RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW NASHVILLE ARTIST ENDER BOWEN
Originally published by Reyt Good Magazine
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
I was about 4 or 5 years old, around 1984 or 1985, and MTV happened to be on. I saw Van Halen’s “Jump” and I vividly remember thinking that the lead singer looked like he was having a blast – in fact they ALL did. I remember right at that moment that music – and performing music – was what I wanted to do, and that never changed. It probably helped that music was in my family so it was in my blood too.
Introduce us to you and your musical history.
I’m originally from Northern New York – almost Canada. Not a whole lot of opportunities up there in the 80s and 90s, in terms of getting a band together, having places to play or having access to much more than a four-track recorder. I desperately tried to get bands together and eventually ended up in my first band at 16 as a drummer – drums being the first instrument I learned to play. But I got a bit bored of drums, and despite loving playing them – as I do now – I often felt very closed in and it got a bit claustrophobic for me. I wanted to move around and I wanted to be the lead singer. So I taught myself how to play guitar, learned how to add things like synths and such, and eventually started writing and singing my own tunes. Access to digital audio recording software (Cubase initially, then Cool Edit Pro) while in college allowed me to have more space to create my pieces and once the internet gave me access to distribution… that changed everything. But even to this day I don’t really know all the ins and outs of how to promote myself. That, and getting things together to play out live, have always been real barriers for me.
I moved to Nashville in 2006, age 26, and signed a recording contract with an indie label in 2007, but that turned out to be pretty much the opposite of what I expected and once I got released from that (per my own request) I did other things for a while. I still made music but my heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t until I had my first child in 2014 here in Nashville that I realized I was still here for a reason and I’ve been re-pursuing that ever since.
Name me your 3 favorite Albums.
No particular order…
Either Achtung Baby or POP by U2
Adore by The Smashing Pumpkins (though sometimes this swaps out with Mellon Collie)
The number three spot rotates depending on my mood… Hot Fuss or Sam’s Town by The Killers, Listen Like Thieves by INXS, Version 2.0 by Garbage, Violator by Depeche Mode… it’s pretty fluid.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
I can’t specifically remember the first song (not counting the “Jump” video mentioned earlier). My mother tells me she listened to “Cars” by Gary Numan a lot when she was pregnant with me, and strangely enough from a sonic standpoint I’ve always felt a sort of kinship with him. Maybe that’s where it began. So maybe I would say that song. It certainly has a lot of the flavor of what I aim for and what I tend to like. That sort of synth meshing with analog and still somehow having a kind of visceral quality.
The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in, How do you feel you are doing?
Terribly! LOL. I mean if nothing else here I am, 43 years old, been releasing music since 2001, and I am still pretty much unheard of. That’s all on me, really. As I noted earlier, I came up at a time where if you wanted to be a successful rock or pop artist your goal was to get signed – that was really the only way you’d have access to studios, radio, distribution, tour funds, etc. So that was always the goal I had in mind, even as the internet made things more available. I did release my first two albums on mp3.com and the third on CafePress, but I had no idea what to do about promotion or distribution beyond that.
Then I got signed – again, as was the goal – and I thought great, I’ve made it, now I can focus on the art and someone else can focus on this business stuff. But the truth is I never recorded one thing during that time. I did less while under contract than I did on my own. And when I came out of that pretty deflated and not sure if I wanted to do music anymore I mostly half-assed it for a few years until 2014… by then, when I wanted to get back into it, I found I was way behind (I still am). Which is funny because when all of this started I was kind of ahead of it. So part of the problem for me has been that.
Even learning how to promote myself and, on the last album in 2021, putting together and spending money on promotion, it went nowhere because for some reason marketing myself has never been something I’m good at. And with kids and a job, it’s hard to pivot into other forms of content when something you’ve put a lot of planning and work into isn’t working. That’s okay – I learned a lot. Such as, I need to find someone else to do this part for me. At a certain point you have to know your limitations and I think when it comes to promotion that’s it. Add to it the difficulty in getting stuff together to play out live and it’s been really hard.
I’m not the sort to “woe is me” about it, though. At the end of the day, this is my journey, and my story, and the music is going to get made and get out there one way or another. Maybe I’ll be 60 or something before anyone discovers me, but that’s okay because I’ll have more story to tell, more songs to share, a whole catalogue of music to discover and I think if someone gets into it like I got into, say, U2 at age 15 (where I had to eat it all up) they’ll have a good ol’ time! I think the only thing I’d regret at that point is that I didn’t really get a chance to tour the country just once. That’s an experience I’d really like to have, just to see what it’s like.
As you develop as an artist and develop using socials what ways do you get new ears on your music? Any tips?
Much in line with the question about how I’m doing in the industry… I honestly don’t have any tips apart from just be genuine. There are obviously a ton of strategies out there and I know a lot of them do work but they require an ability to change course on the fly which – again because of kids and work – I don’t have the ability to do.
On the last album, as part of my promotion, I tried doing something where I was this faux rockstar called “Façade”. The idea was to poke fun at the over-the-top idealism of the dreams of our youth. To embody that in what I would have thought the 18 year old me idealized as a rockstar. I think had I been a known artist, that would have worked. You would have already been in and been interested. But since I was primarily trying to build an audience from scratch it made the entry point difficult to access. It was still tons of fun and someday – again maybe when I’m 60 – someone is going to discover that and think, “whoa… this is kind of mad! But I get it.” Kinda like when I was 15, U2 had already done ZooTV and it was only then that I discovered them and was completely obsessed with their Zoo personas (as if you couldn’t tell that). That kind of thing.
Anyway… I’m always trying new things. I have other facets of my message that I put out there – a series of articles and books primarily about Compassion called God Jots and another about inspiring Joy called Operation Joy. Those I suppose could be considered alternate jumping-on points. So what I would say in that sense is the most important thing (despite what some people might say) is to have a story. It doesn’t have to be well-crafted or strategically thought out. If it’s you, it’s you. And if you’re genuine about it people will notice. And they have.
Course you’ll also get the haters. But while that’s not very fun to deal with, you have to know you’re doing something right if you can get people to passionately respond to you. I use that against them anyway.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.
Tiny Lister (from No Holds Barred and Friday, among other films) almost got me killed.
I’ve sung onstage with Meat Loaf.
I went to Trinidad in 2002 and as a result, fell in love with the sport of cricket.
What’s your thought on Spotify’s monopoly on the music industry?
Personally, I don’t see it as a monopoly, and that’s only because there are other options out there like Amazon Music and Apple Music. That said, together they operate on a model that I do think makes it difficult for artists to make very much on their songs. I think there are some valid arguments out there about how things should be done, but until someone else comes up with a model where the artist can make a lot of money and the platform doesn’t lose out because of it, then we have something.
As it is, Spotify has pretty consistently operated at a loss, from what I recall. So they are already bleeding money, and I would be willing to bet at least some of that is due to paying royalties. It would be great if artists were paid more, (and my feeling about art of any kind is that it is a service, because that’s what you’re providing to your audience, one way or another… it shouldn’t be treated like an abstract or that it has little value, in that sense), but the truth is if they were, how long would the platforms sustaining them and giving them an opportunity for worldwide discovery be able to stay afloat? Unless they drastically increase the cost and frequency of ads, and/or raise their subscription rates (both of which would turn customers away and do more harm than good) we’re in a tough spot where we’re a bit stuck.
I love the access that streaming gives you as a listener (or for TV and movies, as a watcher). But I still think we’re in a transition period where, sure, the paradigm has changed, but we don’t know exactly how to deal with it yet. This was kinda true with DVDs of television shows. And that only really got figured out (mostly) right about the time everything moved to stream.
I have always been a big believer in “owning” the music (which, I know, what you’re really owning is the license to play that music), whether that’s on CD or digitally through iTunes or something like that. I feel as though the streaming model is too passive and that’s what really is hurting artists, the lack of audience investment – both financially and emotionally.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
Not really. The way I view conspiracy theories, in the traditional sense, is that if there are too many holes for a Michael Bay movie, it’s not worth my time.
What was the worst experience on stage?
This is less a music answer, and more an acting experience answer. During the post-record contract period I was in a sketch comedy troupe called Common Sense for Dummys. We performed some sketches at a showcase here in Nashville and unfortunately, the organizers (despite having specifically chosen us for this event) didn’t properly accommodate for us. The stage was set up for rock bands, we had no mics, and no one really announced us, so people were chatting amongst themselves and no one could hear us. We still did our thing but we had a lot of friends and people we looked up to there and while we performed fine, the circumstances around it, and the venue etc… just awful. It was embarrassing.
That wasn’t the only time something sort of like that happened either. We were asked to perform at a theater in a Nashville suburb in May of 2013 – two nights, a Friday and Saturday. When we got to the venue to perform, the owner said “whoops… I double-booked you” (people are human so I gave him the benefit of the doubt). So he took us to the “venue” next door and talked to its owner, and arranged to have us perform there Friday and we’d be in the originally-planned venue Saturday. That alternate venue was a hookah bar. So literally, there’s these folks hanging out smoking hookahs and chilling, and suddenly in come these assholes dressed in black and their crew, and their props and their costumes, and all the sudden here they are performing sketch comedy in front of them. To their credit, everyone was really chill about it and responded pretty well – they humored us when really they didn’t have to. But, again, we had people come to see us who were stuck in a hookah bar watching this stuff… not what we’d advertised. The next day the original venue’s owner tried to tell us that he double-booked the Saturday night as well, and that we could do the hookah bar again. I flat out said “no” – my benefit of the doubt only goes so far. It’s a funny story, but we had people along with us who didn’t sign up for that and I wasn’t going to put them through that again.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about.
I am a craft beer snob. LOL. I love craft beer. I don’t drink it to get drunk or even get a buzz going – I really am pretty much well past that. I like the taste, the story, the craft. I like knowing what goes into it. And I’ve brewed some so I really enjoy talking with brewmasters and learning how they do what they do. Much like bourbon or wine, there’s a story in every pint.
I also have a fairly sized collection of pipe tobaccos. I don’t smoke them often but I love the smell. In a perfect world, I’d have a little room all to myself with my vinyl records, a little bar, and I’d smoke pipes and cigars and drink craft beer and bourbon. And read books.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
That’s a great question and this is probably why I have such a hard time marketing myself. I think what makes me stand out as an artist is less obvious so it’s hard to see at first. But I’m very heart-on-my-sleeve. I truly believe in making music that tells the listener they’re not alone. That’s important to me. I’d love to do the old “I want to change the world” thing, but the truth is if I can change a person’s day, or even their next five minutes, that’s a success to me.
Growing up where I did, and wanting to do the things I wanted to do, I could get very lonely. I didn’t have friends nearby (traveling to see any that I even went to school with took begging a ride from someone or riding a bike miles to do so), and even then I felt out of place in that I wasn’t really into a lot of the things kids were into up there… four wheelers and snowmobiles… the outdoors in general. I’d play in my backyard with my brother but I wasn’t into much beyond that. I was more interested in being creative. And I didn’t feel as if anyone understood me. So I know how that feels. And I know what it feels like to hear or see something that really connects with you and makes you realize you aren’t so alone. Maybe the struggles aren’t specifically the same, but the essence of loneliness is. So that’s what I’m trying to constantly give back in one way or another. I wish I could advertise that somehow but… y’know… even in plastic pants and shiny shirts I’m genuine about the message.
I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it.
The new(ish) – as I call it – album is called No Shortage of Good Ideas. The title is meant kind of as a joke, but it’s basically a companion to 2021’s The Art of Tactful Procrastination. It features some songs I recorded back in the 2000s that never got professionally mixed or released, the b-sides from the Tactful Procrastination album, and some other leftovers from that process. So it’s a real mashup of styles in that in many ways it encapsulates a bit of a journey through my career up to this point… just the parts of it you might not necessarily have heard.
Talk me through the thought process of the new tune/s.
It’s hard to say. Because these all took place over two decades. The first four songs on the album come from the same time period – roughly 2003-2005 – where I was experimenting with heavier guitar-oriented music. Something I would eventually take to its fullest extent from 2009-2014 for the Middle Aegis compilation. Then of course there’s the b-sides from the last album, which were slightly remixed to clean them up for this release. And then there were some leftovers that happened while I was trying to get singles out for the last album but ended up here because the last couple singles I’d planned didn’t happen.
What was the recording process like?
For the b-sides and leftovers I can definitely say it was a whirlwind. LOL. When I released The Art of Tactful Procrastination the idea was to have plenty of tunes leftover to use as b-sides for the singles. But by the time the album came out it had already been a 7 year project and I was like… no… this needs to get out. I can’t keep tweaking it any longer – so those b-sides weren’t done. I did those, and the remixes (which are on the singles themselves) kind of on the spot, in the lead-up to each single. And those singles were spaced a month apart. So I was doing these things super quickly, which meant they weren’t perfect and the mixes weren’t perfect either. But they were a great experiment. In fact, “Boys And Girls”, the b-side to “Wait of The World”, happened within days, from inspiration to final recordings. And it’s probably in the top 5 of the songs I’ve ever done. But it eventually exhausted me.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
I’m not really sure, to be honest, because it either happened a long while ago (the older, now-released tunes), or it happened so fast I didn’t really get a chance to breathe. I could have answered this question better with the last album, because that took real thought and care with the message and the lyrics. These “newer” songs were intended as “throwaways”, like b-sides usually are. But some of them really say something. “Nothing To Fear” and “Rainfall”, in particular, really stand out to me as deep lyrical explorations that both came to me rather quickly. I felt I’d learned a lot from the last album and trying to whip singles together quickly after that, so I was thinking less about the craft in this case, and more about the professional quality of the final product.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
I don’t think so. Maybe songs like “Someday Soon” could have used a string arrangement to give it more texture… but at a certain point you have to let it be what it is. I’m quite happy with how it turned out and how it’s a bit of a reflection of where I’ve been over the last 20 years.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Every person in the world may be some things, most things, all things or no things… but no person (including you) is one thing. Don’t give anyone or anything permission to define you by that one thing. You’re much more complex and interesting than that. And so is everyone else. Remember that when you engage with each individual person during your day.
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