Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Utah’s Ethan James Young. This interview place at the end of last year. Together we discussed their relationship with music, how they experiment with genre, state parks, and so much more!


1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today? How was your holiday?

No, thank you! I’m doing great. Excited for this interview. The holidays were surprisingly good this year.

2. Could you share with us your relationship with music growing up? 

It’s kind of hard to imagine my life without music. One of the earliest stories my parents tell me is that I stopped being a crazy full of energy kid when a live string quartet played at some wedding and just watched in awe. Music was always around in the house (I probably have some of my parents’ taste in music). With all the normal drama of growing up, it was easy for me to escape through music. Music is a huge part of my identity.

3. Is there a song or album that had a significant impact on you? 

I’d have to say five score and seven years ago by Reliant K. That was the album and band I really liked when I was starting to seriously write music in High School. I  listened to their music so much to try to see if I could use some of the same techniques or structure for my music. 

4. Who (or what) influences you?

I’m inspired by anyone (or anything) who can tell an artistically and emotionally compelling story. Extra points if it’s thematic. For that reason, I’m a huge fan of musicals like Sweeny Todd and Les Miserables. (You might hear some musical theater vibes sneak into my music). It’s really awesome when thematic writing transfers to other genres too like RnB with the Weeknd or Rap with Kendrick Lamar (especially in to pimp a butterfly). I hope I can write something with that much depth, complexity, and emotion someday. 

5. You’re a producer. When did you first begin producing? Who are some of your favorite producers?

I started producing out of necessity. When you don’t have the resources to make the songs sound the way you want, you kind of fumble around till you figure some things out on your own. For me, that was garageband for ios on my iPhone 4 with an old midi keyboard someone gave me as I was getting closer to graduating High School. Luckily, I’m now rocking a much better system. As far as favorite producers, Andrew Huang, with his wide variety and experimental touch, has been a longtime favorite. Finneas is a more recent favorite. And I think if I don’t mention Rick Rubin, I don’t deserve to be called a producer.

6. Mustard appreciates that you create music that is meaningful and reflective. Why is it important that humans reflect? What are some ways you reflect? What have you learned about yourself from reflection?

Thank you! That is a huge compliment. Being a human is weird. For the most part, life kind of just happens to us. I think we can miss out on a lot of growth and happiness in life if we’re not paying attention. For me, songwriting has been one method that helps me reflect. Through my reflections, I think I’ve been able to understand my emotions more and how they relate to others in any given situation.

7. Genre does not matter to you. Could you share with us your creative process?

Although I’m willing and able to write songs through a variety of processes, I have frequently taken the lyrics first approach to get the mood and message of the song. From there, I try to have everything (melody, harmony, cadence, arrangement) be complementary to the message of the song. Genre can be a good tool for that but genre can also fail if the song suffers because of it. So if an EDM song calls for a gospel choir or an RnB song calls for heavy metal guitars, it’s going in.

8. You’ve been tasked to write a song at Zion National Park in Utah. What kind of song do you write? What is it about?

I’d probably notice something oddly specific, get hit by the inspiration semi, and write the song around that. Or maybe I would recall an older memory. Regardless. because I would be in the middle of nature, I don’t think I would bring my laptop but rather just my ukulele and notepad (even though I love my piano and DAW). I don’t know if it would stay ukulele when I go home to produce it but it would definitely be the base of the song.

9. Mustard is intrigued by Goblin Valley State Park. Have you been? What kind of goblins do you believe inhabit this park?

I probably have been there, but I don’t remember going. So, there very well could be goblins in that valley. The goblins probably feed on the memories of going to Goblin Valley.

10. You’ve released a batch of cynical Christmas songs including your latest “Maybe Next Christmas.” What about this human federally observed holiday makes you cynical?

Well, I’m a bit of a pessimist sometimes, so it probably has to do more with me than the holidays. As I’ve gotten older, I noticed I haven’t cared for the holidays as much just because what’s valuable about the holidays isn’t exclusive to the holidays. Add that with how annoyingly dogmatic and materialistic the end of the year can be and now you have a Grinch (or maybe a could be hallmark protagonist). With “maybe next christmas”, I channeled some negative emotions and energy that anyone could feel whenever and put it smack dab in the “most wonderful time of the year” to try to make that point as well as show how miserable one can be when you put everything in context.

11. What is next for Ethan James Young?

Got a few (less cynical?) singles I’m going to release this year. I also am hoping I can finish a very human album this year or next (don’t want to give away too much about it). I try to be pretty good about staying consistent so following me on my socials is the best way to keep up to date: @ejyoungmusic 

12. Where can readers listen to your music?

You can find me everywhere! Wherever you listen to music. Just look up Ethan James Young whether is us Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Bandcamp, YouTube, etc.

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