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April 27, 2020

Interview with Ethan Gruska

Interview with Ethan Gruska

We had the pleasure of interviewing Ethan Gruska over the phone!

​​​Please share while we are #togetherathome ​🏠​

"Ethan Gruska first stepped into the spotlight in the rock duo The Belle Brigade alongside his drummer sister, Barbara, releasing two...


We had the pleasure of interviewing Ethan Gruska over the phone!

​​​Please share while we are #togetherathome ​🏠​

"Ethan Gruska first stepped into the spotlight in the rock duo The Belle Brigade alongside his drummer sister, Barbara, releasing two albums to much acclaim. Since then, he has grown as a composer and a producer on lauded records by Phoebe Bridgers and Bad Books. His solo work has been compared to the ultra-creative, left-field piano and guitar songs of Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, and Jon Brion. Now, with the uniquely poppy pastiche of beautiful songs, adventurous production, and revolving door of guest spots that is En Garde, Gruska is stepping into his own as a grand artist and orchestrator for our time.

“I was dealing with a lot of intense, emotional stuff while making this record, and I wanted my more aggressive and unruly sides to come out a bit more,” he says. “The last record showed my vulnerability, but I wanted this record to be vulnerable in a different way. I’m not a tough person, I’m a softie—but on a deeper level this shows a little more humor and the side of me that’s sometimes fronting with hardness. It’s good to be multi-faceted and to not hide your intensity.”

Ever the lane-changer, Gruska has always felt the need to react to his previous output with a swerve. Where the second Belle Brigade album, Just Because, was filled to the brim with colors and sounds, he urged Slowmotionary to feel smaller, intimate, and unadorned. Naturally, for its follow-up, he sought yet another change, and his original idea was to approach the songs more as a producer and less as a singer-songwriter. “On the first record, it was very clear I would make short yet dense piano vignettes. This record was totally amorphous: With En Garde, I brought together a collection of new songs —whether I wrote or co-wrote them, and completely reimagined them in a way that I could color outside the lines with a little bit.”

Gruska wanted texture for his songs, and for them to feel like collage, with multiple things happening at once. “I don’t necessarily always want the "song" to be at the apex of attention. I love collage and actually work in a very collage-y way where I’m sampling the song over and over and pasting it back onto itself. I wanted to spend more time and energy trying to color it up, and to show all the different styles I like and my different techniques. The first one felt black-and-white to me and was supposed to be absorbed; this one is multimedia you’re meant to try and touch it.”

With the guidance of his longtime mentor and production guru, the LA industry titan Tony Berg, Gruska slowly began reining in the vast soundscapes to hone in on the songs themselves—finding, as Berg said, the singer-songwriter in the record. “I think the common thread in my writing in general is ‘unsuccessful mind-reading,’” he says. “I’m not very good at it but there’s a part of my brain stem that thinks I’m great at it. You think you know what someone must be thinking about you, but it’s just what you think about yourself. I would spend so much energy trying to figure out what’s happening under the surface of an interaction; it wore me down. Working through those feelings on this record was good for me.”

But where he was able to bring focus to his subject matter, his natural instincts as a multi-genre kaleidoscope and conduit with a whirring Rolodex also played a part. “I like so many kinds of music and I love working on other people’s music as much as on my own, so I wanted to just do it all on this one album,” he says. And that he did, with multiple guest spots and co-written songs on En Garde helping to power the album’s motor in a natural, symbiotic way. Whether family (sister Barbara), old friends (Blake Mills, Christian Lee Hutson, Phoebe Bridgers, Rob Moose, Gabe Noel, Amos Lee), newer acquaintances (Lianne La Havas, Moses Sumney, Josh Epstein, Jim Fairchild), or legendary session player (Matt Chamberlin, Larry

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