Echo is one of the most interesting new bands out there. A unique perfectly balanced blend of jazz vocals, downtempo electronica and brazilian flavours. The NYC-based authors of such a beautiful musical mixture, British singer Joy Askew and Japanese trumpet/keyboard player Takuya Nakamura, spared a moment of their time to answer some of my questions. You can also read my review here.
Chain D.L.K.: Where did you guys first meet?
Echo: Joy: I had seen Tak play at Shine. One night in Baby Jupiter where I was eating he walked in with his friend Topaz and I went up and introduced myself.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you both been involved in the drum’n’bass scene for a long time? What kind of stuff have you done?
Echo: Tak: I was doing the party at Shine with Nerve every Tuesday in 98/99 and I am playing with Nerve still but mostly in Europe. My thing is not only drum/bass…I’ve been involved with Organic Grooves the last 4 years and we are doing more downtempo and dubby sound. My own stuff is sometimes broken beats and more abstract stuff.
Joy: I only got interested in Drum and Bass for the last 4 years…I have 4 CD’s out before Echo and they are mainly songs with influences in the production of Peter Gabriel/Dan Lanois and Radiohead (I wish! ).
Chain D.L.K.: What do you think about the new New York drum’n’bass scene? The live d’n’b’ thing seems to have died out a little unfortunately, at least compared to a couple of years ago (probably also due to the unhappy choice of cancelling the “Prohibited Beatz” night), would you agree?
Echo: Tak: By the time DnB came to New York the scene was already coming to an end creatively. Some of the musicians who were playing it didn’t understand what dance culture is about…so that’s why. And DnB is too complex for American audience in general. Actually the real reason is Giuliani – there’s no place to play.
Joy: I feel that the DnB scene has moved on to car commercials.
Chain D.L.K.: What about these new Dj crew called Breakbeat Science? Have you ever checked them out?
Echo: Tak: Yeah, they’re great. They try to keep DnB alive and creative.
Chain D.L.K.: You said you thought of Miles Davis’ late 60es electric period when you saw Takuya perform with Swiss live drum’n’bass drummer Jojo Mayer. Was it mainly the trumpet or was there something else in particular that triggered your interest and your reaction?
Echo: Joy: It was improvising on a new sound. I think most of all that this was new and breaking ground. When I listened (and listen) to that era of Miles and watch footage etc I pick up the edginess of going where no-one had gone before. The bravado! and doing it as a group. And also…there’s suddenly a lot of new areas and things to play and create…and I could hear they were feeling that and i was feeling it too!
Chain D.L.K.: Besides the great Davis, what would your other big influences be?
Echo: Tak: Rip Rig & Panic (w/Don Cherry & Neneh Cherry), George Russell.
Joy: Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, Led Zepelin, John McGlaughlin, Dan Lanois, Stones, the Blue Nile, Eric Dolphy, Keith Jarrett, Radiohead, Brad Mehldau.
Chain D.L.K.: What was your relation with electronic music before you started working with Takuya?
Echo: Joy: I had been using sequencers and samplers for a long while (before working with Peter Gabriel in ’93). When I was working with Laurie Anderson in ’84 and ’85 I wasn’t even using midi at first! But she had sequences of sampled frogs and sounds etc that we would play to and she was pioneering the Synclavier routing it through a tiny keyboard made to look like a tie that she wore and wiring up her body so she could play it like a drum. See the movie “Home Of The Brave” that we did in ’85. I worked with David Van Teigham in the mid 80’s – he was getting electronic stuff together then. In my own music I was more on a song thing.
Chain D.L.K.: Your choice of standards reveals great knowledge and sensibility towards the jazz sphere…Was there any particular criteria you applied in choosing these standards or were those simply your childhood’s favourite tunes?
Echo: Tak: Mainly thinking “what’s going to work”.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you planning on carrying on the standards and originals thing or did you want to pave the road for your own Echo music exclusively at some point?
Echo: Joy: We’re doing all originals right now, but if it’s a good song we’re going to use it!
Chain D.L.K.: So, Takuya, I worked with you live at NYC’s club Shine during many of Jojo’s Prohibited Beatz live d’n’b sets covering for Roli Mosimann and then again during the shooting of Swiss film director Robin Fessel’s movie “Perspectives” at the Brooklyn Film Festival and every time you’ve carried along a trumpet, synths, lots of pedals, and other tools and boxes…Would you like to tell us a little more about your setup, you tips and tricks?
Echo: Tak: Right now I use iBook for sampling and synthesizer and sequencing. With Echo I also use a CDJ and a Prophet. With my trumpet I use a filter and pitch shift and Kaos Pad.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you record the album? Did you go to a studio? Do you have a set up? What did you use?
Echo: Joy: We started at my house. We both have digital Performer. Some things we’d record at Takuya’s. Then when I was in England I worked with Mark Wood (who also has Digital Performer) on the guitars. I think it was the coming together of Tak’s and my samplers that made the sound! We made a lot of our own samples on the spot with whatever was at hand!
Chain D.L.K.: Joy, do you play any instrument besides singing?
Echo: Obviously! And i’ve produced 6 album’s as well. What people don’t know is that I was a saxophone major in college! (a bad one).
Chain D.L.K.: So you have this nice Latin guitar parts here and there…How did that happen? The result is quite charming!
Echo: Joy: Mark Wood and I have known each other since college days in Newcastle-Upon -Tyne. He has played South America many times and is very knowledgeable about a lot of the music that comes from there…especially being married to a fantastic Columbian singer, Ana Maria Velez!
Chain D.L.K.: Would you say Echo is a perfect balance of all your personal musical influences or would you need to add something to make it a mirror of your listening habits?
Echo: Tak: Echo is only one aspect of what I do. I am also into making dance tracks, but other influences come into Echo through Joy so there is a good balance there.
Chain D.L.K.: You’ve both been involved a number of projects and with a number of artists…What would be the most interesting experience you’ve made in the music business?
Echo: Joy: Playing everywhere from Rodeos to Madison Square Garden…but my most interesting experiences have been getting to hear and see performers live (like Hendrix and Led Zepelin on their first tour! ).
Chain D.L.K.: Takuya, are you still playing with Jojo Mayer? If yes where can people check you guys out?
Echo: Tak: Yes, April 5th at Centro-Fly NYC.
Chain D.L.K.: What about Echo? Were can people catch you performing? Is Echo playing live anywhere anytime soon?
Echo: Tak: Echo is playing at the Knitting Factory in the Old Office on April1st at 9pm and Sonar in Baltimore on April19th.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you like the stage better than the studio?
Chain D.L.K.: You both have been involved in NYC’s jazz scene and in the electronic one. What do you carry with you from these so different experiences?
Echo: Joy: Being in the moment.
Tak: I appreciate the taste and sensibility of jazz from the old days. But I’m into electric and dance music because that is jazz now.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you like one of the scenes better than the other for some reason?
Echo: see above!
Chain D.L.K.: How much does your jazz heritage actually influence your writing and your performing? Are you music chart people or free improvisers?
Echo: Tak: Improvisation and sound.
Joy: Inspiration and new feeling.
Chain D.L.K.: Can you tell us a little more about your songwriting process? I have read that you actually write unconventional chord sequences on single key grooves and that you then remove those chords completely after laying down the vocals…Would you care to elaborate?
Echo: Joy: We did exactly that on the Echo record. Also we write from tracks and grooves. My most recent composition came from a kick drum pattern.
Chain D.L.K.: What about the lyrics?
Echo: Joy: One of my new songs is a cathartic lease of anger toward some shit friend who just acted like a complete wanker.
Chain D.L.K.: I read that the song “Secret Life” reveals a lot about your extra-musical influences, can you tell our readers a little more about that?
Echo: Joy: I was reading Jack Kerouac at the time. I’m very into the Beats.
Chain D.L.K.: How much did being, living, writing, playing in New York City influence you? I mean, I don’t know if it is just me or what, but this records says “nyc” all over it if you ask me, it just has that particular style, warmth and vibe to it that this great city transmits…
Echo: Joy: Totally NYC! ! Tak and I probably wouldn’t have met anywhere else the way we did. That’s why I wanted to bring the Beat sensibility into it…so New York…ideas happening fast…a newness…I hope it never leaves here.
Tak: (he’s talking to a Japanese friend on the phone now). The influence in the sound is not only from NYC. Because we live in NY we are inundated with everything! We wrote “Surrender” on September 12th 2001…I lived a few blocks from The Empire State Building. Joy came over. We felt like creating as there was nothing else to do. There was a bomb scare, we evacuated the buildingand ran 6 blocks South in the middle of the session.
Chain D.L.K.: So when you took a loop from your first album “Tender City” (1996) and you slowed it down, did it feel like writing a whole new song or were you drawn into the melody and the sensations evoked by that particular song?
Echo: Joy: Whole new song, different feel entirely! I had actually written the original song in 1988!
Chain D.L.K.: Do you work a lot with samples or do you prefer not to? If yes what kind of material do you usually sample and what kind of approach do you adopt in the use of sampling techniques and samples?
Echo: Tak: Doesn’t matter; whatever sounds good.
Chain D.L.K.: Roli Mosimann is a friend and a superb engineer/producer/mixer and in my opinion he most certainly was the perfect choice for Echo. How was it to work with him?
Echo: Joy: He’s nuts! And he talks really fast and he’s great! I trusted his mixing totally!
Chain D.L.K.: I see there are two tunes mixed by Mark Saunders…what’s the story there?
Echo: Joy: We needed to get finished and Mark is a good friend of mine. I really respect what he does…mixing and producing.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you get in touch with New Line? When did they start making records besides movies?
Echo: Joy: Manager.
Chain D.L.K.: So was Echo a one time thing or do you intend to proceed and keep making music as a duo?
Echo: Tak: We are proceeding! We are recording and playing live…for as long as it’s fun!
Chain D.L.K.: I have read that there are some remixes in the making, can you tell us a little more? Are you planning an all remix album for Echo or are you working on new material already?
Echo: Joy: Rae & Christian have done a remix of “Sparks from a Wheel’ which is great. Karsh Kale has done a beautiful downtempo remix of “Skin” and there is a House mix in the works. All to be released very soon! We have new tracks finished and several more on the way.
Chain D.L.K.: What else does the future hold?
Echo: We just signed with a booking Agent PGA…so we hope a tour or two! Also the CD is being released in Germany.
[interviewed by Marc Urselli] [proofreading by Marc Urselli]