It’s not every up and coming guitar act that gets Killing Joke’s legendary Youth on board to produce their material. But then, Brit five-piece Echotape are no ordinary band. For starters, there’s the sound – wide, sweeping expanses of noise that owe as much to the likes of U2 and early Simple Minds as they do to frenetic backroom gigs and the kind of steely guitar lines more suited to the pages of metal mags.
The group’s debut EP, released early last year, saw them already operating as an impressively consistent outfit; tight, well-produced, and with the artistic vision to match. One look at Echotape’s website throws up visuals more in common with something out of a bleak sci-fi dystopia than a band’s online hub – a tapestry of meaning that gels well with the haunting refrains of new single Far From Heaven.
Set for a stint of UK tour dates in April, including Camden’s Barfly, we quizzed Echotape’s Andi Karthauser on the story so far…
musicOMH: Your website is pretty impressive, to say the least. Was it always the intention to put together a really visually striking package on that front and fill it with a kind of mission statement?
Andi Karthauser: When we were designing the website we wanted to do something with beautiful visuals and meaning. We weren’t interested in having something standard and boring that just lists information, has a diary section, photo section, etc… blah blah blah… It was more about creating a piece of art; something different, something inspiring. The manifesto pages and artwork sum up who we are and what we believe perfectly – more than a bunch of meaningless band promo shots that a lot of bands have.
OMH: And can you shed any light on the mysterious Amalgamated Aesthetic Industries mentioned on your releases?
AK: AAI is the creative organisation that monitors, approves and releases all that we do. They’re like an authoritarian record company but they aren’t a record company. They are our Orwellian Big Brother. Down with AAI, long live AAI!
OMH: One of your songs formed part of an installation at the Tate Modern – and with the likes of Kraftwerk playing there recently, we wonder, do you think it’s important there’s that union between music and art in culture right now?
AK: Completely. This union has always been and always will be important. No single art form exists in a vacuum. All art is perceived in and relative to its context. Visual art and music complement and give context to each other – when combined, they give more senses to the emotions. There’s a disparity in people’s heads between art and music, like they are two separate entities. In fact they are both products of the creative mind; they are so similar in that they follow the same process, it’s just the product that is different. It’s strange to us that not all musicians see things this way.
OMH: For us, one thing that really characterises your music is the fullness of sound – that real sense of scale. As a band ‘on the up’, so to speak, do you think it helps to have a properly ‘big’ sound like that for people to remember you by?
AK: We love the big sound, you can do so much with it in terms of dynamics because you have the whole scale of volume and depth to play with. One of my favourite songs is Spanish Sahara by Foals, I love the dynamics of that; for me a crescendo of that scale is so emotional. It is hard for us sometimes though as our sound really suits big stages and we’re playing a lot of the more intimate venues at the moment where a garagey indie sound might be more suited acoustically. The first venue we played where the acoustics felt right for us was the Roundhouse in Camden. At sound-check I just thought ‘this is it, our music is made for venues like this, and bigger’. So we have some challenges with our sound when we are not in a big room, but we’re stubborn. It’s us, it’s what we like, it’s what we want to create.
OMH: Spinning stands out as a pretty special track amongst those on your debut EP – the kind of anthemic track you don’t necessarily often get from guitar acts at that early stage in their careers. What kind of inspiration went into its creation?
AK: This track started out initially as a 10-minute krautrock jam in the studio that we weren’t going to use at all. Then we started playing it live and got such a good response that we decided to make a 3-minute single version. You have to be quite brutal when you are cutting two thirds out of the song! And it’s even longer live now, we do a Doorsey jam session at the end with poems and improvisation, it’s quite exciting because even we never quite know what’s going to happen.
OMH: The video for Awakening – featuring the World War I soldier in a field of poppies – was quite a sobering experience to watch. When you put together packages like that, what sorts of emotions and thoughts do you want your listeners to come away with?
AK: I think if we had predefined emotions and thoughts we wanted people to have upon experiencing our work it would go against how art is supposed to be experienced. We relate to the work we create by putting our own emotions into it. Anyone experiencing it relates to it through the experiences in their own lives, it doesn’t really matter if it differs from our meaning. I think if people can find their own meaning from our work and can relate to it then it has done its job.
OMH: In terms of your new single Far From Heaven, were there new elements/themes you wanted to bring into your sound as a band that you hadn’t already explored on the EP?
AK: We recorded the EP and the album at the same time in Spain so they both share the same sonic snapshot of us at that time. Some tracks just felt like they were album tracks and some just felt like EP tracks. We wanted to have the EP explore things more electronically so the track listings reflected this. It’s like the EP is when you’re on the outside of the woods, walking through the meadows. The album is when you’re deep inside, in the middle amongst the huge trees.
OMH: Recording your album in Spain, doing a video in Siberia, playing live shows in the US – how are you coping with the travel-heavy lifestyle? Does it keep you on your feet as a group?
AK: We love travelling. It’s time when you can be sat there, doing absolutely nothing, but still feeling like you’re making progress. Watching the world go by. It’s a great time for reflection. Any experiences shared as a band seem to make us stronger and more unified. We recently went to Ireland for the first time and we did so much driving, just us five in our little red van. Sometimes it drives you a little bit crazy but for some reason we just connect so well through it. It adds something magical to the performances when we are close like this. You do have to learn how to cope with three meals of fast food everyday though, and that’s if you’re lucky!
OMH: Working with Youth must have been pretty incredible – if you had to put your finger on one thing you really felt you brought away from your time working with him, what would it be?
AK: That’s a hard question. Youth was an incredible personality to work with, we learned so much after battling with the fear he instilled in us, ha! I guess for me, the thing I learned is that when you’re creating you have to move as quickly as possible. Don’t ever stop and think too much or analyse it – very hard for me, but probably why it helps so much!
Echotape’s new single Far From Heaven is released on 4 March 2013.