Eric Ethridge Sarnia’s Rising Star

Eric EthridgeRising country star Eric Ethridge was on his way to a new life in country music when COVID-19 hit. The Sarnia native was recently married to another country singer, Kalsey Kulyk, and also on tour with Gord Bamford when he was told to return home.

Having a medical background as a chiropractor, Ethridge knew this was serious and isolated himself.

Recently, the singer released a new EP, Forever With You, and has had phenomenal success with the lead single “Dream Girl” written by country superstars Dan + Shay.

We checked in with Eric to see how isolation and married life are treating him.

Last time we spoke, your debut EP was a couple of days from being released. A lot has changed. Let’s chat about a few of those changes. First, you’re wearing a new ring!
We met actually in Nashville, just songwriting. My wife, Kalsey, she’s Canadian as well. She’s from Northern Saskatchewan. That’s how we originally met. Much later on, we ended up falling in love and getting married. I’m the luckiest man alive. It’s been an exciting time.

So funny that you met your Canadian girl in the States.
I know. We joke with each other that it didn’t really help our green card situation, so we’ll just have to find another way, I guess.

Is life any different as a married man?
It’s better, I think. The married life is the great life. I think Kalsey and I haven’t experienced the typical married life, because we got married and then the pandemic hit and we lost all of our shows for probably the next two years. It was kind of a shock. We were debating between having our wedding December of 2019 or December of 2020, and we’re really glad we picked December of 2019, because right after that the pandemic hit. We did it in Mexico with our family, and it was amazing. We were really lucky with how it turned out. It’s been good.

At the same time, it was funny, I was about to go out on the road doing a 60-dates national tour with Gord Bamford and a bunch of other artists. We were bummed because we’re not going to see each other for a month. And then the pandemic hit, and we’ve seen each other every day for four months. We’re spoiled in that sense. We thought we weren’t going to see much of each other this year, and now we’re attached at the hip, which is really nice.

We’ve had a lot of time to spend with family members. Our families live very far apart from each other. She was with my family for about a month, they’re just getting to know her more and more. And likewise for me, I’m out here in Edmonton with her family right now. It’s been great in that respect for sure.

It sounds like you found your “Dream Girl”.
I did, yes. I absolutely did find my dream girl. It’s unbelievable. I have to pinch myself still. I’m very lucky, and I am the first to admit it, so I’m just going with that.

People have taken to that song “Dream Girl” – over 2 million streams so far. Tell me about how you came across that Dan + Shay song.
It seems like it was serendipity a little bit, because I had this idea for a song called Dream Girl. I had brought it into a few writing sessions, and the people in the writing sessions didn’t like the idea. Probably six months later, I got an email from one of the publishers at the company I’m with, and they said, listen to this song Dream Girls, written by Dan + Shay. At the time, it was right before they released 10,000 Hours with Justin Bieber. They were already blowing up with Tequila and Speechless and all those songs. I loved the song immediately, and I was like, let’s record this yesterday. I’m in, I love it. They released 10,000 Hours, which was awesome. So it’s cool to have those two, they wrote a song that’s on my record, which is really exciting.

I’m really proud of that song. It’s been streamed a ton. I think it represents more in line of when you’re an artist your sound is always developing, but I think it’s closer to what my vision is anyways, over the long term. In my career, I feel like we’re just starting to get into the swing of things, really. The first record did really well, but it was me, I think I was just saying the first record was experimenting with sounds and ideas and what we wanted things to sound like. This record is more. I spent the whole last year and a half in Nashville writing, and we’re starting to get to the point where I think things are evolving, and we’re getting to a place where I’m developing my signature as an artist.

This new EP, you said is more of your signature. Is that what your goal was when you were writing and recording it?
Yes. Every artist that is successful seems to have their own sort of sonic brand or signature, or something that you’re like, that’s a Luke Bryan song, that is an Eric Church song. The Florida Georgia Line. It’s something that listeners don’t really realize most of the time. There’s a lot of work that gets put in and a lot of thought and effort to develop it. How do you as an artist stand out from the crowd? That’s the challenge, and the hardest thing of all. You want to have music that people connect with and that they like to listen to, but also what makes it different than every other person that’s putting music out there.

You worked with Brian Howes on this one. He’s known for his work with rockers. Why did you select him as opposed to a country producer?
I’m a huge fan of Brian’s work. I grew up listening. I didn’t even realize it until I met him and started working with him, but he produced all my favorite bands growing up. I was like, you did this record and you did this record? Holy crap. They were the platinum records on his walls. At the time, I started working with Brian Howes in 2015, and the thing was, I’m sort of a person that tends to go against the grain of things. When everyone was going to Nashville to get a certain sound, I’m going to work with somebody completely different that doesn’t know or hasn’t been exposed to the country market, but is an extremely talented producer. If I take country songs to him, I want to see what he does with them. I want to see how he produces them and what happens there.

It’s been a very interesting process. It’s been very cool because he and I can talk about that for hours, I’m sure, but I really like what we’ve been able to come up with. He’s a guy that is always growing and always learning. He’s had so many hits and so many massive records, but he never stops trying to improve himself, which I really admire about him. That’s the kind of person I want to work with. He’s not just complacent and, I’ve made my success, I’m just going to mail it in today. He’s always trying to get better, which I really admire.

When everybody was going one way, I decided to go the other way just to see what happened. It’s a risky move to do, but at the same time, with no risk comes no reward.

I know you’re a country singer, but is there part of you that wants to be a rocker? Your shows are pretty lively.
I wouldn’t say that I want to be a rocker. I love all types of music. I love pop music, rock music, rap, hip hop, R&B. I can appreciate all those types of music, and I’ve listened to people that I like in all those genres. Originally as a child, I was raised on rock music, classic rock and that type of thing. My live shows though, one thing I found with country music was, I would say where there’s a lot of artists that are lacking is in their live show. There’s some traditions with country music where the artist stands in the center of the stage and the band stands back in the shadows and plays the songs, and the artist walks around and sings them to people.

Whereas the first artists, and I wouldn’t say all country artists do this, but really successful country artists and just musicians in general. A great example of this is Garth Brooks. Garth Brooks blew the world away with his show. He obviously had great songs, but he’s the only guy, he took 20 years off and he comes back and he’s selling out 70000-seater stadiums multiple nights in a row in the same city. Part of that is the songs and his personality, but also the experience that fans get when they go to see him. Eric Church is another one, puts on an incredible show, as well as Florida Georgia Line. I wouldn’t say that it’s because I wanted to be a rocker, it’s more so that I wanted, as an artist, as a newcomer to country music, I again had to set myself apart and I wanted to engage people and connect with people.

If you’re not getting the traditional push at radio, for example, I wanted people to come to my show. My goal was when people came to one of my shows, I wanted their minds to be blown and I wanted them to come to another one, and I wanted to meet them after and get to know them. We’ve had people that have come to 10, 12 shows. Some people will come to five shows in a summer, which is amazing. Whatever it is we’re doing, it’s working. I’m very lucky to have great musicians that play with me, and they’ve been there since the beginning, and they’ve been super supportive. They play their asses off when we get on stage, so I’m very lucky to have those guys. Not every artist has those types of people in their corner. That was the thinking behind that. From day one, I wanted the show that was going to get people excited.

When we spoke to you last time regarding your first EP, we went through it song by song. I’d like to do that with Forever With You as well. The first one, Dream Girls. Did you know right away it was going to be one of “those” songs?
I don’t have a ton of experience making albums, but I think when people listen and say, who’s this Eric Ethridge guy, when they listened to the first song, I want them to be like, oh my God, this sounds amazing. This is awesome. Don’t know who he is, but I like how it sounds. That’s what I wanted Dream Girl to be, and that’s why we put it first there. That was my thinking on it, anyways.

Gasoline: I wrote with two killer songwriters in Nashville, Jennifer Denmark, who just had her first number one with Jimmie Allen, with Make Me Want To, and then Jimmy Robbins, who is a monster songwriter in Nashville, he’s had hits with Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, and Kelsea Ballerini. I’m lucky to get in a room with that guy once in a while, so that’s very awesome.

That song was a favorite as well, and it also shows a different side of me. It’s a more up-tempo song, so it’s a faster-pace song, one that’s going in our live show. It was a tie between that and Dream Girl, there was even talk about putting that one to radio next, so we’ll see what the consensus is. It’s more upbeat, it has a driving beat to it, and it’s a fun song.

Forever With You: I wrote that with the same two people, Jennifer Denmark and Jimmy Robbins, on another day. I was about to propose to my wife, Kalsey, and I was like, I want to write a wedding song because I don’t have any. And I’m going to go do this. I wanted to shoot a music video for it and all this stuff. That’s just what we wrote that day, and I absolutely love that song. I think it’s the quintessential wedding song. I think we’re putting out a music video for it relatively soon. That one, we have a wedding video that got made in Mexico, and that’s the song for the wedding video. We’re just figuring out right now how we’re going to release that. It’s very personal to me and I had my wife in mind when I wrote that.

Break Your Heart: This is before we were engaged, but one day in Nashville, I was talking with Kalsey before I went to go write, and I had this idea. The idea was, I ain’t ever going to break your heart. I was like, I think that could be a great song, and it was about Kalsey too. I brought it into the writers that day, and we wrote that song in maybe an hour and 15 minutes. I just love it. Not only am I surprised that idea hasn’t really been written in that way before, but also it vocally is a different range for me.

I try to make every song different, and this works against me sometimes. I’ve had some critiques saying that, who is Eric Ethridge? What does he do? I’ve heard all these songs are good, but what is it that he does? Some people think that’s a negative thing. I actually look at that as a positive thing, because my goal is not to be a one-trick pony. My goal is to be a versatile artist that can sing anything. You can give me a Shania Twain song and I’ll sing the hell out of it, a Garth Brooks song, or a Michael Jackson song or whatever, you know what I mean?

The goal at the end of the day is, I’m a fan of music, and I want to connect to people. Maybe one song doesn’t connect, maybe Dream Girl and Gasoline doesn’t connect to a person, but Break Your Heart does. And that’s a win for me as an artist. Otherwise, I would have lost that potential listener down the road. But if they come across this song and say, I don’t like this other stuff, but I like this song, that’s a win in my books.

Miss Me: Actually, this was written entirely by Kalsey. We were looking for a fifth song for the EP, and she’s like, I’m going to write you a song today. She sat down, 45 minutes later comes out with that song. Yeah, she’s an incredible writer. The label and publishing company loved it. We put it out on social media and people loved it. It turned out great, and I’m really happy with that one as well. We’re excited, and now we’re just getting ready. That EP is the first half of my full record, which we’re getting ready to go back in the studio and do relatively soon. Exciting times. This will be my first full record released as a signed artist once it’s done.

You were pulled off the road with Gord Bamford when this started. That must have been devastating?
Yeah, it was. It was a really tough time. At the same time, I think in some ways my medical background gives me a different sense of understanding, though. I just understood immediately why this is so important to end the shows. For someone that doesn’t understand that stuff, has a deep understanding of pandemics, infectious disease, all that, how severe this could be and how severe it will be, it’s like, I got to cancel my tour. I’m pissed. For me, my perspective on it was simply, we need to cancel the tour immediately so we don’t spread this to more people. This is what needs to happen to save lives. The most important thing right now is saving as many lives as possible. That’s just something I think I’m in a unique position to understand because of my medical background.

I understand the politics of shutting down versus not shutting down, and people saying, we can’t stay in lockdown. I understand everyone’s point of view, but I have a different understanding of the public health perspective. The public health teams around the world are looking at, how do we save as many lives as possible? They’re don’t really care how much money we’re going to lose, it’s how many lives can we save? I understand that. The business people are going to be focusing on how much money we’re losing. I get that, I understand that. But I come from the health field, so everyone’s focused on saving lives.

Here’s the full unedited interview.

I know you guys just got married and then the pandemic hit, so this next question, you may or may not be able to answer fully. So has being married changed your career at all?
No, it hasn’t actually. The way that I look at it is we’re in a family business. My wife is an incredibly talented artist and songwriter, and I’m her biggest fan. I’m just as excited, if not more excited, about her music than I am about my own. We work together as a team on these things. Where her talents are and where her strengths are is usually where my weaknesses are, so we compliment each other very well on that front.

Has the pandemic sparked good songs that we might hear in maybe the second half of the album, or  in the future?
I think, mostly, writers are writing over Zoom now or Skype and FaceTime, but we’ve actually surprisingly got a few songs that I’m pretty pumped about. We’re in the stage right now where we’re just picking. We have a list of songs and we’re just going through them right now, and everyone’s picking their favorites and what we’re going to do with them. We still haven’t gotten into the studio yet, that’s hopefully happening in the next five, six weeks or so. The goal is to get it out this year.

Nashville was becoming part of your life when the pandemic hit. What is Nashville to you?
Nashville, it was home. It felt like home by the time we left. My wife and I ended up deciding to leave just because, based on everything I knew about pandemics and how things were going, I had a feeling that this is not going to be over quickly. I had a feeling this is going to be sticking around and it was going to be a huge problem for the United States for the foreseeable future, also a massive problem for the music industry. I was on a 60-day tour and that got canceled, and pretty much every tour around who was canceled. Now we’re back in Canada, and we’re very grateful to be Canadian. We’re very grateful to be in a country that has universal healthcare. In my books, Canada has done a pretty good job in handling this pandemic, considering everything that’s happened. It’s definitely up there for top countries in the world on our handling of the pandemic, for sure.

We talked a bit about Nashville, that being part of your life, how about Sarnia? Is that still an important part of your life?
Absolutely. My family’s there, my parents and brothers too. We spent the first two months of the pandemic in Sarnia.  Sarnia is where I grew up, it’s my hometown, it’s where I was practiced as a chiropractor. That’s where I’m from. It’s always going to be a part of me. I love Sarnia. I’m a huge fan of Sarnia. I grew up just a five-minute walk from the beach on Lakeshore Road, and some of my favorite memories are on the beach in Sarnia. It’ll always be a big part of my life. It was home base while I was building my music career. We toured out of Sarnia. It’s where we kept all of the equipment, still do.

Lastly, I want to chat about your virtual concert you did a month ago or so with Buck Twenty. I know it was a way to connect with your audience, but it couldn’t be the same as playing for an audience, virtually versus in real life, right?
Absolutely. I think the Zoom concerts are tough. They’re good in some ways. I think doing them, there’s something about human beings are social animals. We want to connect with people. I think everybody can attest to the thought of being at a concert. You feel the bass in your chest, you see the lights, you see the sound is awesome. The atmosphere, the experience, being close and shoulder to shoulder with people while everyone’s having a great time, the energy, you just don’t get any of that from Zoom.

The screaming at home wouldn’t be the same.
Yeah. It’s just not the same. I’ve been saying that to friends and family, I’m like, a lot of people have gotten severely affected by the pandemic. A lot of people have gotten laid off, and lost their jobs. I think people don’t realize, athletes and artists probably have gotten affected worse maybe, I don’t know about the worst, but definitely severely because I do believe that the economies will open back up to some extent, even a partial extent. People’s jobs will come back. If you got laid off, their jobs will come back. Maybe not all of them, but a lot of them will, especially in the manufacturing, the private sectors and all that as people have safe means of going to work, wearing masks and protective equipment and social distancing.

But one thing I don’t think is going to be okay is large crowds, until vaccines are out there, until there’s a treatment and this is under control. Sporting events and large concerts, I do not know how that’s just going to be feasible in the next two years.  I know artists that were just about to go on a hundred-day tour, or they’ve hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in these things, and it’s just gone within a week, and no knowing when it’s going to come back. It’s a pretty crazy time to be a musician. Nashville is full of people that work on a gig basis, where they get paid to play. All the musicians in Nashville that get paid to play make pretty good money, but they’re not getting paid for the next two years, probably, even when the economies open back up. The other thing we got to think about too is even when things are allowed to open back up, how many people are going to be comfortable going back?

You can open up a concert, but I would say maybe 50% of people are going to even be comfortable going to that concert. There’s still going to be some social fear probably of getting the coronavirus. That is an existential problem for the music industry. There’s a lot of music businesses that operate on commission only, like agencies, for example, that just got hit so hard. I know major, the biggest agencies in the United States, just laid off most of their company, because they usually have millions of dollars coming in. $0 million are coming in. It’s crazy on that front. It’s quite the time.

I don’t think a lot of artists are talking about it because it’s such a negative topic. I don’t really talk about it too much. I talked about it with friends and family, but everyone’s trying to maintain positivity. I think there’s a lot of artists that don’t realize the impact that this is going to have. I think some people still think we’re going to be playing shows this fall.  I think practicality-wise, I really don’t see that happening until 2022 probably, or late 2021. Unless there’s a vaccine or a treatment, I don’t know how that’s going to be feasible.

Unless you do concerts like Flaming Lips did in those plastic bubbles.
They did them in plastic bubbles?

Everybody was in a plastic bubble. Everybody in the band, everybody in the audience in their own plastic bubble.
I got to look that up. That’s hilarious and awesome. Wow. Some people started doing these drive-in concerts, which I think are a great idea. I think it’s tough though. Even that, I looked at some polls of it, and I think maybe 50% of people said they would attend one of those. It’s still not the same as a concert. You can’t drink, there’s no bathrooms. You got to tune into the radio to hear the music. It’s a tough experience, like we were talking about earlier, the feeling of being at a live show and the sound is massive and the lights and the experience, and you feel like you’re connecting with the band and the music, it’s so hard to do that from your car.  There’s a lot of challenges, but people are resilient and we’re going to figure it out.

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