Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Songwriters: Echo Echo

You guys have played almost 350 shows since your conception in November of 2003, how do you keep the music you’re writing fresh?

Steve Carson (vocals): We don’t really play the old stuff anymore. After we recorded the first two EP’s, because we were playing so much, when we did get together, we didn’t really have to rehearse because we had so many shows. It gave us an opportunity to write. So filtering in new songs with the 10 songs on the first two EP’s allowed us to keep adding material. I think at one point in time, we had a 22-song set that we could play. Not all of those songs got recorded, but it kind of led up to Fall Like You're Flying. We were able to continue putting songs together, and then we did our own recording. Part of being in a band is playing those same songs over and over again, because that’s why people go to shows. At least with the 14 songs we released in September, I’m not tired of those songs. And some of those songs were written two years prior. I don’t know if it’s the way they’re written, or the quality of song, or what I feel about them. But now we’re writing again, and we’re working on three new songs tonight.

Jameson (guitar): Every time we play a song live, there is a strict structure, but there might be a different energy of that song each night.

Bruce Yolken (bass): And the crowd is different every night.

Jameson: People respond to different ones.

Yolken: Sometimes they just change on their own. Darren and I strive to repeat ourselves everytime and create a framework. But then watching Steve and Jameson on the more creative side night by night, you definitely feel a shift. Their energy changes, and their approach will change a little, and our newest member, Andy, frees Steve up from the keyboard, and now he can connect with the audience more.

Darren Carr (drums): To be honest, I hope to have to the opportunity to play the same group of songs for 10, 20, 30 years. I’d love to be playing these songs forever.

What is it about these songs that are just right?

Carson: I think, for me personally, the first EP we recorded in 2004, I had written most of the songs, and I think we wrote one together as a band. And then the second EP, Jameson and I started collaborating a little more, and everyone started to get their hands in the writing mix. Once we got beyond 2005 and into 2006, a lot of the writing happened in here (the studio), like it was the fifth member of the band. It was where we collaborated as a band, and it was an opportunity for everybody to bring different things in. At different times, Jameson would come in and work things out with Bruce or Darren. Or Jameson and I would meet. Or I’d bring something in. At that point there was a shift towards a more collaborative unit, where we were all writing together. Not necessarily not all four at once, but at some point, we definitely started influencing each other.

So it’s not just one of you handing out parts of a composition to the others?

Carson: What’s cool about the writing process now, and definitely during writing Fall Like Your Flying, was that everybody was interested in what the other person was doing. Or we cared to ask, ‘What do you thin about this? What do you think about that?’ Some of the melodies would work off of certain riffs that Jameson was playing. Or a vocal melody that would maybe moves things. Or some songs Darren had a drum beat he wanted to use. At this point in the evolution of the band, it’s not about saying, ‘You do 70%, you’re doing 10%.’ It doesn’t matter anymore. Most important thing is that we’re collaborating and that, for me personally, is what makes me love the songs more. It’s not just about me writing a song with an acoustic guitar, and then people are adding what they do as musicians and artists into that song. Even listening to the record, I still can listen to it, and wonder, ‘Where did that come from?’ I had nothing to do with that, and how amazing is it that now I’m a fan of something we do, because somebody else in the band took it upon themselves to say, ‘I’ve got a cool idea.’ All right, great! I would have never thought of that.

Jameson: Until we all decide the piece is finished, everybody has creative freedom, up until that point of, ‘Ok, now this is it.’

How do you determine when it’s over? At what length do you feel comfortable cutting a song? Artists like Billy Kernkamp talked about staying within the 3:00 minute pop structure. Where do you stand on that?

Carson: There was that mentality in the beginning; let’s get in and out, and nobody gets hurt. And there are still songs that that works for. There’s no doubt. One of our new songs, I Can’t Be Trusted, is definitely that. Let’s just get in, and get out. So we worked out a lot of these songs, and then when we met with our producers, especially Rupert Hine, he kind of brought this new light about songwriting and the journey. We used to look at the journey as the set, or an album, or the ‘machine.’ We used to talk about the ‘machine’ as a whole set of songs, not the individual pieces. He came to us and said, think about every song as a piece, that can be it’s own journey. I don’t know about you guys, as soon as that transformation with Rupert occurred, and then starting to record the album, I kind of let go of time. I don’t think about time anymore. I think about feeling. Ever since that happened, I never feel like, ‘Man, this is dragging.’ It’s almost like it’s been instilled in us, we just know, it feels right. It’s too short, it’s too long. It’s not a number anymore. Probably in the beginning, especially for young writers, it is a number. Like, ‘Oh man, this is five minutes long.’ But it’s not about that. Does it feel five minutes long?

Yolken: We don’t formulate anymore. Occasionally we’ll write a song where we try to break the rules a little bit consciously. And I think maybe that’s the next step; we’re gonna push for something longer and more vibe oriented that doesn’t go in traditional sections that you would find in all the hits that are on the radio. So it’s more a matter of, we just don’t care. We want to do what’s right for the song, what we feel. And if it makes the cut, great. If it doesn’t, then at least we had a good time.

Carr: Based off of Rupert’s guidance, it’s become more and more apparent that if the listener doesn’t feel anything at the end of the song, or feel different than they did at the beginning of the song, then it’s all for not, you know? If you can make somebody feel something in three, four, or five minutes, that’s different than the way they felt in the beginning; mission accomplished.

Jameson: The goal is to make someone feel something. Not finish the song as soon as possible.

Carson: And if they feel something within three minutes, then that’s great. Some songs are perfect for three minutes.

Some people like melodies, but lyrics aren’t that important to them. Are you as obsessed with the message of the lyrics as the emotive music you’re producing?

Carson: I think I can speak for everybody when I say, we’re not obsessed. I don’t think we’re obsessed with anything as far as that goes. I don’t think it’s something we consciously think about, like, ‘We need to make sure that this song has a melody that’s a hook, and that the lyrics mean something to somebody on this planet (at least 4 million), and that they wanna sing this song over and ov…’ No it’s not about that. I don’t ever consider what I’m singing about. I think because of what the lyrics are based upon, my own personal experiences or the way I feel, it’s obvious that I’m going to relate, because I’m not that different from you. So I could sing a song, and if you’ve had an experience similar to mine, then it’s like, ‘yeah, I totally relate.’ There’s never a situation where it’s like, ‘I need to relate to somebody today.’ It’s not about that.

Jameson: The best and the worst part about Steve as a lead singer, his best message or lyrics come out when he’s not thinking about it, and just singing with the band. As far as Steve sitting down and thinking about what the message is or should be, I don’t think that exists.

Yolken: We’ll play a song live for a few months before the lyrics are locked down. And the first time we play a song live, we typically have everything else close. Sometimes it comes quick, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always meaningful, it’s just never calculated.

And some bands like to have it completely calculated, but do you think that takes away from the feeling of the song? Like trying to push it into a little box?

Carson: I don’t think so. Everybody is different, and I think there are plenty of artists or bands that can sit and write, and then they can take those words and they can find their melody and their own way, and it’s all the same. The amazing thing about live performance is that there’s really no specific way it’s done. Everybody does it different. And the reality is that, we could do something different tomorrow. We don’t have a formula.

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