Echo Machine arose phoenix like from the ashes of The Mirror Trap and released their debut album Instant Transmissions just a few weeks before lockdown. While retaining elements of The Mirror Trap, Echo Machine are a very distinct entity in their own right and both live and on record they are and electronic-glam-trash mish mash of interesting influences battered into their own distinct sound with a lyrical sharpness and edge that gives their bright sounds a darker edge. Like Soft Cell, beneath the veneer, bright lights, flashy clothes and parties there is always a price to be paid in each of the songs. The eleven songs on Instant Transmissions have a very brash, ebullient feel to them but the words deal with life on the fringes of 21st century life and, as the cover image of the debris of previously cutting-edge technology shows, all that glitters isn’t gold. (AJW)
First things first, how are you and how are you doing?
We are all well. Or as well as anyone can be right now. I think we are all, thankfully, pretty good at staying busy and occupied.
How has the lockdown affected you personally?
I am currently locked up, a full member of team furlough. Which is still something I can’t quite get my head around really. I was still doubting that the whole 80% pay thing would come to fruition right up until the money went into my account. The Tories have been continuing to prove themselves as a squad of murderously dithering sociopaths throughout this pandemic, so I was shocked to see furlough actually play out as planned.
I live in a tiny one bedroom flat, on the fifth floor of a pretty residential area, so it has been pretty claustrophobic really. With no space or a garden to sit it in you’ve got to try and come up with interesting ways to keep things fresh, and to manufacture some sense of space. I move things around a lot. Setting up the living room in one way when I have work today, and shifting things around when I need to relax. And I’ve started sleeping on the other side of the bed. I feel like I’ll be better equipped to spend time in jail coming out of this.
Just around the corner from where I stay there is what you could call a more “affluent” area. When I go for my daily wander I often walk around the posh streets, and it really drives home how much the “we’re all in this together” sentiment is nonsense. I am going to guess this period is a lot easier to get though if you have multiple rooms and a football pitch sized garden. I can’t imagine how rough it must be living in a small flat with children right now.
The more I wander in the nice streets the more I start to imagine myself as some sort criminal mastermind, plotting robberies. Which ties in with my new found prison training I suppose.
As a musician, has it directly affected you and in what ways?
I suppose the number one thing is not getting to play. I am missing gigs and band practice. One of the unsung joys of being in a band is getting into a practice room, shutting the door behind you and locking out the rest of the world, becoming a gang, out-with reality.
Thankfully for us we all have other means of income. If we relied solely on music for income this would be a highly tricky time.
A definite positive thing to come out of this is having the chance to write. I know not everyone will be able to feel creative under these circumstances, and am relieved to be one of the lucky ones who can.
The writing and recording of our album was pretty intense. We made a point of pushing ourselves hard, and trying loads of new things, which was great to do, and we are happy with the results, but it did leave us all creatively spent. I’ve tried on a few occasions since we finished the album recording to work on some new stuff and have always hit a brick wall. But since the turn of the year things have started to tingle again, I’ve been gagging for some free time to just get stuck into creating music. It has been a very fruitful lockdown up to this point, we have a little demo folder that now contains about 25 tracks.
There have been a lot of artists and performers finding ways to connect with their audience. How have you, if you have, engaged with people and how did you find the experience?
I have found that to be the most tricky thing about all this. I’m not entirely sure how much of a connection a lot of artists are looking for in the things they are doing, it seems to be more for them, more just a way to flex the ego and massage the brand a bit. I’ve tuned into a few live steams and house gigs and it always leaves me feeling a bit strange. I’m not really sure what good would come from me sitting in a pair of soiled joggers murdering acoustic versions of our songs.
I think maybe I’m an old fashioned narcissist, I want a spotlight, glitter cannons and an environment I can control, I want all eyes on me, but on my terms. Which is probably quite self indulgent really. There seems to be a more modern narcissism in which people need to be looked at in order to justify their very existence, they want to be viewed everywhere, doing everything. 360 degree voyeurism.
That said, I do want to do something, I’m just not quite sure what yet. We are open to suggestions. Maybe Ben can present an online cookery show, or P.E. classes with Mike. For now the plan is to just keep writing so we can be better when this is all over.
What tips do you have or what things do you find useful in keeping yourself going during these strange times?
As boring as it might sound I have found keeping a routine to be the best thing for me. I’ve let it slip a few times over the last six weeks and those are the points when I’ve struggled most. Writing is obviously a great and time consuming activity.
And equally boring, I think keeping active is good. Getting the pulse racing a bit always helps me be more calm and contented in general. I think basically I’m just repeating all the official advice.
Have you taken on any new challenges or routines during lockdown?
Nothing new really. I’ve tried a few things, but find my old favourites of reading and music have filled my time best. After the first week or so I had decided I would get into a routine of doing a load of weights and stuff so I can out of this like some kind of sculpted Greek god, but I lost interest in that pretty fast. I got my old keyboard out and decided I would try to become a more technically skilled piano player, but once again, I got bored with that. I found that as soon as I played two notes that excited me I’d go off and start working on a song instead of mechanically going over scales or learning other people tunes.
My latest thing is learning to speak Chinese. I’ve got an app. And been at it a few days, but its highly likely I’ll run out of patience soon.
What music, books, films, art or television shows have sustained you through lockdown?
This might take a while, ha ha!
I’ve been reading a lot. I finished Richard Powers The Overstory at the start of lockdown, that was a incredible, and moved onto Hans Fallada The Drinker, which was also great, pretty bleak but I loved it. I’m currently about ¾ through Our Lady Of The Flowers by Jean Genet. I don’t know how its taken me so long to start this book, Mike has suggested it a lot. Bowie loved it. Placebo wrote a song about it. All my boxes ticked. And productively enough I am loving it.
It’s not the easiest if reads, in the way it jumps around between time periods and characters within characters, so on days when my brain is a bit fried I’ve been reading Burning In Water, Drowning in Flame, selected Bukowski poems from 1955 – 1973.
Music-wise I’ve been on a few odd journeys. Loads of ABBA, and a lot of ‘Nightflight to Venus’ by Boney M.
Usually I am an 80s obsessive, but I’ve gone back a decade during lockdown, listening to a lot of Roxy Music, ENO, John Cale, John Foxx era-Ultravox, and more recently Shocking Blue.
In terms of new stuff, I have been right into the new Baxter Dury album, and the recent Moaning, Car Seat Headrest and Dua Lipa records. I’ve had the new Strokes album on a lot as well but I’m still on the fence with that one.
I’ve been rewatching Life On Mars this last week. Bloody love that programme. And have went into a big YouTube wormhole of Adam Curtis documentaries. I’ve watched them all many times before, but I don’t think its possible to get bored of his work. Right now I’m two episodes into his “The Trap” series from about 10-12 years ago. And for light relief, I am breaking my Harry Potter virginity and watching my way through all of the films. I must be in a minority of people on earth who had never seen a film or read a book in the Harry Potter series up until this point. I can’t say I’m ready to get a Hogwarts tattoo or go on holiday to Harry Potter world quite yet, but a bit of childish fantasy and magic never hurt anyone.
‘Instant Transmissions’ is available on vinyl and CD now.
Here’s one of the singles from the album:
Previously on Life Under Lockdown: