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2013-04-24 / Family

Childhood friends form homegrown band

By Jim McConnell


Chesterfield natives Ethan Johnstone (clockwise from top left), Ethan Kuhn and Reid LaPierre have been playing music together since they were in seventh grade. Chesterfield natives Ethan Johnstone (clockwise from top left), Ethan Kuhn and Reid LaPierre have been playing music together since they were in seventh grade. Ethan Kuhn and Ethan Johnstone first met more than 10 years ago in Mrs. Warner’s fifth-grade class at Midlothian’s J.B. Watkins Elementary School. They hit it off immediately and it wasn’t long before they decided to start their own band.

As with most childhood endeavors, this one got off to a less than auspicious beginning. Johnstone’s drum kit consisted of a single snare drum and two drumsticks. Kuhn’s guitar was actually closer to a ukulele.

Neither knew how to play a note, but both boys were convinced that their music would make them famous one day.

“That was the dream … we thought we were going to be millionaire rock stars,” Kuhn said during an interview last week.

Two years later, Kuhn and Johnstone met Reid LaPierre, a fellow seventh-grader at Midlothian Middle School and another aspiring teenage musician. They’ve been playing together ever since.

LaPierre plays guitar, Kuhn is on bass and Johnstone serves as the drummer in their current band, Houdan the Mystic. The 22-year-olds have toured several East Coast cities and remain a fixture in the downtown Richmond music scene.

But at some point, the trio of friends recognized that they weren’t especially motivated by getting money, fame or even a gaggle of adoring groupies. They’re far more interested in making fresh, creative, original songs.

“We all realize that we could try to make more mass-appealing music and be more financially secure, but that wouldn’t be fun,” Johnstone said. “It’s not why we play.”

Kuhn went even further, insisting that it’s “impossible” for Houdan the Mystic’s trio of bearded bandmates to become rock stars, given the current state of the music industry. “We wouldn’t fit in,” he added.

LaPierre, who wanted to be AC-DC guitarist Angus Young when he began playing the instrument at age 6, describes Houdan the Mystic’s sound as “psychedelic, complicated rock.”

It’s not a category you’ll find in Billboard magazine. Of course, fitting into one specific genre has never been an objective for the Chesterfield natives.

“We try new things all the time,” Kuhn said. “We don’t try to nail down one thing and say that’s our sound.”

The freedom to experiment is easily the greatest single benefit of being an unsigned artist. The members of Houdan the Mystic don’t have record company executives trying to sterilize their music and make it more marketable to a wide audience. If they try something that doesn’t work, they don’t risk the loss of a lucrative recording contract.

The downside? Money, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

Unable to pay for expensive studio time, the band got help from several local friends to record and master its debut album, “Archer’s Jamboree,” last February.

LaPierre’s father, Bruce, is providing financial support for a second album, which the band expects to begin recording next month.

“We’d like it if we were eventually able to support ourselves with our music,” LaPierre said.

In the interim, all three stay busy with obligations outside the music industry. LaPierre works for his father’s landscape lighting business, which gives him both a steady income and the flexibility to play shows in the evening. Kuhn works for a Kroger supermarket in Chesterfield and Johnstone is studying environmental science at VCU.

While Kuhn still lives in Midlothian, Johnstone, LaPierre and three other friends rent a massive, three-story house in Richmond’s Jackson Ward community. It’s become a haven for the city’s artists and musicians; on any given night, the sounds of spirited house shows may spill out into the streets.

“Nobody can complain about us being loud; it’s kind of a loud neighborhood,” LaPierre said with a laugh.

At the same time, the musicians and their friends don’t usually play past 10 p.m. on weeknights as a concession to any neighbors who might be trying to sleep.

“We can’t have people calling the cops on us,” LaPierre added. “We need this place for practice.”

Johnstone plans to keep working on his musical skills for the rest of his life and sees no reason why he, LaPierre and Kuhn would go their separate ways.

“We’re good friends and we have a like-minded approach to music,” he said. “I think we’ll probably end up playing together for a long time.”

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