November changed America. In under one year, the political landscape of the United States has been turned upside down with no immediate resolution in sight.
The rebellious and thought-provoking artist took time out of his busy schedule to chat with GIGSoup about “When November Came” and his background in the music industry.
My earliest memory of music is listening to Enya and dancing around the room with my sister. Like earliest memories – like 3 or4. Whenever you start making memories. “Rains Over Africa” – Whenever I hear that song now, it’s just sublime.
My parents have owned a small ballet and children’s musical theatre school since since I was a kid so I grew up doing a lot of musical theatre. I wasn’t into it AT ALL until I was about 12. Up until then my primary interests were filmmaking and listening to classic rock. I started learning guitar at 11 or 12. I started writing songs around 13. From middle school onward, musical theatre was pretty much my largest creative and social outlet. I took singing lessons for 5 years but filmmaking was still my primary goal. Music was something I wanted to do and would attack at some point when the time felt right (or I felt remotely competent enough to attempt).
How would you describe the style of music on your latest album?
I mean, if I was to give you a classic “genre hypen genre/sub-genre” I guess it would be “folk-rock/soft psychedelic”. Like I don’t know haha. The music world has become so vast and stylistically nuanced, which is awesome; but as for me, I suppose some kind of indie-folk rock thang…
You have a seemingly old-school feel both in vocal quality and in appearance. Are there any notable influences that have inspired your overall vibe?
I grew up listening to a lot of Harry Niilson, Phil Ochs, the Beatles. I’ve always had an affinity with the 60’s and 70’s.
I’m a big fan of Vashti Bunyun. She’s miraculous. Neko Case. The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I feel a strong lyrical kinship with Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Beck is my favorite thing in the world right now. It’s been that way for 3 years and hasn’t changed yet haha. Recently I’ve been really into Blonde Redhead. I can’t even handle them. Like my body feels too many things when they come on. They’re just phenomenol.
What’s the best feeling about being on stage and performing in front of a crowd?
Outside of having my petty need for validation satisfied?! Oh god, haha. In reality, the best feeling is when your anxiety dissipates, you are completely enveloped in the feeling of the song and the moment and you and the audience are 100% synchronized. That invigorating cycle of energetic reciprocity.
The rule of thought I’ve been trying to live by when performing is to make sure right before I begin playing, that I return to the feeling of the first time I wrote the song, coming up with the lyrics, etc. If I can return to that feeling and literally feel as if I am discovering the creation of the tune all over again, then I connect within myself the strongest and therefore (hopefully) also with the audience.
How do you begin to write a song? Do lyrics come to you before a melody, or vice versa?
It usually happens when I’m just fucking around on the guitar and I’ll start singing nonsense, like literal bullshit nonsensical trains of thought. Then suddenly, as I’m playing, a certain phrase or a word will just click – and I’ll be like, oh… dope – I’ll keep going down that road, see what it’s trying to be and then at some point you just know the direction you’re going and what the song is about. I never set out to write a song. It feels insincere because it doesn’t feel intuitive. Sometimes I come up with sentences while driving to and from work and start humming a melody and be like, “A ha! I’ve got something!”, record it on my phone and then later work on it with the guitar.
What should your listeners know about your last album ‘A Little Yellow?’
It was my first official musical pursuit. It’s a very folky sometimes orchestral pop-y album about a relationship. I think if you’re craving some tranquil folk or meditative driving music, the album is a solid choice. I learned a lot about vocal performance and story-telling. There’s A LOT I would’ve done differently, haha. But, no, not to shit on my work – I’m very happy with it. I just feel very removed from it.
Talk about the significance of the month of November and your inspiration behind your latest video, ‘When November Came.”
The music video is about the fateful 8th of November 2016! Cue: Spooky music! But for real, “When November Came” is essentially concerned with Division; the forces that generate it within society and, worse, how we become an appendage to these forces – how we become blind slavish tools of Division ourselves.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the video?
Whatever they want, although I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s not saying anything we don’t already fucking know. I just thought I had an interesting way to contextualize it.
Like, there’s a new King George the III now to contend with and he’s not even the worst part of the problem! The rise of this Dorito-colored shit stain of a man is symptomatic of much deeper issues. I feel sad to say that the video doesn’t really offer much of a bright future but I can’t really say I’m confident that the rot in the soul of this country will ever be cured. We should try! But we shouldn’t also forget that this country was founded on blood and force, like any other. We are not exceptional. Slavery, genocide, delusional religiosity…. that’s at the heart of America just as much as “freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
America is a monumental paradox and the things that comprise it’s soul might be disproportionately weighed more than we had thought. We shall see! I don’t know why we all just don’t walk into the ocean together, hand in hand.
On a lighter note, what’s your favorite tune to listen to in the morning when you wake up? What’s your favorite tune to listen to before bed?
Almost every day at work while I’m setting up I play Matt Monro singing From Russia with Love. His voice calms my nerves. I often listen to Nancy Sinatra or Charlottes Gainsbourg before bed.
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Another fun question…What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Watching movies. Writing scripts with my best friend. Writing songs. Camping, hiking, cooking.
What most excites you about the music industry and where it is headed today?
Honestly, I know very little about the music industry. Everything is transforming so quickly and I think for the better. But I’m the farthest thing from an expert on the matter. Self-distribution has become so fucking easy and effective which takes a massive burden off the whole process. That’s probably the thing that’s most encouraging.
Where did you grow up and how did where you grow up influence your music?
I grew up in Massachusetts, not too far from Boston. I can’t say Massachusetts has had much relevance on my songwriting, haha. I don’t know, perhaps – I grew up in a very religious community and when I first started writing lyrics the songs were all very anti-religious institution type-stuff so perhaps Puritanical New England rubbed off on my music!
Where are you living now? How is the music scene different there?
I’m living in Santa Cruz, an hour and a half south of San Francisco. The music scene is great there! Overwhelming. You can’t walk down the street without meeting musicians and artists. It’s like a little art haven. Music everywhere. You don’t have to search for it, it’s just like anywhere you look.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with GIGSoup, Ekdahl! What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
Where do I see myself in 10 years? Foremost, hopefully not fucking dead! The doomsday clock is ticking pretty hard though these days. But in all seriousness, I plan to just keep teaching, making movies and music. I’ll stay in Northern California for awhile. I hope to live abroad for awhile but that’s not any time soon.
You can purchase Ekdahl’s “When November Came” on iTunes by clicking HERE. The song is also available for purchase on Spotify and Apple Music. You can check out Ekdahl’s previous album by clicking HERE.
Ekdahl will be donating YouTube monetization profits to the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico.