Interview: Ethan White

Ethan White is a law student at the University of Florida who plays Southern Gothic music and many other genres too, such as playing with UF Jacaré Brazil, which plays traditional and popular Brazilian music. His inspiration comes from many genres from progressive rock to Delta blues to art rock and punk rock. A very creative and motivated person, he takes a DIY approach to his unique music and he’s incredibly knowledgeable about music, as you’ll be able to see in this interview.

His latest release is Overlord, which you can stream below. A music video for “Goth Chick” will be coming out soon so keep on the lookout for it!

We’re lucky to have Ethan here with us on The Diversity of Classic Rock to talk about his music. If you want to learn more about him, keep on reading.

Angie Moon: How would you describe your music to a new listener?

Ethan White: I think much of my music is characterised by directness and immediacy, and oriented toward catchy riffs, choruses, and hooks. I try to inject songs with a sense of power and presence so that they command the attention of listeners. A lot of popular music today is almost sheepish in its delivery, so I like to have fun with my music and give much of it a swaggering, cheeky sensibility!

Having said that, I sometimes also get into more intense, philosophical themes. In these more brooding pieces, I tend to explore the hero’s journey, redemption, history, and mythology.

Angie: How do you define Southern Gothic music?

Ethan: For me, Southern Gothic is a genre that conjures up a setting much like where I live: the swampy “Old South,” which is shrouded by massive oak trees draped with Spanish moss. I think the genre is something of a dichotomy; on the one hand is an elegant sense of beauty, and on the other is a raunchier, sometimes violent sense of foreboding. Musically, it’s a very earthy, bluesy, and folksy genre. Lyrically, it can be a juxtaposition of religious imagery and harsh or transgressive elements – like a struggle between extremes. Perhaps it’s really the best way to articulate the rich history, myth, and lore of the South—and its present state—through art.

Angie: Who are your biggest guitar influences?

Ethan: I suspect I have something of an osmotic ear for absorbing influences, so there are many… but, I can name a few who I believe come through to some extent in my playing. When it comes to rhythm guitar: Pete Townshend, Steve Jones, Malcolm Young, and Tony Iommi. As for lead guitar: Steve Hackett, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Tobias Forge, Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore. 

Angie: What are your favourite rock genres and eras?

Ethan: I really like the late 60s / early 70s rock explosion. The mix of blues, heavy rock, and psychedelia created some of the coolest music ever recorded. I particularly like the darker, doomier sounding groups from that era. I enjoy the big names, like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, etc., but I also love discovering the more obscure bands like Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, and Iron Claw.

It would have been too cool to have been in the wake of the rivalry between punk and metal in late 70s Britain. Both NWOBHM and the Sex Pistol’s Bromley Contingent produced a killer group of artists. Maiden, Priest, Def Leppard, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., Generation X & Billy Idol…

I’m also particularly fond of the prog/art rock artist collaborations of that same period. To think there was a time when Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Kate Bush, and Robert Fripp were all on the same record!

And then there’s a group of artists I refer to as “Athens Rock,” because they were all from around Athens, Georgia. Hanging out with the B-52s, R.E.M., and the Indigo Girls sounds like it would have been a wonderful time. They’ve got a jangly, folksy sound that reminds me of that beautiful part of Georgia and the youth of the collegial atmosphere.

Angie: What musicians changed your life?

Ethan: My all-time favourite band is Genesis; they are to me what the Beatles are to most classic rock bands. I spent a lot of time developing my musical abilities by trying to imitate Phil Collins behind the drum kit and on stage, emulate Peter Gabriel at the mic, channel Steve Hackett’s ethereal but powerful Les Paul playing, deliver the richness of Tony Bank’s keyboards, and capture the earthiness of Mike Rutherford’s bass/rhythm guitar. 

When I became a teenager, I got very into classic metal. I tried to sing along with Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, David Lee Roth, and others in my car to and from school. Those records are still favourites and carry a special place in my heart.

Punk rock movements have also inspired me because of their DIY ethic. I love the fiercely individualistic attitude and explosive energy. Interestingly enough, I became a Kate Bush fan the same time I dove into punk. The quirky confidence of Kate really encourages me to be idiosyncratic and fun with my own songwriting.

Musicians like Bruce Dickinson and Henry Rollins—who have taken on so many opportunities and projects outside of their music careers—have helped keep me motivated in law school and in other pursuits like fencing and writing. Artists like that get as much out of life as they can, and that is something to strive for.

These days, I’m inspired by a lot of different kinds of music, including Zamrock, funk, and new wave. As for new releases, I’m particularly looking forward to the next record by Swedish band Ghost. They’re a band that, as I say, “plays all the right notes.”

Angie: How did you get into such a variety of genres from metal to prog to punk to Brazilian music?

Ethan: Curiosity is integral to my personality. My parents always had interesting music playing around the house when I was little. Combined with my artistic DNA, being exposed to all different kinds of music fostered a sense of inquisitiveness as to what else was out there, musically speaking. Travelling has helped that, too. I’ve ended up being an audio-archaeologist, looking for obscure, cool music.

How did I get involved with Brazilian music? My friend Welson Tremura, a PhD in ethnomusicology at UF, invited me to play electric guitar on a song for the group Jacaré Brazil. I was familiar with the Brazilian thrash metal group Sepultura at the time, but other than that, had much to learn about traditional Brazilian music! But, before I knew it, I was jamming along with a maracatu rhythm. 

The quest for new inspiration is never-ending. Whether its French metal like Trust or Sortilege, Italian pop rock like Vasco Rossi, Zamrock like Amanaz, or Saharan guitar music, I’ll be interested!

Angie: What is your songwriting process, do you usually come up with the lyrics or music first?

Ethan: There’s not necessarily a set method for me, but music generally comes first. Most of the time it starts with a riff or a drum loop, and then once I find a transcendent groove, I start adding to the piece until it starts to take shape as a song. After I have the body of music, I like to pen lyrics that match the tone.

Angie: What was it like writing and recording Overlord?

Ethan: I began Overlord sometime in 2019 and finished that album in 2020. Throughout that timeframe, I had an appendectomy, started law school, and entered the COVID era. In retrospect, there was a lot going on! It’s the most focussed record I’ve ever written and recorded, with most of the music featuring heavy percussion and thickly layered guitars and keyboards. The lyrics were darker and sometimes Halloweenish. But, there is still humour in moments like the Pythonesque “Bring out Your Dead” and the cheekily seductive “Goth Chick.” I’ve described the album as “gothic dance metal rave rock.” The album cover artwork is a picture I took of Prague Castle. 

Angie: How popular is rock music where you are in Florida?

Ethan: Gainesville notably hosts “Fest” for punk bands, and has some venues where local rock acts can perform. Having said that, I’m not sure if rock music is particularly popular amongst the college students. Bars and parties often feature mainstream rap or pop, and cars driving by play rap and country (unless it’s my car, in which case you’ll hear something like Thin Lizzy emanating from my rolled down windows…). Nevertheless, I have a good circle of friends who like to rock out and get involved in my video projects. You’ll see some of them in my forthcoming video for “Goth Chick.”

Angie: What are your live shows like?

Ethan: Exciting! As a solo artist, I take a guitar and my voice (and an iPad for backing tracks) and that’s it. I generally make setlists out of my more riff-oriented and lyrically fun songs. I crank it up loud and the nature of my music differs significantly to what most other local performers are doing. So, it seems to grab attention!

Angie: What kept you motivated in 2020?

Ethan: Having a good family, getting to escape the madness of the world in the Florida countryside, and recording and producing Overlord.

Angie: What are your goals for this year?

Ethan: I am working on the music video for “Goth Chick,” which I plan on releasing this year. My colleagues and I had an absolute blast filming it! They really did a wonderful job. The setting for the video is very “Southern Gothic,” to return to your earlier question. 

As for new musical releases, I’ll be putting out both acoustic material and funkier, R&B style songs this year. I think the coming singles are some of my best work yet…

You can follow Ethan on his website and YouTube.

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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