“Don’t meet your heroes,” he tells me, taking a sip of wine.
I’m talking to Rich Sadler from Blueneck. We’re sitting across from each other 10,000 kilometres apart. He’s recounting a Radiohead-related tale of woe that befell his friend, and I’m pretending to be surprised to learn that Thom Yorke is a twat.
I joke – there’s never any need to convince me that Radiohead are a bunch of wankers. However, in keeping me from a life of shattered dreams and cynicism, Rich’s wisdomous advice appears to overlook one tiny detail:
I’m talking to Rich Sadler from Blueneck.
I refrain from telling him the damage is probably already done.
Blueneck are not a group that frequents shoegaze circles. They aren’t even a name that pops up too frequently within the community. It could be because up until recently they hadn’t even the foggiest notion what to qualify their sound as. They’ve had the label ‘post-rock’ thrust upon them by over-enthusiastic third parties (independent publications not unlike this one, e.g.) but Blueneck never set out with any such intentions. No one in the group had even heard the term before having it stamped all over them.
Rich is one of the lucky few to have had the chance to be a fan of the band before being in the band. He recalls seeing them live before they’d released their first album, Scars of the Midwest, and wondering:
‘Why are they not huge?’
Then, when they toured for The Fallen Host, he toured with them.
‘Why are they not huge?’ – a standard reaction when you first hear Blueneck. I recall my own First Time; playing The Fallen Host while at work. Even under stark white light in the middle of the morning, ‘Low’ managed to stop my world. For a little over 9 minutes, it was just the two of us, spinning in infinity.
The live experience is a grandiosity that we scattered fans can only imagine.
How do they do it?
I can’t bring myself to ask the question, even though I’m longing to know the answer. Innate curiosity fights the urge to preserve the magic of the Blueneck sound by leaving technicalities shrouded in mystery.
‘How do you do it?’
They live miles apart, the Bluenecks. They have lives and jobs. I can’t imagine how they find the time to be in the same room for more than a couple of hours every month. With both space and time against them, how is it even feasible for them to create anything at all?
Enter, the internet.
Spending hours in a studio writing, testing and recording tracks is a luxury most groups just cannot afford – least of all when they have to balance distance, families, work, and the basics of adult existence. Blueneck aren’t any different and Rich, being the furthest away from the others, makes a two and a half hour trek down to Bristol when the tracks are finally ready and it’s time to lay them down.
They’re not the first band to embrace the dropbox method of recording. Tears Run Rings rely on a similar technique, recording albums while divided by cities. Meanwhile, The Microdance make sure lyrics and composition are perfectly in place before they hit their Brick Lane studio (or Los Angeles) to churn out an album. Epilogue, Rich reveals, was recorded almost entirely remotely, and Rich and Duncan still have an album’s worth of songs waiting to be tracked.
‘They’re not Blueneck songs, though,’ he forewarns, pre-empting my apopleptic fit. The internet can only overcome the tyranny of distance by that much and Rich and Duncan’s project is both a resolution and an experiment. He seems intent on assuring me that Menace At The Dam has close to nothing to do with Blueneck, and I can’t tell whether to be excited or apprehensive about a potential departure from the established, accepted, worshipped norm.
Despite their elusiveness, Blueneck are far from unknown, scads of fans hang on to their every note, buy their albums, go to their gigs, and pick up their merch. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to be signed on by Denovali, but it does lead you to the obvious question:
File-sharing: good or bad?
It’s not a cut and dry question and Rich takes a while to respond. Understandably, he can’t take a definitive stance.
‘I’m torn,’ he tells me. ‘There wouldn’t be a Blueneck without file-sharing.’
I’m clearly not the only one who found out about Blueneck through word of virtual mouth before buying their album. Downloads, streams – whether legit or no – do little to further the economic ambitions of a band. But they’re what drive an audience to attend a gig, to buy a t-shirt, to invest in the vinyl.
‘We never expect to earn anything from album sales,’ he says. It makes me think of a ‘legal’ service like Spotify which may pay a cent for a thousand plays. Rich knows better than to expect to turn a profit from online services alone – I think they’d be lucky if they even managed to break even – but find me a 21st century band that does.
It’s a blessing, not a curse. Without the extrinsic motivation, or even the expectation, of making money off a recording, a band is free to focus on creating what they want to create, a listener less likely to be turned off by the ‘polish’ that coats anything released to achieve a commercial or economic result.
Rich concurs, even though I never say this out loud.
“We wouldn’t care if no one bought King Nine. It’s the album we wanted to make.
There was a time in my infancy when the dream of one day being able to talk to the peddlers of the sonic amphetamines that ruled my life was nothing more than that – a dream. One that would, if all went well, be realised in the afterlife.
I must have been very, very good (or very, very insistent) because it came true in less than a decade, further fueling my unshakable belief that the internet is, in fact, The Great Beyond.
Blueneck were around when I was building these castles in the sky, but it was only when my shoegaze dealer sent me a link to The Fallen Host that I came to know of them. This is also when I established: they will be mine, oh yes, they will be mine.
I’m calling them now. Stay glued.
And while you wait:
Hell is made of people of leaving, of leaving people, and of being left behind.
(Such is life)
‘Ghost’ will bring you to your knees and to tears, but at least it won’t leave.
Hold me close
Stay with me
I don’t remember when we met, but I remember it felt like flying.
And like sinking.
I remember there were others who were like you.
(but none of them were you)
So, I always came back.
And I found something beautiful hidden in you every time.
7 years today.
Happy birthday, DiaSoS.
Not long till The Microdance‘s first full-length New Waves of Hope is out. I already know it’s excellent but you don’t so just take my totes unbiased word for it.
Out of the dozen or so tracks on the album, this one’s my favourite. That’s why they’ve decided to release it as a single.* It’s out tomorrow on Boxing Clever Records.
[*No, that’s not why]
Damn. It only took me a month to get that hook out of my head and now it’s wedged solidly in there again.
“This one is different.”
I don’t know what my Echodrone SPOC, Eugene Suh, was on about when he introduced Five to me with those words, helpfully hooking me up with a download of the album a month before its official release.
(I realise I’m writing this two months AFTER the official release)
The announcement that Echodrone were coming out with a new album had been the highlight of my new year, but now I watched my download of Five near completion with increasing apprehension as E’s words reverberated in my skull forcing me to confront the awful possibility…
What if it sounds nothing like them?
I’d last listened to Echodrone when they released their marvelous album of cover songs, Mixtape for Duckie, in 2013. Their version of ‘Cry Little Sister’ is still my go-to mantra whenever I’m beset by rage, angst, or any emotion at all. In these moments, it’s Meredith’s voice that I need to say to me “Thou shalt not kill.”
But that version of Echodrone no longer exists. Original drummer, Mark Tarlton, and vocalist, Meredith Gibbons, have since moved on, and their absence is probably behind Eugene’s conviction that this version of Echodrone is nothing like the last. On Five we meet Mike Funk, Jim Hrabak and Rachel Lopez.
“We found Jim through his solo project, Slack Armada,” says Eugene. “he’s really added an electronic element that we were striving to achieve on previous albums.”
He goes on: “Rachel added a new set of vocal and vocal harmony ideas. She’s very much influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees. And Mike’s drumming is just so solid – he really shaped the rhythmic backbone of Five.”
I can’t narrate the romantic trepidation with which I pulled the shrink wrap off before gingerly placing it into my hi-fidelity system and pressing play, because the only thing remotely retro about the entire experience was Winamp.
An hour later, I was typing out my response to Eugene. “Don’t take this the wrong way…” I found myself saying, “but Five sounds exactly like an Echodrone album.”
Someone more keen on picking a fight may have pulled me up for accusing them of unoriginality. Eugene, however, was stoked! “I’m blown away,” he said, “Honestly, it’s an extremely difficult genre to work in. Many shoegaze bands seem to want to rehash the past, and many fans want their favourite shoegaze bands to rehash the past. We always hope that our music comes across as a unique entry in the shoegaze arena.”
Uniqueness is all well and good, but there’s not much that emerges from a vacuum, so you have to wonder: what influences have to be fused together to create that uniquely Echodroney sound?
“It’s funny – we always start an idea based on an influence. ‘Disparate Numbers’ used to be called ‘Boards of Canada’, ‘Glacial Place’ used to be called ‘I Paddy’ cause I found a cool arpeggiator program on my iPad and built the song around it. ‘Less Than Imaginary’ used to be called ‘Vampire Weekendy’ (?!?!?!)). But I think we end up throwing all our influences into a melting pot and it always ends up sounding like Echodrone!”
Not one to ask a question without an ulterior motive I gently steer the conversation towards the more than passing resemblance I find ‘NoiseBed’ bears to a somewhat popular MBV track.
Here’s how you ask a subtle question:
So, um, did you ever listen to Andy Weatherall‘s remix of ‘Soon’?
It’s Mike Funk who responds: “I love that Andy Weatherall remix! It’s so hypnotic and groovy. Even Kevin Shields got caught up in the rave culture of the early 90s. He had that one famous quote back then: ‘The only innovation in music is in house music and rap music.’ ‘Soon’ definitely reflects that. Andy’s production is so distinct that you can’t imagine hearing classic tracks by Primal Scream and Happy Mondays heard in any other way.
“I have a funny story about playing the ‘Soon’ remix as a college radio DJ – a fellow DJ walked into the station MCR while I was on the air and spinning that 12″ single and he said, ‘Your record’s skipping.’ It wasn’t, of course, but that’s what’s great about ‘Soon’- it’s so strong in its rhythm and repetition that it’s almost euphoric but still loud and heavy.”
My cunning plan has fallen flat. I am left with no choice but to resort to open and honest dialogue. I mention the similarity between the two tracks and:
“Never even connected the two songs before, but I can hear what you’re talking about with the Soon remix! Jim was targeting a Fuck Buttons vibe with all his electronics…’Soon’ didn’t even cross our minds!”
I swear I’m not imagining it:
Moving on. I wonder about ‘Disparate Numbers’ – the synth-loaded opener with a vibe so electro, it could easily pull off being my age.
“‘Disparate Numbers’ is our first political-type song. It’s about how government and economic policies have created this huge, ever-expanding divide between the rich and the poor. We continue to let our governments and federal reserve representatives run free, implementing policies that extract money from the poor and provide risk-free capital to the rich (their friends). In essence, we end up ‘swinging lower, orbiting slower’ until we exist in a completely separate reality from the upper-class.
“I remember being really affected by the photos of Hong Kong’s underground city. Within a few city blocks, you have high rise luxury apartments filled with the city’s wealthy elite (Rurik Jutting is a perfect example of that excess lifestyle) and right underneath all that wealth and excess, you have some of the poorest people living a completely different life. So the people inhabiting the underground city and the people inhabiting the high-rise apartments – they are essentially disparate numbers, completely separated by an accumulation of wealth that’s really only a series of electronic ones and zeros. Just electronic numbers in a bank account.”
It’s fan favourite ‘Octopussy’ that steals the show on Five, though, proving (again) that Echodrone know just what to do with a cover. As a band, they’ve always been capable of exhibiting a muted magnificence – a superpower they do not reveal as frequently as I’d like. The last time they let the immensity of their sound shine through was on their crushing rendition of ‘Cry Little Sister’ on Mixtape for Duckie before which they could have knocked the breath out of a sizeable percentage of the world’s population with ‘Under an Impressive Sky’ and a good sound system.
‘Octopussy’ is undoubtedly the gloriousest track on Five. It makes you wonder – does having a set format make Echodrone bolder? Looking at Mixtape for Duckie and Five, I’d hazard a ‘yes’, but this is the band that made the sonic trump card ‘Under an Impressive Sky.’ What could possibly stop them from doing it again?
See for yourself… Pick up Five from Saint Marie Records.
Who are they?
Where did they come from?
How did they do it?
An MBV cover to rival MBV?
It cannot be!
But it is:
This is for the ones didn’t overcome the odds
Still stacked against them.
For the ones who dropped out of school
And didn’t launch a startup.
For the ones who left a career
To follow a dream that didn’t want them.
For the ones who fought a family for a lover.
For the ones who gave up when the going got tough
And the ones who didn’t even try.
This is for the ones who don’t roll with the punches.
They’re built to bleed
But it’s all right.
If you feel like letting go.
Let’s be clear.
‘Hey’ is the greatest shoegaze track to emerge out of the 90s.
I would listen to ‘Hey’ before I listened to ‘Soon’ or ‘Alison’ or ‘Pearl’ or ‘Black Metallic.’
And Blind Mr. Jones are only the most exotic group to ever walk the earth.
Because Blind Mr. Jones are the only the only group I have ever known to have a flautist as a band member.
How many flautists could there possibly be in Marlow?
(filling in crosswords on park benches)
Shoegaze community, you have let me down.
Your tenacity is a delusion. Your loyalty is an illusion.
I’ve only been playing nothing else for 4 days.
Maybe don’t listen to anything else for a while.