Ender Bowen Talks New Album, The Importance of Positive Mindsets, and How He’s Seen The Rock Industry Grow
Originally published by SwitchBitch Noise
Hailing from Nashville Tennesee, an unlikely place for hard rock/alternative musicians, Ender Bowen has proven himself a valuable figure in the rock community. Not just for his commitment to exploring new and implementing old sounds into his music, but also for dedicating positive energy and thought to his practice and craft. Bowen’s upcoming album “No Shortage of Good Ideas”, which gets its title from a blurb from C.S. Lewis, has been almost two decades in the making with some of the earliest demos recorded way back in the early 2000s, a pivotal time for rock and alternative music. Since then, Bowen has watched the industry grow and develop while his tracks, though being updated, contain just as much relevance and importance as they did back then as they discuss hope, individuality, and knowing that there is a better tomorrow up ahead. After the recent years we’ve had, it’s good to know that there’s music out there that’s thought-provoking and uplifting while still being something you can headbang along to.
Q. You’re a rock artist from Nashville. Talk about this especially since Nashville is known for its country roots.
A. Though Nashville is certainly known for its country roots and there’s certainly a lot of that here, there’s a lot more that goes on here than that. There’s a lot of strong indie bands that have come out – lots of different sounds and vibes. In my case, I tend to think of my own music as being a little more European flavored, which may have been hard to swallow two decades ago but not so much now. Certainly not as hard a sell, but at the same time I don’t think that’s the kind of thing you’re going to see a lot of here.
Q. Who are some of your musical inspirations? A friend of mine said some of your older songs give Smashing Pumpkins vibes.
A. There’s definitely some Smashing Pumpkins vibes in there. Particularly mid-to-late 90s Pumpkins. Garbage is another big one – I’m a big fan of that sort of post-grunge aesthetic… heavy guitars with some electronica bits in there. I’ve always felt that if you could blend those things right you’ve got something. So songs like “Boys And Girls” really fit that mold. I also like taking the jangly guitars of bands like U2 and Coldplay and setting those against heavier sounds too – so that’s where songs like “Tongue In Cheek” and “Vampire” come from – the latter especially. I like a lot of ambiance and space so I always say my music, if I could compare it to anything, is like blending U2 with the Smashing Pumpkins.
Q. Talk about some of the philanthropic work you do with Operation Joy and God Jots.
A. Both Operation Joy and God Jots came out of this urge to want to be a positive force in the world. Or maybe a positive analytical force. Especially in a world that is currently so divisive. Operation Joy, which initially started out as daily social media posts that gave tips and “missions” for inspiring joy, has grown a bit to include books and other things that I’m developing.
God Jots was something that came out of my faith and is based primarily upon the concept that compassion is key, but it may not be what most people think it is. It’s actually very deep and involved, and I’m actually going to be relaunching all of that this spring. It’s been a bit since I’ve touched on either and I think it’s time to really start going at that. Both Operation Joy and God Jots are further extensions of a lot of what I talk about in my music.
Q. You try to spread a lot of positive messages through these organizations. Is this something you try to accomplish in your music as well?
A. Yes, definitely! Whereas Operation Joy and God Jots are a lot more straightforward about my thinking and ways in which to be a positive influence I would say the music, while it doesn’t necessarily give answers, asks a lot of questions. Sometimes they’re questions that the other two things answer, sometimes not. With the music, since that’s a lot more “poetic” in a sense and not as blunt, I like to talk more about the more emotional aspects of the struggles we deal with. My 2021 album THE ART OF TACTFUL PROCRASTINATION was all about the struggle to realize your dreams and passions, particularly as you get older and come into more responsibilities.
You’re always chasing the night and trying to find that balance between going after the things you know you were born to do, and still being responsible and doing right by your family, etc. No answers there, more just if nothing else the most important thing to me is to establish for any listener (or reader, as far as Operation Joy and God Jots are concerned) that they are not alone. They aren’t the only ones with these struggles, with these questions. Loneliness is a terrible feeling and I just want to help people with that.
Q. A lot of your songs especially on your upcoming album feature heavy, classic rock-influenced guitar riffs. Do you think this is something modern alt/rock music needs more of?
A. Definitely! I’m not typically into heavy-heavy music, but there’s always exceptions. I think right now music in general is going through a very “synth” or computerized phase and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love those kinds of things myself, but there’s a very serious lack of guitars. I don’t think that’s going to last forever but when you consider that nowadays just about anyone can make music on a budget and that music as a result is going to lack guitars and “analog” instruments… it makes sense. But like with any style of music, I think people will grow bored of the lack of something more visceral. I’m not knocking any of the current music – it all has its place – but when you compare what’s most prominent out there now, even music WITH guitars has a lighter feel. It’ll come back around. It always does. I just don’t know when.
Q. Your single “Boys and Girls” off the new album encapsulates a more techno, almost dance aesthetic. What was the thought behind this artistic choice?
A. “Boys And Girls” was me trying to be my most Garbage (laughs). For lack of a better way of putting it. Garbage is one of my biggest influences and it goes back again to probably my most preferred style, or period, of music being that mid-to-late 90s area where you had post-grunge sitting alongside techno which I also loved. I love dancy stuff. I’ve always loved to dance. So in general there’s a lot of that 80s synth pop mash-up with 90s guitars that I always want to play with. I think this is the first of my songs that really captured that essence, in my opinion. It’s actually one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
Q. The album is composed of a mix of more thrashy, classic rock songs as well as some softer songs. Talk about balancing these contrasting tones.
A. I’m a big believer in mixing it up on an album. Plenty of people will say, or feel as though, an album should have a particular “sound”, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And today maybe that’s not a bad thing because people aren’t often listening to whole albums anymore all the way through from start to finish – they shuffle around and such. I think though that if every song sounds like the last it can get a bit dull. So I like to mix up styles but I also like to have a through-line. So if it isn’t the music style that’s similar throughout, it’s the message, or it’s that I used a particular instrument or sound on most of the songs despite the songs not all sounding the same. I did a lot of this on TACTFUL PROCRASTINATION.
For this record, I really wanted to do something akin to Smashing Pumpkins’s “Pisces Iscariot” or Oasis’s “The Masterplan” – give tracks that had been recorded but never released a chance to shine, give the b-sides from the last album a cleanup in the mix so that they sound more like I wanted, and throw on a few more that I’d recorded more recently. I didn’t have the benefit of time to do that before. So in a way, it encapsulates my musical sensibilities from around 2003 to now.
Q. You’ve been rocking for almost two decades. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the rock industry and community?
A. That’s a loaded question with what would probably be a loaded answer if I had the time and space. When I first started out, I was initially recording on a four-track cassette recorder. We didn’t really have anything else. When I was first coming up if you wanted to be successful, if you wanted to record, etc, you needed a contract. You couldn’t get music out in any sort of way really without that. Now anyone can do it. Worldwide distribution is easy and affordable. But that also crowds the market.
There’s a plethora of amazing songs and artists that quite possibly no one is ever going to hear because while the music is good they can’t get it in front of people. That’s the really hard part. Now you’ve got the access, but the promotional part is still the difficult thing, and you don’t have a team behind you to help with that. That’s always been my problem. On one hand, it’s extremely difficult being an artist that’s put music out now for over two decades but hardly anyone has heard of me. On the other hand, when they do, they’ll have a lot to discover. So we’ll see.
Q. What do you want listeners to take away from “No Shortage of Good Ideas”?
A. If there’s nothing else that the music represents on No Shortage of Good Ideas, I would say that what I would want people to take away from it – particularly with the knowledge that this is music I’ve made in fits and spurts over the course of two decades – is that we’re all complicated, dynamic, multilayered human beings with changing wants and needs. As well as sometimes wants and needs that contradict each other even within the same breath. We may be all things, many things, or some things, but what we 100% absolutely are not is ONE thing. We have to stop giving people permission to define us as that. We need to start looking at each other as more than that.