Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ez-Ra - SHAMc's first Artist in Residence

Todd and Kiaralinda met Ezra Huleatt four years ago in Austin where he and Black Taxi played South by Southwest. Now, Ezra is back, but this time, solo.

“He’s our first artist in residence,” Todd said. “We’re excited to have him. He’s one of the most creative front guys I’ve ever met. He’s always thinking ahead, whether it’s music videos, lyrics, photography. He’s an artist with goals in mind and that’s powerful”

You might have already started humming one of the memorable Black Taxi songs, all emanating electric dance beats and catchy lyrics. Black Taxi  still occasionally plays together with a couple different members, but Ez-Ra is excited about a new phase in his career.

Sitting with him outside on a perfect Safety Harbor day, it was easy to chat about life, plans, and his dreams. What came of our conversation renewed my intense respect for artists risking the unknown all for the magic of creating.

“What I’m working on now… it’s a little darker and heavier than what we did with Black Taxi,” Ezra said. “We are going through some trying times and I want to get some of this out there. Purposeful, but not necessarily polished.”

Ezra’s a likable guy. One of those people you can sink into a deep conversation with on life, love or dreams. He takes risks. Just that day he was planning a kite surfing lesson because as he put it, this area has some of the best conditions for it. But “going solo” was what felt like a risk. “I guess it’s is a different animal than having a band. You go outside naked. But it’s refreshing that way. You can’t hide with your voice.”    

(I admitted that I still know the lyrics to most of Black Taxi’s Electroshock Death Grip album.)

“We were singing songs we wrote five years ago. You either get bored or you’ve moved on. It became difficult.”

He released an EP last summer and Toska last month. “I’ve been working on a collaborative album,” he said, to raise funds for Haiti.”

Ezra had worked in a hospital in upstate New York and was on the path to becoming a doctor. He wanted to do something to help people and he imagined, like his brother, that was the way to do it. “I thought about working for Doctors Without Borders,” he said. But he couldn’t imagine spending so many years in school. He had spent time in Haiti in the early 2000s and got involved in schools and orphanages.

The Haitian Peoples Support Project, or HPSP is a non-profit organization,” Ezra explained. “I spent many years working in Haiti teaching English. I saw a lot—it never ends in Haiti. There are always issues. Always needs. People donate to charities like Red Cross but it doesn’t always get where it needs to go. I knew I had to help.”

He found a way to do that through music. Now, his time as SHAMc’s Artist in Residence is dedicated to writing and producing more music and every penny he makes from sales will help the people of Haiti. “Every penny,” he said. “I am releasing a song a week while I’m down here. I’m working to get them mixed and mastered.

“There’s a word,” he continued, “saudade. It’s a word that doesn’t translate but it is the act of wishing what was or could be. I guess when you’re out running with a dog and I get déjà vu and think about the good times you had with a girlfriend. A pleasant feeling, but sad. The songs I’m writing are about that. Nothing is about Haiti but some of the topics reflect on a feeling of loss.”

He’s already released his first song, I Feel Everything. It’s the only love song he plans for the album. He’s written more and will release one a week while here.  “There’s one I write about the whole refugee situation. I was up on the subway platform last week and I imagined their situation and thought about what I could do to help. 

“I want to get into awkward situations and challenge myself. Even if it’s staring someone in the eyes. I want to do something every day that scares me. I don’t have any desire to live out of my van, but I have enough room if I have to do that.

“My goal is to spend a month in a town, get to know the culture. I don’t think music will be my only income. I want to write and create from the road. This month is about figuring it out.”  

Ezra expressed relief at his respite from the New York hustle. “Something about this environment allows me to play. I was over by Guitar Center the other day and saw a soccer game in progress. I haven’t played soccer in years. I joined a pick-up game and had the best time of my life. There’s no chance for that in New York. As a musician, you have to hustle pretty hard. But even in this Artist in Residence Program I want to be a success story. I want to put some good music out, be a trailblazer for others. There are still pressures, but despite that, I’ve been given an emotional and physical space that allows me to breathe deeper. The energy in their house is childlike and I mean that in the best way. Everyone I meet here is very open.”

(Of course, I had to ask how he’d make a living if all proceeds are going to help the Haitian people.)

“I have my website. I write customized songs. You can reach out and tell me what you want and I can write it, sing it, or you can write it and I will put music to it. I have a gift for writing fast.

“I’m still figuring out,” he said. “Still trying to write catchy songs. It’s a tricky line to walk but I am creating every day. I need to get inspired by things. Not just by politics. Take our national parks, they’re so important and I want to visit them all. I want to rock climb. There is always going to be music and writing but I want to get back to some of my roots – use my hands a bit more. I don’t know what my next profession will be but I’m on my way to finding those things. It will be a year for exploring and I want to see what’s out there that excites me.”

Ez-Ra will perform at SHAMc for Third Friday beginning at 7 p.m. He will also perform in a few weeks, prior to leaving. Keep an eye out for the date. And if you like the music he’s creating, buy it. You’ll be helping to encourage the Artist in Residence Program and perhaps, more importantly, a whole country to heal.

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