Welcome to another installment of OppyArts Spotlight, where the Oppy highlights exceptional artists navigating the Corona environment, showcases their creative process, and searches for ways for MBA students to get involved in their local arts communities. This month’s feature is Brooklyn-based musician Ernest Brockenberry.
Ernest started releasing music in 2019, culminating with the release of his first EP “Cruel Alchemy.” He started performing in early 2020 before the pandemic shifted the course of the world. While last year presented countless challenges to artists and the general public, the year allowed Ernest to build dedication to his music, his vision, and his image of himself as an artist. I sat down with Ernest to talk about his artistic experience and journey grappling with introspection and honesty.
This article was written from excerpts from a recorded interview. To listen to the interview in its entirety, use the following link.
CC: Tell me about how you got into music, and what you’ve been working on recently.
EB: So I’ve been writing music since elementary school… my brother taught me how to write a song when I was 10 years old. And I’m eternally grateful to him for that. I always knew that I wanted to be a musician. I always loved being an awkward musician as well.
CC: Was your family a “musical family”?
EB: Yeah, a lot of people in my family love music. I grew up around a lot of artists and was constantly being inspired by different people’s interests and different things that people were doing.
And yes, over the past year, I’ve been working on my debut album, which is really exciting. It was something that I went into 2020 with the mindset of like, I want to write an album. I know I want to write one. I don’t know what it’ll be about. I don’t know how it’ll happen. I know I want to record. And there were a few points over the course of the year, where I was like, oh, okay, the records done, like, this is it… And then looking back on it two days later, and being like, this is not done. And starting from scratch. And I was simultaneously teaching myself how to use logic –
CC: No small feat
EB: No small feat at all. And it’s one of the things that you always feel like you’ve mastered, right? But when I listened back to the first things that I was working on in logic at the beginning of 2020, and beginning of quarantine, I’m like, whoa, not that they were bad, but they’re just nowhere close to where I am now.
Part of what catalyzed this evolution of Ernest’s production and songwriting is his love of creative collaboration. Working with his friends, BlackJeans and TK, who co-produced his previous singles and EP, Ernest elevated some of his earlier quarantine projects through what simultaneously felt like something entirely new, but through the collaborative process also felt like a “return to form.” Polish and practice.
EB: They have seen my journey as a musician from the moment that I started recording music. So it’s great because they know me and we work together really well. And I feel like things are starting to really come together.
CC: Can you tell us a little about what the record is about?
EB: The record has sort of become all about introspection, all about sadness through a lens of being hopeful that it will get better, you know. I wrote it from a place of like, I’ve been trying to figure out who I was. And I think that that’s the journey that I went through. And I’m sure that we all have gone through this over the course of 2020.. really getting to sit alone with ourselves and say, “who am I when I’m not overstimulated? Overstimulated by the city? And why everything happens in New York, you know, and then the world.“
CC: I’ve heard people bring that up a number of times, like the experience throughout 2020. The best way I’ve heard it is, like, hopeful but not optimistic. So how has this influence of external environment and isolation affected your vision for this project?
EB: I think it was a little bit of both, there was definitely a sense of trudging through the work. And I think that the more I allowed myself to realize that like, working on something doesn’t necessarily mean that like, you’re gonna finish it in that moment, like, working on something can be a perpetual thing.
I think I was really inspired by everything moving so fast, and kind of all moving together. Everything was happening at the same time. Last year, it was great, scary, sad, all of these different emotions. And for a while, it took me a very long time to find inspiration in that. And I think once I allowed myself to find inspiration in that, that’s when the record sort of started to come together.
CC: Music seems to be one of the best ways to sort of make sense of this past year. Because it’s all about this composition of experience, memories, feelings, and making it into a symphony of these broken down little parts that you can then build back up to make sense of it.
EB: I look at the way that I used to write music, a lot of it was based on past experiences that I was reflecting on. And then writing from this place of being over the situation, being so far removed from it, that I could decide what was going into the song. But also, this year pushed me to learn how to write about what I was going through in the moment.
And I think we saw that in a lot of art. I think of Charli XCX, for example, who wrote and recorded a record and released it in quarantine. And it was like the quarantine record when you listen to the lyrics in it. It’s about things that we are all going through at that moment, which is one of the things I feel that makes art so powerful, because you can talk about “the now” now.
It becomes this sort of journey happening in real time. So even if I write a verse in the morning, process something in the middle of the day, and then finish the song the next day, and you kind of get that full journey, you know, and it starts to feel more real.
CC: Do you think this gives you a more honest, natural response and reflection of what you feel in that moment? Or do you fear you’re.. missing anything almost. Because you don’t have that time to marinate, process these feelings?
EB: It’s funny because now when I look at my lyrics, I have so many moments where I am like, judging myself a little harshly for feeling a little melodramatic in my writing.
CC: Give yourself a break.
EB: Well the good thing about it is it is very honest and very raw. I feel like that is the place I’ve always wanted to write from. I’ve always had a very hard time tapping into that place. But at the same time there is a sort of a perfectionist in me that, because of the fact that I’m just putting it down on paper and just spitting out raw emotions. As nice as that is, there are moments where I’m like, okay, I have to pull back and see what’s going on. And that’s been nice, because over the process of recording it, we get to refine it, chip away, but I also am excited when I have the guts to be that right.
CC: I love what you’re saying here, because it’s almost like you’re drawing inspiration from the honesty itself. And you’re also providing a sort of affirmation that yes, these feelings I’m experiencing do matter, because they are creating this art.
What’s the best way for fans, Stern students, anybody here that would like to support artists right now support artists like yourself?
EB: I feel like the best way to support artists is engagement on social media, online, on streaming services, it’s such a big thing. But also supporting artists directly by like, if you like their music, buying it on things like bandcamp, stuff like that. Bandcamp has a feature now on certain Fridays, they waive their revenue share so that artists get 100% percent of the proceeds.
But supporting your artists, interacting with them in the same ways that you would your favorite celebrity artists, try providing the same amount of consumption and attention. I think especially things like streaming and sharing. Like, if you think about it, if every person who listens to your music tells one friend about it, that is a network growing, you know what I mean? And getting your music heard so much more.
CC: Who are your biggest influences?
EB: Hmm, recently I’ve been super influenced by 80’s music, one of my favorite songs last year was “Take my Breath Away” by Berlin. I’m also super into Country music. I feel like it has some incredible storytelling and lyrics. I try to really think about Country music when I’m writing. I’m super influenced by St. Vincent, Moses Sumney, Blood Orange, Porches, Jack Antonoff, and Lenny Kravitz is a big inspiration. Throw two more names in the ring Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.
CC: Can’t leave either of them out.
Like always, this is only a taste of our conversation. We discussed the influence of Jack Antonoff and Moses Sumney on Ernest’s process, how the idea of what an artist is has changed in 2020, and how social media can create a struggle between internal and external honesty. We look forward to Ernest’s upcoming album; you can catch me at his first live show whenever that may be. Be sure to support Ernest on bandcamp, spotify, soundcloud, and social media.
And be sure to check out the OppySpot playlist featuring Ernest and his influences!