Ethan Healy, known as Healy, is a hip hop artist from Memphis, Tennessee, that creates soul-searching grooves imbedded with emotion and technical musical advancement. Most recently, Healy dropped a twelve-track album, Subluxe, which has skyrocketed his spotify monthly listeners rate to well over 600,000 people–with listeners ranging from Small Town USA habitants to Los Angeles. I was honored to get to sit and chat with him and learn a little more about his musical processes, visions, and his new album.
PLANTING THE SEED OF INTEREST IN MUSIC
When asked about how he got involved in music, Healy replied with ease and a laugh, “I learned guitar the summer after I graduated high school because I didn’t have anything else to do,”, then explained that guitar was a way to fit in with a friend group that was already putting out projects.
“So, I put out a little five song acoustic project, which slowly turned into more projects that incorporated a few hip hop songs,”, he added. His growth can definitely be seen in Subluxe, an entire album filled with hip hop tracks.
Healy went on to story-tell about how his family life affected his ear for music, like the constant tunes of James Taylor and Steely Dan playing in the background of childhood dinner times and his mother singing hymns from church choir around the house.
“The storytelling atmosphere really planted a seed for me,” he said.
THE MEMPHIS INFLUENCE
On Subluxe, the Memphis groove of heart and soul is evident. Especially for Healy, he says that living in Memphis has affected his approach to making his own music.
Immediately when asked about Memphis, his face lit up with the excitement of sharing his love for his city.
“Memphis came off to me as a city that was really comfortable in its skin and wearing its heart on its sleeve in terms of making music…. and in turn I’ve felt the ability to express myself freely.”
Being a very visual artist, he then went on to elaborate how the greenery around memphis has affected his work. Specifically, he noted, “The crepe myrtles, the vibrant pinks and magentas, the purples and whites”, which led into a spiel about how he believes that the appreciation of colors create a more intimate relationship between nature and the city.
PHYSICAL THERAPY LIFE VS. MUSIC LIFE / THE IN-BETWEEN
Believe it or not, music isn’t Healy’s whole life. Instead, he simultaneously balances physical therapy school and his music. In fact, he will have completed seven years of school by the end of it all.
When asked about how he might continue with this balancing act, Healy said, “Both are very unique and exact in their processes, and both might deserve their own time.”
However, when the conversation arose on how these two subjects overlap, Healy had lots to say. His passion for each subject was evident when elaborating on his research into music therapy and particularly auditory motor synchronization. Though he may choose only one life-track, he acknowledges that the opportunities are endless.
THE INTIMATE SOUNDS OF SUBLUXE
Particularly on songs like “Build” and “Looks Like God”, there are intimate auditory moments before any lyrics are sung.
“The project is a story, setting the scene, introducing characters… I wanted to make the project a really sensory experience. I wanted you to smell it, close your eyes and see it, or hear the different levels of it, not just hearing the music. The depth of the gravel underneath someones foot, the cigarette lighting,” describing how he wants to break the fourth wall between the artist and the listener.
To do this, Healy shared with me the secret of a high tech microphone that made it into the Subluxe process. The depth that is heard in those special unsung moments is recorded by a microphone shaped like a human ear that records in three dimensions. This close attention to detail made Healy’s passion for storytelling apparent in his latest work.
THE HONESTY OF A MUSICAL VISION
Hearing multiple musicians in the project, I couldn’t help but ask if the honesty of Healy’s musical vision was compromised by allowing others to collaborate on the album.
A quick response came from this question. “You can’t say no to a musical idea until you’ve heard it,” he said, quoting Rick Rubin, an American record producer.
“I trust people that I’m around and I trust the people that I make music with… I know it won’t lose any artistic integrity,” speaking on the importance of inclusion and exclusion criteria of who you choose to bring in on a track. “There are parts of people that need to come through and shine and I don’t want to block them out,” he says, then explaining that sharing the experience of creating a track allows people to live through a musical vision.
“I do feel like I have those tracks that it just needs to be me, it’s such a personal thing.” For example, he says, “I almost got three or four different people to feature on the project “Unwind”. That song is about a crazy car wreck that really no one knows about, and I realized that it could only be me.”
PROCESS OF WRITING A SONG
Healy prefaced the song writing process conversation with the fact that he is “consistently inconsistent” in how long it takes him to write and finish a track.
He said, “I like to write in the morning because no one has made an impression on me.. I feel like I’m truly myself. If Iwrite later, it would be a reflection of my interactions with the people I talked with that day.”
He also added, “Sometimes I feel like someone is literally writing the songs through me, but other times I feel like I really battle with songs,” then going on to explain the battle between who he wants to be and how he wants people to perceive him.
Healy also spoke of the process of sharing his thoughts with others, saying, “I would think of ideas then record small amounts of them, then outsource it to three or four guys that helped with it.”
Eventually, Subluxe was defined to me as a two year process in which every step was direct and purposeful, and a time frame not evident for the desire of the finished product.
HEALY’S HIP HOP + THE SOUND OF WHAT’S NEXT
Healy said that he began to branch out into a more hip hop feel because he couldn’t find the sounds he wanted to find on the guitar.
However, and surprisingly, he doesn’t think that hip hop is actually the truest form to him.
He elaborated, saying, “Ever since the album dropped I’ve been thinking that I want to make something new…hearing different sounds… I think that there is potential within yourself and you shouldn’t set a ceiling.”
He also said that learning about new music and being in a transitional period in his life has helped him realize that he is not completely content and wants to continue to learn and make more new sounds, then go on to make better music.
He ended saying, “I feel like everything we wanted to say in the project is said in the project.” I couldn’t help but agree, noticing that with every new listen of the album, I hear something I’ve never heard before.
Walking out of the interview, Healy gave me an appreciation for the truest form of musicians: the passionate, the kind, the curious, the intentional, the music makers that desire for their listeners to experience the deepest emotions. Healy, Memphis is thankful to call you a local.
Listen to Healy’s album here and fall in love with the engulfing sounds of his tracks:
Interview by Lucy Callicott