Jill Olesen and Ethan Williams:
Reshaping The Path
How did your music journey start?
JO: Music has always been a big part of my life. My family used to work in the vinyl industry, so we’ve just been surrounded by music. This has just been the next step for me.
EW: My grandfather was a jazz drummer and I think my mom’s grandma played piano. My parents were musically enabled necessarily, but it was already around. My uncle had drums at home that I would mess around with. I wasn’t really good at anything else.
JO: Yeah that was definitely a big part of it. I was just very bad at school.
EW: I was bad at sports. It was also the only thing that I needed to do everyday.
Do you think that you needed to be a musician in order to get fulfillment out of life?
Did you learn one instrument first and then branch out to others afterwards?
JO: I started on piano when I was really little, none of it I really retained. I guess just having that first step, it was like the gateway drug to music. I don’t really play that much piano anymore.
EW: For me it was the drums forever. After taking lessons for a few years I did trumpet in the school band and that was the first instrument I learned that had notes. I started teaching myself guitar in middle school using youtube.
JO: Youtube and Marty’s guitar taught me a lot.
How was the experience going from music being a more individual experience than something in a group setting like for you?
JO: At my high school there was no music scene what-so-ever, so I just played bass a lot in my room. I got to work out a lot of the technical stuff which was cool, but I was also itching for the opportunity to play with other people. Bass isn’t really a solo instrument, it can be, but there’s not that much repertoire out there. I feel really lucky that I got into NYU and found such a strong network of musicians to play with.
How did you two meet?
EW: We met freshman year because we have the same major which is pretty small. We were friends with the same people and then became part of a pretty close group after that.
Would you say your music styles are similar to each other?
JO: I would say there’s really nice overlap.
EW: Yeah we have opposing ends of a very big spectrum of things with a very large overlap in the middle. My background is more angsty with energy and distorted guitars.
JO: Mine’s more soft rock, I grew up listening to a lot of hip hop at a very young age. That influence always works its way into whatever music I’m making. Not this project particularly though.
Is it the groove?
JO: Yeah, I like to mention it just as part of my musical upbringing.
EW: I see that in the difference in the way we write music. Hers is very layer oriented, while mine is less composed because the music I grew up listening to based around live concerts.
The production quality is also very different between hip hop and punk. Hip hop is almost sleeker while punk is raw.
EW: Yeah for sure and we kinda ended up in the same place. We didn’t notice for years, but probably until the last six to twelve months we realized that we like a lot of the same stuff that we grew up listening to that we just didn't realize.
What inspired you to create a project together?
JO: We were actually studying abroad in Prague next semester before shit hit the fan. We lived in the same building and were writing stuff while in Prague. Nothing from that really came to fruition and then we got sent home. Feeling the need to make something from this disaster is definitely where it came from from me. Just sitting at home being upset about not studying abroad.
EW: That’s exactly what happened. A lot of the lyrical themes are about longing and sadness, it kinda worked out well.
JO: The genre is inspired mostly by shoegaze music which isn’t the happiest music. I've never really been that drawn to shoegaze before, but I guess I was in some kind of place.
EW: We listened to a lot of sad music when quarantine started and it ended up being the same sad music.
JO: The EP Is surprisingly upbeat instrumental.
EW: Lyrically you can dive in and find the darker side of it. The music side of it is really peppy which is the deception we are going for.
Kinda like The Smiths, the lyrics are pretty fucked up, but the instrumentation is happy.
JO: totally, for sure.
What was the actual writing process like?
JO: A lot of sending back and forth. We finally sat down on zoom and were like what do we wanna put in it.
EW: She ended up writing an album’s worth of material and I had a little bit that I added to it. That’s where we sat down and divided it up into what we could make into a small release. That’s what we are working on now.
JO: There’s a lot more. For this specific project, I I took more of the lyric and songwriting responsibilities, but the actual technical stuff is all him.
EW: That’s my department.
A lot of people have been struggling to find inspiration in quarantine, but I think it's cool that you turned the actual quarantine into the inspiration.
JO: I think definitely. For me this was the first time I was dealing with actual heartbreak and really strong sad feelings. I know everyone in different capacities was dealing with their own sadness and every was majorly affected by it. I’m really lucky that my family is healthy and that I’m healthy, but there’s still a lot of loss involved. [Making music] felt like the only thing I could control with so much uncertainty in the world.
EW: I also saw it as the only positive thing I could make out of this. When I am inspired to write music it is from very intense emotions that I am feeling. Only a few emotions would turn into a full song though. The only thing I could think of is to make the sadness create something.
So how do you learn more about what kind of music you want to create? Is it through class or individual exploration?
JO: I feel like a lot of songwriting a lot of times I’ll pick one artist or song as inspiration and try to do the exact same thing. It always comes out totally different.
EW: I think three of these songs are created from that process.
Which songs did you use?
JO: The last song on the EP Is called In Your Car and the inspiration was Slomo by the band Slowdive.
EW: I made a song off of New Order and literally titled the demo New Order, it sounds totally different.
JO: Which is great because if it sounded exactly the same you’d have a lawsuit on your hands.
EW: What we ended up writing was a lot poppier than what we imagined at first.
So since you weren’t familiar with shoegaze as a genre, was it helpful to use specific songs in order to get into the headspace of the genre?
JO: Absolutely, I also had a lot more time just to sit down and listen to music. I listened to a lot more music and a lot of it happened to be shoegaze, I feel a lot more educated in the genre.
EW: I have been a fan of the heavy side of shoegaze for a while. I got into the Beach House side of the spectrum recently which overlapped well with what Jill is doing.
Is this just a one time project between the two of you or do you plan on working together more in the future?
JO: This is just a five song project right now, but we have a lot of other stuff after this.
EW: We want to play shows and everything obviously, so you will hear more from us after this for sure.
Were there lots of opportunities to perform?
EW: There were lots of open mics fall semester, we actually played together at some of those.
JO: I played a lot with friends, but I wasn’t invested in anything creatively.
What does taking music classes virtually look like now?
JO: Trash. We were really lucky to be studying abroad last semester and taking a really light course load. I’ll be curious what the semester is gonna look like with actual studio classes.
EW: I know ensembles are canceled.
How was the music culture in different countries different from the one here?
JO: I know in Europe music is really pushed as a career at a very young age. Kids are put in a performing arts school in like middle school.
EW: You can go on a music track once you reach High School. They have a lot more of a culture of western classical music just because it was developed there. They also have more of a club scene, but there are plenty of small pockets of scenes that are the same kinda stuff you would see in America. American pop culture blends into all of western pop culture enough that our music is taken as the popular music.
I find it interesting that other countries will listen to American pop music, such as Costa Rica, but we mainly just listen to American pop.
EW: It is cultural imperialism, it is kinda sad.
JO: I guess I never really thought about that, pretty interesting.
E: I realized that when I had exchange students from Chile and I asked if they listen to American music and they said that’s all they listen to.
Do you think there needs to be more education in the American music industry of what other countries are doing?
EW: I think just branching out of western music in general. It is kinda frustrating to go through a degree and realize that there is so much music out there that I don’t have a grasp on.
Yeah Eastern music can use a completely different scale in terms of how notes are spaced out.
JO: There are so many different types of instruments that have been a part of their culture for way longer than our instruments have been part of our culture. The scales and the instruments really affect the way music sounds.
Where do you want to take your music in the future?
EW I love just recording and producing, but I also have a passion for performing.
JO: I personally always wanted to be a musician first and just gig on bass. Music tech is a way to make actual money. Writing down all this music I’ve found I really love songwriting, it brings me a lot of joy and comes somewhat naturally to me.