Meet Rising Musical Star & Olympia Native, Ethan Tucker
It’s no secret, I love 4th Ave. A lot of music history has been made on this famous corridor. Thrones of musicians, poets and artists have come and gone – lost and won. Yes, it’s a very hip town and in my opinion this is our hippest street. This summer, one of Olympia’s sons is releasing a new album and adding his unique talents to the historic tapestry of the Avenue.
EthanTucker says he loves sharing his music with fans and “prefans” alike. I’m sure that comes as no difficult task, his music is toe tapping, comfy and inviting and was recently nominated for an Olympia Music Award. In his music there’s this not so delicate balance between Ska rhythms, the lyrical resonance of deep Country Blues, and a feel good Reggae that’s a perfect fit for the summer sun.
ET: “I wanna have a good time. I want everybody to feel as good as I feel. And I want that to be passed backed to me and just create this reverberating vibe, which is why people come to live music.”
ET: “Musical inspirations come from the blues: John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, BB King, Taj Mahal, those were all my big influences, the first CD I ever bought was Taj Mahal. I was 9 years old, my mom asked what CD I wanted and I said Taj Mahal. As far as writing goes I’m a huge fan of Tom Waits. He’s a musician and a poet, he’s been doing music for a long time, but again it goes back to those blues guys, incorporating that feeling. For me, when I started writing songs, lyrically, I never thought – okay I want to write a hit song or I want to write a song like this or that – I just thought alright, this is what’s going on, I’m gonna sing it. And that’s how it started coming out.”
At a time when most kids his age were Disney-distracted and arguing over which southern-rap top ten was the “crunkest“, Ethan was tuning his ears to heart-clutched folk music – music rooted deep in mature emotional overtones and acoustic accompaniment. These themes can be found in Tucker’s “What They Say”.
ET: “Yeah, so in “What they Say” another person I’m a big fan of is Michael Franti. He’s been doing music since the late 80s – he’s a very inspirational human-being on top of being a very inspiration musician. Michael Franti’s music has always been very much about people. The lyrical inspiration behind “What They Say” comes from a documentary from Michael Franti called I know I’m Not Alone. In the film, Michael Franti goes to Isreal and areas of Baghdad as asks people: American soldiers, poets, musicians – just random people on the streets, “How is your life affected by what is going on? So that film, I would say is a direct influence on the song “What They Say” because, as the song says, what they say ain’t always right because sometimes what they say in the news isn’t what’s been experienced by the people living it.”
Ethan is the kind of person who can be cerebral without being overly heavy. So we talk. We talk about his music, about his late brother – who Tucker says is a major influence on his life philosophy, we talk about being out on the road and coming back to Olympia.
ET: “I was born here – moved away and moved back in May 2011. I spent every summer in Olympia with my Dad. That’s when I got the Olympia experience, the Puget Sound, the forests, but I really didn’t have much contact in Olympia other than family until about a year ago. So my first experience with 4th Ave. and all that happened a year ago. When I moved back a friend of mine, Scott – a local trumpet player, got me set up with a couple paying gigs at the Ballyhoo and the 4th Ave Tavern. Those where my only two gigs in town until I started hitting up Hannah’s open mic, Pints & Quarts open mic and some other places. Recently, I was just back in Idaho doing a residency, which is where you play at one place for a set period of time. I was at a ski resort called Sun Valley Resort, which is a place where a lot of celebrities go for their vacations. So that time wasn’t exactly a tour, but I’ve toured the whole west coast, I’ve toured Jamaica, Texas and Canada.”
Ethan’s no one man show, he performs with the Ethan Tucker Band: Brett “Big Chill” Cummings (Saxophones), Brett “Beo” Bailey (Percussion), and Jesse Turcotte (Bass). Before ETB, Tucker performed onstage with the Grassroots All-Stars – he says he and his old bandmates are still very close friends and musical collaborateurs.
ET: “The musicians I play with are incredible people as well as musicians. Before the ETB there was Ethan Tucker and the Grassroots All-Stars. The Grassroots All-Stars are my dearest my most beloved friends in the world. As far as professional music goes we couldn’t make that work. They have different obligations that don’t allow them to continue. But when I go back to Twin Falls, Idaho, they are the first people I call up, they’re the people I’m hanging out with, they’re the people I’m talking about music with. But as far as professional music goes I’ve gone a different direction. I still keep in touch with my former lead guitar player, he’s still featured on my projects. He’s such a great musician, he inspires me.”
Tucker says the formula in both bands is the same. The band’s vibe is centered around Tucker’s musical themes and lyrical imagination, but musicianship is both eclectic and collaborative. One particular track that’s been added to my playlist recently is Misunderstood from his 2012 album of the same name hitting the Ave this summer. Ear candy at its best – this is feel good music you’ve got to hear.
ET: ”I’m a very passionate and loving person. For so many years I was having a hard time forming relationships with the opposite sex. Not because of anything negative, but because – from what I’ve been told – I’m overly compassionate. I have my standards and I can be a man, but I have a soft spot for women. Misunderstood comes from my repeated advances with women and from situations where I’m misunderstood as far as what people’s expectations of me are. I mean, I perform without shoes on stage, I wear white t-shirts and jeans pretty much everyday of my life and people don’t get that. Or people ask me all the time, “what’s your genre” my reply is , “I don’t know, listen to my album and you tell me”. I have jazz, I have blues, I have reggae, I have…..stuff I don’t even know what you would call it. So all of that culminates into being misunderstood.”
Here’s something that ain’t misunderstood – Ethan Tucker is a star. Racking up miles from here to Jamaica and preparing for projects with the likes of Michael Franti; I was curious if he had any ideas on how to make Olympia the music hub Portland and Seattle are. Here’s what Ethan had to say:
ET: “One of the things I think Olympia really needs to do to be a music hub is be more inviting to new talent. But you can’t be spoiled. One of the things that is great about this city is that people are hungry for good music – but you have to hustle. I’ve played some of the best venues on the west coast, but to get a gig in this town you have to hustle! So I think the city has good potential. Once you’re in the circle, you’re in. The music scene here is like a solid beating heart inside of a skeleton. You have some very great musicians, people who are hungry for good music, you have people who have something great to offer. Then you have some snobby people relying on the skeleton of the past. You know Kurt Cobain lived here for a while, there have been a lot of great acts from this town – that’s awesome. But what’s going on now? You have great musicians starving- going to open mic nights looking for good venues to play. It’s a shame that in this city with people who love good music all the good musicians have to go elsewhere because people don’t want to give them a chance.”
Very candid words from this self taught, musician/singer – words I’m sure other musicians will appreciate. Without vocal lessons or formal guitar lessons Tucker is a true performer. It would appear that he is now center stage – guitar under his arm like the blues singers he looked up to since he was a kid. Perhaps he too will inspire future generations of musicians. Let’s hope Olympia.