Who says that an artist has to stick to one genre? One thing is for certain: you’ll never hear Billy Easton make that claim.Easton, a member of the Goshen College grounds maintenance crew, has been involved in the world of music in various forms for over three decades. From humble hip-hop beginnings that began with rapping and writing poetry as a child to live-performances and collaborations with various regional artists, Billy Easton’s musical career has been eclectic.
After spending more than 10 years with a traveling jazz hip hop group in the 2000s and working with groups that shifted seamlessly between proto-rock and jazz, Easton has shifted to creating more solo-oriented content over the past several years. While it is difficult for Easton to pin down his own style or genre to a single phrase, the most pertinent genre to Easton would be the wide world of hip-hop.
A perfect example of Easton’s wide-ranging tastes is his most recent solo project, which was a “pop rock country western trap-hop album with a bit of everything that you can think of.”
While crediting some of his musical variety to a broad interest, Easton also claims that his status as a Hoosier plays a major factor in his genre-shifting style.
“Well, I’m from the Midwest, referred to often as the crossroads of America. Everything passes through here,” said Easton. “I grew up listening to all kinds of music simultaneously. It was very normal to listen to Tupac, Green Day and Led Zeppelin all in one spin.”
Many may also be surprised to find that Easton’s biggest influences are not entirely musical. While artists such as Sade or Nas have certainly had an impact, Easton also credits men and women from throughout history such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Francis Cress and even Nikola Tesla as major influences.
Easton, in his own words, is “inspired by living life itself.”
While music has always been an essential factor in his life, it was his arrival at Goshen College that re-awoke his passion for the craft.
“I took a hiatus after my previous band to spend time with my family and heal as a man, so to speak,” said Easton. “Upon my arrival here at Goshen College, what was extremely inspiring were several students I worked with over the summer who happened to be amazing artists and musicians. They totally woke the sleeping genie by sharing their art and inquiring about mine.”
While solo work is Easton’s primary focus, his collaborations with other local and regional artists have been frequent.
A collaboration between a pair of fellow solo artists in Joce Dugan and drummer Randy Wagers is Easton’s most recent project. While each deals with their own music, the group comes together from time to time in order to collaborate. Much like Easton, Dugan in particular has been dipping her toes in a variety of different projects.
“Joce Dugan is, like, pop, jazz, soul and hip hop,” Easton said. “She currently has music score and acting scenes in a Latina movie on Netflix and also has been working with Wu-Tang affiliates like Killah Priest.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted many artists when venues across the country closed, Easton took the time off as an opportunity to write material rather than return to the art of live performance. Due to his extensive past as an artist in the area, his return to live music has not been a difficult transition.
“Because of my rich history in the area, it hasn’t been a problem for me. In fact, locally, I would be more prone to turning down shows due to being overbooked. I’m looking to expand regionally and coastally in the future.”
Easton’s most recent live show was Nov. 6 at Ignition Music Garage as an opener. He expects to have several more live shows before the year comes to a close.