Ed Balloon is not yet a pop star, but he might be soon. If anything, he’s well on his way to becoming an indie star in the weird, breakout lane of glam-pop that has been dominating 2017. The Boston-based musician burst on the scene back in 2015 with his debut Bandcamp-released EP No Smoking, and quickly caught attention on the streaming platform, landing a Bandcamp feature the following year for his next EP Yellow 20 Somethings. That’s when I stumbled upon his music, via the west coast weirdo label Deathbomb Arc, and immediately fell in love with his frenetic, earnest style.
If you’re drawn to the psycho-pop sparkle of a band like Deerhoof — who invited Ed to open for them in Boston and helped premiere his “Graduate” video last year — then his sound, and underlying social, political, and personal commentary will strike a chord. All that and more are at play in his “@# TrapKaraoke” video, which we premiered back in March. In the visual for a track off Yellow 20 Somethings, Ed embraces black boy joy, even in the face of dark and depressive forces.
In 2017, Ed is more focused and confident than ever on carving out his own lane. He’s only been seriously pursuing music for a couple years now, and his next project, Flourish which will be out later this year, is his third official EP release to date. Despite the brevity, he’s a refined and poignant songwriter and performer who defies categorization and stereotype. Today we’re highlighting the first track released off the newly announced Flourish EP, “BDA (Still Riding),” which you can hear below.
The song is a bouncy and enthusiastic Afrobeat bop that lasers in on issues of intimacy and support, despite financial success. A sharp take on how money and finances influence our lives is a huge part of Flourish‘s theme, and I spoke with Ed extensively about this, among many other things when he was visiting Los Angeles last month, like the difficult story of how eventually turned to music, learning to accept his deep voice, superseding genre and more. Read that conversation below.
Listening to your work, and as you mentioned in Bandcamp, it feels like your influences are really disparate, what was it that first drew you to music?
I would listen to music when I was younger, but I didn’t really find it to be important until I was like 10 years old. I remember it was the summer of 1998, and I was in Texas. My parents are Nigerian, and I was born in Massachusetts, but we would go down to Texas every other summer because my dad has a younger brother there. My dad would go if he needed to make money, he was a taxi cab driver. So at ten, I was old enough now to listen to the radio, to realize music was coming out and it felt so inspiring.
My dad played Fella, who was a really big influence in my life. Michael Jackson, Prince, all of these Motown musicians. And I began hearing melodies and I would sing along and think ‘Okay, this is really cool!’ So when I came back to Boston at ten years I just started singing by myself. I would be in my room just making songs, making melodies. And so I had a neighbor, and he wanted to rap, so we started a little group, and I would write the songs, and I would have everyone sing. So that’s how I started making music and my love for music. It enhanced when I was getting older, and I just wanted to really be a singer. I would watch other performers and think: ‘I really want to be on stage. I want to be like that. That’s what I want to do.”
It was very difficult though, because I came from a household where my parents are Nigerians, strict on books, they’re immigrants, and it’s very difficult coming from another country and trying to live. And they said “In order for you to live here, you have to have money. And music isn’t going to be a way to make money. You need to be a doctor. You need to be a lawyer. You need to be something like that.” So I would try to sing and it was so hard because my parents were like, ‘What are you doing? Stop it.’ So that was really difficult.
Did that change at all? How do your parents feel about your music now?
Like when I was growing up, they didn’t allow me to sing a lot. They were like, “Shut up! Be quiet!” They would really try to hinder me from singing. I would lock myself in the bathroom and put the faucet on so I wouldn’t hear them. Even at the time, my mom was more supportive though. She would try to put me in singing lessons when I would beg for them. Then, it came to the point where I got old and I was able to get a job and fund my own singing lessons, and I would try to find ways to write my own songs.
I was working at a CVS as a cashier in high school so I could pay for these lessons. My parents were like, ‘Where’s your money going to?’ But I couldn’t tell them that because they didn’t support that, and it took a while, but my family now is really supportive of my music now. When I dropped my first EP, No Smoking, they were like “Wow we didn’t know you could sing! We didn’t know you had this voice! We didn’t know you were so serious about it.”
What happened after high school? Did you pursue music in college?
No, I went to college at a small school called Brandeis and I was studying philosophy and thinking I was going to be a lawyer. That school manufactures lawyers. I saw everyone and thought ‘This is not what I want to do.’ I noticed people weren’t really passionate about studying law because they want to help the world, they just wanted to have reputation. And I realized that’s why I was doing it too. I didn’t have any passion for it, my passion is in music. During my last year of college, I was talking to a career specialist, and she was trying to help me with my resume because I was applying to a law program. And she asked me if I had any other interests aside from law. When I told I loved music, and art, and everything, she said ‘Wow. Your face lit up when you said that.’ I realized I was just doing it because it’s a means to a better life, and it’s very difficult not to gravitate toward that when you have lived with worrying all the time about money.