With one EP out, Sail The Ships, Echo Nebraska is a fresh six-piece band with a unique sound. Having played a few shows in the Fraser Valley already, they’re coming back to Field House Brewing for a show on July 14. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Devan Christodoulou and Andy Schichter at Steel Toad Brewery in Vancouver to talk about what it’s like to be in a band that sees the Fraser Valley from afar.
How did you guys all come together as a band?
AS: Well, I met Devan coming up from Vancouver a couple of years ago. He was in another band called Amber Hills. I was working on the album but Devan had a number of other songs that didn’t exactly fit the style. So I just invited him over to my home studio and we went from there. Started putting together a bunch of demos for a couple of years. And then we eventually just started to find a band. We kind of added members slowly the last year and a half.
The band is the four regular members, or is it five?
AS: Six-piece now.
DC: When we were in the process of demoing and recording we were constantly adding more and more instruments. So the idea was that we did want it to be a big sound, like a lot of people on stage playing. Now we’re at six.
Who is the sixth addition? What do they play?
DC: That’s Dan. Our bass player Gunn wasn’t able to go on this last tour with us for health reasons but then helped us out and [Dan] jumped in and played bass. We all got along so well that we just asked him to jump on board with us on keyboard, guitar, harmonies.
Intrinsically, what draws you to creating music?
DC: I grew up in a very musical family. My dad would play guitar around me when I was a kid. He would play Beatles, Neil Young, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, and whatnot. I’ve always loved it. I just loved the creative process. It’s kind of like therapy.
AS: I grew up in Montreal and moved to Ontario when I was 10 years old. We would drive back quite often but those first two years, just visiting family members. So it would be a lot of long drives where you would bring a Discman and CDs. You’d get to know those CDs very well.
I wanted to figure out why different albums sounded different. So I came to music from a production standpoint. I was like, “why did the drums sound different on this record?” Being 10 years old and not really understanding that there’s different drums out there and microphones and all this stuff plays back into that. So I just became really interested in music listening to the production of records.
What music do you guys primarily listen to?
DC: With the whole news of the Tragically Hip I’ve been listening to them a lot. I’ve been digging through a lot of their songs and getting into that vibe. That’s probably the main band I’ve been listening to right now. I’ve always liked the Hip but I haven’t listened to them in ages. That news came around and sort of pushed me in that direction again.
AS: I don’t listen to a lot of new music. I’ll just keep a few records on my phone — just get obsessed with them. Listen to them for months and then swap one or two out. But lately, because we want to record a full album, I’ve been listening to [artists] like Father John Misty or the Decemberists… albums that I can get inspiration [from] for recording ideas, just in terms of instrumentation.
When you make music what’s the process like? From songwriting to production.
DC: Well, the songwriting process changes because there’s a lot of different ways you can go about it. I used to be more about an idea, or a feeling would come to me. I would just regurgitate what the feeling was, make a cool melody, and just put it together. But now I’m focus-writing, where I’m trying to think of what am I trying to say. What is the main message and main punchline? And building around the punchline.
Once I have a song I’ll record it on my phone and I’ll send it to Andy and the band. We’ll be like, “let’s do this thing,” and we’ll jam and everybody will have their ideas and bring it to the table. We’ll hash the song out and work on the arrangement. Then it’s six people playing instruments.
AS: For me, I guess there’s been two different methods. Before we had a band it was just demoing and throwing all the ideas we had at a song. It’s very different than being like, “Okay, I have to think of a guitar part.” It’s not like, “an organ would sound good here, or guitar line here, or backing vocals, kickers…” ow that songs are coming to us as a full band, you really have to limit what you can write on one instrument and not worry about all the other stuff. It’s a lot more difficult for me, for sure.
DC: That’s another part of it. We want to continue the demo process for financial and creative reasons. It saves so much money if you go in and know exactly what you want to do, and just hammer it out in the studio. We started the writing process by writing the songs and then demoing right away. There wasn’t a band. Now it’s like, “song, band, jam it out, and then we’re going to demo.” It’s one more step in between. Which will probably, in the end, make it sound better because everyone will have their hands in it, and it will be more of a cohesive unit when we’re ready.
AS: We’ll have the live band on the CD, too. Now we’re a six-piece going into the studio. Everyone can have their own ideas and it’s just nice having different people playing instruments because Dan will come up with a guitar part that I wouldn’t think of, or a keyboard part, or Carly and Dan might have some backing vocal ideas. Who knows. It’s exciting.
Is there a main theme in your music?
DC: On the EP, in particular, I don’t think there’s an underlying theme that’s the same for every song. I think each song might have a different story behind it and a different concept. “Hey Alison” is about overcoming one’s struggles, or mental illness, with the purity of love. That love could be love for yourself, love for what you’re doing, or love for the creative process, or romantic love. Any kind of love. But then a song like “I’ll get it right”… a long time ago I thought I got a girl pregnant and I thought I’d have to be a father. It’s about me saying I’m going to get it right; I’m going to be a father. Every song has its different message behind it.
How did you develop your ability to write lyrics?
DC: Sometimes I really like lyrics that are ambiguous and left open to interpretation. I like doing that, making it a challenge for the listener to understand what I’m talking about. But at the same time I like being very literal in some songs and it’s clear as day what I’m talking about. I like both angles and that’s sort of a developing process and it will continue to develop as I continue to write songs.
Do you guys ever experiment with other types of music while in the studio or practicing?
DC: You [Andy] did that recently, actually. Was it lounge?
AS: Yeah, it was loungy. I remember one time we did a lounge version of “I’ll get it right.”W That kind of sounded cool. But yeah, there’s not a lot. Usually it’s pretty focused. I think a lot of it is having different musicians in the band, too, and teaching them the parts. It takes time to teach two hours worth of music to someone new. So there’s not a lot of time for jamming because you’re focused on rehearsing.
DC: We’re not really a jam band. I think maybe down the road, when we have more time, I’d like to experiment. Dave Matthews did a record where they didn’t know what each [person] was going to do. It started with the drums and they built around it. Something like that’s cool. Everyone just has a creation and they make it, and Dave goes in after the music’s done and he sings overtop of it. That’s so cool. Later down the road I’d like to try jamming and things like that. For now, it’s more focused songwriting.
How would you describe your sound?
AS: I guess folk rock is probably a good generic term. You say folk rock and you come to our set, there wouldn’t be any surprises. It would make sense. Definitely American influences in there. I think some of our newer stuff is less folky.
Given the dynamics of a band, when you come in with an idea and everybody has their input, how do you decide how the final song should sound?
DC: It’s like trial by error. If Andy has an idea for a specific rhythm pattern that he wants to try and Gunn has a different idea, we’ll try both and we’ll both jam both of them out a few times and everyone will kind of know.
Playing it when we’re practicing is hard because you’re focusing on what you’re playing while trying to hear what everybody else is doing to get the big picture. When you demo you can kind of take yourself away from the song and look at it as a piece of work and dissect it and really figure out what works and what doesn’t work. That’s why it really helps.
AS: it’s the hardest thing I struggle with. Where it’s like figuring out an idea but concentrate on what you’re playing, as well. I find it hard to separate my brain that way. It’s a lot easier recording something and listening back right away, you can really get a clear picture of the idea.
But there’s never any huge disagreement in a song.
Everybody’s pretty cordial and easy going?
DC: Yeah. And I don’t know what it’s like from their perspective but the feeling when I bring a song, they can sort of interpret and feel the place it was coming from and feed off that. It’s naturally going in the right direction. I mean, if I brought an Americana folk song and they were trying to make it Brit-rock sounding, we would know right away that the melody wouldn’t work with the sound that they’re trying to make.
Since you began as a band, has there been progression in your sound?
AS: Introducing violin into the songs [has] definitely made our sound more unique. The first couple of shows we didn’t have violin, or we had violin for a few songs, so it was a little rockier. But ever since we introduced violin into our set, which wasn’t really planned when we put together a band, the sound definitely shifted in the right direction. I wouldn’t say our sounds totally changed. Our songs live definitely sound better than the EP, though. There’s more of a human element in it.
Now that your EP came out a year and a half ago, do you have more songs in the bag for another album?
AS: Yeah, definitely. That’s something we were talking about: who to record with, when to do it, where the money’s going to come from for it. All that stuff. The EP’s only five songs and we can play a full set without any of those songs in there. We always play most of those, but we have a ton of other songs. Devan’s constantly writing more.
Any timeframe for a full length?
AS: Hopefully a release next summer. It’s too early to say, though. We have to figure out exactly when we’re recording, how long we need to actually release it properly. We don’t want to have the master and put it out right away. We want to plan a nice tour around it, get some press for it, radio play.
I have a few questions about the valley because you’re coming out there. Do you find a difference in playing at venues in the valley as compared to Vancouver?
AS: I could be wrong, but it seems like the two places we played at, it might just have been the shows, but it’s kind of a harder scene … kind of metal and harder rock stuff. In terms of venues, where we’re playing next month at the brewery [Field House] outdoors, if the weather’s nice, that’s going to be beautiful. I think perfect for our sound. Have some craft beers outside. It’s brilliant. We’ve never played anywhere huge in Abbotsford.
Have you played a lot in the valley?
AS: We’re trying to more and more. We played Chilliwack last summer, twice in Abbotsford already. We’re playing Chilliwack and Mission again in October.
DC: We’re trying to tour. Vancouver’s our home but we don’t want to play it too much and saturate the market here. So we’re trying to tour more and play in the valley and go out to Kelowna and go to Alberta. That’s the idea.
AS: The valley seems great, though. A lot of people live out there. It seems like there’s some good hidden venues here and there. So I’m hoping to make that a recurring thing.
When you’ve been touring, what’s the most “out there” thing that’s happened?
DC: Calgary. There was one particular hotel that we didn’t end up staying at but we had a terrible, weird, very strange situation there. We left and…
AS: It was just a very dirty room. We were there for 10 minutes tops, complained to the front desk. They wouldn’t give us a refund so we eventually got a hotel. Had to go through several emails with the higher-ups within the company to just get a refund because it was unacceptable. The room was disgusting. Finally got the cheque in the mail for the reimbursement. That was shitty.
Another funny thing on tour, some of our drives are pretty short so we have some spare time so we’re looking for things to do. Carly knows BC pretty well so she would always recommend things. But every place she would recommend was closed. All these provincial parks, something in Lethbridge — everything she recommended was closed or shut down. I thought that was funny.
You have another tour coming up?
DC: Yep. We’re still working on booking the rest of the dates but we’ll start late August and end early October. Similar idea: BC and Alberta.