GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Earth City 1: The Longing. There are so many songs I enjoy on this album. Even bigger congratulations on surviving your head injury.
ETHAN GOLD: Thank you. There are a lot of people suffering from head injuries, including a lot of veterans, and it is not that public. I think a lot of people don’t know what to do and they just suffer with a long and difficult recovery.
GM: You touch on this, somewhat indirectly, on my favorite song on the album, “Living Without You,” with a wonderful piano and string arrangement.
EG: Yes. It is the first song I wrote after the injury. The ability to write music came back to me while I was still struggling with the ability to talk and have conversations, but I was able to dive into my musical zone. I wrote “Living Without You” as a bit of a joke to myself that I was going to write a classic break up song with defiance and pitch it to Adele as a torch song of righteous rage, but I was really writing it for my cognitive ability, that I could survive without what I thought had previously defined my personality. Although my brain slowed down, the big discovery to me is that I was very much myself, even though anyone who came to visit would not have seen me that way. My consciousness was very much present, even though I couldn’t make jokes, keep up with conversations or even cross streets. Things were moving too quickly or were too complicated to process. “Living Without You” may come off as a song of a wronged lover but ultimately is a song showing that I can survive. The injury was a classic freak accident at a Halloween party at a warehouse in Brooklyn. There was a photo booth with chains on the wall, where you put your arms in chains and get your photo taken when you enter the party. I came into the party with high energy, was horsing around, and flipped myself upside down so that my feet were in the air above my head, to be silly for the photo, and the chains broke out of the wall while I was upside down and I landed on the hardwood floor on my head. It was a super freak accident. Six months later I thought I was kind of better. Then when a year passed, I said that at six months I was definitely not better. Then at two years I said that I was definitely not better at one year, and I have heard this same analysis from other people with head injuries. It is such a slow healing process. Even at two years I would have some relapses, with the smallest things, like someone hugging me, their head might bump the back of my head which could send me into a weird dizzy nausea for days. After going through this process, I am no longer an overthinker. People meditate to get to the point of no mind and I kind of created that for myself in a ten second accident. It took a long time to appreciate that. There were dark moments, but the best thing that came out of it is the familiarity of the self underneath the noise of the brain.
GM: You mentioned dark moments. Well, here is a contrast, the album opens with “Bright & Lonely City,” which is anything but dark. The opening notes remind me of “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with The Three Degrees, which is very bouncy.
EG: For this album, the first of a trilogy, I want to bring light into the world, even though the song is about loneliness, there is light shining into the story. It was a priority for me to be a force of positivity because I have lived through the opposite.
GM: Early this year, months ahead of the album’s release, you released a pair of digital singles, with the album’s finale, “In New York” as the digital flip side. It opens with the line, “Our Eden, dear, is here, in New York.” When I first heard that song, it reminded me of Joe Jackson’s album Night and Day, especially songs on the night side of that album. Even the single’s artwork also took me back to that classic album, almost forty years ago.
ES: There is a song coming up on the next album that people have compared to Joe Jackson, too, which I certainly like hearing. I think of “Alexandria & Me” and “In New York” as the prelude to the whole trilogy, with Ryan Cantwell primarily on piano. “Alexandria & Me” is about old Downtown L.A. and the fascinating and terrifying experiences I had there, the home of the old Alexandria Hotel. “In New York” reflects the incredible spirit of the city where you can fall in love with a person and fall in love with the city, too, with a nighttime feeling and a touch of snowfall. There are videos for both songs.
Flip side: In New York
A side: Alexandria & Me
Debut: February 25, 2021
GM: Speaking of videos, you have footage from 31 countries for “Our Love is Beautiful,” another of my big favorites on the album. The video is fun!
EG: That was my first stepping out, back in the world, after the head injury. I pushed myself to make a global expression for that song. I decided to do one of those around the world tickets that I had heard about since I was a little kid. I rented out my place, got a backpack, and went around the world with just my phone. The video is compiled of people who I met, singing or speaking the words of the song, and from fans. I put out an all points bulletin for people to send footage of themselves singing the song, which I shared. The video allows the viewer to travel the world in four minutes and get a flavor of the whole planet. It is a song about self, romantic and universal love.
GM: I also love that flute keyboard sound.
EG: Yes indeed. It is a Chamberlin, an instrument similar to a Mellotron, and is a very early analog sampler which has tapes of actual recordings of people playing instruments and the keyboard triggers these little tape loops to run.
GM: Speaking about keyboards, “It’s Never Enough” is piano driven, with a Todd Rundgren-type sound, and the declaration that “it’s never enough until they kill your dreams” is an unfortunate message.
EG: Yes. That is a bit of a darkness that I was hoping to avoid but it creeps in there anyway. A lot of people struggle to find their place in the world and be accepted. That starts in the family and I think if people have those wounds as kids, throughout their whole life that wound gets replayed, and work hard to get the recognition that they want and deserve. I didn’t end the record there deliberately. I didn’t want to leave people in that dark of a spot.
GM: The rolling acoustic guitar on “Storm Coming” is another musical backdrop that I enjoy. It’s beautiful.
EG: Thank you. A lot of my songs have several meanings going on at the same time. That one, like a lot of my songs, had its start in a dream, so part of my process is to make the dreams come to life in music. “Storm Coming” is like a foggy, windy moor in Scotland, and lyrically I have a longing for emotion to come to life again. I also reflect on changes we have seen with mother earth.
GM: “Pretty Girls” reminds me of a 1960s movie soundtrack. I like the bouncy bass as well.
EG: Yes. That is probably as close to the 1960s that I will probably ever get. I took a soft Brazilian approach with a twinkle of sarcasm, sounding sweeter than it is. I sing about how prettiness can be intoxicating to men and can be a trap for women, and ultimately, I try to make the case to be yourself. It is a fun springtime song and I am glad you are hearing that sound.
GM: If readers are wondering how you sound post-injury, to me, the answer is fine. Your vocals are clear and the song with the most nonstop vocal delivery is “Firefly,” with a steady tempo and catchy rhythm which sounds fun to play.
EG: Thank you, again. You are one of the few interviewers who really talks about the music. I brought in a catchy but slightly aggressive flavor. The song is a tough love song, sort of the opposite of “Pretty Girls,” addressing young females who define themselves on whether they are getting attention. I have had friends who have suffered tremendously by being a light who tries to attract attention, so it is for those young women who are struggling with that, and I am encouraging them to love themselves.
GM: Speaking about women, I hear a female vocal in the background of “Terese,” another catchy number.
EG: Yes indeed. On “Terese” I had my friend Miranda Lee Richards, who is a wonderful performer and songwriter, sing background vocals on a few lines. There are a few songs reaching out to women and make the case for self-love. “Terese” is a particular story about that.
GM: There is one remaining song from the album, “It’s Okay, Sid.” What is that song based upon?
EG: That is based upon my Uncle Sid, who was a dear man who spent his life in Cleveland. He was referred to as the king of the Cleveland beatniks in Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comic book series. He was one of the people you might see in a café with a pipe, talking about philosophy and literature. He died alone, had a lengthy unpublished novel, and was someone who struggled to find his place in the world. “It’s Okay, Sid” is about him and metaphorically about all the lonely people in the world, forgotten people and forgotten neighborhoods of America.
GM: That comic book series debuted in 1976, shortly before I started college in Downtown Cleveland, so I do remember that. My wife Donna and I are both from Cleveland and can certainly relate to people dining at my father’s restaurant and you wonder about the story of their lives.
EG: How about that. Sid is actually on the cover of the first edition of American Splendor as a drawing of one of the characters, sitting on the sidewalk and talking. The song is a tribute to my uncle.
GM: Now that we have discussed all the songs from part one of the trilogy, what can people look forward to with the next two parts?
EG: The first volume is subtitled “The Longing,” indicating a search for self and a search for connection. Parts two and three will be answering those questions, hopefully reaching a more concrete answer. Part two will highlight the exhilaration of city life and part three attempts to answer the questions on how we want to connect as a civilization. Like part one, where I had Dave Cobb on guitar, Greg Lee on bass, and Darren Dodd on drums on many of the tracks, there will be great musicians joining me on the next two parts, a fairly diverse cast of people. It was great to meet you today. Thanks for hearing my music deeply.