One of the refreshing new faces to appear in 2014 is singer, songwriter, producer and musician, Ethan Kent. His first solo project – Work In Progress – personifies artistry, musicality and ministry all weaved into one. BlackGospel.com looked to discover more behind the man who is a self-confesed ‘work in progress’.
Christopher Heron: The album – Work In Progress – is that a reference to your evolution as an artist, or as a Christian and why was this a fitting title for your first album?
Ethan Kent: It is a reference to both…me as an artist and as a Christian. I’ll start with the Christian aspect. The scriptures says in Phillipians 1:6 “being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” And so that is the spiritual thing. We are all works in progress, we have potential and a destiny that God has put in us. It is our job to walk out and fulfill it and it’s an everyday process. That is the spiritual aspect of it.
As an artist it’s about me finding who I am. This is my first record and it introduces me to the Gospel music industry, the Christian music industry, and so it’s a reference to that as well, being a work in progress, figuring out who I am stylistically and introducing my own voice to the nations of the world.
Christopher Heron: What impresses me so much about this album is how seasoned it sounds. It’s very meticulously done, the instrumentation is crisp, the production sound is radio worthy, and the album just doesn’t have the feel of a debut project from my own perspective, particularly when I think about the fact that you have written, sung and produced the entire project. So I was wondering if you have had experience contributing to other artists’ projects to help prepare you for your own particular moment?
Ethan Kent: Absolutely. As a teenager my mom was always buying me music equipment. I was really interested in writing and arranging songs. I started with the 8-track tape and a multi track recorder and learned the process of over-dubbing and tracking and all that stuff. I have been learning and developing that gift for a minute.
From there, I learned how to use software programs like Pro Tools and Logic. I began to produce for local artists here in Dallas, doing that over and over at people’s request. That builds knowledge and skill and your own signature sound as a producer. So definitely, I have worked on several projects. I’ve even produced a record for my church, Faith Christian Center, a Praise & Worship album that consisted of a bunch of songs I wrote. I really learned a lot doing that. It was my first time overseeing a full project.
Christopher Heron: How long have you been re-working the lyrics, the music and the final mix of,
Work In Progress, before you released it to the public earlier this year?
Ethan Kent: That is a good question. I am a church boy, so my history was leading worship and writing the worship material. like About 2008/2009 God began to give me a song that we could do at church, a worship song. I thought to myself, “what am I going to do with this music.” The ideas would come and I just laid the lyrics down. I got married in 2011. My wife would come to the studio and hear these songs that I had started recording. She said “what are you going to do with this really good stuff” and I said “It’s not church music, we can’t necessarily use it at church.”
We committed that year that we got married to just putting the album out locally and seeing what would happen. That is exactly what we did in 2011. We did a small release and the local Gospel community really fell in love with it. It started with KHVN. the 24-hour Gospel radio station here in Dallas. The program director invited me in studio on to a Saturday morning show, called Home Grown Gospel. When they played, My Hope Is In Glory, the phones lit up and the people really loved the song. The song was added to the playlist because it was requested so much, and that’s really the story.
From there, we got national distribution and the album was available across the country, which led to me performing at the Stellars and other really great opportunities. I didn’t really know people within the industry, so it was all new to me, a totally different world.
Christopher Heron: Your musical expressions really cover the gamut from soul and pop to rock and new wave. Where do all these musical formats come from, is it in the church you worship at, is it what you’re listening to online, and who have been a few of your musical influences or mentors in or outside of the church?
Ethan Kent: I am a church boy. I love Gospel music. I love to sing Gospel music. Being a kid in my mom’s house, she was strict and really didn’t let us listen to secular music but loosened up as we got older and so we were able to broaden our musical collection.
I am a big fan of people of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, those classic musicians that were big and had a certain character. For example, Ella Fitzgerald had a certain character to her voice that I tried to always emulate in the way I sing.
I have been influenced by all kinds of styles. Within Gospel you have your greats like Kirk Franklin. He lives here in Dallas and he is someone we all idolize. The list can really go on all day. It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in. I really began to expand my catalog and to begin to study how people write songs. I became really interested in writing conceptually not just writing the standard things you would hear people say at church, like “God is good all the time’, you know those lines that we hear; “if it had not been for the Lord on my side I don’t know where I would be” those things that I always thought were the go-to lines.
I learned from pop music and listening to the mainstream radio how everything was kind of conceptual and that things were done differently. It was easier to sell people the music because the concept was interesting. It got your attention. So I began to shift my writing style towards that. Hopefully people are enjoying it.
Christopher Heron: This album can be safely categorized as contemporary, inspirational music for the digital, social media generation. Did you have an audience or a market that you wanted to most minister to, or was the end game simply to put out the album, to water the field and let God add the increase?
Ethan Kent: I think the latter was definitely the way it turned out. This was my first record like I said and we didn’t really know how to set it up or how to market it. We didn’t have all that information, we learned a lot as we were going through the process. We didn’t really have people who had experience to say “this is how you market or this is how you do this, or this is how you set it up.”
It’s really been a lot of faith and just going and doing and learning and experiencing it in real time. Sometimes that’s easier, sometimes that’s not so easy, but definitely God has not let us down, He’s always opened up the door of opportunity and brought people across our path that gave us good advice and took us in the right direction. It has definitely been a God thing.
Christopher Heron: You are part of a very progressive multi-cultural, dynamic church ministry, in Faith Christian Center. How has this particular church helped cultivate your skill sets and prepare you to be the artist and even the witness that you are today?
Ethan Kent: It’s a big factor. Once you’re in a church, you learn how to relate to people, especially when you have to be a leader. You get to direct programs, you learn people skills, you learn how to communicate and that has been a big part of what I’ve had to do. So when you’re out singing to different audiences you’ve never met before or don’t really have relationships with, you rely on those skill sets you learn in church.
As far as being a witness, definitely because there’s things that I have learned spiritually over these years at my church. It’s just good information, but when you start to live it and walk it, and experience it, doing something that you have never done before, stepping out of the boat and really walking in your faith and looking to God to open up doors of opportunity, you begin to say “oh, this is how that can be applied, this is how that work can be applied.”
Of course, it always helps others when you step out on stage and do what God has called you to do. My pastor – Gene Lingerfelt – is a very progressive leader and he is really great at getting people to step out and walk out in their potential, not to just take life and let it pass by without achieving those dreams and goals that God put inside of us. My pastor is really very instrumental to what I’ve done, career wise.
Christopher Heron: What is your greatest burden when it comes to ministry and fulfilling your calling, and how does the release of this album – Work in Progress – help address that burden and that call to action that you have received from God?
Ethan Kent: That’s a good question. That’s a tough question. It’s been about understanding who I am as an artist and not letting what other artists, or what other people say I should do, or how I should sound, not that I can’t learn anything from those other people, but sometimes as a musician, you go to an event and you feel “I have to be like that in order for it to work, I have to sing like that guy. I have to dress like that guy, I have to basically morph into this other person in order to have an effective ministry and I found the opposite to be true, that if you are just consistent at being you and who God called you to be, God will open up doors and put you in front of people who will receive you.”
I think that has been the biggest burden for me to carry, just to be confident in my own skin and do this music without second guessing myself. I can truly say as an artist I am a work in progress because that is something that I have to constantly sell myself on, “just do you, it’s cool, you’re different, you’re not going to be like the other guy, the other Gospel artist, you’re different.” I am different so that is something I remind myself of, and through my wife, having her around helps me. She travels with me to the different events and different cities that we perform at.
Sometimes I think maybe I need to change, maybe I need to modify the way I did my set and she would always say, “no, remember just be you, just do you and be consistent with that”. I think that is my biggest burden.