A few years ago, in the middle of Ohio, Denver musician Joel Ansett arrived at a venue. The booker thought Ansett was responsible for advertising and bringing the audience; Ansett thought the venue was. Just one girl, who drove two and a half hours to see him play, showed up and had her own personal concert.
While the situation wasn't the end of his career, it induced anxiety, a feeling Ansett is all too familiar with.
In fact, the musician's latest single, "Ease," is about just that. He describes the riff in the beginning as full of anxiety and something he would sit and play over and over to clear his mind. "There was something about the rhythm of it that would get me out of my own head."
The lyrics detail overthinking, spiraling thoughts and the pressure of trying to please others. But he is also singing about the friends and family that ease his mind when this happens. "There's too many voices,
lights and loud noises telling me who I am, throwing me round again, but you put my mind at ease," he sings.
Ansett often finds himself annoyed trying to please people and put on a mask. "It’s exhausting. I’m thirty years old, but a big part of me feels like I’m in junior high trying to fit in." Still, there are people in his life that keep him steady.
He met one of those people on an airplane back in 2013, when he and his wife were unsure where they were going to move after he returned from a tour. The man said he was opening up a church, Saint Patrick Presbyterian, in Denver, and wanted to offer an artist financial stability.
You're in luck, Ansett told the man: "I'm an artist."
"I would help this church out with music on Sundays, and they would give me a steady income to be an artist," Ansett says. "That’s what got me here, and it’s what has kept us afloat during the pandemic."
While the church has provided steady income, Ansett constantly struggles to shut off his mind and relax.
He says his upcoming album, Ease, is about his "inability to rest." Even with the pandemic happening, where people are stuck at home and often working less, most days he still finds himself struggling to unplug and unwind.
As the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders cleared most people's social calendars, he initially found the break refreshing. But long-term, it's been a lonely time for him. He compares his anxiety and loneliness from the pandemic to sitting on a boat in the ocean, looking out on still waters but being unsure where they end.
"There are these old folktales of sailors being at sea. The ocean is completely still. [There is an] uneasiness from people being stagnant," he says. "But when there’s a storm, it’s very clear where your attention is supposed to go."
During the pandemic, Ansett has focused his attention on songwriting and co-writing with people he has long wanted to work with. Like other artists, though, he misses playing live and connecting with audiences. In better times, he especially enjoys performing at house shows, where he first made fans.
He says he will always be in this business for what he calls a "magic moment" — when you're at a show or looking online for music, and a song inexplicably connects with you.
"It's when a song matches with your story, your day or a situation you’re in," he says. "That’s why I am in the game."
"Ease" is out now on Spotify