With Ether has been rocking the internet with their skillful and intricate guitar arrangements both original and covers.
Below is an interview between With Ether and Switching Style’s very own Dylanna Fisher. Interviews such as this give a great insight into the heart of the music industry, our musicians. Check out With Ether’s work on YouTube, Spotify, Deezer and so many more.
How did you each get started in music?
Simon: I grew up in a family of musicians, dad was a rocker, mum was a classical guitarist, my musical tastes were shaped by what my dad used to put on the car stereo on the way to school, mainly classic rock bands and artists like deep purple, The Eagles, Joe Satriani etc. Started playing drums at 4 years old to be part of the family band, then picked up a guitar at 12 years old.
Al: I come from a somewhat musical family. My mum played piano and my dad was a champion player of the erhu, a classical Chinese stringed instrument. I had taken piano and violin lessons, even erhu like my dad as a young child but never really took it anywhere. When I was 14, I made the mistake of choosing music as one of my elective subjects at secondary school which required me to perform a recital at the end of the course in the exam, while not being able to play any instruments well at all. I’d been into Rock and Metal music for a little while then, and I’d always wanted to learn guitar but had been embarrassed to admit it, and so I took my school music course as the excuse to start taking guitar lessons.
How would you describe your sound?
Al: It’s always difficult to describe your own sound when there aren’t other groups or artists doing it, especially when the influences are so broad. I personally tend to think of what we do as ‘Contemporary Acoustic’, but I’ve read comments describing us as ‘Acoustic Metal’ which is not entirely inaccurate I suppose.
Who are your musical influences?
Al: Our personal influences are so wide-ranging we couldn’t possibly name them all, but for what we’re doing in the duo, we were initially very inspired by what the artists at CandyRat Records were doing, particularly Jimmy Wahlsteen, Andy McKee, Don Ross, Antoine Dufour, etc. Those guys’ influence very obviously all over our whole catalogue of music, with the guitar body percussion and use of harmonics. We’ve also been influenced by Japanese guitar duo Depapepe, who some of our viewers have flatteringly compared us to.
As you could probably tell, we’re also heavily influenced by Rock and Metal. As Simon mentioned he was influenced by Joe Satriani and Richie Blackmore (Deep Purple). When I first got deep into guitar, I was into Heavy Metal guitarists like Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne), James Hetfield (Metallica) and so on, and learning their styles helped me get a solid grounding in the physical aspects of guitar playing.
In terms of our arrangement and composition style, we’re influenced by the same composers who compose the music we rearrange. Nobuo Uematsu, Akira Yamaoka, and so on. We learn from the masters.
Why perform under the stage name With Ether? Where did the inspiration for the name come from? What does that mean to you?
Al: When we started the duo, it was originally a side project to the Metal band that we were in, and so our idea was to go in the opposite direction with this project and create a kind of tranquil ‘healing’ music for ourselves and others. Simon started floating the word ‘Ether’ around, a typical name for a healing potion in RPG games. After we’d brainstormed for a while, we decided ‘With Ether’ was nice and snappy, and communicated what we wanted to do with our music.
Why did you start on YouTube?
Al: The original reason we started uploading to YouTube was really only to have links and examples of our playing to send to music venues and event promoters so that we could get gigs. It wasn’t until we started getting more popular with the rearrangements that we really considered ourselves ’YouTubers’ as such. When we started the channel, uploading videos to YouTube wasn’t really thought of as a career path by most people.
How do you think YouTube functions as a platform for musicians?
Al: I think YouTube is a very useful tool for talented musicians to get themselves out there and show their skills if they’re trying to get hired. However, attracting lots of viewers to your channel does require you to be a ‘content creator’ and not just a musician, and as we know the YouTube algorithm is not always predictable or in our favour all the time.
How do you feel about the internet in the music business?
Al: For us personally, the internet’s influence on the music business has been positive. The ability for us to release music and garner an audience without having to go on the road, to collaborate with each other from halfway around the world, to even get financial support from our fans from all around the world directly through album sales and sites like Patreon. Saying that we aren’t a part of the ‘record industry’ as such, and YouTube is not a primary source of income for either of us. Perhaps if we were making and selling albums through the older medium of recording contracts and labels, we’d have a different opinion, but overall, it’s been a positive experience for us.
What are your thoughts on copyright?
Al: As far as copyright is concerned, I personally don’t have a problem with a portion of the ad revenue of a cover version or rearrangement we’ve released going to the copyright holder. It is their intellectual property after all, and they have a legal right to it. Some copyright holders can be excessively litigious and unreasonable, but that’s not a problem we’ve ever been faced with too much and we’ve never had a video taken down over copyright issues.
Why do rearrangements in particular?
Al: From our perspective, taking pieces from widely varying genres and arranging them for two acoustic guitars is a lot of fun and a great creative exercise.
How do they tend to compare to the originals?
Al: Comparing to the original largely depends on the piece. In general, our arrangements end up relying more on groove and a bit of backbeat, especially when it comes to the big orchestral themes such as Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy or God of War. With only two guitars, it’s not possible to replicate the magnitude and scope of these huge orchestral arrangements, so it’s important to take advantage of the unique aspects and physicality of the guitar to give the arrangements its own twist, rather than be married to the idea of sounding just like the original. You want to be faithful to the original, but you want to create something people will want to listen to based on its own merits as well.
What is the typical process?
Al: Our process ever since we’ve been separate has been fairly simple. One of us will create a full arrangement on our own, and then send the separate parts with metronome for the other to record over. Once that’s done, audio and video get sent over to mix and sync up, and it’s all done. When we get together in person, we like to create arrangements and write songs in a collaboration, but since we live halfway across the world from each other this process is much more efficient.
You’ve been revered by composers such as Akira Yamaoka, and Noriyuki Iwadare. How did that come about?
Al: If anyone’s doing the revering, it’s definitely us. We have been very lucky to receive praise from several composers of the themes we’ve rearranged, such as Akira Yamaoka and Noriyuki Iwadare as you’ve mentioned. We’re not entirely sure how they caught wind of our work. Most likely one of our fans must have gotten in touch with them via Twitter and showed them our work. It’s a surreal experience to get noticed and encouraged by these composers who we admire and are inspired by.
With Ether also performs original music as well as arrangements, why do you choose to
Al: As I mentioned earlier, when we started the channel, it was really just a tool to have our songs and performances on video so that we could send the links to venues and promoters in order to get gigs, so for the first few months of the channel existing all the material was original. We didn’t start doing video game rearrangements until Simon one day came up with the Metal Gear Solid Medley, and since people enjoyed them, we continued making more. Our channel is about doing the music that we both enjoy, and if a song takes our fancy, be it original or cover, there’s no reason not to do it.
How do they differ?
Al: The processes of writing the rearrangements compared to originals aren’t too much different from each other. When it comes to originals, obviously you have the freedom of creating the music from scratch, which could be a plus or a minus depending on who you ask. For me personally, there’s an intellectual challenge involved with creating rearrangements, especially highly complex orchestral pieces with lots of moving parts when you’ve only got two guitars. Deciding which elements of the original to draw from, what to leave out, what to add your own personal spin to, all these little things make rearranging a bit more challenging.
What is the importance of music?
Al: The importance of music is immeasurable. Outside of YouTube, we are both music teachers. Learning music even as only a hobby is a great experience for children and adults alike. Even just listening to music has been a transformative experience for countless people.
Do you notice a difference between online music and live music?
Al: Online music and live concerts are obviously very different from each other. There’s something unique about being in a room watching a musician play, and that experience can’t be replicated at any other time or place. Being able to record and upload your music online is obviously a great thing, especially now in these times when a lot of us are still forced to stay home, but there’s something exciting about being at a live show that film can’t capture.
What are some of your fondest memories throughout your music career?
Al: There were many great moments early in our YouTubing days. One that stands out to me is the time we crashed London’s Hyper Japan festival when we scored performer’s passes playing guitar for our violinist friend Masa in 2012. In the process, we managed to get on Nico Nico Douga’s (popular video streaming site in Japan) live stream of the event and performed the Metal Gear Solid Medley. Almost immediately after that, our subscriber count shot up by about 200 in the space of maybe 30 minutes. Right then we realized we were on to something with these rearrangements.
Other than that, my fond memories are just us goofing around making the arrangements, keeling over laughing at the dumb mistakes we would make after 20 takes.
What are some obstacles throughout your music career?
Al: I’m not sure we’ve experienced any great hardship or obstacle as a group. One challenge we did face is when Simon initially moved from the UK back to Thailand and we first started doing videos in split-screen, it was a challenge working out the system of how we would do it. If there was ever an obstacle, it may just be us finding the time to write and record the arrangements, as our lives have gotten far busier from the time when we were students, which is why sometimes we’ve gone as long as 6 months without releasing a video.
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out on YouTube?
Al: For any young musicians just starting out on YouTube, just keep making the best stuff you can and putting it out there. Any YouTuber much bigger than us will tell you; you just have to be consistent.
What are some projects you have in progress right now?
Al: We always have new projects on the way, but we don’t want to spoil any surprises. You’ll just have to visit our channel, subscribe, stay tuned, and stay ethereal!
Keep an eye out for more of their amazing content by following both Switching Styles and With Ether on social media.
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