Have you ever craved the exquisite combination of loud drums and lively guitars with a delicate, sometimes wailing, saxophone oozing joy and comfort? For most of us, the answer is no, even among our well-versed readers. But sometimes bands satisfy a craving we didn’t know we had. A Troop of Echoes, hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, took this crazy blend of an idea and ran with it, and they ran with it so fast that they’re still trying to catch up. The question isn’t what they’re running from, it’s what they’re running towards, which, in their case, involves friendship, once-in-a-lifetime memories, amazing food, and a chance to make meaningful music for the world to hear.
Their newest release, titled The Longest Year on Record came out in 2015, and more recently they have released a music video for “Small Fires”. The music video serves as a looking glass into the band’s life on tour, highlighting the experiences they’ve encountered and eventually overcame while on the road. I also got to chat with the band on the development of their sound, who they are individually as well as who they are as a band, and what they enjoy most about their local scene.
What first interested me about your catalogue was your unique songwriting. How do you approach writing music and how does the inclusion of a saxophone player affect that process?
Thanks, man! A lot of times the foundations of our songs are pulled from these big free-form jams at our rehearsal space. Those are our idea engines. We record everything, and when we come across a moment that seems like it has potential, we re-learn whatever we played the first time and get to work shaping and forming it into something we like. From there, it’s a lot of reduction and trying to streamline parts, just trying to “get out of the way” of the song. Because ironically, a free-form jam is the last thing we want it to sound like.
When we got started we weren’t sure what the place of the saxophone would be, but at this point we’ve found an approach that’s been working pretty well. In terms of the saxophone, we basically treat it like a vocal element. Since our songs are written and not improvised, you have to kind of keep the sax under control to make the song sound right. And it’s true that underneath our love for noise and fuzz pedals, we still like writing something that can get stuck in your head. So when you’re thinking that way, you end up with saxophone lines that have this vocal-like quality. When everything comes together, we want the songs to sound purposeful, concise, and rich.
You also have a wonderful visual representation of your music, and I love the choice of black and white for your album cover. Seeing that you’ve also kept your music video in black and white, was that a conscious decision or one you picked up and ran with?
These days, we can’t open our mouths without singing the praises of photographer Freddie Ross. Dan met him through some post-hardcore bands he was playing with, and kinda fell in love with his style (plus he’s one of the nicest and most genuine dudes we’ve ever met). Freddie has a masterful eye for dramatic black and white work, and at the time was photographing two subjects: bands and roller coasters.
From a sonic perspective, we felt a pretty coherent theme running through The Longest Year on Record. But, we were struggling to figure out how to relate that overall mood to something visual. Interacting with Freddie, you get the sense that he’s a super trustworthy person. We felt comfortable sending him the unmastered version of the record for him to ruminate on, to see if he had any thoughts.
Freddie got back to us with a few ideas, and we were immediately drawn to the photo we ended up using as the album cover. It seemed to perfectly capture the feel of the record: unsettled anticipation, playfulness, and a touch of bittersweet nostalgia.
The “Small Fires” video was a fairly DIY affair. Basically, Dan edited together a bunch of stills and clips from the recording of the album, as well as a few subsequent tours and medical misadventures. On one level, the use of black and white helped make the video more coherent, as it consisted of many components captured by many cameras of varying quality. But aesthetically, the stretched and saturated black and white footage lends a washed-out, nostalgic, 90’s home video vibe – a feeling that perfectly captures the shifting moods of the song.
With the “Small Fires” video, you show the audience the perspective of being a touring band in today’s world, bridging the gap between a musician and a person. Where does your music stand on a personal level?
Thinking about this question, I’m realizing that A Troop of Echoes has been a band for over 12 years. When we started the band, we were teenagers. It’s a strange feeling to be turning 30 and playing in the same band as when you were 17. We’ve been in this band for our entire adulthoods, and in a way the band is deeply woven into our individual identities. Musical considerations aside, we’ve grown a lot through our experiences, working closely together to write good songs, book and organize tours, manage the business end of things, deal with disagreements, and find edible food somewhere along the interstate in rural Alabama.
Musically, A Troop of Echoes has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Over the years, we’ve evolved from skronking fusion to scattershot mathrock, finally distilling our sound into the more refined and sometimes orchestral postrock on The Longest Year on Record. Its been pretty fascinating tracing out people’s reactions to the music we’re putting out, and seeing how the demographics and overall response changes based on the songs we’re writing. We feel like we hit something pretty pure on the newest record. We sweat and bled and cried over these songs, and it is such a life-affirming feeling to hear from people all over the world who dig what we’re doing.
What is your favorite thing about performing in your local area? Have you found your “home away from home” in a sense?
We feel like Providence is the “tiniest world-class city,” and that applies to food and drink as well as the local music scene. The innovation and exploration from Providence bands over the last 20 years or so are fairly incredible (see a 5+ hour Spotify playlist Dan just made featuring rad Providence bands). Clubs like AS220 are extremely well-run and are especially supportive of young musicians, respecting fledgling high school bands just as much as well-established touring acts.
In terms of “homes away from home,” a lot of these fuzzy feelings center on food. We’ve planned tour dates in cities just so we could stop at specific restaurants. There was a night in Baltimore where we basically had dinner at the Annabelle Lee Tavern, played a 30-minute set at Sonar (RIP), and then packed up our shit and drove 8 hours back to Rhode Island in the hopes of beating an approaching blizzard. Spoiler Alert: despite our best efforts, we got car-fucked by snow.
What else do you guys enjoy that isn’t music related? Also, any future plans?
Dan just recently defended his Ph.D. thesis in lunar geology (Blasting-Moon-Rocks-With-Lasers-ology, as Harry puts it). Nick and Harry are working on an ambient soundtrack to a photography exhibition, and Pete and his wife are living in married bliss in Toronto while she finishes up her Ph.D. in musicology. As a band, we are currently undefeated in “Cards Against Humanity.”