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Interview: Eric Ethridge discusses new EP Forever With You, If You Met Me First success and the challenges of the pandemic

The rising Canadian Country star chats ahead of his show for Destination Country.

Eric Ethridge
Credit: Eric Ethridge

Canadian Country singer-songwriter Eric Ethridge had a viral hit with his breakthrough single If You Met Me First.

The song found a huge audience on streaming services and proved that radio play isn’t the only way you can have a hit as a recording artist. Following that success Eric released the single Dream Girl and his new EP Forever With You.

This Thursday he is performing alongside his wife, fellow Country singer Kasley Kulyk (watch her interview with Your Life in a Song) as part of Destination Country’s ‘Live In Your Living Room’ series. Tickets are available now.

I caught up with Eric to talk about his new EP, find out about the impact of If You Met Me First and discuss how the pandemic has hit artists hard…

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A lot of people who will be coming to your Destination Country ‘Live In Your Living Room’ won’t have seen you live before. What can they expect?

My wife and I are both Canadian country singers, but we live in Nashville. My wife’s been there for about four years and I’ve been there for just over a year and a half. We are two very different artists but we also perform very well together. We do write together from time-to-time so we’ll probably be playing some songs that we’ve co-written. You’ll see some of the newer stuff that she’s written and I’ll be playing stuff off my new record was just released as well. I think it will be a great time. We both love to interact with fans as well and this will be our first time playing to a UK audience. We’re both really excited about it.

I should warn you that UK fans tend to be very enthusiastic. I know we won’t all be in the same room but it’s going to be a great evening. I’m excited…

We are too! When this is all over Kalsey and I are going to try and find a way to come play in the UK. We’ve heard wonderful things about UK music fans. From what I hear they’re a lot better than North American music fans, which is saying something because they’re pretty crazy over here too.

Country music is really getting a foothold in the UK so this is definitely the time to start thinking about getting over here to play…

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Fantastic. That’s gonna be high on my priority list. You can bet on that. Neither of us have been over to Europe at all so that’s something on our bucket list. It’s something we’d really love to do and if music takes us there it’s even better.

You recently put out your new EP Forever With You. What was the inspiration behind it and why did you decide to put it out now?

Well, there’s a there’s a number of things that went into this process. The last EP that I released was in 2018 and that’s what, I guess you could say, launched my career. There’s a song off that called If You Met Me First, which went viral. It was playing on American radio and it was playing on Canadian radio, and just streaming all over the world really well. That led me to signing a record deal and moving to Nashville. I spent the last year or so songwriting in Nashville with some really talented songwriters and producers. These first five songs that are on my EP Forever With You are just the first five of what I’ve been working on. The reason for putting it out now, I think now more than ever people need content and need new things to look into and listen to. Just because of the pandemic and we aren’t allowed to play shows, I think I’m actually gonna be focusing more on releasing music for people and showing them more of what I’ve been working on. It seemed like a good time on that front. We’re still going to be continuing to release music throughout this year. This EP, I’ve spent the last year putting together how I wanted things to sound and what makes me different as a country artist. I really wanted people, with this EP, once they hear the songs I want them to know that this is an Eric Ethridge song and this is what Eric Ethridge sounds like. I wanted to make that more obvious with this record as well and develop my sonic brand.

I’m pleased that you did decide to put this EP out and now hold it back, like so many artists are doing because of the pandemic. As you said, we need content now more than ever and if nothing comes out until this is over, we’re going to go crazy…

Exactly, I totally agree. It’s just finding the best way to do that and and what the timing’s gonna be like. Nobody really knows how long we’re going to be in this situation we’re in. Unfortunately entertainers have gotten hit, probably the worst of any industry, just because we make our livelihood off of large gatherings (laughs) which are not allowed for the foreseeable future. We got to get creative and resourceful in these times.

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I was watching your video for Dream Girl earlier and I loved the twist about supporting dog shelters and adopting rescue dogs. Why did you decide to do that?

One of the things about music videos these days is that YouTube is the number one streaming platform for music. A lot of people don’t know that it’s YouTube over Apple Music or Spotify. People often aren’t on YouTube watching the videos, they’re typically just listening to the songs. If you can have a video that people want to watch, it’s even better so people will go and check it out. With this one we thought it was a really great idea to put a spin on on the whole idea. People are expecting with this song, Dream Girl, a heartbroken man missing the girl of his dreams and I think our twist on it was a lot better. Just more comical and showing a different side of my personality too. I can also be funny, I can also be sarcastic, I can also do other things like that I’m not serious all the time although some people may think I’m serious all the time (laughs). I like to have fun too. I think this video is a good way to not only keep people interested and promote a good cause for adopting dogs but also showing a different side of my personality.

Including dogs is a surefire way to get more views isn’t it?

Exactly! Who doesn’t want to see puppies?

I’m a rescue dog owner so I fully support anything that raises awareness of shelters. Your video has made me super broody for another dog though…

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(laughs) After the video shoot, we wanted to get another dog as well. I think once we figure out our long term situation, who knows, we might end up with another fur child. We’ll see.

You mentioned your breakout song If You Met Me First and that’s proof that the YouTube algorithm works. I discovered the song when the video started playing after something else I’d watched. That song has been huge for you. What’s the impact of it been like?

Yeah, it’s been an interesting journey with that song. It actually has done disproportionately well online and organically, compared how it would have done on traditional. It was very strange. It’s streamed more than a lot of number one hit songs last year in Canada, it’s streamed two or three times as much as those. It’s weird to have this song that has this underground following. Everywhere I travel it seems people know the song but have never heard it on the radio or people were shocked they didn’t hear it on the radio. This is a song that just connected with people. Every time we put something out related to that song, it just took off. Other people on YouTube released lyric videos and those got 2 million hits. It’s a song and a message that people just seem to really connect to us. I think it’s one of those rare scenarios where the response was so overwhelming to it, and it’s so heartfelt, that people can’t help but share it, like it and listen to it again. That’s really the goal as an artist. If all my songs could be that way it would be ideal. I’m just grateful it turned out the way it did.

Eric Ethridge

Credit: Eric Ethridge

It must be satisfying knowing that the success of that song was down to you and your efforts, and not some big label machine behind it?

It is. I take pride in the fact that I’m sort of an underdog in a lot of ways. I’m very grateful that it had the impact that it did. I do believe that the cream rises to the top, not even to presuppose that I’m the “cream of the crop”, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is, I think the reaction to the song will speak for itself, whether that’s a song for me or a song from another artist. The way that these algorithms work on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music, is that it looks at music consumer behaviour. If people are commenting or are saving the song to their Spotify, or if you’re listening to it on repeat, YouTube knows about that. There’s a way that it determines if a song is catchy or is a hit, and it will push it further in its algorithm. That is completely driven by the user. It’s completely driven by the listener. The days of where radio decides what everybody listens to are changing or that it’s pretty determined what you’re going to hear when you go and look for music, that’s gone now. It’s a very exciting time to be a musician. It opens up opportunities for artists that you’ve never heard of to break out and have a music career, when maybe in another time they wouldn’t have had a hope in getting their music out anywhere.

North America is one of the only places where radio still determines success. That isn’t the case here in the UK anymore. Is the lack of radio play frustrating to you or do you see it as one of many marketing channels for your music given you’ve found plenty of success online?

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How do I say this diplomatically? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated. It’s a data driven industry and I can’t help but wonder why certain people wouldn’t play my songs if they’re completely blowing away the competition when it comes to the statistics of consumption and streaming rates and all those things. The reality is there’s more that goes into those decisions for what songs get on the radio than just streaming numbers or popularity of a song. There’s a lot of factors that go into that. Things like that will cause for frustration for an artist, especially an independent artist. I was independent for most of most of my career, especially building that record I was still independent when I released it. I eventually signed a record deal but I’m even finding signing a record deal hasn’t made a ton of difference. I mean, it has and it hasn’t, time will tell I guess and we’ll see. Just because you sign a record deal does not mean that you’re going to be successful. That’s kind of a myth. You still need to have the songs, you need to have the talent, you need to have the brand that people are going to buy into and want to buy into for a long time. There’s a lot of factors that go into that. You are right in that, in North America, right now radio is the ultimate (channel). I would say in 2018 and 2017 it was even more so the case. Success on radio determined success in the music industry for the majority of people.

One of the most important channels for you has been social media. Building the direct-to-fan relationship has really paid off for you. What’s your relationship with it been like?

Social media has been the saving grace for me. A lot of people have discovered my music through social media because they’re not hearing it as much in the radio. I still get a fair amount of radio play in Canada and that’s definitely helped but social media has been big for me. I think social media has been a very exciting opportunity for artists because, again, it gives the independent artist or the underdog artists an opportunity to have people listen to their music, when probably 10 to 15 years ago those opportunities didn’t exist. It is an exciting time to be a musician and a listener, I think in both senses. One of my favourite things is connecting with people over social media. That’s why I do music. I like connecting with people all over the world and I like having my music make a positive impact on people’s lives.

Obviously you’re married to a fellow Country artist so you’ll both understand the ups and downs of the industry. Would you say that was advantageous or a challenge?

Actually, I would say it’s a blessing. I love the fact that she’s in music. Before we were ever together, I was a huge fan of her already. She is one of the most incredibly talented people I’ve ever met. If you’re going to come to the show online, come see it for yourself. Not only is she a super, super talented artist but she’s also an incredible, incredible human being. It’s interesting because her and I, although we’re in the same industry, we’re very different people and very different artists. Not only on the spectrum of the Country music genre, we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. She leans more traditional and Outlaw Country and Americana and I’m Pop Country, as Pop Country as you get pretty much. We also write together as well. I’m definitely more of a business person. I love making videos, I love marketing, I love coming up with big ideas and how we can promote ourselves and start new projects, whereas she is the true creative. She is the true songwriter. She’ll sit down and write two songs a day, and she can write them by herself. I’m not as prolific of a songwriter as she is for sure.

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Our strengths balance each other out. The things that she’s fantastic at are the things that I am not good at and vice versa. We’re lucky in that we complement each other very well. One of the one of the issues with us both having the same career is that we both got hit very hard by the pandemic at the exact same time. We both make our livelihoods with shows so imagine essentially both people in the relationship losing their jobs on the same day; that’s what happened to us. That’s been challenging, obviously. Now we’re just looking at creative ways in which we can get by and pay bills until we can get to a place where we can get back out touring again.

Eric Ethridge’s EP Forever With You is available to stream and download now. He will be performing alongside his wife Kalsey Kulyk as part of Destination Country’s ‘Live In Your Living Room’ series on Thursday 14th May 2020. Get your tickets now!

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