Echolyn stays quietly in the scene
By Naughty Mickie
 
Pennsylvania based progressive rockers Echolyn have been around nearly two decades, yet unless you are steeped in the genre you may have never heard of them. And you're missing a lot. Their music is filled with the layers and deep thoughts of prog, but has grooves that slide it into other styles of rock and make it easily accessible for anyone who just appreciates well-composed music.
 
The band consists of  lead vocalist and guitarist Brett Kull, lead vocalist and bassist Raymond Weston, keyboardist Christopher Buzby, bassist Thomas Hyatt and drummer and percussionist Paul Ramsey. Their most recent release is 2005's "The End is Beautiful" (Velveteen Records). Echolyn was formed in 1989 out of another group, Narcissus.
 
"With Narcissus being a cover band, I got fed up with it so I got out of that," Kull begins. "The weird thing was that Paul, who is the drummer in Echolyn, and Ray, who is the singer and also bass player, were also in Narcissus with me. They wanted to keep going in the cover band area because the money was good and you don't blame them, but I was fed up with it.
 
"We split up and I spent about a year just trying to write tunes and formed an original band that was called Echolyn with a couple of different people-- another drummer and another bass player. What happened was those guys fell apart, as far as the guys in the cover band, Narcissus, it never took off and they weren't doing anything. And since we were all good friends anyway, I got Paul in on drums because the drummer that started Echolyn with me for a couple of months ended up leaving. I got Raymond to sing because we had a pretty good bass player, his name was Jesse Reyes. So Ray came in to sing along with me and we got Chris that same month. We just were like, 'Let's just play original stuff and try that.'
 
"And at the time period, you know how you listen to music, you listen to certain styles when you're a kid, five or six? When you're a teenager you listen to other things and when you grow older things change. At that time period in my life, being my late teens and early 20s, it was all about progressive rock," Kull laughs. "Which at the time, in the late '80s, it wasn't even really spoken about because at that point, the hair bands were still in and the only cool bands that were around at that time were Jane's Addiction and stuff like that. So we started this progressive rock band because that was what we were into at the time, at that age and just started playing. That was in the fall of 1989."
 
I mention the blend of music that makes up Echolyn's sound.
 
"At this point in our lives we've all outgrown it, but at the same time we still like it and the fans never seem like they outgrow that
kind of stuff, so you do it," Kull replies. "Too, at this point in our lives, it's like the prog rock thing is secondary to trying to write a good song. It's still there though, it's still evident, no doubt."
 
"Prog rock fans are among the most hard-core fans I know," I comment.
 
"That's interesting because I've spoken with different people too, from metal bands to whatever, pop, everybody seems pretty hard-core," Kull says.
 
"True perhaps, but prog rock fans think nothing of traveling across the world to see a concert," I counter.
 
"You've got a point there," agrees Kull. "I think you're right about that. One of the reasons for that long distance travel is it's not a genre that's got a huge fan base so whenever one of these bands like ourselves play it's sort of a rare occurrence. It's not like a cool metal band, like Down. We're not actually out on the road touring around, so the fans never have an opportunity for us to play in California on a regular basis or L.A. or New Orleans. Given the amount of space between our shows and a certain demographic, these people just want to travel out and see it."
 
I ask why they haven't played in California for ages.
 
"In the first place, we split up in '95." Kull clarifies, "The first show we played out there was in Reseda and that was '94, we put out this album on Sony and it fell through the cracks. It probably sold 5,000 copies in the state, the label dropped us on that merit because in order for a lable at that time period, especially one as big as Sony which was the hugest at the time, you need to seel 60-70,000 copies and we weren't anywhere near that. We got dropped and we formed again five years later.
 
"Now it's like a hobby so we play whenever we can. Obviously up and down the East Coast is a helluva lot easier than driving out to California. We would love to get back out there more often and we plan to do that once we get out this new album, but it's just really hard. We're all so busy. My job owning a studio and working with other musicians, it's a 24 hour job, constantly working. Chris is a schoolteacher, so he's constantly working.
 
"It's really hard to get out and do a serious tour where we can get out and play in places as far away as California. We were fortunate enough to get to Europe in 2005 for the first time and we had such a great time. California is like Europe, so thank god we're getting out on the East Coast," Kull chuckles.
 
I prod Kull to learn more about what makes him tick.
 
"I started playing guitar in sixth grade," Kull shares. "I've been into music all my life. I've been listening to classical music, kid's stuff, whatever, ever since I can remember. My first memories are of me sitting around a record player listening to music, so I'm a huge music fan and have been all my life. In high school I kinda knew, I like this music thing and I want to pursue it. As soon as I got out of high school I jumped right in, started playing in clubs and formed a band.
 
"Music was a part-time thing all the way up to 1993 when we got signed to Epic Records on Sony." Kull goes on, "Sometimes I wouldn't have a job and the music was the only thing that would subsidize me, then I'd have to go out and get a construction job. There's always been something in conjunction with music up until then."
 
Today Kull owns the full-production studio, Area 602. What's in the name?
 
"602's just a weird number for me, it's one of those ones I keep seeing. Do you have that at all?" Kull asks.
 
"Yes, my number is 45, " I reply.
 
 "This number keeps coming up, it's like what's Area 51? So I called it Area 602. I keep seeing it, it's bizarre," laughs Kull.
 
"Free time is spent just relaxing and playing guitar, reading," Kull says. "I do a lot of reading. Right now I'm reading this cool book called 'The Lives of the Great Composers.' I'm learning about everybody from Beethoven and Mozart to Wagner to Sibelius, all kinds of cool people. The cool thing about this book is it talks about the reality of the way that these people were and all the other people around them at the time period. It's grounding in a way. My biggest things are probably biography, history and then Stephen King, end of story."
 
We return to Echolyn's creative process.
 
"Now we write it all together, it's great. Being in a band it's like, 'Hey, let's utilize this thing that we have.' Back in the day it was mostly Chris and I, it was our keyboard player writing all this stuff, but now, it's just awesome. We all sit in a room and we all work out a tune together," Kull explains.
 
"You jam," I remark.
 
"We don't jam, I'm definitely not a jam guy," Kull responds. "What will happen is that somebody will have an idea and we'll start playing it, so I guess in a sense you're jamming, but then you see what's up and someone will be like, 'Try this out,' that kind of thing and we go with that. It's very communal and very sort of haphazardly organized, I know that's a weird oxymoron, but it's cool how it works out.
 
"We've been playing together for so long that we're all on the same wavelength and we really honestly enjoy hanging out now. We've been through the wringer together, we've gotten into all the fights in the mid-'90s when we were on Sony and now we just hang out, we have some beers, we have music and we play together, we talk, it's just awesome."
 
I wonder how Echolyn has managed to stay together with the same lineup so long.
 
"We honestly like each other," Kull replies. "I know it sound hokey, but the only lineup change we've had is probably the bass player, Jesse, he left right when we were in the middle of our first album, he just couldn't handle the intensity and the seriousness that we had. At that time we were very serious. As a band, in the early '90s, we would get together six days a week, five days a week and then we would be playing on the other days, so we'd be playing at least two days a week and doing business on the other days. He just couldn't handle that, which is fine, I respect that. That's what happened. And being around each other that much, you get to know each other. Once you get through all the arguments and any stuff that happens with being around each other all the time, you find out that you really like hanging out with each other, we've lucked out that way. We've had a really good solid lineup for all that time because of that, we just like being around each other."
 
So there's that secret, but how has Echolyn managed to keep their fans despite a four-year hiatus?
 
"I firmly believe that it's quality oriented," states Kull. "We really, really kill ourselves and keep trying to better what we're doing. We don't like being in a rut. Every album that we try to do is completely different in a sense of how we approach it, how we record it, how we write it, everything is always different. That keeps it fresh for us and also keeps the listener, I think, in what we're doing because it's never sort of standard operating procedure."
 
Echolyn has been working on finishing a new album and plans to hit the road in spring and summer. They are planning to return  to Europe and the West and East Coasts. They will probably also hit Chicago and selected cities in Michigan.
 
"It's so nice to still be doing this to the extent that we are, meaning it's a glorified hobby and to still see it growing, that's a
cool thing," Kull says. "Every one of our albums that we've put out outsells the one we did previously. We can't say how cool that is to be in a band and have that happen. Those things are really important and for us to express and say thanks to people for having that continue to grow."
 
Learn more about Echolyn at www.echolyn.com
 

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