San Francisco by LA singer-songwriter Ethan Gold's work searches through the far reaches of humanity with a self-prescribed approach to narratives of the personal and circumstantial externals. His album Songs From a Toxic Apartment came from Gold's undertaking of writing a 75-song rock opera of "male violence" entitled The Rise and Fall of CAP created out of the humble confines of dingy flats. Through the home recording process, songs sketches of the candid and intimate began to take shape and thus Songs were born. "There were a bunch of demos that weren't the opera characters," Ethan explained to us, "Actual life's memories and hopes, the voices in my head as I tried to process the toxicity I was carrying around emotionally".
Directed by Rachel Samuels, we bring you the music video debut of "Royal Flush", where piano notes mourn celluloid memories. Ethan puts on a projector film of b/w night tremor possessions with parallel worlds of a duck and mouse met between Gold's alliteration of keys. The chorus calls of "come on my darling", and "show me your hand/heart", brings chance meetings and moments between a dancer sprung to life from multiple film screens and the unlikely stop-action kinship that develops between the video's duck and mouse protagonists.
From writing epics out of Joe's Apartment-esque derelict conditions to the much publicized loss of his mom in the historic Bill Graham helicopter crash in the San Pablo Bay (also the subject of Ethan's brother Ari Gold's film short, Helicopter); Ethan brings out his baggage from the unconscious and turns it into his own form of balladry. Toward's the song's close, the devastating funeral march progression changes its key as it floats on a life raft of serenity and a certain quest for closure and a new peace. Ethan graciously talked to us about the personal side of his songwriting, taking us closely into the intrinsic framework of his music in this following interview:
I have always wondered how you went about condensing the 75-song rock opera you had in the works, The Rise and Fall of CAP, to the more succinct cycle, Songs From a Toxic Apartment that was literally born out of your uh, less than perfect Fairfax flat.
The album is an intimate version of some of the themes the opera was trying to address. Getting out of the toxic flat enabled me to think more clearly, once the mold left my brain! But the 'toxic apartment' was more the apartment I grew up in in San Francisco than it was the crappy building in LA where I was demo-ing all the songs for the opera. The opera was about male violence, but after I left the apartment I got honest and realized there were a bunch of demos that weren't the opera characters, they were my actual life's memories and hopes, the voices in my head as I tried to process the toxicity I was carrying around emotionally. The opening track "Why Don't You Sleep" is a kid and his parents talking to each other as the kid did or didn't run away. The second song in the cycle, "Royal Flush", which you're showing the video for here, is an ode to the romance of decrepitude. Closet goth I suppose. The album goes from there through alienated night time urban sex stories, and ends up breaking towards health and light by the end.
Catharsis has always been such a big part of your music, and having an upbringing with so many industry movers and shakers shuffling through mixed with so many elements tragedy and trauma; how does songwriting become both a therapeutic and inventive tool for you?
Well, people read my bio, the simple fact of how my mother died, and get an impression of a lot of music industry in my life, but really for my brother and sister and me it wasn't that at all. My mother was with my father, then someone else, then Bill Graham, then married a cowboy attorney who was my main stepfather, then was back with Bill Graham. I saw them a grand total of once after they reunited before they were both killed. My family felt very much not a part of Bill's world. I may have been affected by being on stage at stadiums as a 5-year old, making me see the populist power of music. But my songwriting generally comes from a pure dream state, either literally, or by sitting back and listening to songs in my head, songs that don't exist. I've been through a lot of things – sometimes I feel like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." But I hope to use those experiences to be a torchlight for other people, songs as tools for transformation.
In a lot of your songs you often make up your own rules for regulating lines, meter, and pacing; how do you normally approach your own personal songwriting methodologies, or does it change continually depending on any number of factors?
Every song presents its own rules, they tell me what to do. As much as possible I take dictation from an inner voice. Then I use my left brain to chisel away – the craft side of things, which is fun and difficult. But I can't understand when people use rules first – might as well go to law school. If you're an artist, your job is to go beyond. In the vastness of human experience, you can do anything, you can feel anything. Of course you need to make it intelligible also, so it's not complete freedom. Ride a huge horse but have reins to guide it.
How did you go writing and arranging the funereal, memory-motion picture flicker of "Royal Flush"?
An old upright piano taught me that song. The piano itself sang it to me. Then I added drum machine, guitars, synths, Rhodes, drums, and one of my two favorite bass parts on the album. Some of these instruments were stand-ins -drum machine heartbeats, rain in the piano solo, and glimmers of sunshine in the electric guitar. These things cracked the walls of the stale room the song starts in, allowing life in. I do think I obsessed a bit much on this mix, I struggled with it, automating EQ rides on the hi-hat, etc. Musicians and producers might relate to that part.
Further more how did you adapt the piano ballad to the visual? Given your multimedia approaches, like with the rock opera vision, is it easier to visualize your music from sound to site?
This video was directed by my good friend Rachel Samuels. A lot of the videos on my album I envisioned while I was deep inside mixing, perhaps influenced by the opera's themes, as a visual echo of the songs. I do love the visual side. But this video was really Rachel's vision. She was a painter before working with film and you can see that in the colors in the video, which are fantastic. I joke that it took so long to make that my hair kept changing. We shot one day before my record was finished, then another around when it came out, and another recently. Of the nine videos for my debut, this was the first one started, and the last one finished. Now that the not-so-toxic vision is complete, I'm going to include downloads of the all the videos with the album off my site. And I'm excited for my next record.
Songs From a Toxic Apartment is available now.