The Echo Falls
June 2009 marked a milestone in a long musical journey for Bay Area-based trio The Echo Falls when the band brought its potent blend of indie-rock meets acoustic singer/songwriter music to San Francisco's Cafe Du Nord, opening for Gary Jules.
The Echo Falls may have started when at the tender age of four, Alex Mandel strummed his fatherís 1948 Martin guitar on his lap and Dave Brandt banged on empty cans at the Brookline reservoir. Years later, more seeds were planted when David Arend contributed double bass to Mandelís songs as they jammed in a Victorian they shared as students at Oberlin College in Ohio.
In fact, The Echo Falls was born six years ago when the three musicians gathered in their living rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area. No amps, no microphones Ė just that same Martin, an upright bass and bow, a vintage Gretsch set, vibes and a remarkable collection of songs. With natural chemistry, exploration, and time, the band became something greater than the sum of its parts. The three musicians brought their diverse musical experience to these informal gatherings.
With Mandelís instantly likeable vocals, thoughtful lyrics and the bandís memorable and tuneful songs, this should prove to be many more than a few listeners.
Exclusive Magazine had the recent pleasure of chatting with Alex Mandel of The Echo Falls about the band, his Oakland living room, the bands debut night, his work for Pixar, ... and, of course, penguins!
Your music has a clear indie-rock style. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "Some of my main influences on the songwriting on this album are Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, the Police, Travis, Cat Stevens, Big Star, Beck's acoustic stuff. But the three of us in the group have very broad musical tastes - just as an example, Dave Brandt plays West African percussion , and David Arend performs with the SF Symphony, and plays electro-acoustic music with composer Mason Bates and the AcŠ trio. And all those influences are very much in play in the band's arrangements."
You came together as a band in one of your living rooms, correct? So, whose was it and what went down that night that was more special than any other living room gathering before it? "Let's see, I think we first played in my living room in Oakland. First, it was totally acoustic. No one was wearing earplugs, we could hear everything. We had a musical conversation that was really enjoyable -- West African, jazz, free improvisation. After a while, Dave and David started asking, hey what about that song you used to play on that old demo....So we started working on some of my songs, but brought that same loose spirit to the arrangements."
And where did the name The Echo Falls originate anyway? "We made long lists of names we thought fit the music. We all liked this one. I like that it has more than one meaning."
Indeed, how easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Very, very easy. No, not really! Honestly, when I write a song, I don't think about that, it would scare away the right state of mind you need to write a song. You get a certain feeling, go into a kind of trance for 15 minutes, the fog lifts and there's a song. Four of five times it's not so great. The last one, I keep. If Dave and David hadn't encouraged me to play these songs and said they were great, they'd probably still be in my notebooks and my head. I'm grateful they did."
Your first show as a collective unit was opening for Brett Dennen in 2006 at the Hotel Utah in San Fran ... how did it go? Any band-debut nerves within the band that night, perhaps? "Well, Brett Dennen has gone onto great success since that show on 6.6.06. But at the time he was relatively unknown, playing a small club, and I had just found his music on myspace and liked it. So Dave asked the club if we if we could open for him, and they said yes. We noticed that his fans were real fans, they hung on every word. Though I played hundreds of shows with my last band, The Fingers, I hadn't performed in a while, so I was a bit nervous, I think. But we had a good response that night. Brett's drummer borrowed Dave's drums and played really late and Dave waited and got a parking ticket."
It's been said that The Echo Falls' music recalls California's halcyon days of early '70s singer-songwriters. Why do you think this is? Is it intentional? "That music tended to be kind of laid-back, mostly acoustic, and the lyrics were introspective, like Neil Young, James Taylor, Tim Buckley. And there was something very California about it all. The northern Cal version of that - early 70s Van Morrison, Grateful Dead - probably had an even bigger influence on this album."
Your day job includes scoring short films for Pixar, including 'Your Friend The Rat' for 'Ratatouille. What other stuff have you recorded that was equally as known as that one ... and do you have any new stuff upcoming that we can watch out for? "'Your Friend the Rat' is probably the most widely distributed thing I've done, it went out on like 20 million Ratatouille DVDs. An amazing experience - having a 16 piece orchestra play my music at Skywalker Sound, while Brad Bird videotaped the proceedings!? Working with Jim Capobianco (the writer/director) was great, and we'll work together again, on his follow up to his short film "Leonardo"."
"My other Pixar score was for "Mr. Incredible and Pals" which is hidden on the Incredibles DVD. There's a movie called "Tracy" which I scored, written/directed by another Pixar guy, Dan Scanlon. It's hilarious; it's just starting to get out to festivals. Of course, The Echo Falls will be much bigger than any of that, he said confidently."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today...and why? "'Jessie's Girl' by RIck Springfield. I love that he used the word "moot" to rhyme with "cute"."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins...do you? " Yes, yes I do love penguins, thanks for asking."
Interview: Russell A. Trunk
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