Ethan Sak drops debut album “Blue”


Mary-Stella Mangina, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Everybody knows the Shoals area produces authentic music well. From the rock and roll pioneers born out of Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) Recording Studios to the underground singer-songwriters of today, Florence, Muscle Shoals and Sheffield have been recognized time and again for generating talented acts. 

Worth mentioning among the small cities’ claims to fame is young troubadour Ethan Sak. Currently based out of Los Angeles, Sak released his first composite album, “Blue,” on Sept. 30. “Blue” consists of 13 songs, all of which deal with heavy yet relevant themes, like depression, grief and suicide. 

The album, prior to its mass circulation, was in the works for years, as Sak began writing and composing it while still in his senior year at Florence High School. The singer-songwriter’s new work was largely a singular effort, seeing as he arranged, composed and performed it on his own.

Although he attended Florence City Schools for the majority of his life, Sak spent a few of his formative years at St. Joseph Regional Catholic School, a private institution partnered with St. Joseph Catholic Church. Sak is not Catholic, but in the songs making up “Blue,” he delves into notions of religion and spirituality. 

“‘Blue’ has multiple songs that were very directly influenced by my own spiritual journey,” Sak said.

If one were to compare “Blue” with Sak’s debut EP, “Yellow,” they would see little similarities, at least content-wise. The former dropped in 2020, when Sak was only 16. It was lighter and loftier than the latter, which is a look into the human soul’s capacity for pain. Beyond its emotionally raw lyrics, the visceral listening of “Blue” is attributed to its musical incorporation of earthly sounds. Coupled with Sak’s sweeping piano-playing and vocal stacks, this terrestrial ambiance solicits sensations in listeners unparalleled by other adult contemporary endeavors. The first track on the release, “The Beauty of Grief,” for example, is backed by the intertwining tranquility and turbulence of a swelling rainstorm.

“All my albums are based on colors. My first project was ‘Yellow.’ The new one’s ‘Blue.’ I don’t know what’s next; it might be ‘Red’ or ‘Purple.’ I do know that all my albums will have different sounds, and this is in reference to the fact that I have synesthesia. I ascribe music to colors,” Sak said.

Synesthesia refers to a cognitive phenomenon wherein someone associates one perception with another. A person with synesthesia may, for instance, hear a certain noise and associate it with a shape.

Sak is known by folks throughout North Alabama. Since he was playing piano and singing by age 7, he was able to make a name for himself. Additionally, in 2019, he toured the easternmost part of the United States, hitting 40 different venues while remotely completing his junior year of high school. Now he is broadening the scope of his artistic outreach, recording and booking gigs across Los Angeles.

Studying music production at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, Sak has access to numerous musical resources, not to mention exposure to a diverse community of aspiring performers. Sak described his favorite show he has played so far in the City of Angels, an intimate set performed in a USC dorm room. The concert, a play on National Public Radio’s famous Tiny Desk Concerts dubbed Tiny Dorm, saw nearly 50 students in a single bedroom, closely gathered to watch Sak headline. The songwriter liked the venue’s up-close-and-personal atmosphere. From his point of view, the congenial tightness of the room allowed him to fully connect with his audience. 

“I was sitting on a bed. I had a full band, with a drum kit and everything, but we were all crammed into this tiny space,” Sak said. “It was so intimate that I could’ve reached out and touched the people in the crowd. They were sitting on the floor, right in front of me. I remember, I’d opened with a sad song, a powerful acoustic ballad. By the end of it, I noticed a girl in the crowd, so close to me, was crying her eyes out, and I thought, ‘times like these are why I play music- moments where I can truly connect to people through song.’”

Shoals locals interested in seeing and hearing more of Sak need not worry- he visits his hometown as often as possible and tends to make professional appearances in the region whenever and wherever he can. In August, he performed at Lava Room, the newest bar and music venue in downtown Florence. He was backed by well-known local musicians and in the company of Corey Curtis and The Chalkdowns. His latest project, “Blue,” is available now on Spotify, Apple Music and other major music platforms.