EGO TRIPPING AND YOU
The Ether Family Presents…
What do you do when you’re tired of being held down by the
“same old same old”? Bypassing all convention for a deliberate stab at
originality, Jimmy Ether of
Jimmy Ether’s enthusiasm about “Ego Trip part one” and the entire four-album project is such that he could easily be classified as an eccentric, but if he’s eccentric then that is exactly what makes “Ego Trip part one” such an enjoyable and attention-demanding ride. Take everything you know about rock operas and concept albums and throw it out the window, Jimmy did it a little differently. The closest sonic and thematic companion TEFP have to “Ego Trip part one” is probably the lost classic “The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society” (1968). The same innocence and cameo tunes are captured here in glorious Technicolor. But it doesn’t stop there. Mix in some inner turmoil, a love story, descent into Syd Barrett-esque madness and somehow make it all… happy. You’ll care about the characters because they’re all you somehow, and Jimmy always knows just when to back off of the drama to let you breathe freely. The album sucks you in with its songs, sound and catchiness. The craziest part of the whole thing is – it looks like TEFP can actually pull it off. As “part one” is being released amid as much buzz as an independent album could ever muster, the second chapter is already being recorded. I spoke with the reclusive head of the Ether Family household about “How To Get Lost In A Time Consuming Ego Trip” (parts one and otherwise), writing for and producing his own band, and using the internet creatively.
Believe it or not, The Ether Family Presents… have been around for a little while. In fact, this isn’t even their first concept album.
“The idea for How To Get Lost In A Time Consuming Ego Trip goes back to 1998, but it was such a big undertaking that I didn't feel we were ready to do it at the time. So instead, I went back to another idea I had on the back burner for making an album that followed the relationship of two doomed lovers. That became Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. So, I'll spend a lot of time getting the basic skeletal concept of an album together, but then the songs go together quickly once we actually start making the record because I know exactly what I want to say.”
I’m going to go ahead and ask the BIG question now. Why a concept album? Why make the concept four albums long? And what the heck is it all about?
“Why a concept record... I get this question a lot from my own
bandmates. They ask me, "wouldn't be easier just to write songs and put a
regular album out?" But for me at least, a simple song collection like
that would be a much more difficult task and more likely to fail due to a lack
of focus. I work the fastest and get inspired the most when I have a framework
from which to work. Lyric writing necessitates a certain amount of free
associative thought, and it's easier to ensure the song will go somewhere and
make a point (clear or hidden) if I have some conceptual skeleton upon which to
base my lyrical wanderings.
The concept for How To Get Lost... developed over several years from entirely separate concepts. These things always start out small with me and then get out of hand. Originally, the series was going to be a collection of 7" singles that eventually added up to a full album. That then turned into 4 EPs adding up to a double album... and finally I decided I needed to go all out and make it four separate records. To the best of my knowledge, that is something that no other group has done before... so that's as good a reason as any to do it.
It's almost impossible for me to talk about part one without speaking
about all four parts at once. The specifics of the outline for each part of the
series are purposely masked, so it wouldn't be quite fair to give it all away.
:) I also don't want to apply too many personal details to the songs, because
they are intentionally written so that you can take them many different ways.
I've tried to get to the emotion behind each idea and let the listener apply
their own specifics from their own experiences.
In general, the entire series is about the cycles you go through in life... and how they regenerate themselves in new ways. The concept is layered so that each song exemplifies a feeling that you may have at many different stations in your life. That's where the cycle comes in. No matter how wise you become, you will always have a tendency to make the same mistakes in new ways... and have the same victories on higher levels.
Unlike OMPS, there is no specific linear story and characters to move the story along. So, instead I'm using a lot of intertwined concepts to organize the ideas. The four elements, the four seasons, various modes of transportation, astrological signs... As clinical and obsessive as it may sound, I actually have a diagram for it all. Sick, right?”
Very. Back to songwriting for a moment, you’re a great writer of songs but it seems that your true strength lies more in being a great writer of “albums”.
”Thanks for saying that, because that is important to me. My feeling is that every song is important and should be held up to a certain standard, but the album's overall statement and flow is the truly important thing. Most albums today try to be a collection of singles (or a couple of singles with a bunch of filler) and don't try to make listening to the album an experience. For me, an album should take you from point A to point B... like a good book you don't want to put down. I guess I feel a need to tell a story with the albums, even if it's fairly vague at times.”
Did you write everything on the new album, or do the others help some?
“Earl Ether [guitar, vocals] is our other main songwriter in the band, and he's starting to bring in more and more stuff, all of which is great. He wrote "Picture Perfect" and "Conflicted" on Part 1 of How To Get Lost... the later of which is totally haunting. I think he'll be bringing in several more on the next three parts of the series.”
What about the others? Do you try to make the songwriting as much a band effort as possible?
“For whatever reason, I find it very difficult to collaborate with others on my own songs these days. I keep trying, but every time is seems that what I'm looking for is so specific that it can really only come from me. I honestly wish that wasn't the case. There are occasions where someone else will bring in a musical idea and I'll come up with the vocals and lyrics. That's a lot of fun when it happens, though it is rare. But when I'm talking about songwriting, I'm speaking primarily of lyrics, melody and chord progression. Musically, all I bring to the band usually is a basic chord structure. Usually, Gayle will come up with a bass line that really sets the overall tone of the song. I'll hint at a drum rhythm, which Freddy will translate and expand upon how he feels is best. Then John will begin to weave counter guitar melodies around it all. Then, I'll begin to alter my guitar part to best work with everything else. So, musically we really orchestrate as a band during the recording sessions. That more than anything creates the "Ether Sound".”
Let’s talk a bit about that SOUND – how do you do it? The Ether Family Presents… have a definite sound and so does this record. You also produce other bands, do you apply the same techniques to them?
“Honestly, the sound is all coming from the band members. I really don't do anything differently with TEFP... than I do with anyone else. With most any project I record I try to get people to perform live as a band to tape with the intention of keeping the tracks. So many albums today are painstakingly overdubbed and it takes all the life out of the recording. You know, you'll focus on getting a good drum take and then replace the guitars, bass and so forth until nothing on tape was ever played together live. I got fed up with that kind of thing doing 24-track sessions in the early 90's.”
So you recorded most of the record live? Is that what gave it that warm, airy sound?
“I'm a huge fan of nearly any music made before 1975, and I believe the reason is that the performance and interaction is there with the musicians. They had to record most everything live because the technology forced them to, and the music was better for it. With TEFP..., we take that as far as a 4 member band can by recording almost every stage of tracking live as a 4 piece. We'll record basic tracks together, instrumental overdubs together, percussion overdubs together and even track a lot of the vocals together live. It seems to give the tracks more life, and you get all kinds of unexpected sounds when you perform that way.
The sound is the
predominate vehicle for the concept. On the surface, the lyrics alone seem
relatively simplistic and maybe even unrelated at times. I've always felt,
first and foremost, that lyrics should be easy to understand and fun to sing
along to. But add to those simple lyrics various musical feelings and you can
completely change the meaning of the words or imply multiple meanings. It's
like in the movies... the music is really what carries all the emotion and
drops hints to the audience about what is going to happen.
Each of this series' four parts will have a distinctly different sound that emulates the concepts. The recording for each album is being approached differently for this reason as well. I think to accurately emulate the different moods for each album, we have to take different approaches. It also helps to keep things spontaneous, since nobody (including myself) really knows what will come out of it all. It produces that all important element of chance.
I can't specifically say what influenced me with these ideas regarding recording approach. I've always been obsessive about trying to figure out why albums sound a certain way. I'm interested in the idea that a recording session can capture a feeling and a moment that is unique... one that can never again be duplicated. It seems apparent to me that the interaction between the musicians and artists is what causes this. One person's mood can affect everyone else in the room, and that alone can change the tone of the performance. So, if you plan ahead and purposely throw the band some curves, it will alter their reactions. You just have to be careful that those reactions are constructive.”
The folks reading this may or may not know – Gayle Ether (bass, vocals) is actually your wife and she sings lead on about a third of the songs. How do you write songs for her to sing?
”That's a tough one. I'm still learning how to write for her and the others for that matter. Any time you write for someone else, you have to keep their vocal range and personality in mind. I can't really force myself to write songs anyway. If I sit down with the guitar or piano, nothing good comes out of it. I have to wait for a melody and lyrical phrase to hit me and construct it all in my head. When it does hit me, I try to evaluate who the song would be appropriate for.
But when I know I need to come up with some songs for Gayle, I'll make a point of listening to people like Aimee Mann, Kim Deal, Deborah Harry, etc. Sometimes that will point me in the right direction as far a vocal range goes.”
Apparently you’re releasing the album’s MONO mix over the internet for free download?
“Oh yeah. I'm in the process of doing a badly needed re-design on our website. Once that is done, the mono version of the full album will be available for free through our site... as will be the case for everything we do from this point forward.”
As of the time this article was
written, the scheduled release date for “How To Get Lost… part one” was