With his debut full-length album (finally) set to arrive this Friday, 6 October, we speak to producer and songwriter Ethan P. Flynn about his artistic journey up until this point, how he’s established his own label and why he’s playing the long game.
“I really made this album for people that are kind of like me, which is weird, but I think everyone does that a bit,” Ethan P. Flynn tells me early in our conversation in his stylish central London flat. His words come from the tip of his tongue for a reason, as we find ourselves on the verge of his debut record, Abandon All Hope, which has been a long time coming.
The 25-year-old has been writing songs since around the age of ten and has already ticked off a number of artists’ bucket lists, having worked with the likes of David Byrne and FKA Twigs. He’s released a handful of experimental singles and even a couple of EPs, including 2022’s Universal Deluge. These have put Ethan under a similar artistic mould to the likes of fellow former Guildhall students Jockstrap (he was in the same cohort as both Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery, before eventually dropping out), with music that’s compelling precisely because it proves moody and often challenging.
And yet, despite striking a record deal with the respected label Young in 2018, that proper full-length LP has taken its time to arrive. One nearly materialised in 2020 (Are You Doing This To Hurt Me) but never quite came to fruition, and instead was stripped back to a B-Sides & Rarities: Volume 1 compilation – an amusing title that denotes just how broad Ethan views his penmanship, as though he were releasing some of his uncut gems even before his debut full-length album.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to do an album. Everything else I’ve done hasn’t been an album – this is,” he elucidates in a drawling accent that might make you think he’s Australian (he’s in fact Yorkshire-born, London-based). On the coffee table in front of us he’s laid out all his releases to date in their vinyl format, a thoughtful show-and-tell gesture to help us run through his artistic development thus far.
“It all eventually lined up. I signed with Young for this album – and for others maybe, but this was the album I signed for. So actually spending that money and doing this feels pretty good for it to be the debut, in the way it sounds and the way we executed it. It’s not the kind of album we’re going to put out into the world and become the next Ed Sheeran; it’s a very personal, very specific album.”
Abandon All Hope is the culmination of Ethan’s decade-and-a-half songwriting lifetime condensed into 13 days of intense recording sessions at north-west London’s Narcissus Studios. It’s a complex project with many fleeting moments and periods that feel improvised; at times it sweeps you up as though soundtracking some US desert road trip, at others it becomes stark and eerie in the mould of Arthur Russell or Jim White.
For Ethan, this assorted mix is kind of the point, concocting an album that’s really worth indulging in over and over. “It’s definitely an album for ‘getting into’,” he says. “We did a playback for the first listen; there’s some cool moments, but I feel like it’s an album designed for when you really know it, because a lot of stuff only happens once.”
The album’s pinnacle is far and away Ethan’s most ambitious song to date: the meandering, 16-and-a-half minute ‘Crude Oil’, which encompasses jazz, folk and classical music. A cynic might propose that such a track is self-indulgent; only the very best should surely be able to command our attention for such a timespan.
But in-keeping with Ethan’s philosophy for his project – of putting out “an album for ‘getting into’” – this fits the bill, and the story of its creation explains why. “With ‘Crude Oil’, I wrote the first six minutes during a really transitional, very turbulent period of my life,” he shares. “I was going through a breakup, I moved house, then I was living on my own again. I usually write stuff all in one day. I didn’t really know what it was about.
“Those first six minutes were done, and they had this very tense feeling. But then after all this stuff went down – after the breakup, after the move – I wrote the next eight minutes of the song, which are very dirge; a reflection on how it actually all went down.
“And then it builds into this kind of joyous resolution. I think it’s cool there was a time period between them: the first half being written in one day, six months before the next half was written. I didn’t change the first half at all.”
Indeed, ‘Crude Oil’ is a snapshot of a life; of the difficulties that beset you in your mid-twenties from the perspective of a reflective soul, striking a chord with another of Ethan’s intentions for the record: having “stuff that people could relate to that I haven’t necessarily heard on record before”.
The penultimate minute of instrumental makes you want to get away, and not just for a brief period, but truly start afresh somewhere with your newfound wisdom. It is, in my view, the best moment on the record. Likewise, the lovelorn opener ‘In Silence’, with its heart-wrenching refrain “With good enough eyes / On a good enough day / I can see you far away”, and the lugubrious-sounding ‘Bad Weather’ all constitute an album of relatable human despair.
‘Crude Oil’, though, occupies another space in Ethan’s life, bearing the same name as another of his key projects: his very own record label. Much like titling a project B-Sides & Rarities in the relative infancy of his career, founding a record label at this stage might seem premature. But for Ethan, the matter was a simple one: “It just seemed like a good idea.”
“I know a lot of people that make music and it would be such a joy to say to them, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll put it out, whatever deal you want, we can figure that out. We’ll make it as fair as it could ever be, and as fun as it could ever be. And I can work on it or not.’ That seems like the best way to continue my collaborations with people into the future, where I can just make a record for someone and put it out for them.”
And despite being signed himself just five years ago, Ethan reflects on a fast-changing music industry by seeing himself as being “at the end of an era”, whereas nowadays “people without big audiences [don’t] really get signed any more for a lot of money, because it’s so difficult to break people now.
“I don’t know,” he caveats, thoughtfully, “maybe they do. I haven’t been signed recently… I produced an album for someone I’ve been working with for a while, and it’s done, it’s mixed. But they’re trying to get it signed now. And it just feels like if I had an established good label, that’s the dream world.
“And it might end up being that. I’m having talks with people at the moment about releasing stuff; some for people who I feel I shouldn’t necessarily even be in the room with or talking to them about releasing their music.”
In the immediate future, at least, Ethan can now look towards his own first full-length album. For someone who has decidedly avoided a commercial route thus far, sticking to his artistic instincts, the goal for Abandon All Hope isn’t for a record that hits a momentary flash of popularity, but endures, returned to by listeners for years to come. “This is an album that in like 50 years will be on all of the lists – but not this year or next, maybe not.”
It’s an admirable claim, made bolder by the fact it’s said by someone who often speaks of doubt and lingering self-criticism. It typifies an artist very much willing to see the long game; who views his career with a wide lens, putting out releases most true to himself when the time is right.
Ethan says he’s made an album for “people kind of like me”, and you can understand who he’s referring to: introspective souls who are wise beyond their years, the kind who – just like Ethan – would spend hours as a kid en-route to school finding emotional solace in music.
But not many people are, in fact, just like Ethan P. Flynn, and the complexity and emotional honesty of Abandon All Hope is testament to that. As if to prove the point, after our chat he mentioned offhand that he was heading to some studio sessions with FKA Twigs. Not everyone can lay claim to that.
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