Interview: A Troop of Echoes

September 27, 2014
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A Troop of Echoes, hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, is a creative powerhouse, with a long history of musical experimentation that goes back to playing in basements as adolescents. Currently, the group is gearing up for the official release of their new album, called The Longest Year on Record, an epic set of lovingly crafted tunes, the likes of which you’ll find mesmerizing and addictive. A great record from a fascinating group of gentlemen. 

According to their website, the band was birthed in 2005 in Providence, Rhode Island, and underwent one dramatic guitarist change before the current lineup was solidified. Sax player Peter Gilli, bass player Harry Hartley, guitarist Nick Cooper, and drummer Dan Moriarty form the current incarnation of the rock group, and are exceptionally excited to share their music with the world (and Internet). Their second full length release is another achievement in a growing list the band’s cultivated over the years, sharing bills with bands like Warpaint, Caspian, and Fang Island, and playing numerous shows and festivals, including appearances at the infamous Knitting Factory in New York and the SONAR festival in Baltimore. 

BaDoink was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Hartley, Cooper, and Moriarty, and learn some of the band’s history, views on their new album and music in general, and a few funny anecdotes from time on the road. Unfortunately, Gilli was unable to attend the videoconference, as he’s presently stationed in Toronto (that’s more pertaining to the band’s future activity–they have Internet in Canada). Below is an only slightly edited account of the interview. And don’t forget to check out The Longest Year on Record, available on the group’s Bandcamp page

Interview: A Troop of Echoes

What’s your take on the story of how you guys got together?

DAN: So basically we all grew up together, with the exception of Harry. Nick, the guitar player, and Pete, the sax player, grew up down the street from each other and used to beat each other up by the bus stop. I ran track with Nick in high school, and we’d started playing Hendrix covers when we were 13 or 14 years old. We found Harry over the Internet.

HARRY: I knew the original guitar player, who had to be politely asked to leave the band after he broke into Pete’s house. I remember the audition, which was in Dan’s basement, where we rehearsed for a good number of years. On the song they had me audition for, there was this little breakdown section, and Pete was like, “I want something interesting to happen here. I wouldn’t like it to be just a typical breakdown.” So I put my bass on it’s headstock on the floor and hit it with a drumstick, and Pete just looked at me and raised one eyebrow, and went on playing. So I thought I was in the clear.

DAN: We were a much different sounding band back then.

NICK: I think we reached a certain point after a while where we realized that we were the only ones who could really be in this band. It’s such a weird mixture; we kinda fell into what we’re doing now, after a fairly long process. I feel it couldn’t be done by any other four people.

What would you guys define yourselves as and how’d you get there?

HARRY: When we first started the band, Dan’s house was only a 15-minute drive up to Providence, so a lot of times on the weekend we’d rehearse and then go up there and see a lot of local bands. When we started there was an influx of noise bands in Providence that were really kind of influenced by Lightning Bolt. There were also a lot of electronic dance bands coming in. There was a band called Mahi Mahi, with a keyboard player and a drummer. The drummer had this electronic pad where he could play electronic bass lines, not samples, and drums at the same time. They were a big influence on us. Then a few years ago things changed and everyone was playing either doom metal or Americana.

DAN: That’s when we jumped off the ship and stopped imitating the bands that were around us. We needed to start doing our own thing.

A lot of our early sound, ten years ago, was imitating the dance and noise rock bands that were around. The other guys in the band all went to school for music, so a lot of what ended up happening was trying to reproduce that dancy, noisy sound, but through the lens of educated musicians. But at the same time, that was very early in [the rest of the band’s] career studying music, so it wasn’t super mature. We were sticking to some guns that would have been better left holstered.

NICK: We had a ton of ideas. But none of them were that compelling. We were all processing so much music and trying to write so many different things, we never really settled in on what we really wanted to do, or didn’t know what that was yet. Like throwing paint at a wall for a while.

DAN: Those influx of forces was what led to our first album in 2009. That was called Days in Automation. We didn’t know the genre at the time, but it was picked up by a lot of people who were into math rock, because it was faster and with weird rhythms. Angular and very fast. After that album came out, we had an identity crisis. We knew we wanted to play together, but we weren’t psyched on the direction things were going.

There was never really a conscious effort to redefine the sound. The songs we were writing before sounded different in our heads, and we ended up being mystified by how they sounded recorded. From that point onward we were concentrating on the final product. Since then we’ve been trying to write songs that we actually want to listen to.

HARRY: On the first album, we didn’t understand the studio process. While we’re not U2, who’re able to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in Electric Ladyland Studios, we realized the music didn’t sound the same as when we play live. It didn’t sound like us. So we tried to learn how to make it sound like us in the studio, or in the same ballpark. Some of the bass sounds on the first album weren’t the same sport I was thinking of. I was thinking of baseball and it came out like bowling.

DAN: We are a professional sports team.

HARRY: I remember the first practice after we’d released the album. Pete was saying, “What do we do now?” and Nick was saying, “Well, we have to write.” There were a few batches of songs that were duds. “Severna” was the first time we actually had a song where we were all happy about the direction we were going and it was totally unlike anything we’d written up until that point.

DAN: After the first record came out, we spent a year working on two songs that ended up going absolutely nowhere. Then one day, some random jam turned into “Severna,” and that’s when we hit our stride. That’s also when I moved back to Providence for the first time in five years, after living Amherst, MA and then Baltimore. It was the first time in the band’s history where we could have regular practices.

So you finished the first album when you were in college, and then you all returned to Providence. Did you decide then to make the band more serious?

HARRY: Dan had been accepted into grad school at Brown, and so he was back in Providence, so we had the opportunity to rehearse on a weekly basis. Beforehand, we’d have to schedule it around three-day weekends. We’d rehearse for 12-14 hours straight, a day or two at a time, because that was all that we had in a month. After we’d do the analytical thing of listening to recordings and throwing ideas around, and when Dan was back we had could hear our ideas happen instead of sitting and waiting.

DAN: It was hard to write anything cohesive. After college, I told the band I was moving to Baltimore, and I thought Harry was going to kill me. But it was short lived – I ended up back in Providence a year later.

What are you planning at this point? With releasing and marketing the album?

HARRY: We’re at a point right now, because Pete is living in Canada, and I’m an hour away–the joke is that if you’re from Rhode Island you never want to drive half an hour away–I think we want to find a record label or a publicist, or to start the whole PR cycle. Get it out to people, and try to find more people who never knew they could like an instrumental saxophone band.

DAN: Right now we’re operating with a limited release. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the album to come out on vinyl. We just approved the test pressings last week. We’re really eager to share this album because we’re proud of it. We’ve put it up online, and are waiting until the vinyl is in hand to do the official release.

Interview: A Troop of Echoes

What got you guys interested in vinyl?

HARRY: A lot of our friends have iPods and other digital music players, and I have a large collection of digital music, but my vinyl collection is right here. When I actually have this it’s in my hand, it’s physical. It’s something about the, I would say, ritual about having something in your hand, the decision to say, “I want to listen to that record.” When you make the decision to listen to a record, you have to put the record on the turntable, put the needle on, start the turntable. I find myself in iTunes skipping songs with less than a second. With vinyl, it says you have this music and it’s part of your collection, and you’ve spent some sort of currency to make sure it’s part of your collection for as long as you have that record.

NICK: In addition to that, we had a lot of people asking us about releasing a vinyl. People would ask us on tour if we were going to put it on vinyl, so it was always in the back of our mind. When we got to do the Kickstarter that was really the opportunity to get it paid for upfront and have an avenue into it.

DAN: Even with the first album, all of us in the band appreciate how the format of vinyl dictates how an album flows. It’s kinda nice that you have that break in between album sides to take a breath. In some of our favorite albums, it’s as if there’s a breath structured into the album flow. With this record, we had that in mind, and the flow of the album really fits nicely into two larger movements.

As a band that does more experimental music, how do you guys feel about your place in the music industry?

DAN: I feel like you can swing at windmills all you want in terms of lamenting the state of the music industry, but in the end you have to make music you care about and seek out music that speaks to you. I definitely follow a lot of the music industry stuff that’s going on, but what it all comes down to is that you have to make the music you want to make and not let that other stuff get to you.

HARRY: Then they’ve already won.

NICK: The whole idea of singles and hits coming out is nothing new, but that it’s instantly downloadable is, but it doesn’t change all that much for us. There’s always going to be bands out there that want to tour and bring their music right to the fans and make albums that make a cohesive statement. And then there are bands that are aiming to make money on a single. You’ve got to do what you believe in. This is the fucking thing we want to do, and let’s go do it, and when it’s done we’ll be ready to put it out.

HARRY: We’re also quite lucky in that regard. I interviewed a prominent indie rock band from Rhode Island when I was at my college radio station.  There was a candid moment where we were off the air and they were complaining to me about their record label. They were playing a rough version of one of their songs and one of the guys said to me that their label was telling them that some of the songs didn’t sound like songs that they were known for. And they’re on a supposedly indie label. Just because they’re on an indie label doesn’t mean they’re exempt from problems that artists on major labels have. Seeing that was a big eye opener for me. For this record, there was no one telling us what we could or couldn’t put on our album musically.

Interview: A Troop of Echoes

What’s the band dream? Huge shows? Keeping it on the indie scale? What’s your goal as a band?

NICK: I don’t know if it’s a goal of any of ours to be rocking the, like, U2 circuit. It would be nice to be playing bigger shows, to get our stuff out there for more people, and as a band I want to keep making material. I want to continue to write good music and get more people wanting to listen to our stuff and come see us.

HARRY: In the immortal words of Hall and Oates, “a thousand acre world for the roadies and the girls.”

NICK: Harry’s been listening to exclusively Hall and Oates for five months.

DAN: He’s been subjecting us to it in the tour van.

What is your relationship to technology right now?

DAN: We could have made this record in the 70s. It’s basically the sound of a bunch of instruments in a room with a bunch of mics up. The overdubs were done in a room with musicians. There’s not a ton of weird editing or anything, or a ton of effects.

HARRY: A lot of that has to go to the engineer, Graham Mellor. He was really a part of the feel of the record. A lot of what he does is live sound for folk, Celtic, blues, stuff where you just sort of set up a microphone and that’s the sound you get. When we were tracking the record, he had a lot to do with the takes. In fact, there are takes on the record that are first takes, particularly for Pete, from start to finish, that’s the first real take he did. He would want to edit it or do it another way, and Graham would say no and that he did something special and it shouldn’t be watered down. He was a big force on the record, making sure that 95% of what you hear is just musicians in a room playing their instruments.

DAN: And I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re opposed to technology in any way, I just think we haven’t felt the need to incorporate anything too complicated.

NICK: On the last album there was more in that regard. Pete wrote a bunch of wholly electronic interludes and transitions between songs, which is something that this time we consciously tried to avoid. I mean, essentially we didn’t want to run the risk of turning into a gimmick, like, “oh, this is just something they do.” We thought, this album has to sound and feel different from the last album. We wanted to make it sound just as organic as possible, just a band playing in a giant warehouse loft. In terms of mixing and mastering, everything was pretty tame. No crazy studio effects or anything. In trying to create new sounds for this record, it was done in a way that was not looking at it from a technological standpoint.

DAN: There’s a lot of slide guitar, slide bass, feedback, and loud drums. We used a lot of techniques to get a lot of weird and different sounds out of our instruments, but it’s all sounds you can get out of an instrument playing live.

Interview: A Troop of Echoes

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen live on tour?

HARRY: All the crazy stuff that happens on tour happens when we’re not on stage, which is actually good and bad.

DAN: We usually find out accommodations through Couchsurfing, and to put it mildly, we’ve met some pretty colorful individuals. We’ve met some interesting people along the way.

NICK: A professional wrestler. Like, an old timey strong man.

DAN: Yeah, it was him. He was the guitar player in his band. We ended up staying at their house one evening, which was like an hour from the venue. At this house, we met a girl with alopecia who was on OkCupid and kept receiving messages from all these dudes who had a fetish for women on chemo. They also had a roommate named Kitty Cat who didn’t speak, but would talk in meows. But they were awesome.

What is your overall mission playing live? What do you really want to transmit at a show?

HARRY: I think because even within post rock the saxophone tends to… it doesn’t divide people, but if people aren’t used to the sound, it can be a little jarring. So, my dad told me when I was just starting out playing music something I’ve taken to heart, which is that if there are more people in the audience than onstage, then it’s a good show.

DAN: Luckily we haven’t had to rely on that rule too much lately, but you never know when you have some last-minute Tuesday night tour date in some random city.  For me the best feeling is when we show up to a room full of people who we’re not friends with who have no reason to stick around, but are able to convince them that we’re something they want to listen to. That feels awesome. If we can get a response from people who have no reason to care about us, that’s just the best. Not to say playing at home isn’t great, because that’s awesome too.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Wrapping up, and talking about being a musician in general, one final question. Has being a musician ever gotten you laid?

DAN: Well this is a sensitive topic possibly unfit for public consumption, but I think we have one story we can get away with telling. So, we were playing a math rock festival at Cake Shop in New York several years back, and we found out that we were headlining and playing last, so it wasn’t going to finish up till 2 or 3 in the morning, and we hadn’t made any arrangements for where were going to stay. And we didn’t want to drive back to Providence and get home at like 7 or 8 am. So Nick and I met these two lovely women at the venue and they were there to see one of their friend’s bands, but they didn’t care about the music at all and basically just wanted to have a night on the town. Me and Nick started talking to them and ended up taking them to a few bars in the neighborhood, where we had way too much to drink. So then we went to play the show totally hammered, but after they invited us back their place.  I’m not sure they expected all four of us to show up with all of our gear.  As the night wore on, the girl really wanted to get to know Nick. We were talking about sleeping arrangements, and she’s looking at Nick with these big doe eyes and saying, “well, my bed’s really big so you could share my bed with me, that’d be totally fine.”

NICK: That was tough.

DAN: He was in a long term, committed relationship.

NICK: I looked at her, and there was this awkward silence that fell over the room, and I said, “Yeah, we’re all in long term, committed relationships.”

DAN: So instead of any one of us sleeping with this girl, we ended up sleeping three men on this tiny futon. I guess she was an au pair or something and the family she was babysitting for was out of town so we “borrowed” the mom’s snuggies to sleep in.

NICK: She had a nice collection of snuggies.

DAN: I think Pete slept on the floor with the ants.

NICK: She had such good odds going into that, bringing four dudes home. She picked the wrong rock band.

HARRY: My one brush with the ladies was… we were in New Orleans and we had just finished a 10-12 drive from Gainesville, FL. We actually have quite a few friends in New Orleans, but the show was a disaster because there was such dramatic humidity and temperature changes between Gainesville and New Orleans that Nick’s stuff was completely knackered and my stuff was just gone. It was not a good set.

DAN: I got so frustrated that I threw a drumstick, and after realized it had gone through one of the priceless murals hanging on the wall.

HARRY: I didn’t notice that! After the show, we’re hanging around, and this woman who couldn’t have been younger than 45, but really attractive, comes up to me and grabs my bicep and just starts squeezing it and saying, “That was some of the best bass playing I’ve ever heard,” looking at me in the eye. When people come up to me and compliment my bass playing, it’s the nerds who want to talk about prog rock, and it’s never ever older women. My girlfriend thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.

DAN: I think in terms of stories we’re allowed to tell people, that’s about as raunchy as we want to get at the moment.

Interview: A Troop of Echoes 7 votes

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