“Catching Up With” is a new interview series where we reconnect with an artist who has previously used the NoiseTrade platform and chat with them about what they’re doing now. This week we’re catching up with punk rock journeyman Ethan Luck about his new album Let It Burn (available now on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp).
Let It Burn can also be ordered on vinyl from SMLXL here:
NoiseTrade: While your multi-decade musical career has seen you traffic in a variety of different genres, your new album Let It Burn is pure old school first wave reggae and ska. How did you originally get interested in those genres and when did you decide that your new batch of songs would revolve around this sonic vibe?
Ethan Luck: I first discovered ska and reggae around 1992, during high school in Orange County, CA. Bands like No Doubt, Fishbone, Sublime, Rancid, and many others became popular and I’d go to shows just about every weekend. I couldn’t get enough of it. It felt like it was just a California thing and that it was ours. Getting into these bands led me to going back in time to figure out who they were influenced by. That led me to discovering what would become some of my favorite ska and reggae artists, like The Specials, Madness, Bob Marley, Toots & The Maytals, King Tubby, Bunny Wailer and The Melodians, just to name a few.
For this record, I planned on doing another punk rock record, just like my last EP. One night on tour, I had a day off and was starting to write new songs in a hotel room. I had no intention of writing a reggae/ska record but that’s what came out. It was very natural and seemed like the right place to go. I hadn’t written that stuff in so long and didn’t realize how much I missed it. I don’t like being bound to one style of music and I only write what I love. To me, that’s the most honest way to write.
NT: Between the uniquely specific guitar tones, lockstep drum-and-bass grooves, organ rhythms, and triple brass horn section, reggae and ska are not really genres that a musician can just fake their way through. Since you wrote all the songs and played a majority of the instruments (guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and melodica) on Let It Burn, who are some reggae and ska artists and albums that you’ve been inspired by and have studied over the years?
Luck: For this record, I took influence from all sorts of artists, even stuff that’s far removed from reggae and ska. I touched on this in the first question, but a short-ish list of artists, past and present, would be: Toots & The Maytals, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, King Tubby, The Specials, The Interrupters, Rancid, The Aggrolites, Hepcat, The Steady 45’s, Operation Ivy, Jimmy Cliff, The Melodians… Actually, every morning in the studio, we would throw on a vinyl of a reggae or ska record to get inspired. I think I turned Paul Moak and his crew on to some new stuff.
NT: The last album you released under just your solo name (Hard Seas EP in 2014) was almost a concept album in how the topic of anxiety was threaded through multiple songs. Do you feel that Let It Burn has any overarching themes that show up on multiple tracks like that or do each of the songs kind of stand on their own thematic feet?
Luck: There are a few overarching themes on this record, for sure. When something affects my life in a big way, I can’t help but write about it. On this record, there’s plenty of personal stuff. A few songs like “ Let It Burn” and “Rise Again” deal with the idea of moving forward when people try and hold you back. When there’s something you know you have to do, you have to pursue it, no matter what obstacle is holding you back. I know that making a record like this in Nashville is almost unheard of, but I had to do it. I got a kick out of making, quite possibly, the only reggae/ska record in Nashville this year. I’d love to know if anyone else did though!
NT: With you re-enlisting Paul Moak as your producer for Let It Burn, can you tell us a little bit about your working relationship with him in the studio and what draws you to working with him so much?
Luck: If possible, I will record every record with Paul. We first met in 2011 when I was shooting behind the scenes photos for a band called House Of Heroes. To date, I’ve worked on six records with Paul, as a studio musician or for my own stuff. Paul is very organic and analog. He doesn’t approach a song or album with the intent of it being a “hit.” Every sound, instrument, or lyric is there because it’s the right way to go. He pushes you to lay down the best take you can. He’s so good at pulling things out of you that you didn’t know were there. When you think your songs are good to go he steps in and makes them exceed your expectations. Some producers just hit record and try to get through a record. Paul sees your vision and runs with it. Before we started this record, Paul would text me late at night that he was watching old reggae performances on YouTube. He does his homework and it more than shows. Lastly, he is one of the best musicians I know. He played all the keys on the record, minus one song, and took my songs to places I never thought they’d go. Oh, I have to mention that his studio The Smoakstack is the best studio in Nashville. If you’re not instantly inspired in that place, you should not be doing music.
NT: Finally, considering how ska and reggae both have had so many iterations and subgenres evolutions over the decades, who is an artist or two from that realm that you would love (or would have loved) to play with and what song would you want to do? For bonus points, feel free to pick a different song for each instrument you play.
Luck: Ok, here we go… For vocals, I would love to trade verses with Joe Strummer on “Straight To Hell.” For guitar, it might be one of the most well known songs by this artist, but I would love to play guitar along side Bob Marley on “No Woman, No Cry.” The solo that Al Anderson plays is perfection. For bass, I’ve got to choose “Do Nothing” by The Specials. It’s one of my favorite songs and Horace Panter is, and will always be, one of the best bass players in ska music. For drums, I’m gonna go with “Time Bomb” by Rancid. Brett Reed is such a good drummer in the punk/ska genre. I’d be honored to play this tune along side Rancid.