The love of a good woman brought Brian Ernst to the Lowcountry.
In 2010, he’d decided to ask his now wife, Katie, for her hand in marriage. When he learned that her family was to vacation in Murrells Inlet, his “what” had a “where.” From their “mud hut with no running water, electricity or anything from the western world,” in Africa, he set about finding a gig – as was his custom when traveling.
Despite sending out more than 100 emails to area clubs and bars, he received only one response. Lucky for him, it was the right one.
“A couple of years ago, I got this email from this musician ... I don’t usually book the bands ... but I was just in the right frame of mind,” Russell Greene, manager of Capt. Dave’s Dockside and Bubba’s Love Shack.
That was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship;” one that keeps Ernst coming back and performing in an area that has a unique place in his heart.
Oh, and Katie said “yes” under the pier at Surfside Beach.
Being so well traveled, where did you and Katie honeymoon and why?
We actually spent our honeymoon in a treehouse in Jamaica. We were two months into an eight-month cross-country tour and wanted something remote and away from tourists. Plus, we love tree houses.
What can folks expect from a Brian Ernst performance?
I would say people can expect to see (and hear) something unique and different. My performances are passionate expressions of soulful music.
What audience does your music typically appeal to?
I find that my music appeals to a lot of baby boomers and older folks. Also to kids. I play original soulful music and create it in a very organic and unique way.
At what age did you realize that you were a “traveler”?
I think the day I graduated high school. I was ready to get out of Ohio and go see the world.
Was Hurricane Katrina your first relief work experience?
Yes. I wasn’t doing music full time just odd jobs, looking for a purpose. On a whim, we drove around collecting supplies. When you’re giving to someone, you’re also receiving. Being connected to that circle of giving of receiving it’s so real and there is so much fake stuff in the world. Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Would people be surprised at how a small financial gift can make a difference in your efforts in Africa through your grassroots not-for-profit Journey4Youth?
Yes. Malaria medication costs roughly 35 cents for example and $30 pays for a child to stay in school for a year, gets them a school uniform (which is required), two outfits, a pair of shoes, dignity and hope.
Please describe the “veggie bus.”
I like to say our veggie bus is part spaceship, part time machine. It’s our home, our vehicle and the place we run our music business and nonprofit out of. It’s an old school bus that was gutted and turned into an RV; simple but comfortable.
Are solar panels and waste veggie oil a possible mainstream auto fuel alternative?
No; it is possible for some but the U.S. doesn’t produce enough waste vegetable oil to replace fossil fuels. There are, however, many alternatives and we do believe that there are practical things we can all do to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels. We like to think of our bus as an example of one way.
What did you study in college?
I didn’t really study in college. I was enrolled for two semesters in two different colleges and flunked out both times.
What did you learn from your “businessman experience”?
I learned that I wasn’t created to be in the corporate world. I also learned how to and how to not run a business.
What did you love about busking?
I started out as a busker. I loved meeting so many people. Being around families and artists. Playing music was so new to me back then. I loved being able to perform for four, five or six hours. Playing just to play.
What have you learned about being a full-time musician?
Ben Harper once said “There is luck involved. There is also dreaming and timing. But luck and dreams are useless without dedication and hard work.”
What misconceptions did you have?
I thought success was measured by things like money, CD sales, playing big stages and getting famous, when actually success is measured by happiness (which has been off the charts the last few years).
What is your favorite place to a play a gig?
I really enjoy playing farmers markets and schools. Also listening rooms where people are receiving what I’m doing.
Of the instruments you play, do you have a favorite?
I just got a washboard a few months ago. That’s been lots of fun playing. The didgeridoo is also a lot of fun to play.
When did you first decide to play music?
Playing music (for a living) sort of found me. I tried the corporate world. That didn’t work. I tried serving tables. That didn’t work. I worked blue collar in a warehouse. That didn’t work, either. After all else was said and done playing music was my last-ditch effort.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t drink alcohol anymore. I just celebrated four years of sobriety a few weeks ago. (I don’t have a problem with it, and my wife drinks sometimes.) I abused it for many years and just made the decision to quit something I couldn’t control.
Is there any music that you will not play?
I am an original artist. I play a few (very select) cover songs. Most people get that after listening to me play. If someone asks me to play a cover song and it’s not one of the three or four I know than (obviously) I’m not going to play it.
How is recording different from playing live?
In the studio you spend hours playing one little part or messing with different effects. The difference is you have the time in the studio to make the songs sound perfect whereas playing live you have one chance.
How do you feel when you play music?
Euphoric. … I don’t know how to explain it. … It’s magical.
What inspires you to write a song? What is your process?
Songwriting is sacred to me. I don’t ever just sit down and say “OK, I’m gonna write a song.” I wait for songs to come to me. Songs are given to me, like a gift from the spirit.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I’m heavily influenced by the Australian artists, Xavier Rudd, John Butler and Juzzie Smith. The first guy I ever saw with a looping pedal, Mike Perkins, is a huge influence and also a friend.
What are some of your fondest memories of your career?
That’s a tough question. It’s hard to think back and pick out just one in particular. We are making memories every day. I think if you asked me this question 20 or 30 years from now I would say my fondest memories are the years we’re living right now. Traveling around the USA in a veggie bus. Not paying for fuel and having the time of our lives.
If you could start a band with anyone, who would you want to work with?
My wife Katie and I do a few songs together. Her and I work so well together and the thought of living in a bus (and touring) with a bunch of people doesn’t sound better than what we got going on right now.
Do you listen to your own music?
No. Not really. I listen to my songs so much during the recording/mixing sessions that by the time the album releases I’m ready to not listen to it.
Do you have a song that you play at every gig?
No. I change my set list every show. There are some songs that I play a lot. But not one that I play every show.
What television show would you love to have feature an original Ernst song and why? Which song?
I don’t know. We don’t have a TV in the bus and I’m not familiar with the current TV shows. I would say that it would have to be a TV show that I believed in. I would be [upset] if my music appeared on Rush Limbaugh or some “Desperate Housewives” show.
What advice would you offer aspiring musicians?
You have to work hard because it really takes everything you got. (Just like life.) Measure your success by your happiness and the whole “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” thing is an illusion. We’ve been able to tour all around the world doing something we believe in and love. It’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this.
What has being a musician taught you about life?
For one, I am very blessed to have been given the gift to sing and play music. I believe that “to whom much is given, much is required.” I’ve been given so much and I feel a huge responsibility to give back. Life is what you make of it.