Blurring the lines between pop, rock, folk and country, Ed Roman is an award-winning musician from Ontario who, thanks to his infectiously-eclectic sound, has garnered legions of fans – known as “Ed Heads” – across North America.
With his first album, 2000’s Special Ed and The Musically Challenged, Ed and his bandmates crafted an inventive, mesmerizing musical experience that they continued to refine on three follow-up albums. In 2011, Ed released his first solo venture, Oracles and Ice Cream, consisting of 22 tracks of hypnotic songwriting across a vast musical spectrum. Featuring poignant lyrics atop tantalizing melodies, Oracles and Ice Cream offered an exhilarating glimpse into the mind of a supremely gifted artist. Ed’s most recent solo album, Letters from High Latitudes, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim, receiving airplay on more than 100 radio stations across Canada and the United States and earning Roman recognition on the Hit Tracks Top 100 and CMG Radio charts, along with award nominations from both Artists in Music and the Artists Music Guild.
Recently, Ed traveled to Jamaica to deliver humanitarian aid and teach music to the children of the island, and documented the experience in the music video for his song “Jamaica.”
What was your childhood like? Was there a particular moment when you realized you wanted to be a musician?
Ever since I’ve had cognitive thought, music has been a part of my life. My childhood was extremely charmed and simple in existence. I grew up in a day and age when we weren’t inundated with technology. We only had three television stations so we made a lot of our own fun. The mind becomes activated in artistic ways when it’s pushed into these arenas.
So much of my time was spent making up a little songs on the guitar and the piano and presenting them to my family and extended family and friends. Music seems to be more like a way of life for everyone in my family even though they didn’t play instruments. My grandmother, grandfather, parents and brothers and sisters were all in love with so many different styles and to me it really exemplified the kind of lifestyle I wanted to immerse myself in. It was because of the enthusiasm of so many around me that pushed me into music. Perhaps pushed is not the right word, but in fact nurtured by my family and friends. As I struggled with dyslexia, music was an easy way for me to break the proverbial bond of my disability. Music is like a religion to me. It is philosophical, physical, cerebral and spiritual all at the same time. Music is life.
Growing up, who were your biggest musical influences?
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that influences are marked by your growth periods over a very large period time. Provided the human condition allows itself to keep learning, we will never stop. When I was a child, early influences from rock ‘n’ roll like Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, The Beatles and so many more really excited me about the prospect of how electric music could be. As I grew older and started to pursue music as a trade, some of my mentors were people like legendary American bass player Jaco Pastorius, Mark King from Level 42, Charles Mingus, Cole Porter and a wide variety of so many compositional musicians and improvisational players. This really pushed me as a young artist to understand more about the complexity of music as well as the emotion behind it. I am always being influenced by so many people today that it’s hard for me to summate all of the connections to the things that really turned me on. I’m also greatly influenced by other people that aren’t even musicians when it comes to the thought process behind the philosophies of music.
What was the recording process like for Letters from High Latitudes?
What I have learned over the years is not to try to have too much preemptive thinking behind the recording process. This to me actually goes hand-in-hand with the writing aspect of music. I think it can be dangerous to find formula in your methods as it can stagnate the learning process as well as closing you off to new ideas. I’m always trying to listen to what the song is telling me and, for that same matter, how the recording should unfold. It’s very important for me to capture the original spark of creation when the microphones are up and humming. This is why I base so many of my recorded songs around the principal moment of construction. In other words, the method to my method is that there is no method. The art is there and I’m ready to listen to it when it speaks to me.
How have you evolved as a musician and a songwriter since you were first starting out?
“I will never stop learning till the day I die.” -Oscar Peterson
Hopefully every musician and artist is evolving as they are following the path that is being shown to them. As I mentioned before, it can be dangerous to pigeonhole yourself into just one category or framework of music. This can shut off the growth process and the ego tends to kick in. The important thing to remember is to always be listening to your heart. Even the things that you don’t want to approach are there for reason. I believe the growth in any musician’s life is always happening and in that process is a lifelong education.
On Letters from High Latitudes, you played everything from drums and bass to guitar and sitar. Which instruments do you feel most comfortable playing?
I’ve always been drawn to stringed instruments so, for me, whenever I can get my hands on one, I’m quite happy. Bass is my first love and its earthy groovy funky soulful feel of harmonic low-end attracted me like a mouse to cheese. Inside of playing the bass there is so much rhythm and was then very easy to gravitate to such instruments such as drums and percussion. Rhythm is the whole deal.
What were some of the most memorable aspects of your humanitarian journey to Jamaica?
Some of the most memorable moments I have from the island of Jamaica are ongoing, but I tell you this, when you give an instrument to a young child who has nothing but has all the verve and chutzpah that you just love to see in an enthusiastic mind, nothing compares to the elation for that child at that moment. I know how powerful it is when you get an instrument as a young person as I went through the same kinds of experiences. It’s that initial love that pushes that young mind into the experience wholeheartedly. This is one of the greatest gifts that I could give or experience I could have anywhere in this world. That is the gift of music.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the music industry since you released your first album 15 years ago?
I would say the biggest change that I’ve seen happen to music over the last 15 years is the conversion of what music used to be to people and what it is today. I’ve read some great philosophical arguments on this whole topic but I would say it becomes very difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is. The idea of art in our culture has been cheapened and turned into such a commodity that people have lost its original spiritual intent. The public themselves have been so conditioned by the 21st-century framework that we all live in. As a consumer of music, I still purchase a great deal of music online and at live shows. For me, this is an important detail in the philosophy of supporting the arts as opposed to just looking at them. Culture itself must recognize what has been created for so many years behind this momentum that we call music and take responsibility for supporting it. The arts are what keeps our culture strong and it stops us from turning into homogenized version of life..
Which current musicians or bands do you feel are most underrated or underappreciated?
That list is quite big, but I would say the musicians and bands that are greatly unappreciated in this day and age are the ones that are doing exactly what they love to do. Create. As I mentioned, we are so conditioned to what we think are the textbook versions and framework of art today. Artists such as Esperanza Spalding or Derek Trucks might not be on the front page of every newspaper, but they are definitely in the category of people truly creating musical art.
If you could change one thing about the world or society, what would it be?
A complete abolishment of the United Nations and every federal government on this planet. They are nothing but leviathans and dying dinosaurs with head colds that have an esoteric and hidden crypto agenda about the prospects of what should be happening on this globe. This is the festering sore of our planet.
What are you working on next?
First off, it’s a pleasure to speak with you and thanks for having me today. I’m working on a new album for the release of 2016 entitled Red Omen. Another sociological look into the day age that we live in. The things that we love and the things that we hate. The things that can save us and the things that can destroy us. I’m in the studio as we speak in Melanchthon, Ontario, Canada at Area 51 working with Michael Jack diligently towards the New Year’s release. Look for it in the spring of 2016.