Ethan P. Flynn is on a path forged entirely of his own accord.
From the very beginning of his career, that has been evident – he’s never been wont to do what is necessarily expected. Yet, having released his long-awaited debut album on 6th October, it is clearer than ever how singularly minded his trajectory is to be. Abandon All Hope sees Ethan P. Flynn prioritising authenticity and trust in himself – and it results in a truly inimitable, unpredictable record.
“I wanted it to sound familiar, but alien, which is actually a very difficult thing to do,” muses Ethan. “I can’t make anything sound normal, for some reason. I wanted to make it sound really familiar, like a rock album you’d already heard, then just never go to where you expect and never actually be what you think it is. You’re never actually hearing what you think you’re hearing.”
It’s an album that forces its listeners to remain on their toes, fully attentive and immersed in the world Ethan curates. ‘In Silence’ is the first step into that world; a dark ballad with a pain which is wincingly palpable. From there, however, it stretches out in a myriad of different ways. With an ever-changing backdrop of sonics picked from different genres, Ethan reached towards his lyricism to maintain that familiarity somewhat.
“I’m always trying to think about things that are relatable, that I’ve never seen or heard written down before,” he explains. “No one has a completely unique experience. If something resonates with you, it will resonate with other people and that’s what I’m trying to get at a lot of the time. I’m always trying to make things resonate emotionally.”
At its core, Abandon All Hope details many cornerstones of life in your twenties – it’s existential one moment, heartbroken the next, attempting to navigate these new experiences in each one. It quickly becomes an act of conservation for this period of Ethan’s life. Perhaps the greatest example of that effort is ‘Crude Oil’, the mammoth track at the heart of the album.
At nearly seventeen minutes, ‘Crude Oil’ is a sonic journal in itself, detailing a tumultuous time in Ethan’s life that saw him moving house, and studio, being broken up with and living in a new place alone once again. Over the course of many months, the track came together in different parts, added to incrementally until it resembled the gargantuan thing it is today. It’s a bold move, but one that always made sense. It commands a fierce scale of attention, a witness to the events that are weaved into the track and immortalised.
“That’s what recording is,” reflects Ethan. “The word recording comes from core, which means heart. You’re trying to preserve the heart of something and keep it alive. Humans are the only thing that can do that, that we know of in the universe. Everything else except recording feels like a necessary continuation of evolutionary mechanics – vehicles, currency, you can completely understand it”.
He continues. “With recording, it’s a uniquely human thing that we don’t need to do. It’s solely an emotional exercise. It’s the art of time passing. When it comes to recording, it’s talking about what do I have to say? How do I feel? How do I record that and make it worthwhile and make it so that it has a meaning and a point to it that people might want?”
Ethan manages to deftly bridge a gap in doing that. The tracks on the album are deeply, strikingly personal. Yet, they offer a comradery and recognition that others can understand, no matter how ambiguous. In chronicling his own experiences, even in such abstract, extended ways, he finds a means of processing these emotions for himself whilst offering others a way into his mind. It’s recording for understanding, sharing, and releasing.
Chasing that release and understanding developed through a trust for himself, in a lot of ways. Relinquishing complete control was key, and focusing what needed to be made was prioritised instead. “It’s all instinctual work,” recalls Ethan. “It was very decision-focused, and once we made that decision, we never went back. I didn’t change much. A lot of the tracks are those sessions, the way we did them in the studio. It was a very instinctive process. I’ve been making music for a long time, but when I was making this album, it was the first time I felt like I was ready to do it. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to until now.”
The sum of years of experience working with various people in various contexts, Abandon All Hope came to fruition out of a multitude of lessons along the way – whether it be working with different artists with different processes, becoming increasingly more adept at songwriting, or getting in the studio and gaining an inkling of what making an album went, the work of the last few years all contributed in some way, shape or form. To truly excel on his debut, Ethan had to learn every root of his craft in a sense.
“In the 20th century, those revolutionary artists had to learn to be a classical artist as well,” considers Ethan. “Picasso, you see his paintings and there’s a crude approach to them, but in his younger work, he’s technically gifted as well. I think with making this album, if I didn’t do it, there would be stuff going forward that I would miss having never made a fully natural album. It’s definitely that I consciously gave it a formative role in my career in that I could get all of it learned. Since I’ve made this album, I’ve been going back to programming drums and sampling stuff like I did on my first record, but I’m doing it with a new set of eyes now having made a record with all real drums and instruments and ambient mics. I know how to make something have that feeling. It’s definitely a formative album.”
Taking a more intentional approach to the album process saw Ethan embrace a series of unexpected challenges and risks. ‘Demolition’, the album’s closer, spirals in a tight wind of anguish and distress, emotion and melodrama in full throttle. It’s creation sparked a realisation for Ethan.
Whilst quite a subdued track sonically, the vocals are powerful, dynamic, and winding alongside the track’s mood. He references Leonard Cohen’s ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’ – amidst a largely quiet album, the track sees Cohen scream. That contrast is echoed by Ethan on ‘Demolition’.
“When you’re on stage doing a performance, people expect a certain theatricality. In the studio, it’s quite hard to get that. I had to do what I normally do on stage in this room. It’s an intense, different thing recording to three people.
“When you’re listening to a studio recording, it’s still a performance at the end of the day. Most of the time, there is a very small audience, and you have to make it feel like you’re performing to the biggest audience you could ever perform to because everyone listening to it is in the audience. The audience could feasibly be preserved to the end of humanity – you have to bear that in mind. I try to, that’s what you’re actually doing. You’re performing to everyone that is ever going to hear it. It’s a funny thing to do.”
Those lingering thoughts saw Ethan record the track between pacing across the room, lying down and sitting – lights off, a mic above his head and a handheld mic that together facilitated a tape delay. That final performance seems to epitomise Abandon All Hope. It’s an exorcism of those emotions, anxiously expelled in any way possible and even when slightly uncomfortable or unconventional.
On Abandon All Hope, Ethan P. Flynn follows his own path to craft a record that is constantly evolving alongside him; toeing a fine line between alienating and embracing his listeners, he carefully curates an ambiguous, ever-growing beast that has a distinctly well-known core. These moments are frozen in time by Abandon All Hope, and take on a new, unsuspecting weight with every listen of what is an impressive debut album.
Photo credit: Danny Lowe