Interview: Only Echoes Remain
Only Echoes Remain grabbed our attention last year when we caught their second ever gig and were impressed at how fully formed they sounded for such an early stage in their journey. Since then we’ve watched them develop closely, we already knew guitarist Arran Oakes (AO) from his role as stage manager for the Yokhai stage at Arctangent, and have been even more impressed how they’ve taken onboard advice from those around them and have matured at a ferocious rate.
Now they are on the cusp of releasing their debut album, The Exigent, on June 16th through their Bandcamp page, so through the magic of Google Docs we sat down with Arran, Craig McNaughton (CM) and Simon Christie (SC) for a chat about their whistle-stop year.
(((o))): First off, give us a bit of background on the band. How long have you been together, how did you meet etc?
AO: We’ve been through a couple of changes but it’s been just over a year since we called ourselves Only Echoes Remain, which would arguably be the start of the band I guess. Basically it started after I got back from the second ATG and was well and truly bitten by the experimental music bug. I manage one of the stages there and it’s hard to see so many talented, creative musicians having an amazing time without coming away feeling inspired!
I’d had a few demos that I’d been writing around a central concept for a few years, and when I got back from that year’s ATG I decided it was time to get a group together to work on them properly. Thanks to the wizardry of the internet (mostly Gumtree), I managed to find Craig and another guitarist, we started jamming around the demos and it felt pretty good. Then that guitarist had to go back home to India and we were lucky enough to find Simon.
Ali is our most recent recruit – he only joined us a couple months ago, right before he was due to go out to Asia for a couple weeks – he played his first show with us 3 days after he got back from that with only a couple of practices we managed to squeeze in before he left – now that’s dedication!
(((o))): Nought to album in a year is pretty impressive for a DIY band (I know bands that can barely organise a rehearsal in that time!). Can you talk us through how it’s all come together so quickly?
CM. It is difficult for a group of fully grown adults to step aside from what they should be really doing in life, and instead muck around in practice rooms making everything about the band. Luckily we have an Arran, who’s incredibly dedicated to making this all happen, plus we’re all immensely passionate about this project. It’s music we’d like to listen to, so we just try and ensure that we’re making things as interesting as we can for the sake of anyone who happens to lend us their ears.
AO: Like Craig says we all have jobs and people in our lives and it’s difficult to juggle everything. I think in every group there’s always one person who drives the practical side of things and keeps things moving along. I was chatting to Connor from Dialects when we played a show together recently and they call it being “band Daddy” haha. I quite like that. Someone’s gotta do it! Also I think it helped that we had my initial demos to work off from the start – it meant we already had a foundation to spring off and get straight to creating rather than that awkward phase where no-ones quite sure what they’re doing that can often happen at the start of a creative project.
As any writer will say, it’s always hardest starting from a blank page; we had a starting point. Plus it’s very easy to be dedicated and passionate about something personal, so working with material that I’d been looking forward to playing live was a great motivator for me, enabling me in turn to drive the other guys, crack the whip a bit!
SC: Like Arran says, having some material ready to work from definitely helped, and along with all of us having experience of other bands that have made the usual mistakes, or at least had phases of it. It also helped personally that when I joined we had 2 gigs coming up in about 4 weeks time and needed to learn songs and write some 2nd guitar parts pretty quickly! That helped kick things off at some speed.
(((o))): So have you all been in bands before & if so, were they of a similar ilk or something different?
CM: I’d been in an instrumental band growing up before I knew what ‘post-rock’ was, which I’m pretty sure was what we were playing. I’ve always loved the creativeness of not relying on traditional structures or song formations gave us as musicians, and is definitely where my heart is in writing music.
AO: I’ve been jamming with mates since my early teens, but never actually knew many drummers growing up, so I missed out on the whole teenage garage band thing. I did a lot of solo acoustic shows; open mics, that sort of thing, and didn’t really get into a band until university. I also had no idea what ‘post rock’ was; I’ve always listened to a lot of movie soundtracks and I enjoyed Sigur Ros as a more ambient band, but I mostly just played Muse, Foo Fighters and Radiohead covers growing up haha.
To be honest I didn’t really experience anything much more than a couple of dudes playing guitar together until I moved to London, and then that band was more of a dirty blues-rock thing, so definitely a far cry from what we’re doing now. Craig actually joined both bands simultaneously, funnily enough – we needed a new drummer in the previous band and I put up the “Bat signal” for this project around the same time, so that worked out well!
SC: I’ve been in bands since my mid teens, depping in blues bands in pubs and jamming with friends. Since then I went on to study music at university and play in bands of a variety of styles from Jazz Orchestras and small bands to progressive death metal bands and a few random bits in between.
This is the first band of this style for me and it’s been good to do something else that’s different from previous bands. One thing that I think makes this band special is the diverse musical backgrounds and interests we have between us. It allows us to explore and introduce influences from music that isn’t necessarily commonly associated with the post-rock genre but at the same time fits well within our music style.
(((o))): When you got OER together did you set out to be a ‘post rock’ band or is that just something that has happened organically?
AO: This is an interesting one, since I’m curious myself about what the others would say to this! I’m very conscious of the ‘post rock’ label can of worms. It seems a lot of bands in our genres tend to either warmly embrace the term or distance themselves aggressively from it. Is it possible to be neutral towards it? I feel Iike I’m pretty neutral about it, though I regularly seem to change my mind on it.
From my perspective, I consider us a ‘cinematic instrumental rock’ band. I’m not intentionally distancing myself from the term, I just feel like this describes us more aptly, since ‘post rock’ can mean an awful lot of things. (And a lot of awful things too..). I did use ‘post rock’ in the ad I originally put online, but only because I wanted to immediately distinguish the ad from the billions of generic rock and metal ads out there. It’s hard to find a specific type of creative! In terms of where we are now, I guess we do fit pretty well into the ‘post rock’ archetype, but we strive to avoid cliche wherever possible. We don’t want to be a “EITS-type”, or a “Godspeed-type”. Originality is difficult in a saturated space, so hopefully we incorporate a lot more interesting influences, and stand out as being more than a generic “post rock” band.
CM. Yeah, I agree. I would say that was our intention when we first started out, and though we’re not straying too far from the source, I feel we’re naturally incorporating many more styles whilst trying to cultivate a sound that has a more elements to it rather than just “Post-Rock “.
SC: As Arran mentioned the original advert I saw stated post-rock and it works well to give a quick idea of what may be involved. However I feel like, without wanting to sound pretentious, that we write ‘Only Echoes Remain’ music, as trying to write to a specific style tends to limit creativity. As long as an idea fits the track we’re writing then it’s in!
(((o))): It’s interesting you say that as my view is ‘post rock’ is, or at least has become, an incredibly broad term applied to a wide range of styles but that said one of our writers came back from DUNK last weekend and observed that he’d seen far too many ‘post-rock-by-numbers’ kinds of bands & was concerned for the state of the ‘scene’. I’m not sure I agree entirely about that but as a band is it something you’re aware of & how to you avoid falling in to the traditional tropes?
AO: I’m definitely aware of it. There is definitely a “post rock formula”, and it’s emerged because of the sheer volume of bands doing similar things. Stereotypes have to be based on something in order to become stereotypical, right? This is why originality is always at the front of my mind whenever we write or play anything. It’s strange though, because you end up a little split-personality because of the awareness – it gets a little meta.
On the one hand, in order to achieve authenticity in what you’re writing then it’s important to just let yourself be in the creative moment and be natural. On the other, having an awareness of the trope can break your creative immersion, as you don’t want to just repeat what everyone else has done. This is the problem with having so many bands now in what realistically is a very narrow musical space. You say it’s a broad term applied to a wide range of styles – the volume of artists in the space has forced us to perceive further sub-divisions of the style as a coping/differentiation mechanism, when in actuality it’s still just a super narrow window of music, in the big picture.
This is why you could pick two bands on the Dunk! bill and think that independently they sound different, but when you actually go for 2-3 solid days of ‘post rock’ then it may all start to blend. The biggest challenge with this is for newer bands trying to break into the scene – at the end of the day we’re just trying to write authentically, and what that means to me is deeply personal, very emotionally-charged music. But when there’s a hundred, or a thousand, other bands trying to do the same thing, then how can one possibly stand out and get noticed? In order to try to handle that creative split-personality conundrum from a practical perspective, when we write songs I just constantly ask myself and the rest of the band – “is this interesting? Has this section evolved? Does it have a reason to be here?”. At least this way we can try to combat the most basic ‘post rock’ trope, of highly repetitive sections outstaying their welcome. Anything beyond that – well it’s all subjective, isn’t it?
SC: Completely agree with the problem of post rock by numbers and if there is one thing I do try to avoid it is this. As Arran mentions keeping musical ideas fresh and evolving is a big part of that, as this is what tends to separate the big names and the imitations. I often joke with Arran about there being a hard limit on the amount of trem picking in our set! It works very well in certain situations but it has become one of those overused tropes.
AO: Who doesn’t love a bit of trem picking! As long as it stays only a bit!
(((o))): So going back to the album, you say you started out with a bunch of Arran’s demos & went from there. How much of the album came from those & how much was ‘fresh’ and how has your creative process changed as you’ve settled into being a band?
CM: Arran had 4 demos when we started out, at varying levels of completion (these would become ‘Dawn’, ‘Distant Echoes’, ‘Descent/Impact’ and ‘Of Stone and Stars’). He already had the idea of a concept around these, which we all got behind and then continued to develop together. I’ve always liked playing around with the dynamics of a song. Leaving long stretches of drumming ‘silence’ to give weight and meaning to the section when they come back in, or playing around with getting hits where you wouldn’t expect them to be. We’ve all got our own characteristics when writing our parts and it’s always fun to see how members are going to bring the original ideas to life. ‘Aurora’ we wrote all together and was totally fresh, and then a lot of the connecting interludes linking the final album together came from Arran and Si working together in the studio.
AO: I definitely had a very firm idea of how I wanted those initial tracks to sound, so was fairly direct with the guys on this in the beginning, but the guys have really brought those ideas to life over time, and had added so much to them by the time we reached the studio. Then songs like ‘Aurora’ which we wrote totally fresh together were really exciting, bouncing ideas off each other and feeding on each other’s creativity. It was also an amazing experience working so closely with Si and Sam (Jones, who we recorded the album with at the Abbey Road Institute) on all the additional orchestration and motifs that really pull the album together as a whole.
(((o))): You mentioned the album’s concept there, and it is very much a concept driven record, can you explain it a bit?
AO: We’ve actually been torn from the outset on how much of the narrative we want to talk about explicitly. One of the most amazing moments for me so far with OER was at a show when one person came up to us after our set and told us about how much one song in particular resonated with them, and the extremely vivid visual and emotional journey it took them on – it was really humbling, and a profound moment for me, hearing this.
The goal with emotional, personal music like this is to make these sorts of connections with the listener, and the story the album conjures for people is unlikely to be the same as one we wrote. Since that experience at the show we’ve been wary about instructing people on what the ‘correct’ answer is – I think that listeners should be free to imagine whatever resonates with them most. That all said, let’s just say that the narrative tells the story of a lone space traveller, the weight of the world upon him, wrestling with the gravity of his mission, the people he’s left behind, the true awe of the universe and the ever-constant danger he faces out there. This traveller, this pioneer in the truest sense, is the Exigent.
(((o))): How hard is it to frame a narrative on an instrumental record?
AO: The interesting thing is the constantly changing relationship between the music and the concept during writing; sometimes the concept drives the music, other times the music drives the concept. I think if we’d sat down with a blank musical canvas, with a firm concept in mind, it would have been incredibly difficult to write a whole album this way. As it happened, it was all fairly organic and came together pretty easily for the most part.
The themes were established so we had the tone clear, and it was just a case of managing the balance over the big picture. Before we wrote ‘Aurora’, we had the other tracks already in order, as they neatly fit the narrative – it was like one single line on a jigsaw puzzle, there was really only one way they fit together in our minds.
(((o))): So were there any parts of the story that were hard to make fit?
AO: We did have one challenge, when we just felt like there was something missing, and tried to write a song for-purpose. We knew it needed to be big, and dark, because of the point it was at in the narrative, but after spending a good few weeks trying various ideas that just wouldn’t come together, we discovered you just couldn’t force it.
In the end I drew a line under those fragments and wiped the slate clean, which I guess took some of the pressure off and left us more open to inspiration, and it was a little arpeggio at the start of a new fragment Si had come up with that birthed ‘Aurora’. He sent a dropbox file round about 20 minutes before a practice – I literally downloaded and listened to it while on the tube heading to practice – and couldn’t get the arpeggio out of my head. I arrived early and was already messing around with different progressions around it when Si arrived, and we ended up subverting what we’d planned as a pre-gig set run-through in favour of just jamming these ideas, and that was how ‘Aurora’ pretty much came together, at least about 80% of it, in one 3 hour jam session.
We knew it was exactly what we’d been looking for immediately, it perfectly filled the narrative gap. It was also a fantastic dynamic writing so collaboratively like that after having come from working on the demo foundations up until that point. Makes us excited to get into a new songwriting phase now that the album’s finished!
(((o))): So what have OER got to look forward to for the rest of 2017?
AO: Well the album is out June 16th, so that’s super exciting – after having had some of the motifs on this record in my head for 15 years I can’t believe it’s finally going to be out there.
SC: Certainly getting this album out to let people hear the music we’ve been working on is very exciting for me! I believe we’ve been quite ambitious for a first release in tackling the concept album and have had a lot of fun in creating an overall feel and sonic texture across it so I hope people enjoy it.
AO: After that we’re doing a bit of a mini tour to support the album release with Scottish post rock/shoegaze band Wozniak, playing London, Brighton, Leeds and Manchester over the last two weekends of June, and we’re in discussions about hitting the road again later in the year. It’ll be great to see a lot of familiar faces and hopefully plenty of new ones at our London album launch on the 23rd!
(((o))): What bands have you been listening to lately / would recommend that might not be currently on people’s radars?
AO: Oooh. I basically permanently have Spotify’s discover and daily mix lists going on shuffle so there’s so many! I’ve had We Lost the Sea’s Departure Songs on repeat fairly solidly for the past month, as I’m sure many others are now doing post-Dunk!, and I also discovered recently this cool instrumental band from Russia called Antethic; I was hooked from Ilium, the first track from their debut album, it’s awesome. Got some electronic 65dos things going on, then it suddenly goes super TWDY in a good way. I also listened to a load of Strawberry Girls over the last bank holiday, really cool mix of beats, guitar riffs, kinda ambient melodic grooves and lazy vocals. Great summer weather music.
C. So much musics! The past couple of years have been an amazing ear opening experience for me. My 1st ATG was last year, and man what a weekend, introduced to so many great bands! My musical diet is mainly filled with, The Mars Volta, Samuel Jackson 5 and Pink Floyd. But more recently I’ve been hooked on bands like, Crippled Black Phoenix, Quadrupède, GoGo Penguin to name but a few. It’s also been great recently seeing musical projects by friends of the band take off too, really looking forward to hearing more from them in days to come.
(((o))): Finally, the quintessential E&D question; if OER were a biscuit, what biscuit would they be?
SC: Millionaire Shortbread – Multi-layered, sweet and heavy.
AO: Does that count as biscuit?
SC: Haha, I was waiting for that!
AO: It’s the Jaffa Cake conundrum all over again!