Winter has settled into the area in true Northwest fashion: cold, wet, and dreary. It’s weather that makes you want to curl up in front of a fire with a cup of hot coffee and mentally brace yourself to survive until the sun comes out again sometime in July.
Singer/songwriter Ethan Tucker smashes through that gloom with his upbeat mix of blues, folk, and reggae, accompanied by his smooth voice and guitar prowess. The Olympia-born artist has been honing his skills from a young age, at home and onstage, touring with the likes of reggae legends Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers, and blues icon Buddy Guy. His friendship with musician and humanitarian Michael Franti led to musical collaborations in the studio, and a gig supporting Franti and his band Spearhead across Europe.
Take a listen to his 2015 album, Misunderstood, and you’ll find an eclectic mix of songs guaranteed to lift your mood: the reggae-splashed “Cool Kids”, the bluesy, mellow “Crazy”, “Never Be”, which showcases Ethan’s rock side, and a gorgeous rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Little Wing”. Michael Franti contributes vocals to the song “Crazy Tonight.”
Ethan caught the national spotlight on the hit NBC show The Voice; his soulful rendition of The Police’s Roxanne sparking a battle between coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton (he picked Blake). Although his experience was brief (Ethan was knocked out in the battle rounds), it was enough to bring more fans to the fold.
Ethan’s been busy recording and touring, and just performed to an enthusiastic crowd of Seahawks fans at a huge 12’s party in ‘Hawks Alley before last Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field. Tucker recently took some time to chat with me.
NWMS: Tell me about your newest release.
ET: My newest release is a video for my song “Never Be” from my “Misunderstood” album directed by Garrett Laver. We filmed this video over a year ago, but, due to contractual obligations it got shelved until now. I feel like it is a great way to welcome in the new year and give music lovers a new medium to enjoy a song they may have already been listening to for a time.
NWMS: What’s the inspiration for your new video?
ET: The inspiration for the new video is the phrase “I’ll never be fooled again.” The song is about believing the façade that some people put on in a relationship before exposing their true colors. Many of us have been on both ends of this spectrum as we grow and mature, yet, I think we can all relate.
NWMS: What motivated you to audition for The Voice?
ET: I had actually received an email from a talent scout inviting me to audition in a nearby city, before that I had never even considered it.
NWMS: How did you come to choose Roxanne as your audition song?
ET: I wanted to have Roxanne as my audition song because I feel like it allows me to showcase some of my stronger vocal abilities, but, also stand out from the crowd a bit as well by adding my own flair to the song.
NWMS: What surprising thing did you learn about yourself while working with Blake?
ET: Through the whole process of working on the show I learned how much my mind has an effect on my ability to sing and perform. Learning how to really take control of my voice consciously changed my whole perspective on performance and how I sing.
NWMS: What advice do you have for a young singer looking to audition for a show like The Voice?
ET: I would say to always follow your instincts and stay true to yourself, yet, never shy away from opportunity!
NWMS: Tell me about the first time you picked up a guitar.
ET: I don’t remember the first time I picked a guitar up specifically. I remember my mom always had a guitar around when I was growing up and I always would ask her to play it and I would mess with it any chance I got.
NWMS: Why the guitar?
ET: I always gravitated naturally toward the guitar even though we had a piano in the house as well, I think because my older siblings played piano and would always run me off when they wanted to play I just had no competition with mom’s guitar. Then I watched the movie blues brothers and saw B.B. King play and I was hooked from then on.
NWMS: What made you stick with it?
ET: After years of begging my mom to borrow her guitar every day one day she told me “I’ll give you that guitar as long as you promise to learn how to play it.” I said I would and I always try to be a man of my word.
NWMS: Which came first: playing guitar or singing?
ET: Definitely playing guitar came first. I tried writing my first song at about nine and that didn’t quite go so well so I just played for years. Then when I was about 15 I decided I wanted to write and sing again and never stopped.
NWMS: Who inspires you, musically?
ET: Honestly anyone can inspire me musically. I often find inspiration from romance or family. I can also be inspired by a random person I meet or a story on the news. It really just depends.
NWMS: Your music runs the gamut, from folksy blues to rock, soul, and reggae. What’s your songwriting process?
ET: I don’t really have a set songwriting process. One thing that often surprises people is that I don’t like to write my lyrics down until the song is complete. I’m oddly superstitious about losing my inspiration by writing the lyrics down. I just sing the lines over and over until the song is done. Sometimes I will record a song I’m writing on my phone if I am going to take a break from writing so I don’t forget the melody or the chords.
NWMS: Which comes first, lyrics, hook, or melody?
ET: Again, I don’t have a set process when it comes to writing. Sometimes I’ll think of a hook first and I’ll build around it. There are times that I’m just fiddling around with my guitar and find something that resonates into the creation of lyrical content.
NWMS: In your bio, it says you like to be barefoot. Why?
ET: I do enjoy being barefoot. There honestly is no major reason other than it is comfortable to me and when I perform I can feel the vibrations of the instruments through the stage which is energizing to me. I may at sometimes wear shoes on stage too. I happen to love shoes and have an extremely expensive taste in footwear (maybe another reason to be barefoot.)
NWMS: Do you come from a musical family? Tell me more about them.
ET: Many members of my family are extremely musical. My maternal grandparents and great grandparents played folk music and country western. My Grey Grandad even made fiddles and sold them for years until he passed in the early 80’s. My father’s side didn’t have much access to instruments but many sang blues and gospel. My two oldest siblings were amazing classical piano players. I currently have cousins that sing play and rap.
NWMS: What do you remember about the very first time you performed for other people? (whether performing your own music or someone else’s).
ET: The first time I performed in front of an audience as a singer I remember telling my friends if I suck please tell me now because I’m not trying to embarrass myself. I remember my mom saying at the time, “You aren’t the best singer but you can carry a great tune and that’s what matters most.” She now loves what I do.
NWMS: Where was your first paid gig?
ET: I can never forget my first paid gig. At age 17 I played at an art show that my high school art teacher got me and I wasn’t even supposed to get paid. I played for three hours and I remember I got a check for $25 and it might as well have said $25,000 because I couldn’t believe I got paid to sing for people. At that gig, I also met the late great skier Shane McConkey who eventually got my song put into a major snowboarding film called “Deeper” that showed all over the world.
NWMS: At what point did you realize music was your true calling?
ET: I think I realized music was my true calling when I got laid off from my job as a custom wood furniture maker. I always knew that I loved music, but, when I was laid off I decided to pack my backpack with CDs and ride my bike to every venue I knew of and ask for gigs. By a month later I was making more money than I was as a carpenter and I didn’t have to worry about cutting off a finger!
NWMS: What’s your favorite venue?
ET: I believe that the crowd is more important than the venue because they are what makes the show memorable. I do have to say that the most beautiful venue I’ve played was probably Red Rocks outside of Denver, Colorado.
NWMS: Favorite city
ET: My favorite city is and forever will be Olympia, Washington.
NWMS: Favorite act to tour with:
ET: I have to say I’ve enjoyed touring with almost every band that I’ve been on the road with. When I tour with Michael Franti it is like a family reunion because we are all very close. Everyone from the sound person, merch, technicians, band and tour management all are like close family on the Spearhead tours. We eat together we laugh and we sometimes bicker yet we always get the job done and show love and respect on and off the road.
NWMS: How do you keep yourself focused/grounded while on tour?
ET: When I’m on tour I stay focused and grounded by keeping in close touch with my friends and family. Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to someone from back home. I also make time for myself. It can be hard to travel with people for weeks at a time if you’re around them every second of every day. I often will take my free time during the day to wander around the town and take in something new, find a new restaurant or even just go to a movie by myself. I always, too, make sure to show appreciation for everyone who makes the show happen including the local staff at the venues.
Do you do anything special to make sure your voice (and the rest of you) remains healthy on tour?
ET: I absolutely take special measures to make sure that I stay healthy and my voice stays strong on tour. It’s easy to fall into the after-party lifestyle, but, that can cause more problems than it’s worth if you overdo it! I know from experience! I try to make sure I eat quality meals as much as possible and get some sort of exercise regularly. Drinking plenty of water is crucial. Keeping my voice healthy on tour also includes knowing when to rest my vocal chords. My band and I are very close friends and one of our favorite things to do is make each other laugh, however, heavy laughing can really strain vocal chords so I have to sometimes force myself not to laugh as loud as I want. Lastly sleep! Staying healthy vocally and physically means you need rest. The road can be a hard place to rest, so I find random times to sleep, dressing rooms, back of the van, on the bus after my set, no matter what I make sure to find time to sleep.
NWMS: Name 5 artists, albums, or songs you can’t live without
ET: The albums and artists I can’t live without is constantly changing. I always fall back on the classics like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Bob Marley and Dr. Dre.
NWMS: What makes these 5 so special to you?
ET: These 5 artists are special to me because they introduced me to musician love and also continue to give me elements that I want to include in my own songs.
NWMS: What’s your favorite way to unwind from a long day at the studio or a grueling tour?
ET: If you were to come to my hotel after a long day in the studio or any day after any show on tour you’d probably find me watching old cartoons like tom and Jerry or Scooby Doo.
NWMS: Finish this sentence: If I weren’t creating music, I’d be ____________.
Connect with Ethan through his website: EthanTuckerMusic.com
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