, what do the next few months look like for you?
EB: I have a lot of shows lined up and I’m also getting ready for the release of my next Album Electric Mental State with my band The Ragged Jubilee.
MFL: If you were to pick a landscape for Illusion, what would it be?
EB: Walking through a small town at night or maybe the slight flicker of a light house in a storm.
MFL: How and when do melodies come to you? Do lyrics or melodies come first typically?
EB: It’s different every time, with some songs you feel like a radio and the song is moving through you, other times you sit and think about every word you want to say. Sometimes there’s just a melody that you can’t get out of your head.
MFL: If you could pick a handful of milestone events in your life in the last 10 years that lead you to where you are now, what would they be? I know…that is a loaded question!
EB: That’s a hard question to answer, the most meaningful event was the birth of my daughter.
MFL: Finally, if you can, pick your top three favorite albums from 2019!
EB: I don’t listen to a lot of current music but the three albums that I listened to the most in 2019 were:
The Silver Tongued Devil and I by Kris Kristofferson
Beat the Devil’s Tattoo by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Big thanks to Ethan for answering my questions and Joshua Brinckerhoff for connecting us. You can follow Ethan on Spotify and Facebook.
Ben Alexander is truly gifted at creating emotive soundscapes that tell stories without words and conjure up images, either with specific intention or other times, left up to the listener. From Norway originally, Ben is currently in London where he is continuing to both work on personal projects of his own and write music for movies and television. Below, we dig into his writing process, inspirations and beginnings as a musician.
MFL: Your music has an incredibly atmospheric and emotive quality to it. What is your writing process like and what are some typical sources of inspiration?
Ben Alexander (BA): That is a great question. I have always been a great admirer of film music as this genre has a way of captivating selected emotions with just music. What I love about that music is that it doesn’t nhiecessarily need a vocalist to sing about what you are supposed to feel when you listen to the song. Instead, the music is created in such a way that it allows the listener to freely interpret and feel the music through their own individual mindset. I do, of course, write a lot of music that contains lyrics as well. I just have such respect for the unspoken music and would say that it is one of my most important sources of inspiration.
My writing process vary quite frequently. Sometimes a song can present itself in my mind and I need to start creating it physically when I am in the moment of inspiration. On other occasions, it may take time. I might need to explore my surroundings, think or listen to music that I adore in order to create something. I really enjoy discussing topics like philosophy and apply those thoughts to my current environment and this can be a great way of starting a new musical piece as well. I believe that music is very closely related to philosophy and the “deeper” aspects of your mind so for me, these two are closely linked to each other on many occasions.
MFL: Is there a difference in your writing process depending on whether your composing for a movie/TV show versus whether you are composing for yourself, personally?
BA: Yes and no. When I am composing for a movie/TV show etc., I often work for a client that wants to present a certain mood or feeling. This might vary depending on the client of course but very often they would want something that enhances their message or identity in whatever project they assign me to. It is then up to me to go deeper into that project and their vision to create something that follows their desire. As good music is based on sincere feelings (at least in my opinion), I need to personally understand the client’s identity in order to truly create something that is both beautiful and pleasing to the client and myself.
When writing my own music, I don’t have a set request from the beginning. This means that I am freer to create whatever I want. I set my own limits and manipulate them as I move on. It doesn’t necessarily have to be based on a certain mood or feeling but rather pure inspiration from either the get-go or throughout the process. I very much enjoy both types of making music as it brings me into new environments and expands my skills as both an artist and a composer.
MFL: How do you come across opportunities to compose soundtracks, or rather how do they find you?
BA: It’s a nice balance between contacting people yourself and them contacting you. When I approach people myself, I do it because I know I have something great to offer them and I want to provide them with exactly that. This can be everything from e-mailing relevant people in the film industry directly or meeting them at various events and building relationships. The industry is very much network-based so over the years, I have acquired friends in the film industry that I reach out to when I hear about new potential projects. After successful jobs, the work spreads around and I quickly receive e-mails from other filmmakers that have seen/heard my previous work and wants to involve me into their project. The industry is also very reputational based, so I always make sure that whatever project I am working on, I am doing my upmost best and strive for the ultimate perfection. My work is my identity and pride as it takes a piece of me every time.
MFL: If you were to share the stage with a musician from the past or present, who would it be and why? Feel free to discuss a couple if you cannot narrow it down!
BA: This is a very difficult question as I could name so many great musicians. I have chosen to present 3 different musicians based on their impact on me as an individual; Hans Zimmer, Chris Martin/Coldplay and Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson was such a huge inspiration to me growing up as I know he was for most people at the time. His music was innovative, his personality was inspiring, his stage performance was incredible, and his talent was unbelievably amazing. Chris Martin is the lead singer in the band Coldplay and these guys have been one of the few musicians who have continuously impressed and amazed me even to this day. I am a huge fan and being able to perform with Chris Martin or Coldplay collected would be a dream of mine. The last one I have chosen is the well-known film composer Hans Zimmer. I have attended his live performance in the past and all I can say is that there is no denying his musical genius. Even as a film composer, this man gives one hell of a performance and I would love to sit down with him on each of our pianos and play the music that has allowed so many people to feel.
MFL: When and how did music become a fixture in your life? List some milestones if possible!
BA: My mother told me a story of me when I was around 2-3 years old. Apparently, I was playing in the living room and my mother put on a record of the great Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli. She explained that once the music started, I stopped playing with my toys, found my way over to the speakers and sat there throughout the entire record just staring at the speakers and listening. Obviously, I don’t remember this and I sincerely hope my mother wasn’t exaggerating that story (simply because I love it) but you can say that my love for music started at a very early stage in my life.
I started playing the piano at the age of 8 and has been playing since. Ever since I started playing that instrument, my own will to create started developing and I created my first song when I was 11 years old. I acquired a huge fascination with experimental sounds and musical tech and created many different songs that reached throughout many different genres. All in all you could say that my fixture of music has literally been there since the beginning.
MFL: Do you have a favorite location/venue in Norway that you like to play? What about worldwide?
BA: I haven’t really given too much thought about a favorite venue. It would of course be fantastic to play in front of a huge crowd that loved your music but in terms of a specific venue I don’t really have a direct answer to that unfortunately. I now live in London, so I don’t think much about certain venues in Norway either to be honest. I try to adapt to the places I am. If I had to choose specific venues on the spot, I would say maybe Royal Albert Hall, The Roundhouse, O2 Arena or Wembley Stadium. Not something unexpected from a musician I would assume.
MFL: Describe one of your most powerful performing experiences.
BA: There are always moments during a performance when you know that the crowd is actually there with you in their minds and spirit. When people actually listen, take in their impressions and really feels the moment. To ask that of every member of the audience would be ambitious as we are all different, but just a selection of them feeling it and moving with me as I perform is something that means indescribably much for any musician. The response from the listeners means so much during a live performance.
MFL: Your single set “Upeo // Daybreak” is your latest work. Is this part of something larger that we can all look forward to?
BA: Yes, it is. I am very much proud of this single as I have worked a long time on it and its finally ready for everyone to enjoy. It is part of a greater project, but I don’t want to say too much about that now. The single itself is meant to tell a story through music and although I have my own stories to present, I would encourage the audience to create their own narrative and connect with the single through their own inner self rather than being too affected by my descriptions. The single is set up by and intro and a main track that is two parts of a whole and hopefully my listeners will appreciate and truthfully enjoy it in a matter that makes sense to them.