Looking at the dark clouds that loom behind The Echo and The Always you’d think there was a hurricane on its way, an impending shock laced with a metaphoric sense of grandeur.
In a similarly grand perspective, this is a band that record labels like Island or Atlantic would have rushed to sign in the 1990s, and the fact that record deals now don’t tend to pluck artists and project them into a glittering questionably-unauthentic world is possibly the reason why we haven’t had bands like The Cranberries or Garbage recently taking over the mainstream media. Not because they are not around anymore but because for a long time now, for many bands, their music has become an elective pursuit where they can develop their music unburdoned by as many commercial considerations.
As I’m talking to vocalist and guitarist Laura Hancock, guitarist John Harman, bassist Dean Harris, drummer Edd Clemas, and Angela Muir on trumpet and keyboard, they confirm to me what the humbleness of their demeanour already suggests: they “get together to write songs because [they] get joy out of it” and so the one good thing about the music industry’s tightened purse in the last 20 years comes in the form of natural selection. The reasons for a band to exist doesn’t involve the glitter or commercialism anymore, which translates more to a purity and authenticity in the songs that are crafted, over years if necessary, to every single layer, from instruments to melody and lyrics
Contrary to this groundswell of expectations, we are actually in a small rehearsal studio in the industrial side of Cardiff, which just reinforces the idea that Steve Lamacq himself shared a few weeks ago on his radio show that the capital of South Wales has one of the best emerging music scenes around, and that The Echo and The Always is its best-kept secret.
They are at Music Box to rehearse for their first gig of 2019, where they’ll be supporting Night Flight at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff on Friday 8th March, because finally, this is the year that their second album will come out. This will, in fact, be the first gig where new songs will be showcased as well, and from a couple of snippets heard at the Music Box their beautiful introspective, melancholic yet hopeful sound has only further developed since the days of …and After That, The Dark which with luck you can still find stocked in independent record shops like Spillers.
The understated modesty they reflect whilst performing is reflected in their reasons for the band to exist which go well beyond that of any professional career. “We just do it because we like doing it, so there isn’t any pressure,” says Angela. It may have taken The Echo and The Always four years to release their second album, but this time also enabled them to live life and fulfil commitments outside of the world of music and avoid the band bubble into which they may have been forced like the aforementioned 1990s outfits.
“The band goes in peaks and troughs” Dean explained, “but that has organically forced us to reflect on the songs. We don’t just write and write and have lots of filler stuff. We craft the songs a bit more lovingly”. Laura makes a similar point about the lyrics and how a life outside of the band is needed: “what I write has to do with the kind of job I do and the experiences I have” though the beauty of being in a group who clearly enjoy each other’s company means that the experiences recounted in the songs come from all of its members.
Getting to realise and saying out loud how much of a blessing in disguise it could be artistically to not make a living out of music makes them explode in what is clearly genuine heartfelt laughter which brings them to unashamedly admit how they end up being each other’s inspiration when it comes to the creative process. John confirms this point by explaining how “Angela will do a run on the keyboard and that will inspire me to write something on the bass to go along with it” as they bounce naturally off each other. Finding five such gracious and humble human beings is reflected in them reinforcing each others’ values. “It comes down to the simple fact that I wouldn’t be doing this without the other people in the band” says Edd. He also makes the point: “these guys allow me to pursue this kind of hobby whereas if these people weren’t in my life I wouldn’t be able to do that” which clearly echoes the respect all members have for each others’ talents.
“Some bands work because there is an ego; the main songwriter and that person bring a personality, a flair to a band. We are the antithesis of that, we’d kick them out!” and rightfully so when such delicate balance and harmony have been found despite their coming from different lives and even places (some hail from Swansea, others are based in Cardiff, and yet also find themselves spending half the year in Leicester). The Echo and The Always have now been together for seven years, since their first incarnation when some were part of Secret Panda Club.
When discussing their upcoming new album, which they just finished recording, the art takes over the business side once again. “Right now it’s just down to the practicals” says Angela, whilst John openly admits that’s “the boring side of things” for them “because we just want to get it out there” and that sentiment is echoed by anyone who has listened to “… and After That The Dark”.
If you can make it to Tiny Rebel on the 8th of March you’re going to be in for a treat but if not keep your ear close to the few online outlets The Echo and the Always regularly update, namely their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheEchoAndTheAlways/ and website http://www.theechoandthealways.com so that when the follow up to … and After That The Dark is finally released you will instantly recognise this as pure unadulterated art because no one in this band had any incentive to make it happen other than from a pure desire to put their vision of the world into words and music.
The Echo and The Always produce such amazing music because they have already found that in each other, and in such a genuinely artistic environment, their results shows a combined talent, skill and quality that explains why they are one of the best bands in Wales, possibly even the whole of the UK right now.
Pictures by Robb Gough