Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blood is on all of our hands | An interview with ECHO BEDS

Photo © Adam Rojo

I literally just finished listening to the press full release of the new album five times over. Incredible. “New Icons of A Vile Faith” is a masterful piece of industrial electronic post punk that swallows you whole the moment it sets in. What inspired the new album and how would you describe it? 

Firstly, thank you for such kind words! 

We worked really hard on this album and are pleased with the end result. It took a really long time- a couple years actually- to come to fruition and could not have been done without the shared vision of our co-producers Charles Ballas and Jeremy Averitt. They really helped us to think even further outside of the box. The fact that you feel something when listening to it means that shared empathy has been realized, and that in and of itself makes it a success. Empathy can be powerful and galvanizing.

There’s this place that we all go to in our minds at the end of the day…when there is no one left to talk to, no one left to impress with this exterior we all create, it’s just you and your shit you’ve been running from all day. It’s that dark place where the real fears of this life come creeping up- the shit people don’t talk about but everyone endures. It’s the thing that makes us most human. Our music is basically the soundtrack to that place. I have nightmares consistently – I have for years- and in them there’s always someone sneaking up behind me and I am paralytic. I find that channelling that kind of fear and anxiety is healthy…so this band is what that sounds like to me. It’s also what it feels like.

Live sets are pretty much an exorcism every time, and often something ends up broken. Sometimes it’s one of us. Sometimes it’s something else. It’s a switch that gets flipped. A train off the rails.

Photo © Adam Rojo

You formed in 2010 and released your first music in 2011. How has ECHO BEDS evolved from then to now? Personally and Musically?

We literally started on the ground with one microphone and a couple of pedals each. I had just returned home from a month on the road with another project and had a new vision for what I felt I wanted to create. It all came together over a phone call while I was headed home- when I got back to Denver Tom and I jammed for about an hour in a studio and then played a show that same night with some amazing bands. We were fueled by the energy, rawness, and especially the newness of the whole thing. We had such an open palette to choose colors from. I think that set was under 10 minutes. I smashed and scratched a microphone into the cement floor creating an organic pattern that worked as a beat, and Tom kind of went into some channeling thing emitting intense and other-worldly vocal patterns while we both knelt on the floor and destroyed everything we had our hands on. It was minimal and abstract but still had continuity. And it was volatile. At the end of the set as people just stared in confusion, someone in the back of this packed room belted out “ DENVER’S ONLY INDUSTRIAL BAND!” and the moniker kind of stuck. In ways it helped with our trajectory, but it was never our intent. Then we started to actually spend time on it. Our other bands fell by the wayside, and we began concentrating solely on this project. We attempted being a three piece early on, and we tried our best to create something new each time we played. (Sometimes to our detriment)

We’ve always adhered to the idea of throwing it all against the wall to see what sticks. The other real difference is that in the beginning we refused to use any drum machines, synths, samplers, sequencers, etc. We made our own pedals, contact mics, oscillators, tape loops, and we relied heavily on assorted heavy percussive objects. Obviously we kept the oil drum. 

It was liberating experimentation in the truest sense of the word. We wanted to make the most organic sounds possible. It was our expressed intent and purpose to create soundscapes using real life as a sound bank. I’d say that we have become a bit less abstract and a lot more cohesive and “song “oriented as time has gone on. It’s been a natural evolution. With this record we also decided to break our own rules and put a toe into the digital realm. It’s helped to create fertile ground for new ideas. 

Photo © Adam Rojo

Photo © Adam Rojo

Echo Beds has always had a sort of DIY/Underground ethos embracing the noise and experimental scenes and the artists involved. How do you maintain that level without getting sucked in to the “big” picture or vice versa running in the opposite direction? 

Tom and I both come from that DIY world. We’ve been in bands for a long time and have embraced the ethos of that early scene we were and will always be a part of. We do almost everything ourselves. It’s just in our DNA at this point. 

But we aren’t the only ones - there is a community of like-minded individuals and outsider artists across the country and some holdouts in Denver at places like Rhinoceropolis/ Glob/ Club Scum that we have been fortunate enough to meet and befriend. There’s more support in the underground for challenging and transgressive art, and we prefer to surround ourselves with those types of individuals - people who don’t just consume homogeny when it’s served up by the ones who buy influence. We have a lot of friends that are successful on their own terms and it’s inspiring. You don’t have to sell your soul to do what you love.

How would you describe the dynamic between you two and the process of making music in Echo Beds? Is it a 100% joint creative process?

Usually one of us will have a concept in mind and the other will help to facilitate bringing that vision to life. We’re pretty open to one another’s ideas and realize that there is a give and take when working with others. Sometimes a vision has to be molded and sculpted to best represent something we can agree on. Sometimes that takes a lot longer than one might expect.

Much like any relationship is can be a 50/50 thing at times or a 10/90 other times, but in the end it’s the shared contributions that make the band what it is. 

New Icons is stark, precise and thrilling all at once. How do you capture that energy and sound live VS in the studio?

The concept for this recording was to use the studio as another instrument. Much in the way that Brian Eno or George Martin did. We wanted to break our own rules and preconceptions and come out with something that we couldn’t duplicate live exactly. Our live shows are more raw, chaotic, stripped down, very sort of in the moment, and often explosive. I feel like we captured that energy on this record, but we also delved into subtlety and nuance. The less in more approach was brought up a lot as were Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” when we would get to a tight spot and feel painted into a corner. 

Photo © Adam Rojo

More often than not you guys are lumped in the “Industrial” category. Who would you say are your biggest musical influences? And how would you describe “Industrial” in 2016? 

I can see the correlation for sure, especially with our instrumentation/set up, but it wasn’t ever a planned out thing. After our first show we spent a lot of time talking about how we didn’t want to do another “normal” band. We wanted to continue to create something completely unhinged and non-formulaic. We wanted to push boundaries and break new ground. It took us a long time to figure out how to get the sounds out of our heads… lots of trial and error. It’s a running joke that EB stands for EVERYTHING BROKEN. A lot of that breaking and rebuilding helped to create what we are now, both literally and figuratively, and it’s continued to push us to evolve and explore. 

As for musical influences, we could name check so many bands that it would take up the rest of the interview to be honest…but that being said, for me a lot of bands I was lucky enough to see live early on were still a part of this embryonic and marginalized scene, and those poorly attended live shows have stuck with me to this day. One the most unforgettable shows I have ever seen was with like 15 other people in a converted semi trailer in North Boulder- CLIKITAT IKATOWI (Gravity Records) came and played in our practice space in 1994 in the dead of winter. It was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before or since. There’s actually footage of it on YouTube! I also got to see the Cure on “The Prayer Tour” and that was closely followed by my first FUGAZI show on the Repeater tour. 

All of these shows sent me on a journey that I will be on until I return back to dust. My record collection runs the gamut, and every single one of them has influenced me in some way. Whether it’s LAND OF RAPE AND HONEY, YANK CRIME, or SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE, they have all left an indelible mark on me.

As for contemporary industrial music, it seems like a lot of bands are taking an old formula from a bygone era and attempting to breathe life back into it, but there are also some bands taking it to a new place and putting their own spin on it – that makes it new and refreshing in my opinion. I prefer that newness. 

The new album drops May 1st. For those who have never listened to Echo Beds what can they expect? 

First I would say listen at maximum volume, preferably with headphones, as there is a lot of delicate nuance intertwined throughout. We worked heavily with sub-harmonic frequencies that can be felt before they’re heard. 

It also contains elements of organic heavy percussion and dystopic treatments as well as synthetic subtleties, and it can be challenging at times. It’s meant to be a linear experience, and there are no punches pulled. The word that comes to mind is HEAVY.

What’s the story behind the debut track “Licking your wounds” and the single’s striking artwork? 

Lyrically “Licking Wounds” was bred from contempt for the current realities we find ourselves living in. Literal blocks at a time are being torn down and re-imagined with the wealthiest in mind. The poor are being pushed from one block to another simply because they don’t fit the vibe of the newly developed neighborhoods. No assistance is being given. Police brutality is at an all-time high. The dividing line between the haves and have not’s is widening at an alarming rate. People are being pushed out of their homes on a daily basis as rent hikes or landlord takeovers have become ubiquitous. We are paying with a pound of flesh in every way imaginable. That’s the narrative. It’s all going to the highest bidder. 

The cover for the single is the skyline of Denver with a still of a bleeding hand from our video for the song superimposed– it’s a simple metaphor – that blood is on all of our hands.

Photo © Adam Rojo

You're about to embark on a Spring USA tour post-album release in May. Are there any plans to tour outside the USA? 

We will play for anyone who wants to listen. Anywhere. 

We would love to make it to Japan someday!

As of now we don’t have a clear idea of when it will happen, but we are working on logistics. 2017 would be the goal for landing on foreign shores.

Lyrically, what are Echo Beds trying to say and what do you want people to get from your music? 

The words are often autobiographical, or they’re a social commentary, both through the grinder of the triple metaphor. 

The lyrics that inspired me the most when I was young were poetic in nature and painted a picture in my head, or more so inspired me to look at things in a different way. That’s the duty of a lyricist in my opinion. Our scathing lyrical content fits quite well with our challenging and intense musical output. 

If it inspires someone to think outside the box that has been tailored for them, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

What’s next for Echo Beds in 2016 and beyond? 

We are going to keep writing and recording and experimenting and releasing the fruit of that labor.

There are a couple of collaborations that we are super excited about – hopefully at least one of those will culminate in an album release and follow up tour. 

And we will keep pushing the boundaries of our own limits I’m sure. 

The only way out is through.