It only took a few seconds with their newborn son Wilder James Ethridge for Eric Ethridge and Kalsey Kulyk to realize they likely have another musician in the family. “The doctor laid him on my chest and he just let out a big scream — I was like, ‘Oh, he’s definitely going to be a singer!’” recalls Kulyk. “And then he pooped on me.”
Just days after the adorable boy’s arrival, the Canadian country musicians are sharing their first family portraits with ET Canada, and opening up about starting a family during the pandemic, the heartache of losing a loved one just days before Wilder’s birth and how he’s already inspired new music.
While Ontario-native Ethridge and Kulyk, who grew up in Saskatchewan, are relishing being home in Canada raising Wilder, it’s a contrast to the plans they had in store when ET Canada spoke to the pair one day after their Mexico wedding in December 2019.
Thanks to COVID-19, Ethridge’s 2020 tour with Gord Bamford slammed to a halt and the couple packed up their Nashville base and headed back to Canada, where they converted a Sprinter van into a custom-designed home. Constructing a stage on the roof, they spent following months traveling across the country playing private, socially-distanced shows. One memorable backyard gig involved a music-loving boy with cerebral palsy, who had never attended a concert and “lit up” watching them perform.
“We were going to be spending most of the year apart because Eric was touring and I had shows, but the pandemic allowed us to spend the first year-and-a-half of our marriage glued to each other’s sides,” says Kulyk, 31.
“That’s a pretty good test for your first year of marriage,” adds Ethridge, 32. “I know people who once they were on lockdown with their partner ended up getting a divorce, so I’m glad we’re not in that boat!”
As lockdown restrictions lead to increasing show cancellations, the couple received another sign that it was time to give up camper-van life — finding out Kulyk was pregnant on their first wedding anniversary.
“I had a really funny feeling, so decided to take a pregnancy test,” says Kulyk, who met Ethridge at a songwriting session in 2017 before getting engaged in Banff in 2019. “It was positive, so I screamed Eric’s name and he came running downstairs and I was like, ‘We’re pregnant!’”
While Ethridge says the couple “weren’t not trying, but leaving it up the universe,” he admits babies weren’t on the mind while living out of a camper van. Following the news, the couple sold the vehicle and settled into Alberta with Kulyk’s mum, Karen Kulyk.
Describing her pregnancy as ideal — “although people say I shouldn’t say that because some women will be mad at me for having a really easy pregnancy,” — Kulyk says Wilder was introduced to music in the womb, both from the shows she and Ethridge played and the songwriting they continued doing.
“And, Eric used to put his mouth up to my belly button and use it as a microphone to sing to Wilder. We sing all the time, so he definitely knew our voices,” she says.
So, it’s no surprise Wilder wowed with his own vocal capacity with the shriek he let out after arriving almost two weeks late, and following an 18-hour labour, on August 20.
“He was beautiful,” says Kulyk about laying eyes on Wilder, who weighed eight pounds and six ounces. “I would definitely recommend having a baby — it’s a magical experience.”
“I’m pretty sure we all cried,” adds Ethridge.
The experience was even more emotional for Kulyk, given her grandfather, Mike Kulyk, passed away two days before Wilder’s arrival, and just days before his 90th birthday.
“I was really hoping he was going to be able to hold Wilder because he loved babies, but I felt him around me during labour,” Kulyk shares. “Right before he was born was a really cool moment because I felt like he was there. It’s crazy because my cousin had her baby a couple of hours after he passed away, then Wilder was born two days later. It was definitely sad, but I felt his presence during that time, which was cool.”
Kulyk says she immediately felt like she had a new outlook on life once Wilder entered the world.
“It’s such a game-changer,” agrees Ethridge. “Before you’re a parent, you’re more me-focused, but now everything I do is like, ‘How is this going to benefit our family and my son?’ My priorities shifted from working all the time to being like, ‘How can I be more efficient, so that I can spend more time with our family?’”
Their early days as parents have been smooth, with Ethridge noting Wilder is “eating and pooping like a champ,” and sleeping through the night, apart from feeding time. While the “Dream Girl” singer has been hands-on with daddy duties like changing diapers, Karen and Kulyk’s sister, Krista, have also been helping.
Grateful that the pandemic has given them the opportunity to spend Wilder’s first months completely focused on him, the couple say having a child has also brought them closer than they thought they’d ever be.
Naturally, Wilder has also inspired them musically. The singers used lockdowns to learn how to produce music videos, rethink their musical directions and continue writing. Ethridge, who released his debut album Good With Me in October, has started penning a track for Wilder, focused on his hopes that he turns out like Kulyk.
“In country music, you hear males writing songs for their wife and daughters or kids, but I’ve never heard a female release a song for her husband and child,” Kulyk explains. “That’s relatable, so I ended up writing one that I love.”
As they wait for COVID-19 to settle before thinking about further releases and shows, they’re meanwhile enjoying Alberta life with Wilder — and eventually hope to give him a sibling.
“I’m close to my sister, so I don’t think it would be fair to have one baby for Wilder’s sake,” says Kulyk. “And, the baby stage goes by so fast, so I definitely want one more kid. But I’ve got to forget about pregnancy and labour before I do that again!”
Adds Ethridge: “We’ve got to get a handle on one kid first!”