Joel Ansett: “Failure is the way forward”

One of my friends says “go deep” and I love that, because there’s always another layer to discover in everything. I also think there’s too much beauty in the world for there not to be a source. I want to know the source. As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the […]

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One of my friends says “go deep” and I love that, because there’s always another layer to discover in everything. I also think there’s too much beauty in the world for there not to be a source. I want to know the source.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Joel Ansett.

Joel Ansett moved to Denver, Colorado in 2014 and cut his songwriting teeth by playing every local open mic he could find. He has since found fans all over the country with more than 13 million streams online, a song placed in Marvel’s “The Punisher” , and his debut album landing at #9 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart (The Nature of Us, 2015). Ansett followed his debut LP with the release of A Place I Knew Before (2019) which was described as “Striking a careful balance that only comes with great intention, A Place I Knew Before blends sonic experimentation with strong songwriting, but more deeply places grief and hope side by side” (Marquee Mag). With music that straddles the lines between folk, pop, and R&B, Ansett goes beyond the limitations of genre and creates a memorable experience for listeners. His unique sound is described as “the sonic lovechild of John Legend and The Tallest Man On Earth” (The Huffington Post) and stands true to Ansett’s individuality in an over-saturated industry of singer-songwriters.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thanks for having me! I grew up in Spokane, WA and my favorite memories are of playing every sport possible in the yard with my brothers. Very pleasant childhood, and music was a part of it from an early age. There was a little music preschool right on our street and I remember walking over to class to learn to play the triangle or the xylophone and then having to perform songs for my friends. As we got older my sister started writing poems and my first songwriting attempts were made while trying to think of melodies for her poems.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I performed quite a bit during college at different events and coffeehouse settings and had a little fan base started. By the end of college I had a few good friends around me saying I should keep going. One friend in particular was very entrepreneurial and knew about a new platform called Kickstarter where you could fund raise to complete creative projects. So he actually helped me launch a kickstarter my senior year of college and that’s what allowed me to record my first EP. And since then it’s just been little doors opening here and there. Never a big career break as much as just continuing to write songs and seeing all the little breaks continue to snowball.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In 2014 I got invited to go on a 4 month tour. I had just gotten married and funds were incredibly low so we got out of our lease, put our things in the parents basement, and hit the road. As the tour ended we had no idea where to live next and where our income would come from. We were praying about what to do next and in that season of uncertainty we happened to meet a pastor on an airplane. He was starting a church in Denver, CO and said that instead of just hiring the traditional worship leader, his hope was for the church to give financial stability to an artist. He said those words and I almost fell out of my chair. A few months later I moved to Denver to be an artist-in-residence at the church and that has honestly been the biggest factor in allowing my career to continue. Even now in the pandemic with all touring income gone, the church is what is keeping my family afloat. Still can’t really believe that happened. Very thankful for it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh my word yes. There was a festival I got hired to play at in 2014 and the marketing pamphlet they sent out said there would be 25,000 attendees. My wife and I were so excited and in a moment of extreme optimism we cleared out our savings and bought about 600 t-shirts. We get to the day of the show and unload 12 big boxes of t-shirts so our merch table is surrounded with boxes, and we’re looking around and I kid you not there were only about 50 people at the show. 50 people and we have 600 t-shirts. Very embarrassing. Highly humiliating. And costly. Turns out the festival was happening over a couple of weekends with multiple events happening and I was a tucked away side stage act. They were expecting 25,000 cumulative attendees. The lesson is: do wayyyyyyy more research before making a big purchase and don’t always fall for those stupid price breaks all the t-shirt companies use.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

There’s a lot of different things right now. The pandemic cleared out the whole gig calendar and while that has been difficult it has allowed for way more writing projects to happen. An opportunity to help write a musical came up and that has been amazing. I started a few side projects that specifically target sync opportunities. I am co-writing with friends way more frequently and I have a great head start on writing the next album.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Art is incredibly powerful. It can be used in so many beautiful ways. It can inspire, comfort, bring conviction, expose truth, help us grieve, help us hope, help the soul feel it’s worth, and ultimately I believe it can point to the existence of a greater beauty, a source. How much more could art do those things if kids can see themselves in the story? The Black Panther is a beautiful example. There was a generation of black kids that may not have seen themselves or even imagined themselves as heroes, so that movie really was an amazing watershed moment.

I think the stories being told in the entertainment industry have been pulled from a narrow vein of human experience, and diversity in the entertainment industry would allow for more good stories to be told; stories we need to process our own existence in all its pain and beauty, and stories we need to know more of the beauty of who God really is.

I also think humans are not very good at getting to the source of a problem. We’re actually incredibly skilled at quick fake fixes and my human efforts to do better are usually like trying to staple fresh fruit to a rotten tree. It is forced, performative, and short-sighted. I’ve been there, and I think we’ve all been there. Bad fruit means there’s a bad root and I am craving a deeper solution. Bringing more diversity into places of influence right now is good, but it won’t last unless the deeper work is done. The deep work is the stuff like Shia LaBeouf is doing with Slauson Rec. in LA and Wayne Watts is doing with Dream, Create, Inspire in Denver. I think that’s where lasting culture change can be born. And if I want to go even deeper to my own need for heart change, I’ve only ever found one real power source for that kind of work.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Failure is the way forward
  2. Diligence is the secret to lasting success
  3. Budget your projects before starting them
  4. Write a little bit everyday
  5. Relationships are the real win

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Not really sure. Sleep is underrated though. I think I romanticized the late night sessions and shows for a while when sometimes getting a good night of sleep is the most productive thing you can do.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of my friends says “go deep” and I love that, because there’s always another layer to discover in everything. I also think there’s too much beauty in the world for there not to be a source. I want to know the source.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Countless people. My three big releases so far were all kick started by fans and friends. They gave me the opportunity to have a career. My parents gave me so much solid footing and confidence. My guitar teachers taught me to love playing. My friend Dan told me I wrote good songs. My friend Kirk pretty much forced me to do that first Kickstarter. My wife dreams bigger than I do. My friend Jasmine invited me on tour. Pastor Shane gave me a job so I could keep writing songs. Way too many stories.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I recently started following Mike Posner’s adventures and his tag line has been “Keep Going.” I like the simplicity and the wisdom in that. Making a career in music isn’t as much about catching a break as it is about continuing to make music.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mako Fujimura is my current biggest influence. The way he thinks about art and faith has been so clarifying and inspiring for me. And his paintings feel like they are from another world. They have hundreds of layers but at first glance they don’t appear that way. You don’t get to experience the layers unless you sit and stare for at least 10 minutes. All the depth is there, but it’s easy to miss. “Not known because not looked for” as T.S. Eliot said. He is becoming a hero of mine and lunch would be on me.

How can our readers follow you online?

Here are all the socials!






This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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