Creative Dundee

Spotlight: Echo Machine

Spotlight is a monthly feature, highlighting the work of creative people in Dundee. This month we catch up with pop-synth band Echo Machine. Frontman Gary Moore tells us what the band have been up to following the release of their debut album Instant Transmissions. Gary shares how the band have emerged from lockdown with some new music, new ideas and some new creative energies!

Laura McSorley: For those who are not familiar with Echo Machine; who are you, and where did it all begin?

Gary Moore: Echo Machine are a noisy musical outfit featuring myself, my long-suffering guitarist and partner in crime Michael McFarlane, local synthesiser diva Lewis Bage, and the infamous McKay sisters – Hannah and Heather. The band formed in 2018 after me and Michaels old band The Mirror Trap ended.

At first, it was just a bit of a bedroom recording project. Coming out of a sort of traditional rock band we knew we wanted to do something else but weren’t quite sure what form that should take. We wanted to learn new things, explore new ways of writing and recording and try to scratch all the musical itches we’d collected from years of loud, sweaty rehearsal rooms and cramped transit vans. In the end, we discovered that the thing we really wanted was to be in loud, sweaty rehearsal rooms and cramped transit vans! But alas, we have hopefully become better writers and musicians in the process. 

We met Lewis, Hannah and Heather through a series of chance encounters on nights out and through mutual friends. We have been insanely lucky really, it’s all kind of come together like some weird cartoon fantasy. If someone said “paint me a picture of your ideal band” it would be them. 

LM: Last year you released your debut album Instant Transmissions – how’s it been going? 

GM: We released our debut album on 28 February 2020, made a bunch of plans for live shows and all the associated promotional gubbins, then about two weeks later Covid hit. Which pretty much derailed everything.

Those heady days back in late February 2020 were great. The before times. Pre-Apocalypse. We managed to play some record store shows on release weekend, then actually made the pop charts the following Friday! Making it into the Top 20 Scottish Album Chart, and the Top 10 of the UK Record Store Chart. But that was pretty much it after that, we all went indoors and stayed there for a long time.

The reaction to the album has been ace, in our niche little corner of the music world.

LM: Can you describe the Echo Machine aesthetic?

That is a pretty tough question to give a straight answer to at this point in time. I feel like I’m going through a bit of a grand existential crisis around what we are as a band. We are building towards releasing some new music pretty soon, and I am starting to obsess over every minor detail.

We like synthesisers, and big drums, and love the overblown production of 80s pop music. But that is just one, surface-level element of what we are into, and what we do. The songs themselves are more influenced by bands like Pixies, Nirvana, late 70s post-punk stuff, and big euphoric 90s dance music. The tracks on our album are all short, loud as hell, and have a rambling narrative throughout which detail scenes from the life of a modern precarious worker. Claustrophobic and digitised.

LM: What inspires the music? 

GM: I’ve been going down a massive wormhole around nostalgia and its place in modern culture recently. Where it is allowed to exist unnoticed. The way entire decades have been commodified and resold to us in idyllic terms. Reading loads of Mark Fisher and Grafton Tanner. Right now it’s completely ok to be a mid-90s indie tribute act. You can dress like a band from 1994, use all the same sounds, the same kind of artwork, with the grainy press photos etc and no one will bring it up. It’s the current popularly authorised nostalgia.

I find it all really interesting. All the various little ways in which bands and artists will get labelled and filed away, all the biases and things that go mostly unnoticed. In an ideal world, I’d love our next release to be met at a sort of face value, free of preconceptions and the likes, but I suppose in the current moment, with the sheer volume of music being produced and all the #HotNewBands! it is impossible to be met at such a level unless you can pay top dollar for a PR magician to push the narrative you want.

In terms of song inspiration, I think it’s pretty broad. Though I’ve always got a bit of a horn for technology. Not in any specific way, but more the relationship it has with human beings. I read a thing recently that said all the best sci-fi writers know nothing at all about science, and that’s part of what makes them interesting because ultimately the stories are about people. I’d like to think that’s often where I like to sit. Writing about myself and human nature through a prism of digital fear.

a polaroid picture of The five band members of Echom Machine , standing outside pleasureland in Arbroath

LM: Have you been playing any live gigs? How does it feel to be back?

GM: Our first post-lockdown gig was on 1 October in Edinburgh, we have a handful of shows around Scotland between now and the end of the year. We really can’t wait to get back out there. Writing and recording are bloody wonderful things that we all love, but they tend to be pretty thoughtful, slow and considered. Those things let you flex your artistic and intellectual muscles, but sometimes you just need to cut loose. I want some mystery bruises!

LM: A lot of creatives feel that pull towards the central belt. What’s it like being a band based in Dundee? 

GM: I don’t think that’s something we’ve really ever felt, to be honest. I think the bigger cities can swallow people, strip them of their personal traits and spit them back out with a new accent, new outfit and a tribal approach to the world.

One of Dundee’s biggest charms, for music at least, is its lack of a distinct scene. There is no Dundee sound. But there are a lot of talented people, all doing their own things and doing them well. That probably makes it more of a challenge to generate a buzz, or get the crowds in, but is a definite plus in creative terms.

LM: Are there any challenges facing the band right now? I heard recording space is really expensive and hard to find. 

GM: Like most people in the UK it’s the bastard tag team of Covid and Brexit that are the biggest challenge for this band, and probably most others. Over a year with no gigs, lots of music venues struggling, the threat of Covid outbreaks shutting down gigs or tours at any moment, it’s a level of uncertainty that will be breaking a lot of spirits.

And even if we can get free of that, we have the fallout from Brexit to deal with. The UK is a small island. But we have this huge continent of music fans right next door to us. My old band played a lot of shows around Europe and made a lot of friends and useful contacts but it currently looks unlikely we won’t get back out there any time soon.

On a personal level, I guess funding an album is our current challenge. We’ve got a ton of new material. If we were let loose in a studio for three weeks we could probably record three albums and have a pile of b-sides leftover. But that would cost a big wedge of cash that we currently don’t have. I applied for a wide selection of arts funding earlier in the year, with no luck. I don’t think we are really what arts bodies are looking to fund in 2021, so we probably have to move on from that and try and find some creative solutions.

LM: If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be? 

GM: I think I’m ok on the collaboration front. I’d be too scared to ever work with any of my heroes. And I’ve been lucky enough to find a small group of people that I’m really happy working with, who allow me to be a maniac and can fill in the numerous blanks in my skill set. I would die happy if someone like Angel Olsen or Sharon Van Etten were to perform one of my songs, but I don’t actually think I’d have the confidence to actually work with them. 

LM: I heard you have been busy lately – can you spill on what you’ve been up to?

GM: We’ve been exceedingly busy bees in a fairly self-contained, private sort of way. When it became clear that the first lockdown wasn’t just going to be a two week holiday to let the virus pass I started working on new music, as a coping mechanism as much as anything else. It all started to get a bit obsessive. I’m not much of a musician, so I’d always cobble together the most basic outline of a song then take it to the band and we’d work from there. 

With us not being able to meet and flesh things out together I had to learn how to put things together myself, and with each new part of the process I learned, be that programming drums, sequencing synth parts or whatever else, a whole new batch of song ideas would come together. So by the time we were allowed to be in a room together, there was a folder of around 75 songs to work from. 

We’ve spent the last few months figuring them out as a band, and taking little trips down to Galashiels to record tracks with our producer Stephen SAW Watkins

LM: What does the future hold for Echo Machine? Anything exciting coming up?

GM: I really have no idea what the future holds for us to be honest. I usually have some grand scheme in mind, where I can see the set of steps and circumstances that need to play out to get us from one place to the next, but I can’t really see that just now. Without wanting to sound like a football manager, we are just taking each thing as it comes.

I want to make a perfect album. Perfect for me. That I can look back on knowing I’ve not held anything back, or adhered to any external pressures in making. We want to play shows, lots and lots of shows, and meet lots and lots of people. I miss people. I want to hug strangers and talk nonsense to people in bars after gigs who don’t speak the same language as me, conversations held in blurted half phrases and overblown gestures, odd little connections.

In the immediate future, I think we’ll be releasing some new music hopefully around November time. One of our Galashiels recordings is pretty much complete. It feels like a looooooooong time since we’ve released any “new” music. Our debut album was written and recorded at the end of 2018 and were the very first things we’d created as Echo Machine. We’ve moved on a lot since then, I can’t wait to get something out.

LM: I always ask but lastly, do you have anyone you would like to give a shout out to?

GM: We’d like to give a shout out to anyone that has made it through the last 2 years with their minds intact. Anyone who is still standing upright against the tidal wave of dung. It’s probably the hardest time in recent history to be creative and energetic, but it is surely one of the most essential times for creative energy to be put out into the world.

I am instantly aware of ending a chat with Creative Dundee with a sentence that uses the word “creative” twice, but it’s a cross I’ll bear, haha!

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