London-based Echo Lake began life around 2010 when Thom Hill, who had been working on an instrumental project, met vocalist Linda Jarvis at art school. After one song was released, No Pain in Pop signed them, supporting them in their creation of 2011’s EP Young Silence, and this year’s sparkling record Wild Peace.
Their music benefits from a great love of shoegaze, and their intricate soundscapes take in psychedelia, ambient, pop and rock, emerging, (as their lovely song ‘Sunday Evening’ does), as if from the crystal waters of the echo lake they named their band after. Their beautiful, atmospheric music has been hard-won, and through losing bandmate, and friend, drummer Pete Hayes to a heart condition last year, it has become even more poignant. Siobhán Kane talks to Thom Hill.
There is such a dreaminess about the sound of Wild Peace, a sound that sustains itself over the entire record – how did this sound emerge within you as a band, as there are distinct differences between the Young Silence EP and the record. I’m not really sure. I guess Echo Lake started as a sort of ambient solo project. Young Silence was a very raw record, it was us trying to find our sound and not rush into anything. The album was just the natural progression of that, in the space of 18 months we became more confident songwriters, musicians and producers, so I think there was always going to be a big difference between the two.
I also got the sense of hibernation with this record – it folds you up in its arms – how did the recording process go? Was it equally as immersive? Yeah definitely. I wrote and recorded most of the album and the EP on my own in my bedroom and I think that comes across in the sound. It’s probably why it sounds so dreamy, because I had so much time to experiment and go mad with effects! Linda would come to my house every now and then and we would record vocals, it was easy. It didn’t get stressful until the mixing stages.
When you and Linda met, did you know instantly that you wanted to expand your ideas with her? I believe you had initially thought of Echo Lake as a solo project, instrumentally-led. Has it now exceeded your own expectations of what something solo might have been? No, we just became friends because of similar music taste really. And we were both quite shy students who took cigarette breaks at the same time. We joked about forming a band for a long time, until one day she just said “seriously, I can sing” and I said “oh really? Because I actually do write songs”. I had been way too shy to show my music to anyone apart from my girlfriend and housemates until that point. She really liked what she heard and a few days later we had a song called ‘Everything is Real’. A few days after that, I posted it online, it went mad and now I’m answering questions about our debut album. So yes, it really exceeded my own expectations!
I was greatly saddened to hear about the tragic passing of your drummer, Pete, he was so talented. When I was listening to Wild Peace again, I thought of how poignant the record title is in a way, he would have been so proud. It also reiterated how frail everything else, and how it is so important to mean everything you do. I’d known him for years since were kids and always played in bands with him. What we do is really important to us, and it was to him as well. It’s not the easiest thing to talk about, but thanks, I think he would have been proud too.
I remember reading that you had been in bands with Pete before. What kind of bands were they? It is a good apprenticeship, where you are teenagers, not relating to the future so much, just playing and being (mostly) carefree. Do you remember how you began to be interested in the guitar, what musicians inspired you? We were mostly in post-rock/math-rock bands, it was really fun because it was quite experimental and there were about a million ideas trying to fit into the music at once. So yeah I guess it was pretty carefree and a good way to learn and develop your own styles as musicians over time. I think I started playing the guitar because of Nirvana or Radiohead. Both my Grandad’s and my Dad and Uncle all played music, so I was always interested in learning an instrument one day. It’s hard to pin down main inspirations but I guess at first it was stuff like The Stone Roses, Nirvana, Oasis, and then stuff like Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and The Beach Boys. Johnny Marr is a real inspiration too.
You seem like a band that believes in the DIY ethic, from printing your own t-shirts, to making videos – does it often feel more playful, and innocent doing it that way? It must draw you away in a positive sense from the less-interesting aspects of being in a band. Yeah, we like to do as much as possible ourselves and if we can’t then we like to work with people close to us. My girlfriend Anita designed the EP artwork, Linda did the ‘Another Day’ artwork, and we worked with our friend Natalia on the album artwork and two videos. We’ve worked with several other friends on videos… it’s more a case of us knowing so many talented people, and being able to call them friends, and because of that we can work closely with them. And yes I think it is more fun this way, we mostly leave them to their own ideas and they come up with the goods for us, we’re lucky!
No Pain in Pop were a really nourishing force for you, and it came from such enthusiasm and authenticity – and I was wondering then how the wider musical community in London is? From an outsider it always seems so huge, what is the reality of the music scene like there? No Pain in Pop have been great to us, again we’re really lucky. Since we teamed up we haven’t ever looked back. The fact they are so supportive and patient has played a big part in us moving at the right speed. We could have rushed things with a bigger label or whatever and then made a mistake, this way has been just right.
London has a great scene, I’m not sure about how it compares to other cities but all I can say is theres no shortage of great bands, and obviously there are a few idiots hanging about, but almost everyone you meet is just a really nice person. There’s loads of different scenes I’m sure, but the bands and people we mostly hang out with are great, everyone’s having fun and it’s just pretty easy going to be honest. There are definitely divides, as there is in every city but it never feels truly fragmented or exclusive in any way.
Are you constantly writing? I believe you are already thinking of your new record, can you say anything about it at the moment? I wonder if it will almost be a different response to this record? Yeah, I won’t say too much about it because I haven’t finished it yet. But basically it took so long to finish Wild Peace, that during the mixing stages I started writing new songs. So by the time we’d finished the album I was ready to start the next one. I’m just in the instrumental stages at the moment but I can say that it will definitely be a different response to Wild Peace. Well, that’s the intention anyway…. it would be silly to just do the same record twice!
Since you recorded and mixed everything yourselves, have you learned an awful lot about the technology behind it all in the last two years? Do you think that you would like to continue to produce it all yourselves, or get another producer in, perhaps? I remember Beach House saying that they had produced everything themselves for years, keeping control, but then they met a producer who they felt a kinship with, and decided to take a leap of faith, in order to challenge themselves, more than anything else. Yeah, that sounds familiar! I’m totally open to the idea of working with other people for future records. With Wild Peace I wanted complete control to the point of being a bit mental and not really sleeping much. I now think it’s important to expand your ideas and the possibility of who you work with so that the music can move forward and get better. That makes a lot of sense to me now, I’m still recording most of the stuff myself but let’s wait and see what happens. Anything can happen with the next album, the ideas are there and I’m pretty excited about it already. I’m definitely a better producer than I was two years ago!
How has the live aspect of the music been? Because your music is so layered, I wonder if that ever presents problems live? Yes it does, of course we have to strip it down when we play live. For this tour there will only be four of us playing but we still manage to make a lot of nice noise. It’s different in so many ways to the record, but that’s the best thing about it. We have to make sure the music is fun for us to play live and not just a replica of the recordings.
I remember the first time I saw Grizzly Bear, years ago, my worry was that the music that had been soaring around my head wouldn’t be the same live, but it went beyond that, and transported me entirely. When I first heard Young Silence I thought of elements of Grizzly Bear, that shape-shifting lusciousness, and their humour, and their DIY spirit – are they a band that you relate to? Yeah, I first saw them during the Yellow House tour and they blew me away. Most bands are more raw live, the play louder and faster but somehow when I saw them during the Veckatimist tour they were even more chilled out and stripped down than on the record, which I didn’t think would be possible and still be so mesmerising to watch! I’ve followed them since the start when they were very DIY. I would say maybe don’t compare us to Grizzly Bear, as they are one of the best bands in the world right now! We are still new and learning our way, just come and see us play live. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.
Echo Lake play The Workman’s Club on Wednesday, 10th October.