Its a funny thing, about 3 years ago I hosted an open mic at The Grange called The Table. The door opened and I lifted my head to greet the newcomer. Guitar on the back and long blonde hair; I tilted my head. “Do I know you?” We went back and forth for a few seconds then realized we went to 3rd grade together. It was a small religious school, maybe 10 kids, he left and I stayed. Our parents were close and even traveled to Greece together where my parents were missionaries. It was a baffle; a full circle! No disrespect to the other musicians that evening but I couldn’t tell you who else played. When Ant opened his mouth it was the only thing my ear and mind captured ; it was Jose Gonzalez, Elliott Smith, Sam Beam all swirling into one. Now shooting forward I had the honor to discuss his beautiful new album ‘That Easy’ that is sure to be one of his best.
Chrissy: ‘That Easy’ will be celebrated at The Columbus Theatre on Saturday January 6th! How did that album name come to be and was it actually easy?
Ant: I had toyed around with a few different ideas for the name of the album, but the early ideas were attempts at making a deep statement, or pointing toward some epic concept. One day, I was outside listening to the album on headphones and that phrase stuck out to me like it never had before. It appears in two songs on the album. It’s kind of funny, too, because I promised myself I wouldn’t rush this album out, and so I made music videos and a cassette single and took other steps to get this one out a little further than my previous albums. In all, it wasn’t as easy as just uploading it to bandcamp and calling it a day. I think of it now as a reminder to myself that even though making music isn’t always easy, it’s always rewarding.
Chrissy: I love that, I feel like moving from a deep concept title to ‘That Easy’ is a statement other creatives can learn from. Sometimes we can over complicate things, and get lost in rabbit holes; which can be wonderful, but can also dilute the message. I’m curious, whats the oldest song on the album?
Ant: One of the songs where the phrase ‘That Easy’ comes up is “Plastic Prayer #1” In some ways that is the oldest song on the album. I started writing the chords, melody, and part of the lyrics while I was still in high school, over 10 years ago now. I usually don’t reach that far back when redeveloping old ideas, but it’s one example of an exercise in taking an older, unfinished concept and applying techniques to it that I didn’t have back then.
Chrissy: The song ‘See Something Say Something’ is one of my favorites. It gives an impression of calling out society and even at points, yourself. Can you describe the birth of this one?
Ant: I wrote “See Something Say Something” a few years ago when I was living in Boston, though it had a different title then, and it appears on a five song demo I recorded myself. I always knew that it meant something to me, and so I’ve been playing it live ever since. As I was writing other albums, I had a feeling that this song should wait, that it didn’t quite fit with the other material I was recording then. There’s a frankness to the lyrics, almost a playfulness, that I hadn’t really figured out until this album. Making this album made me realize that even though I take my songs through serious and sad territories, there’s still room for humor, especially if it makes the song more dynamic. I’m also glad that I waited until this album to do a proper studio recording of the song because I think it’s a really perfect name for it, and putting a bow on it with the wrong title would have been a real shame.
Chrissy: I’m glad you found the right opportunity to share it, and I admire that you made it the first track. The honesty in the lyrics definitely grabs the audience when you play it live and you walking around in the mall for its music video is a clever image to attach the song to.
You lived in New Bedford before Providence, how long did you live there for?
Ant: I’m from New Bedford; I lived there until I was 18, and I moved back there in 2012 to live with friends for a few years.
Chrissy: Oh, really? I only know New Bedford for it’s whaling/fishing industry, but what’s the music scene like?
Ant: When I was in high school, there was an open mic at a cafe downtown that I went to every week, which sort of served me as an informal songwriting workshop. At the same time, there were punk shows at local VFWs and American Legion Halls several times a month. My friends and I started a band and played as many shows as we could. Now there aren’t as many opportunities for young people to experience live music in New Bedford, but there are still a lot of bands and musicians in the city. I think it’s a really inspiring place, being right on the water and it having so much history. There is also plenty of natural beauty in the South Coast region. Perhaps I’m biased because I’m from there, but it’s one of the most overlooked creative places in New England.
Chrissy: I agree! I grew up in the VFW and American Legion Show era too. Kids booking, running and playing the shows, that could be a documentary in itself, what a time! The band you started with your friends, Half Hearted Hero, has a very different sound than your solo work. Much more punk rock! Given that the band is 10 years old, did the love of punk music come first?
Ant: It’s hard to say which came first, it’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario. I realized I wanted to be a songwriter somewhere around the age of twelve, and probably started my first band around the same time. I think the guitar is a great tool for a solo singer/songwriter, but I also really love the energy and collaboration of working in a rock band. I guess I feel like I’ve been doing both for so long, and I can’t imagine being bound to only one creative project. I think the most bands I’ve been involved with at one time was five, which is too much for me. But I like staying busy, especially with different styles of music.
Chrissy: Twelves years old, that is amazing, glad you are staying true to your passion! The album art was by Providence artist Sierra Sanchez, was this inspired by an existing photo of you or drawn up on a blank canvas?
Ant: Sierra’s an incredible artist and I’m so glad that I got a chance to work with her on this. I had taken a 35mm camera with me to Portland when I recorded the album. Sierra and I picked out some photos from the batch, and she put them all together to make the album cover. I think the final image references five photos altogether. I have the painting now, and I love it, but it is kind of surreal to see myself represented in paint!
Chrissy: Track 3, the ’Bad Trip’ song, has harmonies and a rhythm that really captivates; who’s playing and singing on this track?
Ant: “Bad Trip” has Brian Grant, from Kind of Like Spitting, on bass guitar. His bass line was crucial to how that recording came out. He and Ben [Barnett], the producer, spent a whole day working on the part. Danny Aley played the Rhodes piano on the song, and he also steals the scene. I sang on the song, and played guitar and drums.
Chrissy: How did you connect with producer Ben Barnett, of Portland, Oregon?
Ant: Ben and I were booked on a show together in New Bedford right when I had moved back there in 2012. I had heard of Kind of Like Spitting before, but never seen him live until that show. He came up to me after my set and said he really liked my songs. After that show, he hung out with my roommates and I, and we kept in touch ever since. When he was putting together his home studio in Portland a few years ago, he invited me to come out and have him produce a record for me, and I jumped on it. That’s how “That Easy” came to be. We had recorded a demo version of “Word” in 2012, and the version on the album is basically a carbon copy of that demo, albeit much more in tune. I really enjoy working with Ben. He’s recorded so much music in his career, and having his experience at hand gave the album something that it never could have if I had recorded by myself, or even with a producer without his knowledge of songwriting and delivery. We talk often, and I’m planning to work with him again on my next album.
Chrissy: You’re lyrics often paint a clear picture and burst out of the song. Did poetry or the love for writing come before creating music?
Ant: I don’t remember learning how to read; it feels like something I’ve always known. Writing is much more of a challenge for me. I’ll spend weeks working on a line, just so I can get that one word just right. When I read good poetry, it’s like sleight of hand. The way words can conjure images and feelings, the elements of surprise, suspense, and relief. I don’t know if I can ever do what a poet does, though. To me songwriting is much more street-level, like a billboard or a news headline. There has to be a hook or else nothing sticks. I want to write things that can be easily remembered. If there happens to be some clever or beautiful way of getting there, all the better, but I’m no poet.
Chrissy: How does music and sound connect you to the world that surrounds; is it spiritual, political, supernatural?
Ant: I grew up in a religious household, and what I was allowed to listen to was very limited. But around the age of 9 I heard the Beatles for the first time, and ever since then I’ve never stopped searching for new sounds. For me, music has become a journey into the real world. I don’t know if I would call it spiritual, but it certainly feels like I’m participating in something greater than what I can comprehend. Sound is such a powerful medium, it has the ability to change time and space. I’ve seen performers take a whole room’s attention, and the pressure of the room changes. In writing songs and performing, I get to know myself in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise. I feel grateful to be able to make music and write songs. Even more so, I love to share them with people.
Album Release Show on 1/6/18 at Columbus Theatre
:::%::: 8:00 pm
Interview by : Chrissy Stewart
Edited by: Sarah Goodrich