Chicago Native Ethan Bell Talks of Upbringing, Eclectic Sound and More (Interview)
Raised Rowdy Contributor and Chicago Resident
Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Ethan Bell’s show consists of originals and covers that keep the crowd moving all night. We first heard Ethan playing at one of our favorite Honky Tonks, Carols Pub in Chicago. We had a chance to sit down and talk to him about his country music journey.
When did you start playing music?
I grew up in a very musical household. My dad played guitar in church and my sisters and I all loved to sing. At 12 years old, one of my dad’s employees gave me my first guitar and I started taking lessons. I was a horrible student. Never did much practicing. My teacher got me into playing at his church, where given the pressure of performing, I put in more effort into learning the guitar along with bass and drums singing, keyboard. My first paid gig was at 16 years old at a restaurant near my house in Yorkville IL, where I grew up. After I got a taste of being able to play music and get paid for it, I made it my mission to make a career out of it.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Growing up with 3 sisters and being home schooled, I listened to a lot of what they did early on. Lots of pop, the Backstreet Boys, NSync, Britney Spears. My neighborhood friends got me into Eminem and ACDC. I started listening to country in the 2010s around the time “Cruise” hit the radio. I heard so many of the things I grew up listening to in this new brand of country music and really enjoyed it. My favorite artists right now are Hardy, Florida Georgia Line, Morgan Wallen and Zac Brown Band.
How would you describe your sound?
Eclectic is a good word. My drum and bassist are schooled in jazz and our guitar player plays just about everything. I’m heavily influenced by the stuff mentioned earlier so its a bit all over the place. Imagine the child if retro-pop and country music bumped boots in the back of the honky tonk.
Have you ever had to improvise for a set?
All the time. You never know what you are going to get at a show. We try to put on our best show no matter where we are. My first ever show with our drummer Jonny Gifford was in Davenport IA. He had passed an initial audition and this was a sort of field test to see if we would work well together. We had never played together before, minus a brief rehearsal. It was just him on drums and me on guitar and after setting the sound system up, I realized I didn’t bring my guitar. We were too far out to go home and grab it so we called everyone we knew and I even drove to a nearby Guitar Center which ended up being closed. A friend of a friend brought an Epiphone Les Paul with the Low E, G and B strings on it. I had to pretty much re-write all my guitar parts on the spot with a drummer who had never played my set before. We had so much fun and worked so well together under pressure, that I knew Jonny was gonna be the right guy for the band.
Tell us a little about the guys in your band?
The biographies on our website sum it up pretty well. In short though- Brandon Weber (The Boyscout) on guitar, is the oldest of the group. He plays pretty much every instrument, and has a background as a sound engineer. He is our road manager and usually has information about anything you need to know about. We call him the Boyscout because he always has whatever you need handy in a bag somewhere.
Jonny Gifford (The Wild Card) our drummer, from Boylston Massachusuetts, is an NIU graduate. He is an amazing drummer and has a heart of gold. He is also a snarky asshat. It depends on the day. I can pretty much call/play any song and even if Jonny has never heard it you would never know the difference. He has perfect pitch, meaning he can identify the name of a pitch by hearing it. This is useful for the rest of the band when I forget to call out keys to songs.
Eric Stillwater Smith, our bassist and also an NIU grad, is the quietest person you will ever meet. If he does have something to say it will likely be yup, nope or complaining about people saying things like ATM Machine or PIN number. He is the solid foundation and consistency that keeps the rest of the band quirks seem grounded musically and emotionally as well. Every once in a while he surprises us with a nugget of wisdom amongst our unenlightened bickering.
Who do you typically write with?
Steve Smentek is the head of my writing team. We have been writing together for a few years. We rotate in various other artists, writers and lyricists to keep things varied.
When did you start going to Nashville as an artist and tell us a little bit about what that experience was like?
My first trip to Nashville was to demo a song called Paid to Party. I went with my friend and co-writer Tim Gleason and after going to the demo session we pretty much just partied on Music Row. It was lots of fun. My current trips mainly consist of writing and networking. I’ve played the honky tonks and the writers rounds, so it’s just another place now. My wife and I are talking about moving there in the next few years to be closer to the industry. I will likely continue my endeavors out here if we do decide to move though.
Tell us a little bit about your latest project and when we can expect to hear it?
We are putting out our first EP this summer. It is self titled and self produced. I write a lot of songs and we play the stuff I deem worthy of the band playing out live at our shows. The EP is simply a way for people to take the stuff they are singing along with home with them. This is going to have a real live band type feel to it. Not a lot of post polishing, and will capture what you hear and love at our concerts. We are working on developing a process to get more music out at a higher caliber on our terms and this first EP is a great step towards the next.
Can you tell us about your tutoring/music school?
I started teaching lessons at 16 years old and have slowly grown to running a studio with 4 teachers under me and around 64 students. I am very grateful to be able to help and inspire younger musicians to follow their dreams and study their passion. We are currently called Ethan Bells Portable Music Studio but I am planning on rebranding within the next year or so as things continue to get bigger. We currently offer lessons in Bass, Drums, Guitar, Voice, Banjo, Piano, and other things that make noise. Teachers have degrees in their field and play music for a living. We just had our spring recital with a little under 200 people in attendance. Lessons are all taught in the comfort of student’s homes. Anyone interested can reach out via EthanBellsPortableMusicStudio@gmail.com
Be on the lookout for Ethan’s new song coming out called ‘Hurt Somebody’ coming out on June20th. It was written by Ethan and Steve Smentek and can be streamed along with their other songs on all streaming platforms.
He has already performed over 50 shows this year and has more then 100 more on the books. If you get the chance to see him live you might even run into the Dancing Queen!