By Katie Kelly
Growlers in Midtown Memphis is packed. Overflowing really. There are people in groups in the parking lot talking, people in line waiting to get in, and some just hanging out around the venue. Inside, it’s even more crowded. It takes 10 minutes just to get to the bar and another 15 to get drinks. There’s an excited buzz emanating from the audience, but that buzz immediately dulls once the music starts. All at once it seems everyone’s attention is locked up front. Because it’s been almost 5 years since Healy played a hometown show, and he just walked on stage.
A lot’s changed for Healy (born Ethan Healy) in this time. He moved to LA, then to NYC. He released a handful of new music, including his sophomore album Tungsten in 2021 and his latest EP, “Look at God,” just this past summer. His single “Nikes On” was even included in the Adam Sandler film “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah.”
While this is all undeniably impressive, this isn’t what I mean when I say a lot’s changed for Healy. In summer of 2022 while shooting a music video, Healy tore his eardrum. “When it happened, people’s voices that I’d heard my entire life sounded different. They had to recreate my eardrum,” he recounts.
Prior to this accident, to say Healy was a perfectionist would be an understatement. He essentially taught himself the guitar in one summer after high school, leading him to start experimenting with other instruments and writing and recording his own songs. In 2015, he put a few songs out on Soundcloud and Spotify that quickly went viral. At the same time, Healy was entering his doctoral program at the University of Tennessee in physical therapy. By 2018, he had not only signed with a major label, recorded his debut album, and been on tour, but he also earned his PhD. So, yea, Healy’s not only an incredible musician, but he’s also a whole doctor too.
An injury like a torn eardrum for the regular person is traumatic, but for a musician, it can be career-ending. “I thought my profession was done and music was completely removed from my life,” he tells me. Instead of giving up, Healy found strength in those around him. “It’s corny, but when it happened, I had my friends, family, and actual love itself to fall back on and that really just restructured a lot of the way I look at life.”
His new perspective also changed how he approached his music. Before, he’d agonize over every breath, every note, every self-proclaimed “flaw.” During his recovery, he realized the beauty in letting go. “Immediately after it happened, I knew that I couldn’t do 15 mix revisions on one song anymore. I had to trust my collaborators. I had to just like, let go. There was no point in trying to beat it to a pulp anymore.”
For his forthcoming project, Healy tells me that he’s finding inspiration in the experimentation. “I’m just leaning into the space of wanting to bend the rules more within myself. I’m just trying to throw paint at the wall and see what sticks,” he says. “I have a couple of demos where I’m, like, screaming and then ones that are very polished. I’ve allowed myself to reinvent myself and shed past skins. I really look forward to the process of discovering.”
Healy’s always had the undeniable talent, but there’s something more radiating from him as an artist now. He’s found the power in abandoning perfectionism. It’s clear this Healy isn’t afraid to take risks because he’s no longer worried about failing. If whatever he has planned works, that’s great – but he’s ok if it doesn’t. In fact, the very idea of trying something unique and it not landing almost seems to excite him. “I’ve realized that my music doesn’t have to go a certain way. More often than not, it’s gonna end up where it needs to be.”
Listening to Healy’s most recent releases, this is resoundingly true. His songwriting has matured, his melodies are both intricate and saccharine, and he expertly navigates an even wider stylistic range. Healy’s never been scared to blend genres, but on his new projects, he fully embraces it. On stage, he moves with a comfortability and ease that only comes from truly knowing who he is as an artist. It’s no wonder he drew the massive crowd he did at Growlers.
After Healy and I discuss all that’s happened in the past 5 years, I ask him about the future. “I’ve learned how much I thrive on connection. I thrive on being connected with people. I just want to continue to connect with my fans in a bunch of different ways,” he tells me adamantly. After witnessing the unpredictability of life this, he says, is the one thing he’s sure about. As for everything else? “I really don’t know where my music might go. And I think that’s a beautiful, beautiful reality.”