Singer/songwriter (and, with this new issue, now-Jasper staff writer) Ethan Fogus has been playing his songs for years in Columbia, but has only recently switched from solo to a full band endeavor with The Witness Marks. A classic roots-rocker with a penchant for big melodies and drawling, tumbling storytelling, his songs find themselves filled in and fleshed out with the sympathetic ear of his new backing band whether providing a country-rock lope or a crashing, punk-tinged Southern sprawl.
The Witness Marks will be joining us on Thursday night for the release of the Fall 2018 issue of Jasper at Stormwater studios (event link here), so we thought we’d ask Ethan 5 questions about his music, new band, and the Columbia scene.
So tell us about how and why you formed The Witness Marks. I know you were doing the solo thing for a while there too.
I got tired of being a first-name-last-name group. It's hard to ask people to play in a band that’s just you. I got over the me-ness of the music and let go of my ego.
Also I’m an introverted person, so coining a superhero name gave me permission to have fun. I don’t have to feel like I’m up front in the same way. I want to play music and I want the people I play music with to be a unit. It’s more fun for me to be in a band.
How much has the sound of the band developed over time? What direction do you see for the band going forward?
Overtime we’ve become tighter. We have a better sense of each other’s intuition, and we trust each other more. I think we lean more rock and roll than folk nowadays.
We’ve got a few songs we cooked up with Zac Thomas that we’ll be pushing out soon.
You seem really attuned to more classic folk-rock modes of songwriting--Dylan, Cash, etc. How much do you look for inspiration in that older generation, how much do you look towards more contemporary performers?
I do love Dylan and Cash but nostalgia-sentiment alone doesn't appeal to me. I’m not the type of person who thinks that music used to be better in the good ol' days. Music now is pretty good, and I love all types of songwriting. Current favorites include Caroline Spence and Phoebe Bridgers. But I believe in listening widely and learning from all genres and time periods of music. I love music and don’t put parameters on what I like and don’t like.
What's your favorite song to play live? Why?
That’s tough. I like our new songs a lot. But “The Other Way” and “Bloodoath” are just a darn hoot to play live. “The Other Way” is this really punchy punk rock song that segues into “Bloodoath,” which is a super moody and dynamic song. I like it cause it’s a band arrangement. It’s loud. It’s disrespectful.
Who are your favorite songwriters in the Midlands?
Kelley McLachlan — she writes beautiful songs with poignant lyrics and inventive arrangements.
Mario McClean — every time I see Mario play I get goosebumps. He’s a great pianist and a wonderful lyricist.
Jeff Gregory of The Runout — he’s an attention-to-detail songwriter. Check out a solo show he did for the Columbia Beet recently. Wowza.