It’s been a tough time for everyone. We’ve been losing people in our House community at an alarming rate this past year, and each one is completely unexpected. Last month we mourned the sudden passing of Tortured Soul keyboardist Ethan White. The irony of it is that it happened at the very same time the group was putting out their first album, Hot For Your Love Tonight (Traxsource) in seven years and ready to embark on an extensive world tour.
The members of Tortured Soul bravely decided to uphold their live bookings for spring, enlisting the help of keyboardist Isamu McGregor. Hot For Your Love Tonight is a beautiful score that will forever be remembered in Ethan’s memory. I got a chance to talk to lead singer and drummer John-Christian Urich about where they’re at during this very sad time.
Some of our earlier stories on Tortured Soul:
In the Studio with Tortured Soul (2014)
Did You Miss Me: On the Road with Tortured Soul (2009)
Tortured Soul Interview (2006)
I’m so sorry for your loss of a good friend. I know everyone has been asking you about what the cause of his passing was.
We don’t know. As far as anybody knows there was no illness, there was no accident, he just basically collapsed. And that was it. There was no warning.
What was so strange, what was so painfully strange about it was… Ethan was on hiatus, he had been on hiatus since October. So he hadn’t been playing with the group for like five months and we continued to do shows without him. We played Chicago recently without him there. And he was opting to stay on hiatus for a few more months, an undetermined amount of time really.
Around that time I was shooting the video for one of the songs on our upcoming album, and our substitute keyboard player was going to be in the video instead because Ethan opted to not be in the video since he wasn’t going to be playing with us for a number of months. He said “Why don’t you guys go ahead and do it?” So it’s a weird timing thing because there was all this music and promotion that we were planning to do.
I thought also it was because he had just had twins with his wife. I remember the last time I ever spoke to him, I asked him if he was playing in Chicago and he texted me a beautiful photo of his newly born children.
Yeah, he wanted to stay home, I don’t think he was interested in continuing to tour for a while. It wasn’t like the band was breaking up. He was still my business partner, we still ran the label together, produced music together. But he was just stepping away from the live performance thing for a while.
It’s hard on a lot of levels. He’s somebody that I shared this experience with over a number of years and someone I communicated with probably fifteen times a day. It’s hardest on his wife.
I obviously have my time alone where I can mourn. I have to compartmentalize stuff. I have to compartmentalize my feelings about what happened, our relationship, but also have to maintain a hand in promoting the music and touring because this is still my livelihood.
I think the fact that you guys continued on, it comes out as nothing but positive with the album and tour. I’m curious, why did it take seven years for you guys to come out with another album? Was it from so much touring or the fact that some of you moved to different cities?
Yeah, I don’t know either! We put out a few singles in between that time. I mean some of it could be writer’s block… The reality of it too is that the first couple of years I lived in LA I had a nice recording space that I liked but I had to leave it… There’s still a real struggle to find another good space to record in. I don’t know, maybe that’s just an excuse…
I know [bassist] JKriv left in 2010, then you moved to Los Angeles, then Ethan moved to New Orleans right? How on earth do you continue to work together making music and touring as a band when the members are all separate?
Well the reality of it is that I would primarily do the production and songwriting, whereas there were other songs that were more collaborations between Ethan, Jason and I. And then there’s other songs that I wrote, produced and the guys played the parts on the record. And that’s kind of the way things went with the other records. I did most of the arrangements and stuff and they added their flavor to it.
For example, I’ll send them the music, they’ll listen to it maybe twenty to thirty times, get familiar with the music, then add some improvisation here and there. Then right before we go on tour we get together and play for a couple of days. And we bring the music to life.
I deeply respected and loved Ethan and he was an integral member of the group and helped build the group to what it was. He elevated the music to another level. He played with me for years… He shared and supported our vision.
In terms of the newer members of your group, was that a hard thing to transition? After JKriv left you had someone step in for him, then you moved up to 4 members, then back to 3… Were your fans accepting of that right away?
Kind of. Well it depends. Depends on the city, how big the crowd is, how hardcore the fans are. Chicago for one, I think was a little more… skeptical. You could tell just from the reaction on their faces like, “Who’s this guy?” In Istanbul they were also skeptical, like literally yelling at Jordan, our bassist – “Where’s Jason??”
Those were exceptions to the rule. For the most part people were enjoying themselves, they were just curious. And with Ethan it was kinda bizarre because we both decided not to make a big deal about him not being there for the shows he wasn’t going to play. And in general it was fine. Isamu, the guy who’s been playing for him is a great player, he’s a really cool guy. People would notice that Ethan wasn’t there but they accepted it. There’s three guys onstage. We have the bald guy in the middle playing drums. Here’s Tortured Soul and they sound good!
Tell us about some of the songs in the album…
I actually just sent out a little promo today. It’s kinda cool, I like it a lot. Some of it is sort of a combo of ’70s mixed with a modern, Kool and the Gang sound. It’s a little more towards the disco vibe. “Hot For Your Love Tonight” is in that vein but faster. There’ another song called “Don’t Lead Me On” and I’m kinda curious to see how people react to that. We shot a video for it and it’s exciting because there’s a guy from South Africa who is the lead singer for a huge group out there called Mi Casa who asked to be in the video. We get to do a fight scene in the video.
It’s not all Soulful House sounding as you’d expect from Tortured Soul. The production value is a little edgier.
That’s interesting about artists that take the music video route, I’ve always been curious about the effectiveness of them. The one artist I know that swears by music videos is Black Coffee. But South Africa is a whole different scene with House Music exploding at a ridiculous rate out there.
I knew that I wanted to make a couple of more videos for South Africa. I remember when I was there I was in this dining hall and I heard this song and said “Ooh this sounds good” and asked our waiter what that was on the radio. He said, “The radio? No that’s the TV.” Younger people discover and experience music through video, through the visual. Like when I’m trying to remember a group or a song, where do I go? YouTube.
So with you being at the sole helm of Tortured Soul, what are your plans for the future? Do you want to keep touring as extensively?
We’re going on tour again… There’s Vienna, then London (Southport Weekender), Hamburg, Prague, probably Rome, Toronto, Montreal, then probably playing Los Angeles in July, Brazil, we’re probably going to South Africa, we really don’t have any plans to stop. I would like to be putting out albums faster!