This past week, I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Ethan Healy, or known by most as just Healy. Healy may be the most popular thing in Memphis that you’ve never heard of. He enjoys much of his fame online, where he boasts over 6,000 followers and a total of 873,000 plays on SoundCloud. With this kind of internet fame, one would expect that Healy would be so insanely popular that he would at least be active in the local music scene. But, Healy is not touring currently, nor is he playing shows. No, Healy is busy studying away in Physical Therapy school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis working on his degree. The overall character of Ethan Healy is so intriguing that it only made sense to reach out and pick through his brain to see just what it is that makes his music so popular and why he doesn’t do more to pursue a career in what he loves.
Healy and I sat down at local coffee shop, City & State.
Both with our individual coffee art Lattes.
H: See! I got a leaf design in mine too, just a little girly.
S: Cute little leaves.
H: (after taking a sip) Hot too, see I should have know that. I have an espresso machine at my house and I looked online to see how to prepare and I saw that people typically heat their milk to like 140 degrees.
S: Are you serious?
H: Yeah! A little toasty! So I was talking to one the guys up here one day and I asked them what they heat their milk to because it’s pretty hot. So I asked like, 150, 160, but no, the guy said “Eh, about 200 degrees.”
S: Wow. So it’s a wonder how people even drink it.
H: Yeah, it’s crazy. You going to the grizz game tonight?
S: No, I wanted to! But I couldn’t get any tickets.
H: Me and Gracie got tickets and so we’re going to go and see what that’s all about. Should be fun.
S: Oh for sure man, go Grizz. We couldn’t get tickets so we may just go over by Rec Room and watch the game or something.
H: Where is that at again?
S: Over there by those basketball courts on Broad.
H: Oh yeah? Where all the colorful graffiti art is? My buddy Nosey actually did a lot of that artwork!
S: Nosey? That’s sick.
H: Oh yeah, so gnarly man. I’m no good at basketball but I think if I stepped on that I would ball out man.
S: Absolutely, like the tune squad getting their powers man. So what’s been new man?
H: Aw man, album came out.
S: Yeah, and its good!
H: You think so? I’ve always wanted to spend a long period of time on an individual project and with A Galaxy With Skin I was finally able to do that. With most projects it would always be like 2 or 3 weeks worth of work then I would put it out. But this actually ended up taking a year, I started recording in November of last year.
S: Was that, $150?
H: No, that was Azulejos. Funny story though, I really don’t remember when I released $150. I think it was like June and I was at the beach with like 3 or 4 songs already done and I decided… what the heck let’s release this and see what happens. Sent it to my guy who mastered it and he sent it back and said people would probably like it and then…
S: Well it blew up. People loved it!
H: Yeah! Like over 150,000 views now.
S: That’s a lot of views man, and it’s crazy because that’s also a lot of people. And I think every song has over 50,000 views. Why do you think they blew up individually like that?
H: Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen the bumper stickers that say Lueen Quatifa around, but it’s my friend Lane and he’s a DJ here in Memphis. Well we were talking and he said that I should release every song separate so every song can get the attention it deserves. So I actually started doing that without the intention of releasing a full project but I think that’s why they all garnered a couple of thousand views individually.
S: Which, that seems like a very professional way to do it.
H: Right! And I’m so thankful because I had no intention of doing that and he was like, “one-by-one.” It just made sense. So we started releasing them because maybe one song featured a certain producer and he may repost it so then the next song will have more views from that repost. We thought a lot about the process and I think that’s what lead to the success it received.
S: So who is listening to the album? Because there is no way it’s all in Memphis.
H: Well, I know like a thousand plays are from my friend Luis, but the farthest I can narrow it down to is by country. So a majority is from the U.S. but a bunch of people in Canada and the U.K. are playing it as well.
S: Well the label you affiliate with, DeepMatter, is a U.K. label right?
H. Yeah they’re based over there. So part of the popularity over there is that there is a radio station in France that places a couple of songs in rotation, but I have also had people Instagram me or tweet me from Japan and say “Hey, it sounds great keep it up,” or people from Australia will be like, “hey this is cool.”
S: That’s got to be awesome.
H: Oh yeah, to go from having trouble convincing even my family to listen to my music to people from 5,000 miles away listen to it on a whim, it’s weird honestly. I’m not used to it still.
S: That is amazing. I think, just from listening on my own and hearing your old stuff, that the success of this new material is a product of just taking more time on it and taking it more seriously. I mean, you said you took year just to make this one album.
H: That’s definitely one bit behind it, because before I went through a time where I struggled with the idea of what good music was to me. Like, what is the right music that I want to make? Is it something that is just making a statement? Is it something that allows me to have fun? I wavered back and forth between those two things and I came to the conclusion of, whatever elicits emotion for me is considered good music. So I took that and ran with it and that was what made A Galaxy With Skin what it was. So I took that and I wanted to make the album hold a lot of human weight which I think it does and that’s another reason for it’s success.
S: Well, it’s relatable for sure.
H: Yeah! Which is still peculiar to me because I thought that some of the experiences I have were just very unique and very different. But I’ve had people reach out to me and say that a certain song helped them through a girl breaking things off with them and I really didn’t expect that. Like I said, the songs hold a lot of human weight and people identify with them a lot more.
S: I think it’s cool how you balance that realistic, relatable feel as well. Like in ‘Life Like’, its almost satirical in a way.
H: Oh yeah, in a sense it’s like pointing a finger at people who feel like they need prosperity! I say this as I sit here with my macbook and Tom Ford sunglasses, but simplicity is cool to me. But that specific part of the story is that the character and the listener kind of leaving this comfort zone of enjoying what they have but also wanting more out of that. It’s like, I want to live a life like this huge rapper that eventually died because he lived like that. So it’s like a self fulfilling prophecy.
S: Cool, cool. I know that one and Montana are some of my favorites. Phantoms too.
H: Oh yeah, I loved doing Montana.
S: It’s just a fun song. It has funny references too! Like the Dragon Ball Z reference. And it took my forever to realize what the “Jobless, like Macintosh” line meant. But my favorite thing is that it really is not hip hop. Even though it is rap, it has it’s own character. Plus it’s cool that this is in Memphis too.
S: Another thing is that you don’t go crazy and publish yourself everywhere, you’re an underground Memphis artist that has blown up completely online and you’re not playing shows but people are hearing your stuff. I’ve always said good music finds good ears and I think this is a perfect scenario in which that reigns true.
H: That’s true man, it felt like every day I was working on this I worried myself thinking, “are people going to even like this stuff,” or “will people be able to find it,” which is a struggle that I think most artists deal with. I myself go through cycles. Like last night, I was listening to Kings of Leon and I was just imagining that the impact they have had on so many people completely dwarfs the impact that I myself or anyone in my circle has had on people outside of Memphis. But you wake up the next morning and I feel humbled and think that I should be happy and content with the impact that I have been able to have on the people that I have.
S: Yeah, big impact can come from small crowds.
H: Yeah! And I grew up in the type of music scene where people would always want to show you their music or tweet you about it, facebook you their show invites and it just felt forced and shoved on you. That kind of helped me realize that I really do not want to do that and would rather people just passively do that. Almost like I’m letting people find it on their own.
S: Which is always fun, finding new music on your own and feeling good about yourself.
H: Right. Different strokes different folks but I’ve always felt like less is more. Also I have always wanted to make my own type of genre and so I have worked hard on that. Kudos to people who have found a niche in a certain genre but my goal has always been to find cracks between genres and grow sound in those cracks.
S: And big thanks to your team, because it’s hard enough to do those things on your own but it is even harder to find guys to do it with you.
H: Oh, absolutely, and sound-cloud is incredible in that sense too. Helped me reach out to a ton of people.
S: Which is really what I think sound-cloud excels at. Spotify is great with reaching out to people and as great as they are, I think sound-cloud is even better.
H: Right, and I think that sound-cloud is great with autonomy in the sense that, I literally created and account, created a song, uploaded it, and then it was done. All in a matter of thirty minutes too. Where as Spotify, you have to get with a distribution company and work out all the kinks to where it actually takes about a couple of weeks just to get done.
S: Bigger process with Spotify for sure.
H: Oh yeah, its definitely more convoluted, but it’s a much much bigger audience as well
S: Right, sound-cloud is great but I think more people I know personally have Spotify. Speaking of audiences, did I see that you won an indie music award?
H: Yeah! Indie Shuffle. Its crazy, I woke up earlier this summer with a tweet from indie shuffle, a music review website, about $150 being their song of the day. They found LFTM and made it song of the day as well. Well, Jason, the guy who makes the playlists, was creating the playlist for best indie music of 2015 and he emailed me saying they chose $150 for best indie hip hop song of 2015.
S: What was that moment like for you?
H: Incredible. Because you grow up listening to people like Logic and Drake and they are on the same list as you and it just feels amazing. I still can’t get over it, whenever I have a down moment I just think back and I’m like, “oh yeah, that happened,” and it always brings me back up.
S: It’s crazy too, because to people who don’t follow music as closely may see that and not really understand how big of a deal it is. It seems like a small step but it is actually leaps and bounds ahead of what you expected from yourself.
H: Oh yeah! Going from having at most 300 plays on a song to having 3000 people listen to that playlist in a matter of 3 hours is insane.
S: So who is your favorite artist right now?
H: Oh wow, right now? Gosh, man this is probably obvious, but probably The Social Experiment with Chance and Donnie Trumpet and all those guys who make up that cool band. But besides that I have been listening to a lot of Hiatus Coyote, this neo-jazz soul band from Australia. Every song is a surprise and it is just amazing.
We had to pause because a friend of his came to say hey.
H: Yeah that’s a friend of mine, she was in the dorms with me and she’s studying for med school now. 300 hours of studying for the MCAT man, that’s crazy to me.
S: Well that’s another thing, you’re in PT school! That’s pretty hard stuff, where in the world do you find time to do this music stuff man?
H: (laughing) I don’t know man! Fortunately, I had a lot songs on the back burner for this project and all I really had to do was touch them up a little on certain nights. But there were songs towards the end that were dropped because of school or I didn’t have the time to commit to them. I definitely had to find time though, and I kind of got into a groove of splitting time. I would go to school and once I got home I would take a break from school and walk my dog or work on music then I would go back to studying all night. They actually tell you to use breaks to your advantage because you can seriously get burnt out if you only do school all the time.
S: So you’ve had to turn down projects because of school?
H: Oh yeah, I remember a few specific ones where I turned down projects because of school. I had like 5 exams the next day or just didn’t have the time. I was going to open for a guy in Philadelphia but I just did not have time. It’s kind of bittersweet because I really do sometimes wish I could be touring around making music, but PT is kind of a more concrete thing and I just know it is going to be there. I could wake up tomorrow and never make music again but I’ll still be in physical therapy school.
S: Which makes sense, be all there wherever you are.
H: Right! And eventually, when I finish school, I want to maybe take a year or two and just see what can happen with music. But right now it is just to have fun and enjoy it as much as possible.
S: What do you want to see happen with Memphis music?
H: Well I just feel like it’s missing something. Like, think of it all as train tracks. Theres North-East like Chicago and they have an amazing music scene and all kinds of things are coming out of there. Then theres out west in California where they have their own thing going on entirely, and down south too in Texas as well. But then there’s Memphis and I just think it’s missing some pieces.
S: Which is weird, because all music really does come from blues and jazz, which comes a lot from Memphis. And I think a lot of Memphis is stuck in the past with the blues and funk. It hasn’t gone past that though, maybe with rap. But still, since Three 6 Mafia, not too much has come out of it.
H: Yeah, and for me, I grew up and I listened to a lot of that but it’s really almost rung out. People are okay with it too. We say, “Memphis is the genesis for blues music,” and then we’re not getting past that. Which is totally good! But there is so much more and people aren’t recognizing it.
S: And I think that it was huge for Memphis that your album was able to do what it did. Good for you to be repping Memphis.
H: Thank you, and don’t get me wrong there are several acts that are doing great out of Memphis right now, like Star and Micey, that are splitting genres. Like Drew Holcomb too, he’s getting noticed and furthering Memphis music too. I think that when people see people exceeding expectations and realize where they are from it really impacts that city.
S: I agree for sure. I think Memphis as a city settles for mediocrity, maybe not so much as of late, but as a whole I think so.
H: I can see that. I think that it is very evident when you see that artists are not really coming here. Like most artists, when you check their tour dates, the closest to Memphis that they are coming is either Nashville or Atlanta. As a city we want to generate a buzz for artists to come here. But I think once the music scene starts to expand, it will make a difference in peoples hearts to come here and check it out to see what it’s about. When people realize that there are fans in Memphis, they want to come.
S: Absolutely, I feel you on that. So just some more questions about the album, what was your favorite track? Whether it was working on it or how it sounded once it was finished, which was your favorite.
H: Wow, I really like Phantoms. Crazy story, the EP was supposed to come out on the 6th of December, but I had finals and it had to get pushed back and my producer from $150 called me about a track he wanted me to listen to. So I told him to go ahead and send it and when I got it I was in the parking lot at Central BBQ and was ten minutes late to dinner because I was replaying it and trying to write to it and figure out how I was going to make it fit, because I felt like it had to.
S: What’s that song about?
H: It’s like an intro to the project as a whole. I feel like the character resembles me and he deals with everyday hardships like I do and he’s almost saying, “okay, I’ve had a rough past, but I’ve finally realized that there is more to life than just doing bad stuff and getting in with the wrong crowd.” So the beginning says, “it’s been a minute since I stepped up, battle with my atoms, that began to really fester.” Then looking at yourself in the reflection feeling beside yourself, like what am I doing? So it’s transition into $150 and being okay with who you are and your friends being okay with it too. I really wanted to grab people too so it worked out to put it as the first track.
S: For me it felt like it was all about overcoming, like this is me, get over it. Definitely a great introduction to the album.
H: Overcoming is a great word, if I had to fit it into a word that’s what it would be. That’s great, because I think it’s the third or forth time someone has described one of my songs better to me than I could.
S: Well, it for sure had that affect on me.
H: That’s awesome, man. I hope more people feel that way!
S: I’m sure they do. But, I gotta roll out man so I’ll catch up with you later! It was great getting to talk man!
H: For sure, you too! Thanks for the opportunity man, means a lot to me.