Echodrone: Across Space and Time
Echodrone are one of those bands that fit in the Shoegaze realm, yet sound like no other band out there today. Textured and dreamy, mysterious and eclectic, always thrilling, Echodrone’s latest album Past, Preset and Future sees the band tackling the perfect pop song length and finding that their idiosyncratic sound can indeed work in a shorter time frame. I sent some questions to singer/guitarist/composer and “Project Manager” Eugene Suh and he got the whole band to explain how they make such incredible music.
What challenges did you have making your songs shorter for your latest album? 3:30 being the perfect pop song length, did you have to brutally edit yourselves and your compositions? It must have been quite painful. I imagine there’s lots of great music left for an EP or for extended versions.
Brandon Dudley (Bass): I was expecting a lot more issue with our song length restrictions than actually occurred. We like getting into a riff or groove and I really like repetition and drones in particular. I thought that shorter songs were going to deprive me from the trance I can get into playing repetitive figures but it didn’t turn out that way for me with Past, Preset and Future. Eugene probably had some issues though since he created the initial song ideas. You know, we tend to use every idea that we come up with for an album. I think that’s a byproduct of how we record – we aren’t a jamming band since we’re never in the same room together and every idea tends to get an airing. There are a couple of songs from way way back that were never recorded and they will stay that way.
Eugene Suh (Vocals/Guitar/Synths): It was definitely a challenging process trying to fit song ideas into a 3:30 time frame. When I came up with a rough song idea, I’d flesh out a skeletal structure on paper, then pull out a stop watch and time myself playing it on the guitar. Through repeated attempts, I’d finally land on a song structure that met the 3:30 rule haha! The most challenging part, by far, was figuring out how to write an Echodrone-type song that fit in such a short time frame. Historically, most Echodrone songs have not followed traditional song structures (i.e. verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-etc.) Maybe that’s due to what Brandon mentioned above about our love of repetition and drone. Whatever the case, we’ve always explored unique song structures. When I started writing songs for “Past, Preset and Future”, however, an interesting thing happened; the 3:30 rule was forcing me to write a traditional, verse-chorus-verse structure with every idea I had. I just went with it for some songs, but I found ways to play around with structure on other songs. That was definitely the most challenging aspect of this album.
Mike Funk (Drums/Electronics): Challenges?! I’m the drummer. The songs are shorter which means I didn’t get tired as easily.
Rachel Lopez (Vocals): The trickiest part for me was finding the right words to say within a song structure. I tried to condense a lot of things into a simple line or message. So I used a “Less is More” approach in hopes that lyrics can reach people in an accessible way. Also, I realized how hard it is not to rhyme…. But rhyming just works so well sometimes.
What was the most difficult song to put together and the easiest? Is there a song or performance you’re particularly happy with from you or the band?
Brandon: For me, Snowdrift was a little difficult as it was hard from me to find a way into the song. There’s usually one song on our album that I have trouble with finding a space for a bassline, so this wasn’t unusual. Recording for Echodrone is usually pretty easy for me – Eugene does the heavy lifting in terms of putting a coherent song idea together and all I have to do is come up with something that complements the idea well enough. It’s truly a pleasure to play in a band like that, where you get both a structure and all the room to play with that you’d want. A byproduct of our method is that each album contains many happy surprises. Eugene will send an idea out with layered guitars and we build the song from there, pretty much without much influence from others. As you can imagine, the finished song sounds much different than its beginnings and represents our individual takes on a particular song. I really like this aspect of things because each song really represents both individual expression and a shared vision.
Eugene: I think I spent the most time on Dystopian Story. The second half of the song started from a late night of experimenting with pitch shifting 7 different ebow parts. I landed on a temporary chord progression that night, but I spent about a week or so trying to refine that progression into something that sounded more melodic and organic. The easiest song for me was The Past or the Present. Mike asked that we make a fast song for Past, Preset and Future. After he requested that, I literally picked up my guitar, hit record on my DAW and went with the first chord arrangement that came out! In terms of arrangement, I am really proud of how Failure came out. It’s a droney, simple song, but everyone added textural components that made the song flow in a really interesting way.
Rachel: Failure is a bit emotional… I still get a lump in my throat sometimes when I listen to it. The trickiest one lyrically was Low because I had writers block for that particular song. It’s also a bit of an emotional one. I think Open Your Mind was the easiest one for me to write, & I really liked how it turned out.
You’ve done covers before in the form of Mixtape for Duckie. What songs would you like to cover if there was a Mixtape Part Deux? Would they again be solely from the 80’s or a specific decade? You’ve also covered The Psychedelic Furs and The Sound for TBTCI Records… give us some more!
Brandon: I will cop to being the “covers lover” in the band and I’m always pushing the others to do covers as I love them so much personally. If I were going to plan another Mixtape, I’d love to do more 70’s soft rock. I’ve always wanted to cover 10cc’s Lost in Love or Magic from Xanadu in a shoegaze vein. Another song I’ve always wanted to cover is Madonna’s Live To Tell.
Eugene: I would love to do a shoegaze cover of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians! I don’t know how the heck we’d do it…
Mike: If the planets line up – would love to take part in a Chameleons tribute album for TBTCI
Rachel: I’m sure the guys can guess this, but anything 80s works for me!
You all live in different parts of the country. Did you all start out in the same city? What drew you all together and when did you know Echodrone would work?
Brandon: Eugene and I met when I answered his ad on Craigslist, and for the first few years we all lived in the Bay Area and were a typical band that rehearsed weekly, played local shows, etc. Over time life drew us apart, yet we liked playing so much together that we committed to continuing to work on stuff together. Playing live was too hard to pull off but recording seemed doable, so we would meet up when Eugene had breaks to rehearse and record together. Over time, even that was too hard to pull off so we figured out how to continue working together as we do today. We’ve shed members over time due to life stuff, but Rachel, Mike and I knew each other from a room on Turntable.fm and when we had turnover they were willing to join despite never having met in person. We knew that we had similar musical tastes in common so giving it a try seemed doable. Luckily, we liked each other and they didn’t hate how we worked so here we are!
Eugene: Brandon gave a pretty good history there! I think we felt like there was something special from the beginning – Brandon and I locked up stylistically from day one.
It’s funny, Brandon and I had very modest goals when we first started. All we wanted to do with Echodrone was play a show or two and possibly make a record. If someone had told me in 2005 that I was about to embark on a 12+ year, 6 record journey, where I’d meet some amazing people throughout the world, I think I would’ve had a heart attack. But here we are!
Mike: I’ve been drummer number 3 in every established band that I’ve joined. “Established” as in bands that have officially released recorded material. It’s a very Spinal Tap kinda tidbit.
Rachel: I haven’t met any of the guys yet. Our similar tastes in music drew us together online on Turntable, although I didn’t create music with them until that website went under. My 1st assignment was a cover song, & it just kind of went from there!
How has technology made the band possible?
Brandon: We couldn’t do this without technology. Inexpensive, quality recording software is essential to how we track albums and keep costs down to where we can afford to create professional sounding recordings to be proud of. Our recording engineer, Colin Christian, plays an important role in all of this and the ability to share large files easily throughout the process between ourselves and also with Colin makes all of this possible.
Eugene: Echodrone = technology. This band wouldn’t be possible 30 years ago!
Mike: Thank you, Interwebz!
Rachel: I’m computer savvy, but not very savvy in recording gear. Luckily, computer-oriented recording gear has gotten easier & more accessible over the years. It’s definitely a group effort with Colin putting it all together. How technology has changed in the past 15 or so years to make this possible!
Did you produce the album and have you from the beginning? How do all the various parts get put together, in a studio or on your computer? How do Echodrone’s albums get to sound so fabulous?
Brandon: Colin Christian does our engineering and puts everything together for us. I give Eugene credit for putting parts together, though – he does a lot of arranging of the guitars and vocals before it gets to Colin and continually tweaks songs during the recording process in reaction to things he hears from what we add.
Eugene: I sort of act like a project manager prior to mixing. I’ll take all the contributions from the rest of the band and throw them onto a master project. I’ll then spend some time doing micro-edits to various tracks to make sure they line up well. It’s hard maintaining a “live”, loose feel to each song since we record to a click, but I think we’ve done a good job so far! Once everything sounds as tight and natural as possible on my DAW, I’ll bounce down each track and send the entire project to Colin for mixing. And yep, I’ll echo what everyone else is saying – Colin is a great engineer who truly understands the shoegaze aesthetic! I also attribute a lot of our sound to our mastering engineers, Justin Weis at TrakWorx (Past, Preset and Future) and Shawn Hatfield (Five). They both have great ears and know exactly how to make our recordings shine!
Mike: Colin: Book your session with him now!
Who or what influences your vocals and guitar playing? How have you focused your own personality and style into the musical world?
Brandon: My bass playing is totally post-punk influenced – Peter Hook, Jah Wobble, as well as Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction) and Kim Deal who were big influences when I began playing bass.
Eugene: Two of my favorite guitarists are Sooyoung Park (Seam) and Jim O’Rourke. I love how they can stir such strong emotions through simple, repetitive, minimalist guitar lines. I’m also influenced by a lot of no wave guitarists like Rhys Chatham, Glenn Branca, Arto Lindsay, etc.
Vocally, I love singers that sound effortless…like they aren’t trying. Archer Prewitt, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith, for example, sound so comforting and natural to me. There’s nothing flashy or prima donna about what they do vocally, but the lack of flash makes them sound more human to me. Like they are just having a conversation about their feelings with me. I try to emulate that type of vocal style. I don’t want to add too much flash to my voice, because when I do, it feels like I’m creating a barrier between me and the listener. It’s always been a struggle trying to maintain my own identity as a guitarist, especially in a genre like shoegaze. Hmmm…maybe I’ve done a couple of things to try and instill my own personality/identity into my guitar playing…can’t say if it’s worked or not!
I try to not overthink my guitar parts. I’ve found when I keep thinking and rethinking a guitar part, I start second-guessing myself. When I second-guess myself, I start adopting personalities/identities from other guitarists in fear, fear that my own personality and ideas aren’t good enough. When I stop overthinking, I avoid that fear and I can create a guitar part that’s as straight from the heart as possible.
I spend more time thinking about the song itself rather than the guitar used to convey that song. I feel like the melodies in my head are my own, stemming from my own personality and identity. The guitar is just the tool I use to get these melodic ideas out into the world. Essentially, I try to spend more time focusing on myself (my own compositional ideas) and less time focusing on the tools I’m using (i.e. my guitar style and technique). I can be more honest that way and maintain at least some of my personality/identity throughout the songwriting process.
Mike: Stephen Morris is my favorite drummer. Kraftwerk was a big influence on Joy Division and New Order and you can totally hear him emulating a drum machine at times. It’s always good to try and play an instrument as if you were trying to play another. Johnny Marr says he plays a guitar part sometimes as if it was being played on a piano.
Rachel: My vocal influences range from Garbage, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cranberries, The Pretenders, Juliana Hatfield, & many more rock ladies of the 80s & 90s.
Is this the first album you’ve released independently? If so, why go that route and what are you doing to ensure your tunes get into the ears of everyone?
Brandon: It’s not – everything before Five was self-released. It’s just easier to do things that way, at least to me, as we only need to satisfy ourselves and those who like our music. I’m a fan of Saint Marie Records but they have other irons in the fire these days and so we returned to our own path for this release.
Eugene: Yeah, pretty much everything except Five was self-released. It’s nice having control over our own release schedule and what we want to do musically, but it is hard for a small band like us to go out on our own and get noticed. Luckily, we’ve managed to stumble across a small group of like-minded people over the years that seem to enjoy our music!
The internet has definitely helped with spreading the word. We owe a lot to some super nice people we’ve met over the years: Kev Cleary (Shoegaze FB group), Dean Bromley, Renato Malizia (The Blog That Celebrates Itself), Greg Wilson (DKFM), Elizabeth Klisiewicz, Jack Rabid (The Big Takeover), Sam Lopez (Sloucher)…and many, many others. All of these kind, generous souls have been so integral in helping spread our music to new ears.
What memorable feedback have you received from fans? Any gifts, getting played at weddings, babies named after band members? Any babies conceived while listening to your music? You never know…
Brandon: Ha! Only our own, I suspect.
Eugene: I once heard a friend say we make wonderful background music haha!! So I guess we’re shoegaze elevator music?
Mike: I wish we wrote Sexual Healing. Maybe Renato will do a Marvin Gaye tribute.
Eugene, you’re also in the instrumental rock band Parrot. Do all the members live in Boston? What is the dynamic there and how is it different or the same as Echodrone? Tell us about Parrot.
Eugene: Yep, all the members live out here in Boston! I met Ryan Knowles (bass) and Andy Heyer (drums) through Craigslist. They’re amazing musicians. At the time, they were playing with another guitarist but we all clicked after a few practices and we went our separate way. If there was an exact opposite to Echodrone, it would be Parrot. IMHO, Echodrone is all about layering and seeing how different notes/tones/sounds interact. Some Echodrone songs have 8-10 different guitar parts + 4 synth parts. The arrangements are so complex, my head spins sometimes thinking about how to reproduce it live haha. Parrot is more about visceral impact through simplicity – taking one riff or one chord progression and seeing how to maximize its sonic density without adding additional overdubs. Ryan and Andy are always thinking about how we can reproduce the Parrot sound in a live setting. If a song arrangement becomes so complex that it can’t be reproduced on stage, we rewrite it. For example, the entire Parrot EP (The Path is Gilded and Its Travel Light) was tracked in one day at The Bridge Sound and Stage (engineer Alex Allinson) with only a few overdubs. It is essentially a live recording.
It’s been a great experience working with them, I’m humbled to even be a part of Parrot! I’ve grown a lot as a musician working with them – I’ve learned to think about songwriting and guitar playing in a completely different way than what I’ve done with Echodrone!
Mike: Team Parrot all the way!
Eugene, what is happening in Boston? Where are some of your favorite places to go, see live music, eat good food, chill out, drink beer, etc? Not the touristy stuff, but for those that want authentic, off the beaten path good times.
Eugene: My wife and I love Boston so far! We have only been here several years, so we don’t know all the ins and outs, but here are some great places to eat and hang out:
Meritage – if you want a fancy place with amazing food, this is the place to go!
J.J. Foley’s (South End) – one of the first places I ate at in Boston. They have a great Irish brunch on Sundays.
Flour – Sticky Buns. The end.
Any restaurant in the North End.
In all honesty, with a one year old daughter basically setting our schedule each day, we really only have time to eat out nowadays. I spend all the rest of my leisure time working on Echodrone and/or Parrot material. So, I’ll have to throw that question back out to the interwebs – if anyone knows what’s going on in Boston, let me know haha!
Eugene, how about some bands we should be listening to from Boston and beyond?
Eugene: The Boston music scene is a bit different than I expected when I first moved here in 2015. I grew up listening to bands like Drop Nineteens and Swirlies, and I thought that type of “scene” still existed here. But it seems like the Boston music scene moved on to other things. In all fairness, I haven’t lived here long enough to become intimately familiar with the local music scene. Hmmm…I know Caspian is close by, and I enjoy some of their songs. I think Kindling is also from Massachusetts, they have some fun stuff! Outside of Boston, I’m really digging a lot of the minimalist stuff lately – Arnold Dreyblatt, Jim O’Rourke, Morton Feldman, and Stars of the Lid.
Do any of the other band members have other bands we should know about? Are you all creative types outside of your bands?
Brandon: Echodrone is literally my sole creative release. I don’t do much beyond working on our own material.
Mike: Been in a few bands. The most notable prior to Echodrone was Rodriguez (in the 90s) – the two other guys in that band have gone on to do amazing things – Matt Ward aka M. Ward and Kyle Field aka Little Wings. Oh, I’m currently the sound designer and editor for my son’s school musical. They’re doing Aladdin Jr.
Rachel: I’ve been in a few bands here & there, & even played bass guitar in a few of them. I was in one project called The Rainy Thursdays when I lived in Chicago for grad school, but then I moved to Austin. On a completely different musical note, I’m actually an orchestral flutist & play in the Austin Symphony. I always wanted to play both rock & classical music somehow, but it’s very tricky time wise… somehow I found a way to make it work.
And finally, will you ever perform live? Please?
Brandon: It would be great to do so. I miss playing live. First, we have to get together in person for the first time and hopefully that’s something that we can work on this year.
Eugene: I would love to play live again and I would LOVE to meet Mike and Rachel in person haha!
Mike: We love to play out these songs from the new album.
Rachel: I really hope so!