The first time I laid eyes on Ethan Thompson, I was sitting in my living room, sans makeup, in my pajamas. American Idol Season XIII was on my television screen (as it’s been since Season I), and judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr. were searching for talent in Boston. After several less-than-spectacular performances from eager participants, a then 23-year-old Thompson walked into the sunny audition room, casually clad in a plaid button-down, straddling his acoustic guitar, and I perked up in my seat. He certainly had “the look” of a star—big, bright blue eyes, tousled dark hair, and a sincere smile—but could he sing? Much to my relief, he could, and the judges agreed. After singing an original piece titled “Stand My Ground,” Thompson was handed a golden ticket to Hollywood, which he accepted humbly.
Although Thompson’s journey on Idol was cut short (he was, surprisingly, eliminated shortly after the group rounds), his music career was just getting started. Fast forward several months to a warm Saturday in April, and Thompson calls me from his home in Los Angeles. “Hang on,” I tell him, laughing. “I’m actually listening to your music right now on YouTube.” He laughs, too, as I pause his cover of “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver, and the room grows quiet. “Okay,” I say, “that’s embarrassing.”
Formal introductions aside (we had exchanged several messages via Twitter and email up until this point), Thompson tells me about how he has been adjusting to his new life after recently moving from Boston to L.A. “I kind of had a nice little life in Boston,” he explains, “but I knew if I stayed there, I would get [too] comfortable, so I decided it would be better to be uncomfortable and grow. So, now I’m in L.A.”
A recent graduate from Berklee College of Music (he majored in songwriting), a now 24-year-old Thompson decided that it was the perfect time to start the next phase of his life—his career. “Now it’s off to the real world, which has been really fun so far,” he laughs.
But I wondered: doesn’t he miss his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, which is quite a big difference from the bustling city of L.A? “All the time,” he assures me, “but there have been a lot of great opportunities [in L.A.], and I’m meeting a lot of great people who are going to be with me through the long haul, so it’s exciting.”
It quickly becomes apparent to me that Thompson appreciates the influence and power of a loyal support system. Thompson’s parents have been long-time supporters of his music and have always encouraged him to pursue a career in music. In fact, it was his great support system that encouraged him to try out for American Idol in the first place. Thompson admits to never really watching Idol in his life, and says it was his fans that gave him the nudge to audition that fateful day.
Perhaps the most valuable experience Thompson gained while being on the show was meeting great people who share his passion—and learning from them. “There’s always someone out there doing what you love to do, and there’s always someone out there who’s doing it better,” he says, “so it’s great to meet those people and help each other grow.” Since his time on American Idol, Thompson has befriended people on the show—both backstage and center stage—who are now helping him with his career as well, and he is very thankful.
After searching (or stalking) Thompson’s YouTube channel, it’s pretty obvious that Thompson likes to dabble into different genres. His channel is strewn with covers from Bon Iver, Bruno Mars, and even Pink. He cites Steve Miller, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin as his major influences while growing up, but says he is especially a fan of EDM and folk music. Specifically, he finds a great deal of inspiration in British singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch and EDM-powerhouse Avicii. “I would love to work with Avicii someday,” he beams. “I love the stuff that he’s doing—taking artists from different genres and blending it with his own style. I really respect that.”
With inspiration, the song writes itself and you don’t really need to worry about it.
Personal experiences (or “anything worth writing about”) serve as other forms of inspiration for Thompson, and sometimes, lyrics and melodies come to him at the most random times. According to him, he was in the middle of working out one day when he wrote the song “Nothing’s Easy, My Love” from his debut EP out this June. He leapt up, grabbed his guitar (practically dripping with sweat), and wrote the majority of the song right there on the spot. Then, he revisited the demo the next day and polished it up.
“Songwriting is really a craft,” he explains. “With inspiration, the song writes itself and you don’t really need to worry about it. But then you have to come back and edit it with your songwriting glasses later.”
According to Thompson, the song was inspired by life itself. “The world can be a rough place sometimes,” he says, “but knowing someone is there for you can make all the difference.” The song “Carry You Away” is also about “two people from different places, living in a city, and being each other’s escape.”
Now, after the recent release of his EP, Thompson plans to release a follow-up full-length album in the very near future, as well as book several shows across California this summer and college tours in the fall. Deep down, he really wants to thank his fans for all their support, and for being patient. “Hopefully in the near future there will be a steady stream of releases [for them],” he laughs.
Before Thompson runs off to prep for his show at WitZend in Venice, CA with his backing band and great friends, The Need, that evening, he assures me one last thing: “Writing’s my number one passion. It’s the thing that I love the most,” he says. “It’s how I express myself. When I don’t write, I kind of start going insane a little bit.”
“I totally understand,” I say. “You write not because you want to, but because you have to.”
“Exactly!” he says excitedly. “Exactly. You took the words right out of my mouth.”
BY MEGAN PORTORREAL
Ethan Thompson Interview first appeared in Cliché Magazine’s June/July 2014 issue
Featured image ©Lauren Sageer