Ben Allen, music editor
The subject of this Quarantine Creativity Interview is Ethan Miller. Miller is an imaginative, productive musician, constantly occupied with an assortment of inventive artistic pursuits.
There’s Howlin Rain, a band he fronts, writing the songs, singing and playing guitar and described as “classically soulful.” He plays bass and sings in Heron Oblivion, a neo-psychedelic group comprised of “New Weird America” all-stars, and signed to indie giant Sub Pop records. To indulge his more “caveman rock” instincts, Miller also sings (screams) and plays guitar in Feral Ohms, a “scuzz, primitive, outcast and punk rock & roll” trio. The Odyssey Cult is an “amp melt & high volume ambient electric guitar music” solo project.
In addition to these projects, Miller has toured all over the world, performed with numerous established acts, played for a number of years in the critically-adored, highly influential Comets on Fire, published original written works, collaborated with a variety of musicians and artists and runs the label Silver Current Records.
How does a musician with so much inspired output occupy their time in the confines of self-isolation?
Ben: Hi Ethan. You seem like a prolific songwriter that is constantly busy with a number of projects. How has spending a significant amount of time at home affected your creative output?
Ethan: I’ll be honest, I was sick for the first four weeks of quarantine and just shook symptoms completely after 5 + weeks last week. So I’m just getting back on my feet. A lot of folks are going stir crazy by now and kind of in a different mental phase I feel like but I’m just sort of adjusting to life back among the living and catching up with loose ends that were hanging when I went down and the world turned upside down.
As far as creativity, I’m just getting it back slowly after being sick. It was to a level that I didn’t really have access to creativity for about 3 + weeks, I mean zero. I couldn’t really think in that way or any way that was of much use really, I didn’t even feel like I was accessing myself, let alone my most advanced self. Also, in the midst of all this I think working on releases and label stuff and that kind of technical, business and lighter creative work is easier right now, I don’t think being in a constant state of low grade (or high grade) anxiety, fear and unknown is a peak place to access creativity. I’m grateful that I was in a cycle of finishing records, and setting up records for releases and production that was all going to take a while to work through and not in a place where I needed to be my creative best and face the blank white page in the type-writer day after day, so to speak.
Ben: Tell us a bit about the “Home Listening” Spotify playlist you’ve been putting together.
Ethan: Ah, the pursuit of curated infinity in music! The original idea of the playlist was to have a curated, ever expanding general resource mix-tape with sort of a 3 fold mission:
-Music for challenging, but positive brain stimulus under stress.
-Friday/Saturday night favorite living room party jams to remember you’re alive through all this.
I felt like those were the three most common and necessary elements I was looking for to keep on a psychic level in the midst of this. I figured others would be looking for those elements too and might not know where to get them, and even if they did they might be interested to see what other musicians and artists were going to for this purpose. I certainly was interested to know that.
And of course now that I have guest curators it’s becoming more of a universal effort and I am getting turned on to a TON of artists and albums that are new to me everyday, more than I can absorb! It’s such a joy. I hope it is for others too. Of course, the further we go with guest curation the more elastic my original mission statement and goals become but that’s ok. It’s so full of beautiful music that is highly curated to the tastes and love of artists, friends and associates that I admire. Today the playlist is at almost 380 hours of mostly full-albums. By the time folks read this it will be a lot more. I try to post every week day or so. Here’s the link:
Ben: Have you had to postpone or cancel any live dates?
Ethan: Yes. totally. One private gig that was for a lot of money and was really a financial anchor for the second half of the year, so I was sorry to see that go. And a tour of Australia with Howlin Rain and Endless Boogie. My first time back to Australia since the mid-2000’s, so I was sorry to see that go too. But thankfully that one got rescheduled for the Fall. Hopefully it can happen then. And some other gigs that I’d rather be playing than locked inside for months. But all things considered, it is what it is, this thing is huge and we’ve got something major we’re facing as a country and as a world of humans and it’s going to get more complex before it simplifies. Gigs come and go.
Ben: What is something you’re looking forward to doing once the number of new cases drops low enough that shelter-in-place orders can be lifted?
Ethan: Seeing my parents first and foremost when it seems like we’re really in the clear here. They live in Humboldt and we (my wife and I) live in Oakland. Since we live in the city, going to see them and carrying something that we don’t know we have up to them is a concern. But having all this down time and not being able to bond with loved ones and friends in person is the toughest part, I think most people feel that. It’s just something we’re not used to, to stay away from each other when we need each other the most.