When war came to Ukraine, Ethan Miska knew he had to do something.
“While I was living in Ukraine I became very good friends with a Ukrainian who was a very big part of my experience,” Miska said. “My friend ended up getting stuck in part of Ukraine that was occupied early on in the conflict.”
The Petaluma musician felt helpless at first. But the memory of his friend kept him focused — and his art gave him something to focus on.
On Jan. 13, Miska’s new album, which is dedicated to his friend, will be released. Titled “Single Sonic Seven,” it’s bigger than just Miska. It features musicians from all seven continents — literally a worldwide collaboration.
And all proceeds will be donated to Helping To Leave, an organization assisting Ukrainians in escaping active combat zones.
While still working on it, “The album seemed so inconsequential compared to everything going on in the world and in my life,” Miska said. But the thought of his friend — who happily was able to escape Ukraine eventually — kept him going.
For Miska, the story behind the album, which he produced and facilitated, began in quarantine-era Berlin, was shaped by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and finally came together back home in Petaluma.
The idea of a global collaboration came to him two years ago while he was in Berlin, where he received a grant from the city to complete the project. The concept would be a collaboration by musicians in Ukraine, Russia, Argentina, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Australia, the U.S., the U.K, Germany, and a research base in Antarctica.
“There’s a saying, ‘It takes a village,’ but in this case it kind of took a globe,” he said.
But complications arose, beginning with the COVID-19 epidemic and then, in February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since then an estimated 14 million Ukrainians have been displaced, according to the U.N.
In the spring, after the war had begun, Miska returned to the U.S. to wrap up the album. He called his friend in Ukraine everyday, in hopes of providing some normalcy.
“She’d ask me, ‘So, how’s the album coming?’ And that was all the motivation I needed to do the very best job that I could,” Miska said.
Meanwhile, his mother organized an online fundraiser via International Rescue Committee, where she shared Miska’s friend’s story. Family and friends helped spread the word.
Eventually a volunteer for Helping To Leave, an organization that aids civilians in escaping active combat zones and occupied territories, became aware of Miska’s friend’s situation and helped her escape.
“That was within days of me and the team wrapping up most major edits to the songs,” Miska said. “I like that as part of the narrative arch since for me, the story of composing this album is very connected to the story of my friend’s escape.”
Out of gratitude for what Helping To Leave did for his friend, and the organization’s indirect role in the album, Miska and team are donating all proceeds from streaming and sales revenue to the cause.
“So every time somebody listens to a song on the album, they’re helping generate a small amount of money to support people in a similar situation as my friend,” Miska said.
Miska grew up in Petaluma and discovered his calling for music at an early age.
“I remember my first concert at the Phoenix, feeling the physical impact of the kick drum and the vibrations of the bass guitar ramming into my chest,” the 29-year-old said. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
While in Europe, he composed and performed music in Berlin until the pandemic hit. Then Miska brainstormed ways to creatively collaborate while in isolation.
Miska calls Single Sonic Seven as a “Corona baby” because it came into existence during the pandemic. But despite the challenges, “It’s never been easier to do this kind of project,“ he said. ”Not that I would say this was a walk in the park, but I did not have to physically visit seven continents.”
As for the music itself, he describes it as “Genre-fluid, it’s a pretty eclectic mix of various kinds of electro and dance music. It’s not quite pop, but it has a fairly strong beat and I think people can dance to it.”
He cites teenage influences — Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ratatat, Daft Punk — “But through the lens of my own weird eclectic taste.”
“Whenever I hear a song on the album, there are certain images that come to mind of where I was in my musical journey when I composed that,” he said. “Much of the album was actually composed in Kharkiv, Ukraine.”
The first song on the album, “Trapped,” transports the artist to his apartment in downtown Kharkiv when he hears it.
“I imagine myself at this little desk I’d compose at, in front of a window with a view of classic golden-domed Orthodox churches,” he said. “I know if I was to look through that same window today it would look pretty different.”
In another one, “Antarctica,” Miska feels a touch of gratitude worked its way into the song. In early February, he left Ukraine following the advice of concerned friends and family. Shortly after, the Russian invasion began.
“I remember being in Berlin and looking up at the sky and thinking to myself, I could be getting bombed right now, but I’m not. So I’m very grateful for that fact.’”
For “Antarctica,” one of the collaborators recorded penguins on the Antarctic coast and another was a woman at a research base in the South Pole who recorded a glockenspiel.
“I remember thinking, ‘How many times in this life do I get to collaborate with a glockenspiel player at the South Pole?’ Maybe just this once,” Miska said. “I feel like the connective tissue of the album isn’t genre as much as it is the story of where we all were at the time we were working on it.”
The artist is happy with the final product as it reflects the creative and geographic journey as well as how far his compositional skills have come.
“I think of everything that’s happened in the world for better or for worse, often for worse, but it’s been a ride,” he said. “It wasn’t always clear over the course of this project that it would come to fruition, so I’m glad that we stuck it out.”
For information on the collaborative album, including the project, contributing artists and more, visit www.singlesonicseven.org.
To stream the “Antarctica” single, pre-order the album, learn about Helping To Leave and more, visit linktr.ee/singlesonicseven.
To contact Ethan Miska, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma Molloy is an intern for the Petaluma Argus-Courier.
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