Collage Talks: Lord Echo

Lord Echo (AKA Mike Fabulous and Michael August)

Lord Echo: Hey!

Collage: Hey, how’s it going?

LE: Good! Wow this is so primer the way they’ve lined these interviews up.

C: Everyone in a row!

LE: Yeah!

C: I hope they’ve all been a bit different you and not just repeating the same questions over and over.

LE: Well the thing is, often I can go a few days without talking to people, but once I’ve got started talking I quite enjoy it and you have to cut me off.

C: That’s a good sign then.

LE: It is good, it’s the place to be.

C: Okay, I will get going. So you are listed on the WOMAD bio as a DJ, an engineer, and a music producer. I wanted to ask you what came first and how that all came about?

LE: It doesn’t say that I am a musician does it, because I am actually a musician and that is what came first.  I guess the trajectory is like my mum taught me to play guitar when I was like 10 or 12, and I got into bands, and I essentially started writing and recording my own music when I was around 16. And I just continued to do that for… up until this point now. I guess DJing started when I was in my early 20s, and I guess getting to the point where I could say that I’m primarily a musician, that’s something that’s happened over the last 10 years.

C: I guess that’s quite a natural progression when you think about it that way.

LE: Yeah I mean it was kind of a fluke in some ways, and good luck in some respects. When I was a teenager a family friend of mine – a cool older guy who had a great record collection and knew interested records and sold me my first electric guitar and amp and also a 4 track tape recorder which I used for many years. If that hadn’t happened, I doubt I’d be doing half this stuff. Or at least the recording side of it. It was just the generosity of James Irwin, if you’re listening James, thank you.

C: Does he know that he held a role in you becoming this?

LE: Yeah he does. I guess actually when I think back to it, the urge to record was always there. I can remember having two casette tape desks that you can record just one track on. And I’d record me playing guitar on one of them, and then played it back and recording myself playing along with guitar on the other tape recorder. You figure out time, I discovered time when I was trying to play along and I wasn’t playing in time at all. I guess that’s the thing about recording if you’re a musician, it can be quite a sober truth, to hear yourself played back for the same time. When you’re playing it just feels so good, especially when you’re starting out, and then when you actually hear it back you kind of go oh that’s actually not quite as great as I thought it was, so you improve a lot by recording yourself and hearing it.

Melodies

C: So you’re from Wellington, what is the New Zealand music community like? Do you think that there’s a strong sense of community?

LE: Yeah. Yeah. It’s slightly difficult for me to say, I guess because I am older, I’m out of the game, I don’t know what’s going on, what gigs are on, I don’t go out, I am not really sure what the current state of the music scene is. From a distance, it seems that people are still playing it, it seems to be good. I have to say, musicians wages haven’t increased at all in like 20 years, people still make $100 or $150 at a gig, and the price of living has gone up, and there’s less bars and so many more musicians, because there are so many tertiary institutions teaching people how to be musicians, and beer costs $15 or $10 a beer, and I don’t think people go out as much as they used to, and maybe they’re just texting each other, I don’t know what. But I do know a few younger musicians and they’re cool, obviously. It’s still happening, it’s just a little bit harder in some ways.

For me and my friends from my generation, who are older, we don’t see each other as much as we did when we were young, but I am still friends with the same people that I used to be when I was 20. So it is different, you make strong ties. It’s a big reason why when I tried to live somewhere else, I just found it difficult. It takes such a long time, for someone like me anyway, to make those connections with other people. It takes a lot of trust. I had to sit down and work with other people in a way that’s natural and productive. It’s awkward if you ask someone to do something and then it sucks, it’s kind of awkward, do you use it, or try and not use it. If someone can do something it’s got to be good. I think due to the size, of course and the lack of a real pop industry here, it does mean that there is a stronger community. Or that there is a more cooperative community than I get the sense there is in other places, like bigger cities like New York or wherever. Where people might step on your face to get a leg up, it’s ruthless. It might not be like that, but I feel like it is.

C: So most of your friends in the music scene are people of your generation, so to speak?

LE: Yeah, I mean I’ve got a guy who plays in my band called Dan who’s an amazing keyboard player, and I guess he’s from a younger generation, not that I think of him like that because he’s just a friend. But yeah, even if I don’t have lots of connections music keeps being played. Even if the wages are… yeah they deserve to be making more money.

C: Yeah I know, definitely.

LE: Apart from bankers.

C: There are some people who always don’t deserve to make any more money. So I wanted to ask you about your time in The Black Seeds. How do you see that shaping the kind of music that you’re making today, or since you’ve been working as Lord Echo?

LE: I think really it gave me a chance to cut my teeth, in terms of the engineering and the producing side of things. I was lucky enough that it was a successful band, and there was budget for studios, and we had the luxury of working alongside engineers. It was great being naive and getting to just try and make records, you know? And make them. And experiment and find out what works and what doesn’t work. In a way that I never would have been able to do if I had been in a less successful band. For me, that’s what I am most grateful for. The chance to make a bunch of records with a bunch of people in a proper studio. It was really a luxury. And a luxury of the time as well, like compared to a few days we’d be making a record in a month or more, months in the studio. It wasn’t like a weekend or five days to bang something out. It was we’ve got time to experiment and work things out.

Curiosities

C: What artists do you consider your main influences, and have they changed over time? Or have there been some that have… held firm.

LE: Consistent…

C: Yeah consistent is the word that I was looking for! Thank you.

LE: It’s a difficult question. I mean of course there are ones that I will always kind of love. I think it’s more genre based, rather than artists. Reggae, for example, African music from the ’60s and ’70s when it was kind of the fashion and they were really influenced by American music, and were making African versions of jazz and funk and soul and all that, the whole Afro beats thing, and that’s where we get reggae. And disco, of course that’s African music from ’60s and ’70s. So it’s probably more genre based, and also somewhere like I’ve got a big thing for the sound of particular studios. Like Studio 1 is probably one of my favourite studios. People working in those studios, and the sound that came out of those studios, even though the singer might change, the sound is great. I love those ones as well. It’s too hard! Sun Ra is what always comes to my mind, he’s a jazz musician. I don’t know, it’s hard, nothing else…

C: That’s alright.

LE: You’ll just never get around to it all. There’s always more to discover, there is copious amounts of music in the world.

C: Totally, you can never get to the end of it.

LE: You just need more time.

C: When you are working as a musician yourself, what is the trademark of a song that you think, ‘oh that would be a really good cover or a really good sample’? Is there a specific sound?

LE: I think I have developed a bit of a philosophy as far as covers go, because it was part of my thing that I recorded these three records and essentially I was trying to re-make the same album three times, to see if I could do it in a way that was interesting. But anyway, one of the things was that there would be a cover on each record.

I kind of fluked it on the first one, which was a really popular version of Thinking of You by Sister Sledge, which is a good tune, and I did a cover that was a kind of a reggae disco style, which just really worked. And then the second cover didn’t work so well, and then the third one I did a good job again. I realised over the course of doing those two, I think the key is you’re looking for a good song that due to whatever reason, maybe the style of music that it was recorded in or maybe the fashion at the time is unfashionable now, or whatever the reason might be, there might be some kind of barrier that mean that lots of people now today might not be able to access that song, or might not want to listen to it, but it’s actually still an incredible song. If you can just put it in a new frame, people can access what was the whole time a really great song. That’s kind of my philosophy, look for some kind of potential in terms of fashion and music, or you’re looking for something that you can re-package in a way that’s useful.

There are so many great songs but there’s no time you’d ever touch them or cover them, because they’re perfect, they’re timeless. There’s no point in trying to cover them. But then there’s another tier where there’s a few that people might be kind of turned off. I just look for something like that.

C: I definitely think, well in Adelaide at the moment, and I guess in the wider Australia, disco revival has been so huge.

LE: Yeah!

C: And I guess it’s interesting because there’s this genre that for so long people would just kind of laugh at, suddenly has exploded and it feels like every event in Adelaide is basically involves disco, people just put disco in it. Suddenly, everyone’s like let’s just try and break down these barriers that used to make people laugh.

LE: It’s interesting to me too. I mean I guess you can look at audio trends and they come back around, and that’s probably all it is. Well things that are worth doing again come back around, but it was really interesting to me because when I first, it was 10 years ago that I released that first record. I remember at the time I was trying to describe it, and I was using disco, and I remember feeling it at the time that it wasn’t that cool, or at least some people just wouldn’t get it. It’s interesting that you can see people being so into it now.

From the general history of disco, it’s that the music industry killed it, the way they killed any fad. it was just another form of black American dance music and it was really easy to dance to, because of the floor to floor kick drum, and soon as the music industry realised they just did it to death, they made everything disco. And rammed it down people’s throats to the point that people were angry, they were like leave us along with this shit.

C: Enough with the disco.

LE: And next thing you know you’ve got people burning disco records and this whole thing. And then of course it goes away for awhile. In the end it’s still great music.

Harmonies

C: Yeah it’s nice that it came back. So it’s been almost ten years we have received Melodies, Curiosities, and Harmonies that you’ve been referencing: what’s next for you? Do you have a fourth in the set? Or is that it for that series?

LE: No I decided to make those three records in this way, and I did, and then I just kind of took a break. The last two years I haven’t made anything, which the first time in my life that I’ve ever, ever done that. So it’s been really great, I’ve been really happy. But I have been painting houses. I am going to finish the summer over here, enjoying being outside, painting this house, and then I will get started making a new record. I’m definitely going to be looking to let myself do whatever I want, and probably do something different, try and do something that’s not these three records or the sound of these three records, but not limit myself to the sound of doing that again if that’s what I feel like doing. Basically I just want to do whatever I want whenever I want.

C: Oh, that sounds like a good plan.

LE: I want some time to kind of try completely different stuff. I am looking forward to coming back and making some more music. I feel refreshed and energised.

C: Oh, that’s good. Thank you very much, I really appreciate it. I am looking forward to seeing you at WOMAD.

LE: Great, it should be great. I am looking forward to it too. Okay thank you for your questions. See ya!

C: Bye!

See Lord Echo and a whole host of other talented people at WOMADelaide, running as usual on the March long weekend. Buy tickets here or at the door, and come dance!

Natalie Carfora

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