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Echo Us

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Ethan Matthews of Echo Us from 2017

MSJ:

It's been about five years since we last did an interview with you. What's been new in your world for the last few years?

Very much! Since then I’ve had three albums released, two on my own label and one a collaboration with a German label in 2014. I also spent some time without a studio, and more or less experiencing beginning elements of homelessness in 2015/2016. Luckily things came back together for me and I am able to create and release music again. Before I exited my long time studio in mid 2013 I had recorded two albums concurrently, one being A Priori Memoriae, which some may be familiar with, and a second that is sitting on my shelf ready to release after To Wake a Dream in Moving Water!
MSJ: How would you compare and contrast the new Echo Us album with your catalog?
Vastly different, as they all are. To Wake a Dream in Moving Water explores Celtic music and is very different in approach from the others in that it is a musically-themed album in a more narrow direction. No other Echo Us album (or any of my work for that matter) contains non-original pieces, but doing a Celtic themed album meant it must have some traditional music on it. One thing about it is that I am very relaxed in my arrangements and approach at this point. I feel the pacing of the album is probably the best of all of them, but they all serve different purposes, whether listening actively or passively.
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
I have no idea! I’ve heard so many things over the years. I do remember one reviewer that stuck out, also a professor. He had written that you could create a college course around the album A Priori Memoriae. This is a high compliment because my distant past does include a life full of college professors and fellow students. I was never the best student, nor am I a textbook musician or industry person by any means. Most of what I’ve done is hard-gathered without much input from peers. So hearing reality reflected back as I see it is always nice (but not always the case, as it often may be!). I think living an insular lifestyle for many years now has helped keep my music true to myself. I’ve been my own producer entirely since ‘02, and had to start learning at a fairly early age how to separate myself from my emotions about music – in other words become the most objective listener I can be. What I do is actually listening more than anything else. Even when I am performing I am constantly listening, and these processes have become so intrinsic to my work that I hardly think about them.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Not at all sure really - never am really. I am simply happy to be living a somewhat stable life at the moment. I have some ideas about some new technology that I will be installing in my studio in 2018.
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Describing is one thing, labeling is another. I find my music is a combination of many elements, and the inspiration often comes from other disciplines (writers, spiritual work, etcetera) as much as it does from music itself. Music is a vehicle for ideas for me, both spiritual and philosophical, but not limited as such. As far as Echo Us being pigeonholed I think many have tried and failed miraculously at that, and some have succeeded in recognizing that much of my work is far more progressive than most of what is called progressive music these days. If I have to release another work as broad and strange as Tomorrow Will Tell the Story to prove that, let it be done!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Hmmm....I believe I re-purchased a Steve Roach album recently. I do like soundscape music because it plays on a different part of my psyche than most of the music I create on my own. I’ve been on a CD re-purchasing binge the past few years because I had a car stolen in 2015 which had over half my CD collection inside. This also came while I was sleeping on a couch. Luckily I was not gigging at the time, and my studio gear was in storage. I did buy the newest Vangelis recently which was quite enjoyable – to hear someone like him creating very inspired music at an older age just feels good.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve returned to reading a bit of Jane Robert’s work recently, who is also one of the aforementioned "inspirations" for Echo Us music that are non-musical. Other than that I don’t read much.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
These days I never go to concerts by groups or musicians I’ve listened to over the years. The last time I think I did that was a Marillion in-store performance in Portland in 2005 or 2006. I tend to go to friend’s concerts when they are happening here in Portland. Actually I am going to one of those tonight!
MSJ: Do you remember your first concert?
I don’t think I do. One stands out that came later on in my mid teens. My mom liked Robert Plant a lot. She took me to a show of his in the early 90s. Actually I think it was Fate of Nation’s tour. I was pretty horrified. I believe I was in the stage where I had just dropped piano (I started that at age seven) and started seriously exploring the electric guitar. I was exploring possibilities in not only metal, but jazz fusion at the time, and rock music like Plant’s embarrassed me for some reason. Being 15 is really weird. Later on I had a small slew of Plant albums on while driving. I like his solo music much more than Zeppelin.
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
As far as my studio upgrades are concerned, I am looking at a digital MAX-msp based system right now, created by a rather brilliant developer and musician. That is called "Zyklus Improvisor," which is basically a smart sequencer that allows changing chords and modulating keys on the fly, as well as many other things. I am very excited and hope to get that installed in the New Year. I am also looking at expanding my studio to a two or three keyboard setup. In the past I’ve always had a rack of synthesizers controlled by one keyboard. The synth rack will undoubtedly remain a while longer. What else? I’d love a pedal steel, but that’s on the back burner for the moment.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
I think I’ve said enough!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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