It’s always inspiring to talk with musicians who know what their path is—and Ethan Robbins is one such musician. He feels the music in his heart and soul and it shows when he plays. Ethan becomes the music on stage. There’s an almost mystical connection between his guitar and the notes that flow out of it.
To learn more about Ethan Robbins and Cold Chocolate, check out their website.
Here’s a sampling of Cold Chocolate in action.
When did you first get the music bug? Was your family musical?
When I was four years old I attended a music camp in Washington DC, where I grew up. They let you try out different instruments, and, my parents tell me, I came home one day and told them I wanted to learn the cello. It turns out that they didn’t make cellos small enough for me at that age, so I instead took up the violin. I studied classical violin until college. My family was quite musical, though not professionally. My parents both played piano and were big music enthusiasts; there was always lots of music around, be it oldies in the car, or classical music on our home record player.
Who were your earliest influences as far as your playing is concerned?
Great question. That’s a tough one. There are tons of artists and bands that my Dad listened to that certainly shaped my musical direction: Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Band. But one of the first bands I really got into when I was old enough to start to personally pursue music was The Grateful Dead. The thing that always stood out most to me, was the Dead’s ability to just play. I found, and still find, that you can hear their musical process in their playing. Listening to those albums–it was the first time that I felt like I could hear what it was like to play in a band, and I wanted to do that.
Your college years at Oberlin seem to have been a turning point in your life. Why bluegrass?
Although I didn’t officially major in music at Oberlin, I feel like I actually did. There’s such a high caliber of talent at that school, and it was easy to get involved in a number of different cool musical projects. I had started to get in to bluegrass from listening to Old and in the Way, but didn’t have much experience playing until I met my now-long-time banjo-playing friend and fellow Obie, Dougmore Goldstein. He and I started a bluegrass band at Oberlin called, The Outhouse Troubadours, and I just fell in love with every new bluegrass song he’d show me. Being in that band was one of the earliest recollections I have of thinking, “hey, maybe I could do this music thing for real.”
Tell us about your band Cold Chocolate. Who’s in the band and how did you come together?
Cold Chocolate is my main project these days, playing original material. Currently, it’s me on guitar, Kirsten Lamb on upright bass, and Ariel Bernstein on percussion. Kirsten and I went to Oberlin together and started playing music in several different bands there. We both moved up to the Boston area after school, and decided to start a new band. Kirsten knew Ariel from playing around town and he just kind of got what we were trying to do, and heightened our ability to do it. We initially had James McIver on banjo, and played mostly bluegrass-inspired material. However, James was studying to get his PhD in Physics from Harvard during that whole time, and once he graduated, he moved to Germany to begin a career in science. At that point, we decided to re-evaluate what we were trying to do as a band, and it was, frankly, difficult to find someone who could replace James both musically as well as in terms of the energy he brought to the band. Around that time, we were also getting really into The Wood Brothers, and seeing as they had the exact instrumentation as we do now, heading more toward the Americana side of our music seemed like a direction we could all get behind.
How would you describe your music?
These days, we describe it as Americana. There’s still a hint of bluegrass in there, but we are more swingy, folky, a little more funky. We’re set to go into the studio in May to record a new EP that highlights this new era of Cold Chocolate.
What are some of the highlights of your music career thus far?
We played the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival the last two years, which is always an amazing time. Last December, we were lucky enough to share a bill with Leftover Salmon at the Brighton Music Hall. We got to play for a packed house of people who seriously dug our music. This April, we’ll be opening for The David Grisman Sextet at the Chevalier Theater in Medford, and we are super excited about that. Grisman is a long-time hero of mine, it’ll be a huge honor to share a bill with his band.
What are your hopes and dreams in the short and long term?
Simply put, I want to continue what I’m doing. I get to play music for a living, and there’s nothing better than that.
Ethan Robbins will be opening for Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on March 11, 2016. More information at http://www.meandthee.org