Artist, producer and self-trained musician Ethan Gruska entered the world with music hard-coded into his DNA. His father Jay Gruska was a well-known film and TV composer, while his grandfather is the 24-time Grammy winner and Star Wars composer John Williams. Along with his sister Barbara, Gruska hit the road at 19 with The Belle Brigade, which released a pair of records on as many labels. Early on, he discovered that he had both a talent and passion for production and, as he grew, so did his skills. He’s since produced for a number of artists, including rock outfit Manchester Orchestra and Fiona Apple. Gruska has also co-produced his two solo records with Warner Music.
Much of his studio technique was shaped alongside A&R and production powerhouse Tony Berg. The first project Gruska co-produced with him was Phoebe Bridgers’ 2017 Stranger in the Alps. “It led to me and Tony doing other stuff together,” he recalls. “Lately I’ve found that I like production more than anything and it’s become my main focus. I feel like I unknowingly climbed a ladder. It always felt good and I always preferred being in the studio. Being mentored by all these people, especially Tony, has allowed me to do this.”
When an artist crafts an amazing song, listeners often assume that there’s never a single doubt about any of the choices that were made. But of course artists are not immune to self-doubt or insecurities, and sometimes such things can creep into the studio. Fortunately, Gruska has been there and knows how to respond. “It’s a hybrid of having a steady energy and combating that insecurity with an assuredness,” he asserts. “But it’s equally about relating and being vulnerable to that feeling and being able to say to someone that these things also happen to me. Making music is all about being unsure, about exploring and discovering how to put the puzzle together.”
Producing a record for an artist comes with its own set of challenges, but in Gruska’s experience, co-producing his own records is another matter entirely. “The perspective is screwed up because when you’re the person who has to deliver and make it feel real, it makes it hard to see it objectively,” he explains. “When you work with somebody else, you can be inspired immediately by them. With my own stuff, I can be my own worst enemy. As a producer, you can have a fresh-ear perspective. When you produce your own record it becomes this strange tornado. But it’s also really fun, because the struggle is more intense. I discovered that self-doubt is fleeting, and weathering it is what gets you to a cool place.”
Gruska’s second record with Warner dropped on Jan. 24, but there are no plans for a tour in his immediate future. Currently, he’s hard at work in the studio on a number of projects that he can’t discuss at the moment other than his recent co-production on Manchester Orchestra’s sixth album.
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