Where to begin? Well… how did Echo Us begin? History lesson please?
The name Echo Us goes very far back. It came to me actually when I was still with my former band, Greyhaven in 1999. Greyhaven at the time was getting ready to offer it's debut album through Angular Records and we actually wanted to use the name Echo Us for the release. It came to pass that the name Echo Us was not quite right for the Angular release, and re-naming Greyhaven, a group that was developing a following at that point would've been a bad move. So, I held onto the name until I started writing with Matthew Cahoon in late 2000. Matt had played keys for Greyhaven for a short period and initially we did a couple of EPs under the name Echo Us and formed a live band. As things developed in 2000 and 2001 I went through a lot of changes in what I wanted to do musically, and a lot of personal changes ensued as well. Echo Us at the time was definitely what I'd call a “light” industrial and synthpop group. We were doing the pop songwriting sort of approach and playing out, and not playing in a progressive rock sort of idiom at all. I wanted to take the music in a more experimental direction and thus we folded as a group in late 2001. I kept the name, moved around a lot geographically for the next couple of years and landed eventually in Portland Oregon. In late 2003 I finished the first Echo Us full length, released it under my own imprint Absolute Probability and started the long process of forming what would eventually be the new Echo Us that would make music as it now does.
'The Tide Decides' is the second album, how was it created and how does it compare to the first album?
Other than some of the electronic references to the debut I think The Tide Decides is just a lot more focused. It's got a concrete musical framework that incorporates a lot of things I'd always loved and wanted to do with music, but never had the opportunity to fully explore until now. Small musical figments of the album go back a number of years, and the album also coincided with me building up a small studio, doing lots of research of many kinds, and coming across some new inspirations. The process was so long and involved and went through so many stages that it's hard to explain in any succinct manner. I met Raelyn and Teri (harp and viola) early on and Aaron Bell of Degree Absolute maybe a little later. I was aware of Aaron's work for some time. At some point we realized that we lived in the same area and had both been- begrudgingly perhaps, involved in progressive metal but were exploring other styles.
The drums were actually the last real recording stage of the album and didn't happen until 2007 when I met Andrew through some common friends here in Portland. It was weird to record drums last, and it took quite a bit of planning to get it right. It's something I'd wanted to try for some time, as any recordings I'd produced in the past always involved recording the drums first. Echo Us is very an electronic project, and the sampling and synth work leads the whole thing arrangement wise. It's very challenging to get all this to work, but as we learn it gets easier, and the music has a different feeling because of it. Not one rehearsal was held to produce The Tide Decides, which is a testament to the musicians involved- for which I am very thankful to them. I started writing the 3rd Echo Us album while finishing The Tide Decides. They are interlinked in concept and musicality. So, the past four years I've been working on two albums, the first of which is now released.
I wrote in my review that the album can win the award of most mysterious album of the year, how do you think your music should be categorized? Prog? Avant Garde?
Thank you! I kind of came back to Progressive Rock with this release, but it is not typical of anything I know in the genre. I didn't want to make an album or band that has a “face” per say, - I wanted to enter new corridors and get away from the idea of the band or musical personalities taking the forefront. One thing I enjoyed about the drive towards dance music and electronics in the 90's was that a lot of the acts involved seemed very much into the idea that the music and experience was paramount- not the cult of personality. I'd like to think that Echo Us can bridge some gaps between electronic music and progressive rock that haven't quite been done before. But, the most important thing in my view is that Echo Us makes thematic music that is unencumbered by style and culture.
Ethan, you are leading Echo Us, how demanding is that for you?
Most of the time it's very demanding. I tend to work really hard and long for periods of months and then take big breaks to refresh. I spend a lot of time doing other things than writing or recording music during those breaks. Namely, developing sounds, sampling and field recording and photography. These activities make a nice break from mixing or organizing recording sessions. Writing is usually the quickest part of all of this. It all starts with lyrics, which I often get through automatic writing. It can happen very fast. The Notebook for The Tide Decides is a strong example of this, as well as the lyrics for From Snow To Sea. Editing always happens to some degree- changing a word here or there for emphasis. In writing the 3rd Echo Us, which I call “EU3” often, the songs came as blasts of energy that I can't really describe just yet- I think 'musical channeling' is a good term. I have been keeping track of the timeline and notes for when and how this developed, because it's never happened in this way before.
What were your previous musical adventures before you came to Echo Us? What inspired you to create the project/band?
Well, Greyhaven as I mentioned before. I've been doing musical this or that since about 3rd grade. I am not really sure what made Echo Us, and I mean that in all honesty- when I started down this road I didn't know what it was about at all. It was just this thing that was sort of “out there”. I knew it would explain itself as I went a long. It took a lot longer that I thought.
Harp and viola are instruments that aren't heard often in rock music, how did you think of adding those?
I have to think back- I think the usage of those instruments or similar instruments came up a lot for me in the past- but I was in a metal band and you didn't do that! I've always loved the instrument but never knew anyone really that played. For some time I messed around with the idea of using hammered dulcimer as well as harp, and while demoing the tracks for the album I just used different harp and dulcimer sounds on different synthesizers to get a feel for what it would be. I met Raelyn by chance and after talking with her she turned me on to some different harpists which was great, and of course we decided to record together. I added seven string guitars to the The Tide Decides at one point and thought- well this can be quite heavy- but what's to say it can't go alongside such beautiful instrumentation too? It took a lot of work to choose the elements in each track and what would come to the forefront in the mix at different times, but I didn't see any rules to it- just get the timbres and 'feeling' you are looking for and then they can be one.
Now that the album is “out there” to the world, what do you want people to discover?
That you can still push boundaries and do different things. But more importantly just too enjoy. Darkness is only enticing if there is light, and in the grander sense our universe is thought to be a spectrum of light.
I can imagine that a lot of work and long hours were put into the album, you had to let it go eventually… were you completely happy with it? How long did the writing and recording take you?
Like I mentioned it was the activity of working on two albums at once and having an interlocking theme and 'story'. That was really hard with The Tide Decides, but it's gotten easier to a degree with 2nd album in the chronology. Yes- there is a certain point where things are what they are and you just have to go with it. I wasn't satisfied with the mix until last fall, but that was a side effect of moving into a new studio space and adding some things that helped me mix. The music is just way to complex to mix without knowing what is going on at all frequency areas. In the end, I probably would've put out some more bass in places and little things like that, but you know like you said- at a certain point you let it go. I am more satisfied with the album than any project I've done- and it keeps on giving which the first album did not really do for me personally speaking.
One thing that strikes me are the beautiful visuals; cover, website, the notebook, also by your hand and mind?
Myself and my web designer, Brian Francis came up with that stuff. Brian was Greyhaven's vocalist and also works in graphic design. He took photography of mine, came up with the web design and I expanded on it to create the cd art. I am also becoming quite interested in photography, so I am glad that it comes across well to you and others.
Please respond to these if you like; Pink Floyd, Vangelis, Genesis/Peter Gabriel…
Everybody likes Floyd! If you don't your just too weird, sort of like not liking The Beatles (I don't really like the Beatles!). An album that was very important to me as a teenager was The Division Bell. Vangelis I didn't really discover until later, because early on I had this aversion to 'romantic' music. I love Vangelis now a days! The last one is a bit different because I never really got into old Genesis. I did listen to Gabriel solo somewhat. Peter Gabriel is one of those musicians, whether you like him or not you can have a deep appreciation for all the different kinds of work and music he's done. Same I think with Mike Oldfield.
Anything else you would like our readers to know about you and Echo Us?
The album is out there, and we greatly appreciate those picking it up, visiting the website and checking out the Notebook as well. I hope it can be a great experience for many different kinds of music fans. And thank you for the opportunity to speak with you!