Ethan Brosh’s new album, Conspiracy, is anything but suspicious. In fact, it plays to truth more precisely than most music of the day (or decade) dares. An ambitious follow-up to his previous studio albums with The Ethan Brosh Band, Out of Oblivion and Live the Dream, Conspiracy demonstrates Brosh’s ever-evolving musical maturation. The melodic, well-rounded instrumentals prove the Berklee-trained guitarist’s talents lie not only in his flying fingers, but in songwriting and arranging as well. This synthesis of sound and creative songwriting is showcased on tracks such as the fast-tempo “Escape Route.” And, after a listen, you will, most likely, feel inclined to ask every other player you meet: “Do you even shred?”
Conspiracy is an album like no other by a band like no other. It was recently released on vinyl as well as digital, features a guest appearance by Satchel from Steel Panther on the epic “Tomb of the Gods”, and even boasts artwork by none other than Derek Riggs (creator of Iron Maiden’s infamous Eddie album covers). Engineered by Max Norman (Ozzy), the album harkens back to a day when musicianship mattered.
As an experienced musician navigating the hard-rock/metal scene for some time now, Brosh only surrounds himself with players who share his vision, enthusiasm and talent. Live and in the studio, Nate Montalvo lends his stellar skills on guitar, Giorgio Mongelli provides solid bass lines, and Dan Whitelock locks it all in with top-notch percussion. The Ethan Brosh Band members are each heavy-hitting musicians in their own right. It is evident Brosh’s main interest is in keeping the integrity of the music, and this collaboration pulls off the complexities of intricate instrumentals with style.
Ethan Brosh derives his inspiration from the hair metal era — Megadeath and Iron Maiden, to name a few — when the playing style was big and melodic. Growing up in Israel, the guitarist honed his skills with beloved guitar teacher, Eyal Freeman. He would later bring this foundation with him to the US as he studied — and, eventually, taught — at Berklee. He’s collaborated with George Lynch, toured with the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and Jake E. Lee, and offered up his chops to numerous others in the hard-rock/metal scene.
Brosh is often considered a guitar-playing phenom for his mastery in lighting up a Fender HM Strat. However, his ability to pay homage to the past, play to the present and glimpse the future in his otherworldly song creations is equally impressive. Here, we talked music, magic and the business of combining the two.
The songs on Conspiracy are lyrical and have an arc that is satisfying. That’s missing in some instrumental music.
I appreciate that, because I also write songs with lyrics. My major at Berklee was Songwriting, and 99 percent of the music that I listen to are songs with vocals. It’s all that I grew up on, and it’s all that I’m listening to. I do write songs for singers, but, at the same time, when I write instrumentals — most of the time I approach them in the same exact same way. I think about my instrumentals as instrumental songs where you have an intro and a verse and a chorus and, sometimes, a bridge…then it has a guitar solo.
A lot of the instrumental guitar players out there — who write instrumental music — their approach to writing these tunes is that they have some kind of guitar trick, guitar idea or a fast phrase, and they write the whole tune based around it. It becomes like a circus of flashy guitar stuff.
When I’m writing an instrumental song, that’s what it is. It’s, basically, a composition that has to make sense, and it has to have different sections, and the sections have to make sense with the way they go between one another. I put a lot of time, effort and thinking into how to keep the listener interested, what the song is really calling for, and melody is very important. Until I find a melody that sounds good to me, I do not finish writing the song. That’s my approach, and it’s been my approach always.
Surely, you could just show off and shred if you really wanted to do only that…
[Laughs] And I do! There are times I do that as well. I’ve been playing guitar for so long. I sit there every day, I play all of these fast things, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s room for that, too. I came from there, and that’s a big part of the style — when you’re talking about hard rock and heavy metal. But the song has to be there, a great melody has to be there, and a good song structure has to be there. Yeah, the showing off…we’ll always have a little room for that, too.
You grew up in Israel listening to American metal (and British!). How did that shape you as a musician?
I had a phenomenal guitar teacher I met when I was about 16 and, to this day, he’s one of my closest friends. This is the guy who shaped the way that I play now. I was very privileged to have had him as my guitar teacher. His name is Eyal Freeman. I still haven’t seen a better guitar player on electric guitar.
The song featuring Satchel of Steel Panther, “Tomb of the Gods” — would you consider this the epic song on the album?
I have a few of them that I have the same feeling for on the album. But if I remove myself from the album, it seems like this one is the most straightforward and catchy. So, it kind of makes sense that this is the one that people will remember more than some of the other ones, but that’s just my guesstimate. I don’t necessarily favor that one over anything else on the album though.
With Conspiracy, having Max Norman on production, artwork by Derek Riggs…Would you say your approach and mindset was different than with the first album? You’ve been dealing with the music industry for years now.
I did not approach the record-making process any differently because of the music industry, because back then, and now, this was not something commercial that was supposed to really make me money or give me tremendous notoriety. Back then, I knew that going into it — and I still knew that before I went in to make my third album, Conspiracy.
So, in that sense, it hasn’t really changed. Now, the approach itself, musically, was different, and recording-wise it was different. I had a lot more experience, and the whole process — as long as it was — a lot less painful than recording my first album. Really, figuring out things as I went along, I made a lot of very costly mistakes that were costly financially and costly as far as the amount of time and effort I had put into it — rerecording things and redoing things. So, musically and technically, I had a lot more experience and the process was a lot more enjoyable or, maybe I should say, less painful than my first record.
Is it more difficult navigating the music industry now than 10 years ago?
Well, 10 years ago it was already really bad, and, over time, it has become even worse. I only deal with the music industry because my first love on this planet is music, and I’ll do it until the day that I die. And I’m only dealing with reality of the music industry just because of my love for music. It’s the only thing that I want to do. But, as far as the industry itself, there is nothing that I really like about it, and I think it is only getting worse and worse. I’m just hoping that at one point someone will actually care enough to make things a little bit better for musicians. I can only hope, but I don’t know if it will happen or when it will happen.
It’s hopeful that many musicians are taking matters into their own hands by creating record labels, etc. You did a lot of work yourself releasing the album…
The way that I see the music industry right now, in my opinion…there are really two ways of making it at the moment. You either get extremely lucky and get picked up by a major label that will invest a lot of money in you and will make you a star, or you do everything on your own, and you’re such a master of basically, creating your own record label, creating your own PR company. You run your own business, and you’re a very lucky, smart and successful businessman or woman…that is the only way to kind of stay afloat. Otherwise, you’re, basically, non-existent. It’s cool that here and there you have some people that notice you on social media or whatever, but anything other than these few cases, you’re out on the road losing money — if you can even make it to get on the road — or you’re losing money making your music. That’s just what I’m seeing for the industry at the moment.
That seems to be a general consensus among many musicians out there…
At this point, there is also no filter anymore. I was talking about that with Max Norman. We were agreeing about the fact that those record labels from the past, while they weren’t a great filter by any means, they kept a lot of stuff out that probably should have not been there as far as rock music is concerned, at least.
YouTube views seem to equal success these days wherein any person can post they call themselves a “rockstar” or “musician” if they have many views.
Yeah, and even if you do get that lucky where you have all these views, you are still not really making any money. So, that is not a guarantee for anything. It might be cool that some people saw you once, maybe, but that’s about it. To build from that point to a successful career, there’s a lot more to it. And even that is very difficult to achieve. It’s also getting harder and harder to achieve, because there are millions and millions of videos uploaded every single day to all the social media platforms and YouTube.
It must be frustrating for you as a player who has put in many hours of training and practicing to see someone make it overnight with a gimmick.
Absolutely. It is the entertainment business, and I think the music business has absolutely nothing to do with the actual music and the actual skill. So, if there’s anyone out there I’m jealous of – I’m envying their luck more than anything else.
Now, speaking of success, how would you define it for yourself? For instance, playing the Garden?
That is a very good question. Everyone wishes they’d be able to sell out the Garden. When you’re younger — and you have a lot of time and you’re looking into the future and you have no idea what can possibly happen — you’re thinking, maybe… But, after some years in the business, seeing what the reality of it is at the moment, it’s almost like what the blueprint for success is diminishes, and you’re hoping to just get some “success.”
Look, I would love to play at the Garden, and I don’t care if it would be opening for someone or being in a band that plays at the Garden. But, for me, success would be when I play my own music, I don’t have to teach anymore, and I just play and record my own original music. When I make a living that way, for me, that would be something that would, hopefully, keep me content…my own version of success. I think that if I achieve that in today’s music business, it is a huge achievement.
The videos are filmed in these amazing sci-fi-like, ethereal locations [Laughs]…there is all this space — on Mars — it feels as though because the music is complex and intense, the music needs space. Is that intentional?
That’s a very good question that I honestly never really thought about it. But, now that you mention it, this is the way that I’ve always thought about my music to begin with. And that is one reason why I could never really connect with music in the nineties and on, since the nineties.
Basically, music from the era that I grew up listening to sounded really big, and there were effects that were trying to create an illusion that it’s even bigger than it is. People usually refer to it as “arena rock”, but I always envisioned — whenever I listened to it or created that music myself — a huge space, and that’s kind of what I’ve always tried to capture in mixing and producing my music. That was always the image that was in my mind. When you hear those drums, there is no limit to the size of it. You don’t hear it just bouncing against the walls, and then that’s it.
When the ‘90s arrived and everything got stripped down, all of the recordings sounded a lot smaller. Everything sounded like it was really close to you, like it was right in front of you, and you’re in the rehearsal room with the people that are recording. So, to me, I’ve always hated that rehearsal room sound. It just sounded boxy…it didn’t sound epic. It sounded too real and too close to me. It didn’t have any magic to it. Music, in my opinion, should have magic to it. It is magic when it’s created and something great comes out of it. I’ve always thought about my music having that huge space. It only makes sense that I’ve selected these locations, and some of my other music videos are similar that way that they’re in a big, open location that looks really cool.
Some of the tones are ethereal and transcendent. Is that deliberate when you mix those tones with the stylings? Is that a reflection of how you feel when you play?
Absolutely. I can tell you that tone, for a guitar player, is something that can make it or break it. This is something that is a constant struggle on a daily basis when you’re recording and even more when you’re playing live. A guitar tone, especially an electric guitar tone, can be shaped in so many different ways, and depending where you are standing on stage, depending on where it comes from — if it’s your amp, your speaker cabinet, or a monitor that’s on stage — all of those little things make a huge difference and immediately play with your mind even if you know that you’re playing exactly the same thing that you’d played two minutes ago.
If you’re standing on a different part of the stage, it will sound completely different, and it will mess with your mind. Even if you know that you’re playing exactly the same thing, the fact that the tone sounds different, psychologically, will mess with you no matter what. That is why guitar players tweak their tone constantly, always, every single day, and it just never ever ends.
This is something that will also inspire you in a different way to write music. Sometimes, if all the stars line up, and you sound better than you expect, then you may just write something on the spot just because it sounds great. But, if the tone bothers you a little bit, and it’s not tweaked the way that you want it, it will do the opposite. Instead of inspiring you, it will just keep bothering you and make you play a lot worse. That’s just the reality of how it works. Tone is really the instrument, and if the instrument doesn’t sound the way you expect it to sound, it will change the feeling.
You are sponsored by ISP Technologies. What other noteworthy gear are you into at the moment?
Well, it’s really obvious that I’ve been playing these Fender HM Strats for quite awhile now, and I just did a thing about these guitars for Vintage Guitar magazine. It’s almost like people start associating me with those guitars, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me that they went on eBay and bought one of those guitars because of me. And I think, now, their value is going up on eBay [Laughs], and when it’s time for me to go buy another one, I’ll have to pay more for it [Laughs].
Satchel from Steel Panther makes an appearance on Conspiracy…You’ve played with them before?
I’ve never played with Steel Panther. But, I think that at some point I’ll open for them or tour with them, and when it does happen, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Satchel isn’t someone that I’ve known for very long, but I see us becoming friends in the future. I think that we have a lot of things in common. I’m very grateful to him for playing on my record.
I can’t wait to be on stage telling the story of how I met my drummer (Dan Whitelock) in the front row at a Steel Panther show. When we’re on tour with them, and I get to introduce my drummer and tell the story, I think it will be a fun fact people will appreciate.
The guys in your band — Nate, Dan and Giorgio — are also all well-trained, and the band sounds very cohesive. Did it feel right from the beginning?
Yeah, I’m very critical about everything that happens with my playing and everybody else’s playing in my band. I’m constantly critical about it, and some nights are better than others. It’s, basically, just always trying to get better. I think that when people listen to us that we probably sound very tight to them, but, to me, sometimes it sounds better than other times. We discuss that, too. When we’re traveling, we always talk about it. Sometimes we watch the videos, and we’re constantly trying to make it better. We’re musicians first before anything else, so we all want it to be as good as it possibly can be.
It took a while. Until you find a group that somewhat functions together, doesn’t want to kill each other, and don’t flake on you…there are so many things that can go wrong. So, to find people that have, generally, the same interests, like very similar things, have the look and are good people…that’s rare. It took me a long time to find. I don’t take it for granted, because I know how fragile that can be and how difficult to find it is. And it was difficult to find. It took me awhile, and it took some member changes, and there were problems in the past — and it’s not like there are never problems now, but I think now I’m in a much better spot than I was in the past.
You’ve achieved a lot by putting out incredible instrumental albums that don’t fit neatly into a genre. Is it challenging to find your place within this industry?
Absolutely, because on a daily basis all I hear whenever I try to put my band into any kind of show or tour — people always try to put bands together to play shows — is how I’m not “a good fit” with anybody. It’s because nobody is really doing what I’m doing. The only people that, I guess, are still doing what I’m doing are Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and a couple of the big names that survived. But, other than that, every band is, technically, different than what I’m doing.
So, I hear it constantly from promoters, from agents, from people in the industry, “Oh, this is not a good fit for you.” And this was the same in the past, also, from record labels. What I’m always told is, “You know what? You’re a great guitar player, and we like your music. We think you’re great, but it’s just not what we do. It’s just not a good fit.” That’s what I’ve always heard. It’s not that, “We listened to you and we don’t like what you do…” It’s been like, “Yeah, you’re really good.”
I’m hoping that, one day, I’ll get some kind of recognition from the industry for my writing, because I think that’s where I’m different from a lot of other guitar players. But again, it’s an instrumental band, it’s instrumental music, and it’s very difficult — not to mention that it’s metal — because when you try to fit instrumental music to a TV show or something like that, they label as “you are playing metal” or “you sound too ‘80s.”
When you’re trying to take an instrumental band on the road, you’re not a good fit with anybody. So, these are the hoops that I have to constantly jump through, but despite all of those things, I’m still out there doing something so, I suppose, it’s not all bad.
It’s sort of a compliment that you don’t fit in and that nobody is doing what you’re doing. You’ve played with some big names like Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Sweet, and your band just toured with Ross the Boss of Manowar.
That’s true. I think this is something that every audience notices right away, that this is very, very different than the first or second band that they heard or the next band they will hear after us. Whenever we’re playing, we just sound and look completely different than what anybody else is doing. So, I’m pleased with that, and that’s just my music and what comes natural to me.
Check out The Ethan Brosh Band at Sellersville Theatre in Sellersville, Penn. on June 28. Purchase Conspiracy at Ethanbrosh.com and on Amazon.
(All photos included in the print version of this article were taken by Lucia Vieira.)