Ethan Gold, a native son of San Francisco, is a talented multi-instrumentalist musician and a very productive artist. He was raised in the hangover that followed free love, when the concept of family was trampled by baby boomers stumbling their way through history. His father is Beat-adjunct writer Herbert Gold, and his mother Melissa died prematurely in a helicopter crash along with the legendary rock promoter Bill Graham the day that everybody, especially those who have been in music for a long time, recall like “the night the Music died ”. For Ethan, the escape was always into new songs and the dreams where he hears them.
Ethan produced and recorded 3 albums out in 2018: EXPANSES (TEENAGE SYNTHSTRUMENTALS), released in July; LIVE UNDEAD BEDROOM CLOSET COVERS, released in March THE SONG OF SWAY LAKE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK) the score for “The Song of Sway Lake” a movie directed by his brother Ari Gold, who is a director, a writer and a musician too. The album was released in September in the US and is now out in Europe. Ethan also made 2 more albums: “Songs from a Toxic Apartment” (2011) and “Adventures of Power” (2010), and the score for the short “Helicopter” (2001).
Ethan is a musician, a singer and above all he is a composer. His works are self-producted and made in his apartment. There are also fifteen albums left, still unreleased. After 27 years of the passing away of Melissa, to whom this article is a tribute, Ethan shows the healing power of the music in his life.
Listening to ‘Expanses’ I can feel an extreme pain and also a heartbreaking in the songs. Especially in the tracks “Crossing the Bar” – which make me think of an endless pain – and “Missing” which I figure out like a sudden lost
“You are correct. I was in a lot of pain when I made them, and you are also correct that those two are really the heart of the record. The cover of the album reflects that feeling of coldness and disconnection from pleasure. Though there is a lot of playfulness and organic earthiness in the other 11 tracks, which is reflected in the fish on the back of the record. All that art comes from paintings I did”
About Expanses I read you produced, recorded, performed and mixed it from 4-track cassette straight to a stereo cassette in your basement during high school, it is an amazing thing to do at that age… when did you start to compose and play music?
“I started writing songs at age three, though I didn’t start doing it as a soul healing until maybe age 9”
Why did it take you so long to release it?
“I have probably 15 unreleased albums. It just felt like the right time to release this one, for reasons I cannot describe. I do not have a normal relationship with time. My catalog is so big that I cannot know what I will release next. Some of the decision has to do with when something feels complete, I let it out. But also I used to struggle with showing myself. I worked very hard on other people’s projects for a long time — movies, albums, bands. I did not allow myself to release my own work. Now you will see a volcano of releases. Three albums this year, for example”
Why haven’t you put any lyrics on it?
“It is exactly what it is. It doesn’t want lyrics. I respond to what the music wants”
Did you imagine this instrumental album for any soundtrack?
“I had gotten some incredible response to the album. I have never read reviews like some I’ve read for this strange little record. I’m pleasantly shocked. I thought people would think it unprofessional. We’ll see… A science app about microbes wants to use it as a soundtrack, which feels appropriate. There is something very very elemental, microbial, about some of the music on Expanses. It’s certainly organic. That may be part of what’s so strange about it. Most electronic music is quantized, perfected. Expanses is all synths, but there is no sequencing, no quantization. It is organic, almost primordial, burbling, beautiful, and ugly, like algae”
I like the cover and the picture inside, it reminds me of an old time school period shoot, maybe because we have the same age. Nowadays, music is a ‘fake thing’ and a big market issues for most of the artists, and finding something real is a great gift for the music lovers. What do you think about the current music business?
“Thank you about the album cover. Yes, that’s an image of me playing one of the keyboards you hear a lot of on the album, combined with paintings of mine, as a collage. The current music business… It is frustrating that streaming makes so little money for the people who create the music. But the positive thing is, for someone who plans to release a lot of music, I can build a body of work that is findable. Marketing is another matter. There is a lot of corruption in this business. I turn on the radio, or the streaming services, and I’m disgusted by the things that are getting heavy promotion. The whole world is being told what’s important, and most of it is garbage which degrades the human spirit”
About “Helicopter”, did you write the score for the film or that was a previous materials of yours?
“The song “The Cold Glow” which plays at the end of “Helicopter” is a song of mine which Ari loved, which was written just from a place of profound loneliness and disconnection. In a way, it is a similar feeling to the track “Crossing the Bar” on Expanses, which you noticed, but instead of as a synthstrumental piece, “The Cold Glow” is singer songwriter piano ballad with lyrics. Ari felt rightly that this song reflected the mood of grief and emptiness in “Helicopter”. I created the rest of the score to continue that mood and also build to the moment when the song enters in the end credits, for maximum power”
I’m listening to ‘Balloon’ and ‘Born Under Punches’ from ‘Live undead bedroom closet cover’ now and they are truly amazing. The full album is great…
“These are some of the bands I love. I made covers as kind of an exercise. To prove something to myself. It’s a very moody record, in a way it’s connected to my album Songs from a Toxic Apartment. Very home-made. Live Undead Bedroom Closet Covers is sort of a love letter to new wave music. It’s a real nighttime moody album”
Did you really recorded and performed live this album in your bedroom closet?
“Yes, and for many of them you can actually see the recording process on my YouTube channel, where I posted videos of the recordings, right there in the closet, with my instruments and computer, and a flashing colored light”
Do you have a recording studio in your apartment?
“You can see it in those YouTube videos. It’s not really a ‘studio’, just a very simple set-up. A couple mics, a computer, a few keyboards, guitars, basses, percussion instruments. That’s it”
About ‘Songs from a toxic apartment’, I must say it is my fave. I really do love the song ‘Why don’t you sleep?’. Can you tell me more?
“Why Don’t You Sleep” is a very important song to me in the catalog. It’s not about the death of my mother, though I’m sure in some way the ghostly feeling and the rage in it has some connection. I see the song as a healing, like a lullaby, but it is more about internalizing the failures of our parents. And about extreme insomnia, of course, which has been a huge part of my life experience”
The title of the album “Songs from a Toxic Apartment” is quite wired. Was that apartment toxic for real or was it just a metaphor?
“It was both. In life we re-create traumas because we are comfortable in them, and our psyches need to get another chance to process them. The toxic apartment, the first apartment I had on my own, was also my way of symbolically re-creating in my childhood in my early 20s. Of course I only understood this later. So the album is a reflection of how the demons and abandonments of childhood repeat later, and create sickness of various kinds, addictions, depravity. Ultimately as the record progresses light breaks into the darkness”
Is the music a way for you to exorcise death and loss?
“Music expresses itself through me. When I needed to exorcise death and loss, that was the music that came. It’s not the only thing I express but Songs from a Toxic Apartment is for some people a frightening record to listen to. There is a lot of beauty and heart in it but it is not easy. It is a journey from anger and loss, through disgust, into some kind of beauty. It is meant to be heard from start to finish”
I read this album is also a self-production. You also produced and recorded and then mixed “Songs from a Toxic Apartment” in your room, haven’t you?
“Yes, this was, like Live Undead Bedroom Closet Covers and Expanses (Teenage Synthstrumentals), played and produced and engineered at home”
About “They turned away” I saw Ari in it and I recognized your father too. What is this song – and especially the video – about? It is a bit “Nazi”, I don’t know why but it scares me a bit… all this violence coming up on you, when you were sitting on the chair. Why?
“I directed some of the videos, and co-directed others. Ari did some, and other people did others. I did a lot of videos for that album! The video for “They Turned Away” was a video concept I had for a long time, which Ari directed very sympathetically and cinematically. It is a bit Nazi, that is deliberate. I am not a Nazi, but I understand the impulses that lead to the desire for purification, the destruction of human difference, and violence. I do think Nazism is an outgrowth, on a personal level, of male alienation from femininity, and also a kind of self-hatred. I am the torturers and the tortured in the video”
About The Song of Sway Lake, let me say you’re really a genius, because the score sounds like an old bunch of fashioned songs of the late 30s and 40s. And when I was listening to it I was thinking it was made in that Era, but reading the story of the movie and reading about the song I discovered it was an original one and the music was made by you… It’s incredible. Let me say, all the movie it is like a dream and it is amazing and touching. But the music, played a big role in it…
“Thank you. The full soundtrack album, which has the songs I wrote for the film, in multiple renditions including my original demos, as well as a largely ambient classical piano underscore I composed for the film, is coming out in Europe in November”
Was that Era part of your past life? How did you compose the music? How did you choose the artists?
“My favorite jazz is more the be-bop era. But in order to make music for the film, I listened to a lot of standards, and also watched the film a lot in order to write a song that would reflect the mood of the film as well as the beautiful lake setting where the film takes place. Melody and lyrics, the heart of a song, needs to have the right shape and meaning. I had a great arranger Gina Leishman who worked on two versions of the song “Sway Lake”. We brought in John Grant to sing one, and The Staves to sing another. We listened to hundreds of singers before choosing John and the Staves. It is the rare modern singer who has the purity and technical ability to sound like singers did in the 1930s and 1940s. The training was different in that era. Singers knew how to fill a concert hall without a microphone, so even when singing with a mic, they brought a depth and power that is palpable even when they’re singing quietly”.
“Sway Lake” on vinyl is now available at: https://ffm.to/swaylakevinyl
Official Site: ethangold.com