Welcome to another edition of Music Meter Monday, in which we profile bands who are climbing the MTV Music Meter. This week we caught up with British band Echo Lake, whose hauntingly atmospheric debut LP, Wild Peace, dropped last month.
The band’s Thom Hill recently talked to the O Music Blog about the album, what Patti Smith has taught him about life and music, and what drink goes best with the band’s debut disc. Check out our Q&A below:
So I always like to start off by asking bands what their earliest musical memory is. Care to share?
I don’t know actually. I think [music has] always been sort of a big part of my family, growing up. Mom and Dad are really big music fans, both my granddads are musicians. It was just a big part of growing up. I have really, really early memories of Nirvana and all that kind of stuff. I was quite lucky to have parents who were still into decent stuff as I was growing up.
So it was always just around me, and I guess I figured out that I wanted to play music when I heard stuff like Radiohead and Sonic Youth. Stuff like that. When you hear records like that you hear how guitars can sound — not just how the Beatles make them sound, even though that was great — when you hear stuff like that I think that was when I decided that that was something I wanted to do.
Did you always want to play guitar?
No, not really. I always wanted to be a footballer until I was about 12 or 13. And then I got my first guitar. My uncle gave me one of his old acoustic guitars. He was a musician, too. He taught me how to play ‘Airbag’ by Radiohead. It’s a really, really easy riff. And that was it. From there I just taught myself and Kier [Finnegan], our guitarist, he started learning at the same time as me, so we both learned together from about the age of 12 or 13.
So most of you guys in the band have known each other from a pretty young age?
Me and Kier have known each other forever — since we were born pretty much. Our parents were friends. I met Steve [Green], our bassist, in school. Pete [Hayes], who was our drummer, I met when I was like 15 as well. We all kind of formed our first band together. We’ve always played together on and off over the last 10 years.
That must be really interesting — to see how your music has changed and evolved with the same group of people.
Yeah. I mean, we did it for about three or four years when we were teenagers and then sort of had a break from each other for about three or four years again. And then that’s when Echo Lake formed. We just went off and did other things, other bands, and then we all sort of found ourselves in London for various different reasons. We had all moved from our hometown of Burningham. We had all been down for various reasons, studying. It was just kind of like we put these MP3s online not really thinking anything about it, and before we knew it we’d been offered shows and offered to put out records.
So we had to kind of reform the band really quickly and get playing together again, because we were turning down all these gigs, all these offers and then we were like, ‘If we keep turning them down, we’re never going to do one,’ so we just booked one, and we gave ourselves like four weeks to get ready for it. It was all pretty intense, but it was good.
So I first heard your music a few years ago when I saw your Micosoft Kinect-spun music video for ‘Young Silence.’ I actually felt bad, because I read an interview where you were saying a ton of tech blogs were posting it and the readers were hating on the music. I used to work at Mashable, so I was one of those tech blogs that posted it.
Yeah, it was a bit funny, really. It was all a good experience or whatever. Dan, who directed the video, Dan Nixon, he just had this idea that he wanted to do with Kinect and we just sort of it did it in our living room in our house. It was like no budget at all; he just managed to hack the software — or whatever he did, I’m not sure. We got it out and it was our first video and it was pretty exciting, and then, I think because of the technology that he’s used — which I think was one of the first music videos to do that — it went crazy and in a week it was up to 150,000 views.
It was really weird, you know, because obviously our sound isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea; it’s going to alienate a lot of people that don’t really know that type of music. It was a good thing, though, really, because before that we were sort of in a little bubble, where we were just getting good things written about us all the time. [Then with] that level of exposure, all of sudden having people were saying, ‘What the hell is this? This just sounds like pure noise.’ Some people were saying, ‘This isn’t music.’ It was kind of funny, really.
The first couple of times we read it and we were like, ‘Ow, that hurts,’ but then after the third or fourth one, you just… People were coming out with some crazy, crazy stuff — quite hurtful personal things as well. It was just really weird. I think it was a really good thing for us — when you hear that kind of criticism and stuff it makes you realize that not everybody is going to like what you do and you kind of get thicker skin from doing that. You learn not to take it so seriously. You can’t have everyone like you. It was good to have that kind of exposure; not every band is going to have that with their first video. So in a sense, we were really, really lucky.
I’m guessing the crowd that’s into Kinect hacks is pretty different from the people who like your music?
Yeah, I think so. I was looking through some of the comments on a couple of these websites and the kids were posting stuff and their avatars were, like, Linkin Park logos. Of course they’re not going to like it. That’s fine. That’s fair enough. If they did like it, we’d probably be doing something wrong.
Your music is pretty visual — cinematic. When I was listening to your album recently, I just felt like drawing. It’s very ambivalent — the words get lost in layers of sound — so I was just wondering how important lyrics are to you?
I think that’s really cool that you say that — about how you just wanted to draw something while you were listening to it — because I’m the same. Music and visuals really go hand-in-hand for me. We’ve always tried to get a kind of cinematic sound to our music — it’s not just inspired by the bands or music we listen to.
I started getting into Michael Mann films recently; I had never seen any films by him before. I think I was watching Manhunter, and that was just crazy. The atmosphere. It’s a really weird, strange film. I came away seeing that inspired to write a song. So it’s not always listening to a band that makes me want to write a song. A lot of it is very visual.
Lyrically, as we’ve gone on since the start, they’ve definitely become more of an important feature. The early stuff we did, the vocals were just another instrument, really. We were still trying to find our sound with the Young Silence EP. Lyrically, it was just another texture in the songs, but for the album… We didn’t want to jump too far ahead so that the vocals were really central and you could hear every single word, because that’s just not what we’re trying to do on the record, but lyrically we sat down and talked about it a lot more and Linda [Jarvis] was writing some really, really good stuff, I thought.
Although you can’t make out the lyrics a lot of the time, they always mean something. We know what they mean and we know that even if people can’t really understand them or make them out too well, we know what they mean. We don’t feel like we need to just put it on a plate for people. That’s why we didn’t have the lyrics sheet in the album or anything like that. I think some of the vocals to Linda as well are quite personal. We’re not those kinds of people who feel like shouting it from the rooftops what every song is about. We know what they mean and at the end of the day Linda can be proud of the lyrics she’s writing. I think when we go and do our next album, the sound will change a little bit more as well. It’s still really early days for us in terms of finding that sound and realizing how we want to sound. We’re still only 18 months old.
So there’s been a lot of reviews of your album out. What’s the weirdest description of your music that you’ve heard?
I don’t know, to be completely honest I haven’t read too many of the reviews. Our drummer [Pete Hayes] passed away a couple of weeks ago — just around the same time the reviews all started coming out — and I read one and that was really good and then later that day Pete passed away. The next morning I read another one from Drowned In Sound, and that was, again, really good, but it was really overwhelming to take it all in, to be honest. It was a really strange time. I feel like my head’s not really there at the moment to start reading all the reviews.
I don’t know about the weirdest description, but I think the best one was before the album came out someone said that it sounded like Cyndi Lauper. I never expected anyone to say that about our music, so that really made me smile.
So I’m reading Patti Smith’s book Just Kids, and I noticed that the last song on your album has the same title…
We wrote it at the same time that I was reading the book. My girlfriend read the book and then she was like, ‘You have to read this.’ So I read it and then Patti Smith just became a massive hero to me after that. It was just a working title, to be honest, at first. I was writing a song and I had to put something next to it. And then Linda actually went off and wrote the lyrics. The title inspired her to write around the title. It’s her interpretation of what those two words mean, because she hadn’t ever read the book. She still hasn’t read the book.
So what was the biggest thing that you took away from that book — as an artist?
Just to never stop, really. It was really inspiring to read about somebody that was a bit lost, didn’t really know what they wanted to do until these opportunities just started falling into place. When she realized what she really wanted to do she didn’t give up. I think one of the best things was when she spoke about when she worked in that book shop and then she clocked out and she was like, ‘I knew then that that was going to be the last time that I ever clocked out.’ You know, like a normal job. That was like — that’s the dream, you know? And if she can do it, I guess eventually we can. I’m at work right now. I like my job, but I wish I was out playing a gig or something, touring the world.
What’s your other job?
I work in a wine shop in North London.
So what wine would you pair with Echo Lake’s music?
There’s actually a website called Drinkify and I typed in one of our songs once and it recommended ‘best enjoyed alone with a bottle of red.’ So that’s a pretty depressing thought, really — drinking a whole bottle on your own. I really would have liked to think it would be a group of friends having a good time with a pint of beer, but apparently it’s good for a bit of alone time with a bottle of red.