Ethan Ash has been whipping up a storm on the live circuit so far this year and this week he is back with his new EP Playing By Numbers.
I caught up with the singer Song-writer to chat about the new record and what lies ahead for the rest of the year.
- You are about to release your new EP Playing By Numbers so what can we expect for the new record?
Compared to the old EP’s it is a lot better - I don’t wish to sound arrogant - and it is a different to what I have done before as it is a little bit more produced; Lorenzo De Feo produced the album.
There is a mixture of tracks on there; one is really quite poppy - I jokingly tell people that it is like dirty pop. But people really do seem to like it. Then there are some really downbeat acoustic tracks.
We looked at this EP contextually and kind of went ’well we can have a poppy one and we can have an acoustic one’ and all of the tracks speak for themselves. It is just different to the other EP’s that I have done before and I feel that it is better.
- Well you have slightly touched on my next question really I was wondering how you felt you had developed your sound between the two EP’s.
It’s a tough one. Music wise, song writing wise, production wise it is just a lot better than it was - I am quite fortunate to have a good team around me and I have been working with Lorenzo.
Lorenzo plays guitar for Matt Cardle so we went into the studio with Matt’s band and managed to get the drums and bass down for that - which is something that we didn’t have on the last EP.
I have had my other friends on there before and they are all great musicians but on the last EP it wasn’t like we had the musicians we had now - Matt’s band are a band and they are seriously tight musicians. It just sounds better and I like real instruments as well.
I listen to quite a lot that is processed and done through computers but at the same time I think… there is a mate of mind who is a drummer and he is unbelievable and I could sit and listen to him all day and I wanted something like that for my EP.
There was just more of a production element to the record and a live element and the song-writing seems to have developed - people have said anyway this is not just me being arrogant.
I am excited about this record and I am excited for people to hear it. It’s just better and people that know me and have heard my stuff before that have just gone ’yeah, this is a lot better’.
- I gave the EP a listen this morning and I thought that the production was quite stripped back - it is mainly voice and musicians - so how much was it a conscious choice to strip all of that other stuff away?
What we wanted was for the production to be subtle - there are some genres that do lend themselves to huge production and that is fine but I listen to a lot of Bon Iver and his production works so well; there is a lot going on but it doesn’t sound like there is a lot going on.
In a way that is what we achieved as there is a lot going on underneath but it’s not straight in your face - you are not detracted suddenly.
When I play live it is usually just me and my guitar so you don’t want to have something that sounds great on an EP with loads of production and then you go and play live and people go ‘this is not the song that I know’ as they are going to get really annoyed with you (laughs).
But the poppy track Wouldn’t Get Through is more production while tracks like No Love In That Bed and Inside are more chilled and laid back - there is stuff going on but it is more subtle; it is almost subconscious in a way.
- You have mentioned Lorenzo De Feo already and he is the producer on the album - he is a musician in his own right - so how did that collaboration come about?
Basically I was playing a gig at a place called the High Barn - it is in the middle of nowhere but loads of people go there and play. Lorenzo was playing with another guy and one of the guys that was playing with him was a guy called Ali and he is Matt (Cardle’s) best mate.
Me and Lorenzo got chatting and I was like ‘I am trying to record a new EP’ and Lorenzo was like ‘why don’t we try and do something?’
And we went into the studio and we tried one of the songs that I had written and we did it and went ‘no this is not the right way for this song’ and we tried a different song. So we worked together on that and then we were like ‘let’s try and do an EP’.
We got on really well and just clicked because he knew which direction I wanted to go in. That was really how it came about it was just one of those random conversations. You stumble across people in music and everyone seems to know everyone and it was just one of those things that just happened.
- Lorenzo also plays on the album along with some other great musicians so how much was this album a collaborative process between you all? How forthcoming where they about how certain things should sound?
I write all of the songs but the production side of things was really down to Lorenzo. On other EP’s it would say produced by Ethan Ash and whoever else was on it but with this it was definitely down to Lorenzo. I would say ‘try this’ or ‘I want this feel to it’ and we would finish stuff and he would say ‘right give me a few days’.
And I went away and came back after a few days and he looked like the nutty professor. I walked in and he had blood shot eyes and his hair was everywhere and he just said ‘I have not slept; listen to this’ (laughs) literally had been awake for four days. And I was like ‘are you ok?’ And he was like ‘no, I hope you like it’.
And I was thinking ‘If I don’t like this I really don’t want to tell him in his current state’ (laughs). Because he knows Remmy Mallett and Tom Peters well and the way that they play so he was able to know what they were good at and what their strength were - that is the job of a producer really.
We did have a couple of little discussions and I was like ‘I don’t like that’ and he was like ‘no, it’s ok’ and most of the time he was right.
- There are still a couple of weeks until the release until the EP but how have you found the early response to the new record?
Alright actually. We have been playing these tracks at gigs since Bestival and we put out some clips of the new EP, just one minute clips, and people have really liked.
I have been playing the tracks acoustically since June/July time and then we played Wouldn’t Get Through on the BBC the other day.
People have started tweeting me saying ‘I love that track’ and so it is really good. So people seem to be liking what they have heard. I also sent some links out to a few musicians and they have said that they like it - and they would either say nothing or just tell me that they didn’t like it.
So I have feedback from a supporter’s perspective and I have also been getting the views of musicians that I respect.
It is great when supporters say that they like your stuff but when other artists say that they like it as well because then you have that respect and you feel like you have done something right.
- You have written all of the tracks on the album so what is your major source of inspiration when it comes to penning the tracks?
I try to listen to loads of different genres of music. I listen to a lot of Stevie Wonder as well as Prince, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cook - all of the old soul guys.
I have also started listening to Jamie Lidell, and not a lot of people know about him but he is big in America.
But then I listen to really old school jazz such as Chuck Baker and Oscar Peterson and then I like Cyprus Hill and The Roots.
So I will listen to everything and I can’t think that you can really stick with one genre - if you are going to write for a specific genre then fair enough.
I do listen to everything. The other day my manager asked me to send over some of my influences and he got two A4 pieces of paper full of names. And he was like ‘seriously?’ And I was like ‘I can’t just give you three names’.
- You are going to be embarking on a tour to go with the release of the album so what can fans expect from the live shows?
People who haven’t heard the newest songs since I have started playing them will be able to hear those. But hopefully I will have progressed and people have said that they like me live and I prefer being on stage. Jelly Babies as well - I give Jelly Babies out on stage to the crowd.
It’s all very well and good going into the studio and sitting down for a few months and recording something - yes there is pressure in the studio but you are safe in a way. Live everything is exposed.
I prefer doing live stuff and if people who haven’t seen me live before go ‘actually I would go and see him again’ that is what you want. And I have found that people have come to see me again - I am very lucky with my fan base.
A lady travelled two hours to see me the other day and stayed in a hotel and I was like ‘man this gig must have cost you a fortune’. But I am lucky in that respect and it is nice that people want to come and see me again.
- Finally what is next for you between now and the end of the year?
Lots of gigs and the EP release. Then I will be doing lots of writing and doing song-writing with other artists but mainly for them. I was working with someone recently and that was fun because they are quite well known.
So I will be gigging, releasing, writing more and hopefully getting back in the studio and recording some new stuff as well as continuing to grow the fanbase.
I have been pretty lucky the way things have gone in the last year but I need to continue to raise the profile and raise the game.
As I say it has gone well over the last year and so I cannot complain so hopefully it will just keep going and I will be able to continue to do this and not have to get a proper job (laughs).
Ethan Ash - Playing By Number EP is released 1st October.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw