Every now and then we come across talented people and we sit back and enjoy their work. Then, at the end when it’s all over and they’re packing up, we approach them, tip our hats, tip their jar and ask for an interview. In this case, we trully enjoyed the sounds and lyrics of the talented John Ebersole who endulged us with an awesome laid back rhythm as our Fourteen Robots enjoyed over brunch. John happily agreed with the interview, we asked a few questions and got his reply. Below is the near raw, hardly edited Q&A on his path towards a career in the entertainment & music industry.
Typically, one chooses a career related to our parents, friends or by push from a key element in our lives. How did you know you wanted to be in the music business?
Ever since my family had me taking piano lessons at age 8 that was when I knew music would be in my future. It wasn’t until they let me choose drums as my instrument that I knew I wanted it to be a career path. Even then, however, what path in music I would be taking was unclear. When I was 18 I taught myself guitar and would write songs when I should have otherwise been studying for school or doing homework. I would sit out on the balcony of the college dorms playing my songs to whomever the burnt-out student meandering along that would stop and listen. Once I started hearing things like ‘Hey your songs are really good’ or the encoring smile and request for more, this is when I knew I wanted to pursue songwriting and the goal of being the transcendent rock star (still is my goal!)
Did you ever think you could be something else other than a composer or songwriter?
I had dreams of being a professional skateboarder, and as a skater I would paint and design my own skateboard decks which led to hopes of being a professional artist (painter/illustrator kind of thing.) My father was self-employed my whole life and I knew that I could do something without having to pursue the traditional corporate career path. I knew I wanted to be my own boss and to do so within a creative field.
No business is easy; every business owner knows there will be sweat, tears or hurdles to go through. What has been the hardest part of your career so far?
I find one of the hardest things to do in music today is being and distinguishing yourself in a sea full of other musicians. With the internet having opened up so much access to mountains of music and a variety of genres, you must be the best you that you can be. Ever since I started performing at venues I only play my own original songs. I get questioned as to why I don’t play cover songs at times. Also, after a few venues quit booking me because I didn’t play cover songs I started to question it. This was after about 2 years of performing just my songs. Soon after I started planning a few covers to bring into my set-list, but then I stumbled across a Kurt Cobain journal containing his quote (in reference to learning cover songs)…
‘Do your own thing. Others own their own thing. If you copy too much, you’ll find yourself in late night cocktail lounge cover band limbo. … I decided that in order to become a big famous rock star, I would need to write my very own songs instead of wasting my time learning other peoples music too much. It may act as an obstruction in developing your very own personal style.’ –Kurt Cobain
Well, that was that. I totally dropped the notion of trying to bring cover songs in. For me its not about the immediate income from smaller venues/bars but rather the long-term longevity of me as a songwriter. I’ve always seen those guys playing at local bars, they’ve been at the same bars for 30 years. Kurt smacked me in the head with that brutal truth. I will not be at the same venues in 30 years. Not only that, but product differentiation is key in the music industry and playing originals enables you to definitely bring something entirely new to the listeners.
Unless you’re still working on a solution for the hurdle mentioned above, what worked to get you through?
Staying focused on those who already like my music. Hearing the new listeners at venues say they truly enjoyed the show. I keep on writing. If there is an energy gap in my performances, say not having enough upbeat songs for earlier daytime shows, I just go write something fitting for my next project. Just to never giving up on things. Keep refining, writing, and pressing forward.
First time we heard you was at brunch at 3009 Bar & Restaurant (at H-E-B.) How do you pick your venues or what’s the typical process of booking any gigs? If you were mentoring a rookie musician, what would be the step by step process you’d recommend based on your experience.
This is a 2 part question. When booking shows it is important to find your market. Everyone who finds out you play will tell you ‘Hey you should play here, or here, or here…’ and while referrals are key to continued success, it is crucial for you to find the venues where your music’s energy and sound fit.
If I were to ask you, what kind of setting is going on within your music? Where does your music take the listener? Are you on a deserted country road? Are you soaring through space? Are you working out? Is Godzilla pillaging through the streets? Are you on the beach sipping your choice beverage? (That one tends to be where about half of my songs take you.)
Finding venues which compliment that energy/setting are important.
After that, referrals from that venue to others will be the most beneficial. Searching for places which have your music’s energy and environment is the most important thing for performing and recordings.
We at Fourteen Robots believe that a camera is just as effective as its users knowledge of the camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $150 or $25K camera (they exist); the important factor is the user. What’s your opinion on a guitar? Is it the same concept? How do you pick your instrument? By cost, features, capabilities, looks, popularity, nostalgia?
I agree totally with the idea that the user is more important than the equipment. I started performing with a $60 guitar at my shows, now I play with a $1000 guitar. Sure I may have gotten better over the years, but I still received compliments on both. The only difference, is I like playing a handmade, quality instrument, and some would say the latter sounds better. So while yes, it is the user that makes the project, the equipment could enable the user to be even better recognized for what they are doing in both perception and execution. But ultimately the user is the star.
Touching a bit on your songwriting: you wrote about Two Guys. Although not mentioning specifics, you simply stated they shouldn’t have taken that ride. Inspiration can come in many different forms. Do you mind sharing where yours comes from?
My inspiration does come from everywhere. Music is where I communicate feelings. I’m very objective in the way I think, so being emotionally involved in things is not at forefront. You will hear a lot of hurt, love, life questioning, and frustration in my lyrics. The sounds behind the lyrics can be just as gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Music feels for me.
Two Guys specifically is actually kind of an interestingly inspired track. A friend of mine and I were performing at a venue in Helotes; everyone drinking, myself included, having a great time. It dawned on me that some of the crowd was a bit overly enjoying their liquids. Next thought was, ‘Oh, we all have to drive home in 30 minutes when this place closes, and half of these people are trashed.’ I laughed for a second at how strange the concept of going out and getting intoxicated was, leaned over to my friend and said ‘Hey, I’m going to make this song up real quick.’ And that was Two Guys—a song about the relentless idea of going out and getting intoxicated with a daunting drive home after. MADD would eat that up.
You know the old debate on what came first? The chicken or the egg? In your case, what comes first, music or lyrics?
For me I always seem to write the music first. This is the raw form of emotional communication for me. I get all I’m feeling out into the music, and then interpret what I’m feeling for listeners. I also tend to leave my lyrical meanings a bit ambiguous so it can be transferrable between persons without too much specificity in life setting.
Would you recommend a school or any training when it comes to songwriting, learning the guitar?
Schools are great, but when it comes down to it, its all about self-exploration and learning to communicate. Pick up the guitar, are you happy about something? Play something happy. Are you angry or distraught? Play that. If you can master communicating your internal to the external, that’s where the real magic happens. Though it wouldn’t hurt to research some chords or scales on the web to figure out exactly what you’re doing. The real progress is made when you put in the time with your instrument. Start playing, you can figure out what you’re doing later.
What’s your short and long term goal in your career? Is there a path you have written down or is it all in your head?
I have a business plan somewhere I wrote a while back. I have it pretty memorized. It always changes a little bit, but the approach and the goals are the same.
Short term I am about to release a new album, so this is my focus. Giving everything I have to the album itself (music, lyrics, recordings, solos, album art, etc.) and then fully dedicating to the promotion of it (new gigs, marketing overall, and distribution.)
Long term I am looking to be renown in the industry. I want to reach a significant enough audience out there to where when I release a new album or project, people are excited to see what its all about. I just love sharing with others what I have to offer. I had a friend tell me he had an amazing date night the other day, and that it ended with listening to my music on the way home together. I want to do that on a large scale. I love setting the tone for people’s lives through music.
You mentioned you’re a web designer as well. Any other ventures you currently hold? Do any of these feed or fuel your singer/songwriting career?
Yes I do graphic and web design for myself and several other clients. Have been doing this for about 5 years. I also have an organic pet treat startup company in Los Angeles called Fast Pet Food. We are about to launch our flagship product within the year. I’m also an investor in the markets, have been for 10 years. I feel I need to keep my hands in multiple projects to stay on top of bills, provide the freedom to pursue the music career path, and to stay busy during any downtime.
Your new album is about to hit Spotify and other venues, our Fourteen Robots Salute You. How long did it take you from concept to finished product? Any setbacks you experienced?
“Life: Neat” This project has been a journey. It is the first project I am doing where I don’t do everything on the album. I am finally working with a very skilled sound engineer, and other instrumentalists in creating the sounds of it all. I have experienced setbacks with life scheduling (for myself and others), dedication and commitment out of artists, and working outside of my house. The project has taken about 3 months thus far, and we’re looking to wrap it up in the next month. So it’s a 4 month project for me. Sometimes I have been known to knock out an album in 2 weeks. So for me this is a longer time-frame to be working on one project. But, I must say the result is going to be phenomenal in the array of the John Ebersole collection.
Any advice you’d like to share as a business owner?
Never give up. If you have an idea, it is possible. Keep pushing forward towards your goals. Any other cliché quotes I can throw out there that work?
Oh yeah, NEVER GIVE UP.