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A Conversation with Miles East

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Ghosts of Hope
I catch up with Jonathan Ellinghaus regularly at gigs in New York where he’s either behind the drum-kit or in the crowd enjoying a rye neat. We’d seen each other recently during Blake Morgan’s residency at Rockwood.

“I wonder who the special guest is tonight,” I ask.
“Uhm… that would be me,” he says.

Jonathan is the back-beat of ECR Music Group, playing drums and percussion on nearly every release and live show like a boss. He’s something of an unsung hero, but tonight he’s singing, too, in support of the excellent new record Ghosts Of Hope.

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You’re literally one of the funniest people I know, yet this record is serious business. It reminds me a bit of the dichotomy of Beck, who could do anything he wants but takes the time every few years to put some really serious music to tape.

Thanks…I really appreciate that. A sense of humor is, sometimes, a survival skill. Having one just makes everything better but without one you’re guaranteed to have a really rough time of it (that’s especially true if you’re an artist). That said, I’m not a big fan of humor in music, in general. No disrespect to acts like Weird Al––he’s good at what he does––but when was the last time someone told you how the song “Eat It” got them through a really tough time in their life. The one exception to that, with a bullet, would be Tenacious D.

Totally agree with that one. So, there’s a lot of great songs on the record and some very introspective lyrics. One of my favorites is “The Hard Part” with that amazing refrain “Close your eyes, be kind, go to a place inside your mind where I’ll be waiting for you.” What inspired that lyric?

That song is an interesting one to me. The bulk of my songs are actually retrospective. What I mean to say is that I’m not normally one to write about anything I’m going through at the time. Almost every time I’ve tried that it just ends up sounding trite, like a high school diary entry or something. In my case, time needs to pass. Sometimes a good deal of it. The aspiration is to arrive at a nuanced point of view that hopefully resonates more deeply. My favorite music has always had that quality. “The Hard Part,” on the other hand, is one of only two songs where the writing of it came out of something I was going through at that very time. My situation was such that ambiguity was simply not an option. I knew exactly where I was and I knew it was dire. I also knew exactly where I needed to be. The “I” in that lyric is the future me already in that place reassuring the current me that as bad as it is, and it is bad, I’m here waiting.

When we first met, you and the late great Jordan Berlant were banging out some pretty aggressive tunes. I’m thinking of that first Puzzelball record and Jordan’s solo stuff and even Blake’s Burning Daylight. But you’re equally adept on other side of that dynamic. You toured with Lesley Gore, for example, and you add some very delicate textures to records by Janita and Melissa Giges. And when you recently covered a Zeppelin tune, it’s not a song one might immediately expect.

The late great Jordan Berlant indeed. He is missed. He had that same dichotomy in his music too, incidentally. Well, I’m the youngest of eight so I grew up in a musical stew. The Beatles were the stock of that stew, and that honestly would have been enough but along with them on any given evening there was Zeppelin coming out of this room, Hall & Oates coming out of another, Stevie Wonder out of a third, etc. I was a drummer before I started writing music and I took it upon myself to learn the drum parts to any and all of it, from the “heaviest” to the “lightest.” It was all such great music and the instrumental parts were so varied and had such a unique influence on each song’s character. I would play a kind of drumming Russian roulette with the radio. I’d just move the dial and whatever song I landed on I had to play––and play well––on the song’s terms and not just mine. I’ve made it a point to maintain that sensibility throughout my career. The choice of the Zeppelin tune is the exception to that. I’ve been a Zeppelin fan since high school and “That’s The Way” is probably my favorite Zeppelin song, but for some reason covering Zeppelin had always been a big no-no for me. I felt that if I was going to pull this off it would have to be on my terms and not the song’s. I took a chance and played it for Blake fully expecting him to nix it but to my surprise (and his) he dug it and now it’s on the record.

Speaking of Blake, I always wondered if you two have a shorthand in the studio. In my strange imagination it feels like you have something of a Scorsese/De Niro relationship. What I’m trying to say is, you’re the Robert De Niro of drums. I’m talking early De Niro, before he started making bad decisions.

“I see my life in terms of destinations rather than journeys, like how the song “The Hard Part” deals with the place I’m in vs the place I need to be.”

Ha! Someone told me the other night that they watched “The Intern” and thought it was very cute. That’s how it is now: Sting is easy listening and De Niro makes cute movies. Well, I wouldn’t call it a short-hand per se. What we do have is a love for a lot of the same music and a unified understanding of how a drum part should serve a song. I will never take that for granted. It’s why we’ve worked together for so long. I have worked with other producers but not often and when I do it always reminds me how spoiled I am by Blake’s and my working relationship. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s one of my best friends. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes the right drum part comes down to one or two knowing glances.

I’ve always known you as Jonathan. What was the inspiration behind “Miles East?” Is it a pseudonym or a project name like Bon Iver or Iron & Wine?

The answer to that question is…both. I just found that as I wrote and performed my music over the years, It always ended up coalescing around a particular wavelength, one that it turns out I’ve been on my whole life. It has to do with my relationship to the waters and shores along the eastern seaboard, particularly the lower eastern shore and the north east. It’s a huge force in my life and always has been. It works its way into my music in subtle and not so subtle ways. I’ve often said that I see my life in terms of destinations rather than journeys, like how the song “The Hard Part” deals with the place I’m in vs the place I need to be. “Miles East” represents the one destination that helps me navigate between all the others and there’s only one way to get there.

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Ghosts of Hope is up for exclusive pre-order today, here: iTunes.com/MilesEast.

Brooklyn's own MC Krispy E has an opinion about most things you can put in your ear, eye, and mouth holes.

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OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS

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Dear Members of Congress,

The tipping point is here and we need to put aside our political differences to save this country right now! Silence and remaining behind party lines is no longer an option. A unified address by our elected officials in Congress on the issue of police brutality and equality under the rule of law is required to begin the healing process as well as ensure the future of this nation.

There are three steps that immediately need to be taken to bring this to fruition. The arrest and charging of the three remaining individuals involved in the death of George Floyd must occur as the first step of good faith. The second step requires clear and transparent action items stated to the public in order to address the issues at hand. Those action items should include:

  • The revision of Qualified Immunity to specifically address the problematic assertion that “Qualified Immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought before – Institute of Justice
  • The reforming of Civilian Review Boards with the purpose of increasing the decision-making abilities on the disposition and discipline of police officers.

The third step is the creation and funding of a systemic racism task force with the goal of dismantling systemic racism.

  • Accelerating judicial system reform
  • Equating the public education system
  • Eliminating redlining

These are just the preliminary steps that will begin the framework of the changes we need enacted to better the experiment called the United States.

I look forward to seeing a response in the form of action on the behalf of the citizens of this country.

HB aka The World Traveler is fully committed to exploring and sharing with you what the world has to offer in travel and music. Get on board and enjoy the ride!

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Thank You Tulsa Oklahoma / Generational Responsibility

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Every generation has an unintended mission as it relates to the liberation of their people. That mission is based on the circumstances and is revealed either midway through or after that generation’s mission is complete.

Through land ownership and intellect, the post slavery generation (Reconstruction/Tulsa – Black Wall Street) revealed what was possible if America dared engage on a level playing field. They did an EXCELLENT job!!

Through newly established media, The Civil Rights generation exposed the world to racial injustice and an undelivered promise of liberty and justice. They did an EXCELLENT job!

The Hip Hop generation reinvigorated the notion of wealth, ownership, propagated messages of inequality and exposed the daily tribulations of Black American life to ALL of America. It was my generation’s obligation to gather overwhelming empathy and build an irrefutable emotional case against racial injustice. We did and EXCELLENT job!!

Through technology, Millennials unintended obligations seems to be gathering overwhelming and irrefutable visual and literal evidence against racial injustice AND expose it via social and regular media. They are doing an EXCELLENT job!!

Now that a select few have assimilated, gained some empathy and chosen to walk alongside us, they are also experiencing similar atrocities and destroying the sentiment that prior instances of injustice were one-offs and not systemic injustice.

As today marks the 99th Anniversary of the Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riots, I would like to acknowledge those who have shown us what was possible post slavery in America. There is a HUGE difference between returning home and trying to find a home in the first place. The candle lit by that generation is the same beacon that will navigate our eventual return. THANK YOU!!

Sidebar; All generations have had a separate and unintended but equally important mission. What is common is that all generations have had to endure to even make minor progress. We have no choice but to do the same. Sidebar Complete.

Alfred Obiesie is a writer with over 12 years of online content contribution (Onetrackmine.com, Cartermag.com, Essence.com) and author (You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop.) The book chronicles hip hop lines from the genre’s most notable artists spanning almost 40 years. It is illustrated by Grammy award winning Illustrator Shah Wonders and has garnered praise from multiple media outlets (Sirius XM, Vibe, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, etc...)

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Realigning Your Moral Compass / Don’t Be Humble

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Remember when “keeping it on the low” was a high-valued asset in the lunchrooms of yesterdays past? It was a glorious and magical time where your ability to not divulge information or “brag” would lend you the trust and respect of all… except maybe the person who wanted said info. Conversely, being known as conceited or loose lipped oft resulted in social suicide. Once you understood and practiced the basic tenets of social operation, you were free to roam about the country. Then along came this thing called life and what was once generally accepted social order now requires constant questioning. Oh to be young again!

These days, you may find yourself at a moral crossroads where keeping information “on the low” could result in literal career suicide and stagnation of financial growth. I’ve seen coworkers get promoted because they would inform the entire world of every menial task accomplished like closing the fridge door in the pantry. I’ve also seen coworkers not be given any credit and as far as to be laid off because no one was aware of their value or responsibilities.  Who knew life was gonna be so complicated (besides every single adult?) Of course, “keeping it on the low”  a.k.a humility is just one of many self-inflicted moral codes we use to navigate for a majority of our lives. There are many others (selfish, greedy, manipulative, etc…) Now what if you hadn’t assigned a negative or positive value to these sentiments from the outset? Would you still be so hesitant to engage in their practices?

For the sake of proving my point, What if these “negative” moral codes were simply tools that could not be judged but simply used? Is it manipulative to convince someone to put a gun down and not shoot up a room full of people? Was Winston Churchill being manipulative in his efforts to convince the U.S to join WWII? Is it greedy to understand how much financial assets are required to provide the lifestyle you deem worthy for you and your family then pursue accordingly? Is it selfish to know when to tune the world out to achieve a goal that will be to the worlds eventual betterment?

The world is grander than whatever lunchroom your adolescent moral GPS was manufactured in and navigated you through. Once you graduate to encounter those larger moral obstacles, you rapidly realize that what got your through it before may not get you past it now if you cannot realign your moral code. It seems once one masters a particular set of skills, they immediately become obsolete as life advances everyone to the next level. What’s more likely is a majority of our decision making tools (like morals) are choice and should be treated as such and continuously revisited.  Good Luck.

 

Sidebar; To the aspiring entrepreneurs keeping their amazing ideas “on the low” until they blow up, you are delaying your own successes. To those who find the pursuit of money / capitalism as greedy /evil, you are delaying your own gratitude. Sidebar complete.

Alfred Obiesie is a writer with over 12 years of online content contribution (Onetrackmine.com, Cartermag.com, Essence.com) and author (You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop.) The book chronicles hip hop lines from the genre’s most notable artists spanning almost 40 years. It is illustrated by Grammy award winning Illustrator Shah Wonders and has garnered praise from multiple media outlets (Sirius XM, Vibe, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, etc...)

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