Chasing melodies and riffs through blues, punk and more, 23-year-old UF Levin College of Law sophomore Ethan White appeals to his audiences with solo songwriting. With the background of an Ocala cattle ranch in “Old Florida,” White embarked on a personal music path interweaving genres and his roots. From his gravitation towards Phil Collins’ drums and progressive rock to appreciation of Delta blues, White’s diversely influenced recordings aim to be his own mark and message.
“I started kind of dabbling in writing songs when I was pretty young, but the first time I was taking it seriously was in high school,” he said. “I started to write my own music and I would jam out with friends, we would have concerts at lunch time…but it was hard to get everyone over to my house on the weekends because everyone had a busy schedule.”
White applied a “punk DIY attitude” and took command of all sectors in music-making. He used the Garage Band application to grab vocals and guitar for his first two records in 2017 and 2019. Here, he was inspired by art rock and classic British punk.
“I am a big fan of the Sex Pistols and Steve Jones’ guitar style,” White said. “It is very melodic but at the same time, aggressive and high-energy. I wanted to capture something of that of my own idiosyncratic style.”
Messing with his guitar, White discovers melodies that he works with to start the songwriting process; He then tweaks the riff and adds in bridges and solos, he said. Lyrics come last in that they fit the mood of the song and combine phrases he poses throughout the day.
Some highlights include title tracks, like “Rock Man” and “Primeval Clay,” to the albums as well as “Tower of London” on the first record and “Punk Rock Sean Connery” on the second. He described them as “quirky songs but fun to play live.”
So far onstage, White has performed at University Auditorium on UF campus, High Dive and Bo Diddley Plaza with his own music as well as with UF Jacaré Brazil, an instrumental ensemble of traditional and popular Brazilian music.
“He is a very creative and engaging performer,” said UF Professor Welson Tremura, a teacher in the School of Music and the Center for Latin American Studies.
As director of Jacaré Brazil, Tremura said he has noted White’s electric guitar playing with the group and hopes White explores more classical guitar.
“He has an open mind about music and trying new styles and forms,” he said “He knows what his voice is, he knows how he sees himself and continues this creative invention.”
On May 5, White released “Holy Roller” with an accompanying music video June 3. The newest single is a departure from the punk mantra and a dive into blues music.
“In a way it reflects my background in terms of the countryside where I grew up and this kind of Southern Gothic sound of Florida,” White said. “It just naturally manifested itself. I was playing the acoustic guitar and this riff came out of nowhere and I just kept working on that.”
He said he was able to hook together a chorus and then song reflecting a “wide tapestry of influences from over the years” such as Johnny Cash, Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor and swampy scenes depicted in the first True Detective season.
“Lyrically the song is kind of a quest for salvation and I think the character in the song is kind of looking on how maybe he’s looked for salvation in the wrong places and he’s growing more introspective about that,” he said.
He said he continues to write songs in the same “bluesy and folksy” vein, as it comes naturally to him, but he will also expand his genres, including industrial music.
Expected for the holidays, White will release “Overlord,” an album that draws on heavy metal and thick synths. His time in COVID-19 self-quarantine has helped keep focus on the project as well as draw towards “dystopian” and “Orwellian” themes, he said.
With projects on the horizon, White said he feels his work to be an outlet and not a need to score a hit.
“I think that songwriting for me is strictly based strongly around looking for a melody, something that is catchy but at the same time looking for something you can’t quite articulate that helps people transcend whatever reality they’re in,” White said. “Art is sometimes the substitution for explanation. If you can make a song that takes somebody somewhere that a conversation can’t, I think that’s a mission accomplished.