By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Local Ellensburg band divulges their backstory and inspirations

House of Ash has been recording music for over two years. Photo courtesy of House of Ash.
House of Ash has been recording music for over two years. Photo courtesy of House of Ash.

Matching influences, lofty goals, lifesaving kinship and an intimate Ellensburg music community make House of Ash small-town psych-rock superstars. Guitarists Joe Ewald and Seth McGuire, lead vocalist John Baldwin and drummer Nate Lawrence comprise the band, a project first created in 2021.

Ewald explained his initial inspiration to start making music. 

“I got broken up with by a girl,” Ewald said. “I was bummed out. I was sitting in my room and I looked over and there was just a guitar sitting there and I was like, you know what, screw it. I had this thing collecting dust for years. Might as well try it out.” 

Overcoming heartbreak through music, Ewald recruited the rest of the band over the next year. 

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“They call me the mastermind behind it,” Ewald said. “But I don’t think it’s that much.”

When McGuire came aboard next, after some convincing from his fellow guitarist, it encouraged the “mastermind” to improve. 

“[I knew] I wanted something to do, but having Seth there was the drive to make art instead of just making my own stupid little things,” Ewald said. “So that was the start of it.”

Surrounded by wall-to-wall music equipment in their makeshift practice space, House of Ash insists that the inspiration to make art can strike at any second. 

“For me, a lot of current events are the reason why I’ve been writing a lot of music,” Ewald said. “Everything in the world is putting us down, so you might as well make music to bring everybody back up. Like a spirit lifter.” 

The whole group shares Ewald’s philosophy that music is the only thing that unifies.

“It’s a powerful thing for people, hearing [their struggles] in music form and then also being able to relate to it,” McGuire said. “It’s a very comforting thing.” 

“This is the one way that we can all come together and get [everything] out,” Baldwin echoed. “Everybody’s had hard times. There’s a beauty in being able to articulate that, whether it’s with words or notes or drums. It’s vital for human growth to just, you know, talk to each other. Not everybody talks. So some people do with this kind of stuff.”

House of Ash’s relatability is built off the moodiness that drew the band together in the first place. 

“We say what we feel, we say what we know,” McGuire said. “We’re a good platform for that.”

Baldwin added on, analyzing the emotional core of the band’s music. 

“We all collectively have been through enough turmoil,” Baldwin said. “We’ve been through enough and I feel like even considering all of our ages and life experience, a lot of people would look from the outside in and be like, ‘Okay, these are just a bunch of teenagers making music,’ but in reality, no matter what age you are, you draw on your own experiences. Music gives us the opportunity to share [ours].” 

The palpable chemistry of the band might also be a key to their recent success. 

“We’re four guys that if you looked at any of them in pairs of two, you’d be like, ‘Yeah, those two guys are married,’” Ewald said.

McGuire said the band’s friendship was a key difference between them and bands of the past, who they cite as having turbulent chemistry. 

“We’re all best friends, you know,”  McGuire said. “I feel like a lot of bands, especially throughout history, you’ve heard that they don’t usually get along that well. So I feel very honored to be in a band where everyone just as much as the next guy loves being there and loves being with everyone else and loves the music that we make too.” 

The band credits the small businesses and tight-knit music scene of Ellensburg as essential to their creative process and musical ambitions. Their first studio album (currently unreleased) was recorded and produced at the now-defunct Velvetone Studios downtown with the help of Zach Wilson, the “greatest unknown producer in Ellensburg” and a “musical wizard” according to Ewald. The band was able to connect with Velvetone Studios through the help of Ted, owner of Boogie Man Music where House of Ash gets all their new gear. 

Open mic night at Old Skools, a record store and live music venue in downtown Ellensburg, provided the band with their lead vocalist after a chance encounter with a performing Baldwin. 

“That’s how we started out, we played open mic night at Old Skools every Sunday,”  McGuire said.

Fellow local bands like Cigman Fraud and The Sleepers are credited as huge inspirations to House of Ash. “Oh, this is such a cool environment and such great people,” said McGuire, reminiscing on the band’s beginning and interactions with fellow bands at Old Skools. “We just want[ed] to be a part of this so bad. And then fast forward a year later and we’re kind of at the forefront of it.” 

“Watching Cigman was the biggest thing that changed my outlook,”  Ewald said. “Our first show that we opened for, we played so quiet. Nate was holding back to like 10% of his power. Seth and I are barely strumming the strings and then these guys get up there and their amps are set to like, eight or nine and we’re set to three and they just blast it and I remember feeling that, and being like, ‘We need to be this loud. We need to command the room instead of slowly turning up the volume as our shows go on.’”

McGuire raved further about the “beautiful” Ellensburg music scene, and how House of Ash themselves have now inspired other bands to continue pushing their sound locally. 

“There’s a snowball effect, where we can be the first good band in a while and inspire others to start doing it too,” McGuire said. “Max [from The Sleepers]… said that seeing us play, it makes them want to get out there a bit more.”

The band continues work on their first studio album, hoping to deliver for their fans who are “thirsty for some new House of Ash material,” according to McGuire. After the release of their album, House of Ash plans to embark on a nationwide tour, hoping to perform at a city in every state. 

“[Right now] one place knows about our name a little bit,” McGuire said. “And then when we do that everywhere it’s eventually… gonna spread and no one’s gonna have a choice but to know who we are. We’re just planting seeds.”

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