“God, it’s so weird to hear someone say the name. Like, woah, this is happening.”
When we sat down to Healy (born Ethan Healy), he was taken aback when we said the name of his new album out loud. The 24-year-old singer-rapper, a full-time medical student at the University of Tennessee in Memphis who describes his music as “finding the cracks between genres and growing sound between them”, just released his second album, Subluxe.
The son of a Catholic choir singer, Healy grew up listening to his mother singing hymns around the house. The love of music that that instilled a led him to spend the summer after high school sitting in his room that summer with a guitar crafting melodies, eventually posting some of it online.
“I started out doing acoustic guitar music, but I moved towards hip-hop because I couldn’t really find the melodies. I started experimenting with other sounds - piano, mallets, brass sounds - and eventually it turned into a song that I released. And it went crazy.”
Crazy indeed. The songs from his 2015 debut EP, A Galaxy With Skin, all have over 100K listens on SoundCloud, with LFTM having just cracked one million lessons. This album was an introduction to Healy’s sound - slow, retro-sounding beats, catchy piano riffs, and an infectious laid-back delivery. His sound is raw and emotional, his music offering a view straight into his incredibly creative mind while making you nod your head and smile.
Talking to him, it was clear that he makes music for its expressive power. The popularity he’s seen has not changed his sound or his approach.
“I don’t get a lot out of it from the whole fame and money aspect, that’s not the goal. But being able to successfully express myself this way and to have people relate to it some of the most obscure moments of my life. I’ve had people tell me that I walked them off a ledge or changed the way they listened to music or helped me get through a tough time. I never anticipated that, ever. That feeling, being able to allow people to either escape or feel like they can confide in my music, or to give them a new pair of shoes to wear for 3 minutes, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Healy draws from a long list of very eclectic musical influences, ranging from the melodic auto-tune hip-hop popularized by artists like T-Pain and Lil Wayne in the early 2000’s (“I’ve wanted so bad to freeze that era of music and hang it on my wall and stare at it.”), to classic folk-rockers like Crosby, Stills, and Nash and James Taylor, to the contemporary atmospheric sound created by the Kings of Leon, to the individuality-focused lyricism of Chance the Rapper.
Outside of music, the city he has called home for the duration of his life acts as a constant source of inspiration. “Memphis is such a melting pot for music. There’s a crazy underground punk scene, it’s the home of rock and roll, everybody cares about music. Up until the past couple years, there just hasn't been the inter-connectedness between music scenes and age groups in Memphis. But for the past few years there’s been a push for that and it’s so beautiful. Memphis is on the way up. Everybody’s cool with everybody and it’s just a very neat space. I think that has definitely influenced my music in terms of the individuality and authenticity of the area. Oh, and the blues.”
His most interesting influence: the crepe myrtle, a tree that grows all over the neighborhood where he lives. “They bloom these beautiful praline pinks and purples and bright whites. I could write a book about them alone.”
On his new album, Healy’s incredible creativity shines through, where you can hear the result of a maturation of sound and of the results of a lot of creative exploration. Subluxe has been in the works since 2015, right after the release of Healy’s last project. While the first project was built off of 22 years of experiences, the shorter timeline of the follow up saw Healy take a new creative direction. that would make up the first album, Healy looked in a new direction with his second project.
Subluxe is based off the idea of past lives - the album itself becomes a story of what life would be like if different decisions were made: if Ethan hadn’t stayed in school to pursue a doctorate, for example, or if he’d moved to a different city. It follows a character through a literary story structure: the character is in a zone of comfort, they want something, they enter unfamiliar situation, they get what they want, they pay a heavy price for it, they return to their familiar situation having changed. This unique approach to the storytelling aspect allows Healy to craft an extremely honest and vulnerable story and a equally unique listening experience.
“We wanted Subluxe to be a sensory experience so we did a lot of field recording, incorporating a lot of different textures that I think will make it appear more multi-dimensional. I bought a 3D mic and recorded out my window, we recorded me running with it. We [Healy, along with friends and frequent collaborators PLC and Yog$] even went to Joshua Tree for a week to round out the album’s production and let that influence the sound. It evokes emotions and tells a story, and that’s really all I care about.”
When we met with Healy, it surprised him to hear the name of his album from someone outside his circle. The album came out as unique and impressive as the man behind it. With a year left of schooling, Healy sees himself taking time after graduation to give music his full attention. And when he does, he should definitely get used to people saying his name.