IO ECHO: GOT ME A GUN FOR CHRISTMAS
Stream: IO Echo “Addicted”
IO Echo has yet to release an official album yet they have already managed to open for Nine Inch Nails, star in a national commercial and have fans who dress up like IO at shows. L.A. RECORD sat down with IO, the Greek Goddess of Goth, and guitarist/producer Leopold Ross to discuss stage fright and how an IO Echo show is like an Italian restaurant. This interview by Scott Schultz.
You weren’t a musician when you moved to Los Angeles—how did you end up fronting a band?
IO (vocals/keyboards): I received this keyboard as a gift, and I was an English major in college and had done some writing. I never thought of pairing the words with music. Then I started fiddling around and taught myself keyboard. Within a month, I had met Leopold and he heard some of my ideas and he really loved them, so we thought we try to do something together. It just sort of happened.
Leopold Ross (guitar): We recorded a couple of the songs she had, like ‘I’m On Fire’ and ‘Stalemates’ for fun. Then somebody was throwing a Halloween party, and they had printed their fliers with our name on it. We didn’t have a band yet and here was this flier saying we were going to play. That was basically our first show.
How do you build off your influences?
LR: I just had a vibe in mind that I empathize with. I enjoy metal music. I like music that rocks—whatever that may be—and things like Siouxsie Sioux and Bauhaus, I think they have an influence. A vibe of danger or desperation.
IO: I grew up listening to a wide variety of music, everything from classical to this band by a bunch of guys from my high school—Jonathan Fire*Eater. At the time, they were the Ignobles. I was so blown away by the sound. It was really going against what was popular in the United States at that time. The freshness of that sound was really interesting to me—being really youn— and it turned on this fire with its urgency and excitement. So when we were writing songs, at least in my mind, I’d take things really happy and make them sad or sad and make them happy. I don’t really know what kind of genre that is. One of us will get an idea—like maybe, I’ll get an idea that I’ll write down for a melody and then we kind of build it off that, and actually lyrics are the last thing I write after we get the beat together.
LR: We try not to get stuck in a process where we write it this way all the time. Sometimes, she’ll just have the basics of an idea and then we’ll bring up a drumbeat and add it to it and see what happens.
When are you finally going to release your debut?
IO: We keep getting show offers, and then we put all of our time into preparing for those shows. We never have time to sit and channel out the ideas that we’ve got. Next month, we’ll have more time.
LR: Something that we do that I really like—but which has made the process longer—is when we write the songs, we’ll play it live for like two months before we record it. It’s really interesting because in all of the bands I’ve been with or recorded with, we’ve never done it that way. It was always ‘you record the song first and then you go out and play it.’ You find out so much about a song when you play it live. You start to understand anything that you’re holding onto in your mind. I mean—the band might think something won’t work and I think it will work, but then you play it live and you can immediately tell that it won’t work. And then you cut it out.
IO: If we don’t play them live first, we miss out on finding the nuances of them until it’s too late. You already have a finished copy.
LR: We’ve been recording in pieces, and right now we have five of our songs recorded. In September we’ll do some more recording and then we have a few shows in October. We will probably do some more recording and then we have a tour in November with Crystal Antlers. I would imagine we’ll release something early part of next year. For newer and younger bands it’s harder to make an impact coming into the later part of the year because Christmas CDs and the Mariah Carey’s have their big releases. So I would say early part of next year.
IO: Bands have been really receptive to our music. They will just come up to us and have been cool about inviting us to play. Every band that we’ve been asked to play with is a band that we’ve been a fan of. It’s always surprising to me because people are really receptive, which is strange because I never know how we will be received. But it’s always been warm.
LR: We’ve built who we are and our reputation by playing live. Like we say, someone booked a show for us before we had a band—but after that, every show we’ve played has led us on to our next. Like at the first show, someone comes up to us and says you have to play this show next month. It has been a real domino effect. It seems like we’ll play a show and there will be a band in the audience and they will say, ‘You should play our show.’
IO: Sometimes it’s fun to look around the crowd when we have a show. Often times, there will be a lot of musicians in the crowd and it makes me feel good. Kind of like when you go into an Italian restaurant and you see a lot of Italian families in there and you think, ‘Oh, I bet this place has really good Italian food.’ It makes me feel the same way about our music.
IO, I know you’re really shy. Do you still have stage fright? When you hurl yourself all over the stage during your act, is that your way of blocking out the audience?
IO: No. I still have it really bad. The physical stuff—that is all pure adrenaline. I actually sometimes finish my set and don’t know what I was doing out there. Sometimes the stagefright gets really bad. Whiskey helps and pulling down the black curtain on my face. It’s a strange thing where I convince myself that when I pull down my bangs, if I can’t see the audience, then they can’t see me. It’s almost like how a two-year old would think. I’m still really shy, except for 25 minutes on stage.
What’s it like having London-based management?
Do you toast the Queen at every meeting?
IO: Everything is over tea. E-mail is over tea. If you were to go into my e-mail account and search the key word ‘Cheers,’ you’d find a thousand messages. My parents say it, too. Because they were born in Europe. They were Greek but learned English through schools in London. So they speak parliamental.
I know you were an English major when you went to college in New Orleans. How much did being a reader in New Orleans affect your gothic sensibilities?
IO: The city definitely affected me. New Orleans has a really dark side to it, but I think it’s a really cheerful dark side. They view death as a celebration, and that has comforted me in times that had been potentially really trying. I also really like dichotomy—the conflicting ideas of happy and death. If something is too one-sided, it’s imbalanced and not very interesting or exciting for me. I like opposing tones, and New Orleans has a lot of that.
You spread your shows equally between Silverlake and Echo Park and the Hollywood clubs. Is there a difference?
IO: We’re not interested in being pigeonholed into a scene. I love playing clubs in Silverlake and Echo Park but we also like to play the Troubadour. The bottom line is that our fans are willing to travel, so we haven’t really seen a difference between the two types of crowds.
How did you land that Sprint phone commercial? It looks more like an IO Echo video and an advertisement for your Facebook page than a commercial for a phone.
LR: The director was a fan of the band. He heard the music and liked it so he came to see us live. He came up to us—and you kind of expect things like this to happen in Hollywood, but when he first came up to us, I gave him a CD but I didn’t really think much of it. I probably said, ‘Cool, good luck.’ He said he was going to pitch this idea, and we were like, ‘OK,’ and then he came back to us and said they liked it and they were going with the concept of your Facebook page and blah blah blah … We’re thinking, ‘Yeah, right—they’ll never go for that.’
Did you get a million Facebook requests after your commercial?
IO: We got a LOT of people from that. They’re still coming, and then we started getting a word of mouth thing happening. Now it’s airing at movie theaters before screening.
Have you seen yourself standing twenty feet tall?
LR: Yeah—it’s pretty cool.
IO: Those kids then become friends with us and we make an announcement that we’re opening for Nine Inch Nails, and that creates another wave of friend requests and now we have all sorts of label people calling us. It’s exciting because we’re opening for one of the final Nine Inch Nails show in Los Angeles. It’s the penultimate Nine Inch Nails show and we get to open it. It’s really an honor. And Trent Reznor said our songs sound great. We got really excited. It’s hard not to geek out.
LR: I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails since … I mean I listened to Pretty Hate Machine on cassette, you know? Since CASSETTES! It’s very exciting because of who it is we’re playing with and the situation of where it is and what it is—one of his last shows. It’s also exciting because of the time it is for our band. That commercial has obviously exploded our exposure to another hemisphere of what it was before, and now this show. It’s an exciting time for us.
Are you planning on having a local residency?
IO: We do hit the road a lot, so therefore when we are here, time is so precious. We’ve been asked to do residency-type things here, and I always consider it an honor. There’s so much to concentrate on when it comes to writing. You really need to focus.
LR: We feel that when we only play once or twice in town in a month it makes the events more special.
IO: When I stay in the same spot for a long time, I feel itchy. Plus it gives us time to experiment.
Can you describe your fanbase to me? Your crowd seems as varied as your songs.
IO: We have such a wide range of fans. We have the super super-hipster fans. We have the we-only-listen-to-Bauhaus fans. And then we have people who are 13 and 35. But they all seem to connect, and they are all really enthusiastic.
LR: We definitely get people coming up to us. It’s not necessarily the goths.
IO, I love your glasses. Where did you get them?
IO: I got them in a museum gift shop in New York City. I could tell you which one, but then I’d have to kill you. They give me a lot of joy. They’re like my Batman thing. My mother doesn’t like them.
LR: I was just in Japan, and I got her a new pair of glasses that I think could potentially rival those glasses.
IO: There’s no way, but they are really cool.
LR: You’re not going to wear those?
IO: Nothing can rival my glasses.
Have you ever played Japan before? I remember when you opened for Polysics at the Roxy, the Japanese crowd was really into you.
IO: I’ve noticed that some girls have come up to our show dressed like me. They’ll put their hair in front of their face, and then they say, ‘We saw you at the Roxy with the Polysics!’ I’ve had my hair like this for a hundred years. It’s funny to get messages from people saying, ‘We’re dressing up like you for Halloween.’
I remember meeting some of your college friends a few months back when you played at the Troubadour. You’re friend was freaking out at the bar after your set saying, ‘She was NOTHING like that in college!’
IO: They just couldn’t believe—I mean, I still can’t believe I’m in a band. It wasn’t designed for this to happen. It all has been a happy surprise. I think they’re a little bit taken back by the extroversion.
What do you think they were expecting?
IO: Maybe something like writing, but not screaming my face off on stage. Something sort of demure, but definitely something possibly creative.
Have you ever fallen off the stage?
IO: At the Wiltern I jumped off the stage. I was singing and we were in a crowd together, and then when I looked up I realized that the stage was a lot taller than I thought. Sort of the reverse cat-and-tree syndrome. If the top of the tree was the floor, that’s where I was and all of a sudden my claws wouldn’t allow me to get back up. I felt a rush of wind in the crowd and my agent saw me in distress and rushed over, and—as if I was a basketball—he threw me back on the stage like a free throw. I think I bounced when I hit the stage. He’s really strong. He actually got me a gun for Christmas. That’s a whole other story. It was the last song of the set—‘Scare Tactics’—and that’s the thing. We’re about to close our set and I can’t end it because I’m on the floor. Security had also said very specifically said, ‘Do not jump off of the stage,’ and I very specifically jumped off the stage.
And the moral of that story is that if you have a complete disregard for event security, you’ll land the opening slot for the best show in the venue’s history.
IO: Listen to us or you’ll open for Radiohead.
Who’s your favorite writer?
IO: Any dead British or Irish author, I’m probably a fan of.
LR: I’m a big fan of Iceberg Slim. He’s an ex-pimp. All his books are about his life in the ’20s and ’40s. He’s from somewhere in the South, and it’s stories about crime and going to jail. His most well known book is Pimp and another titled Whore Seed. His mother was a whore.
What are the differences between London music and Los Angeles music?
LR: The way that the scene in England is—because it’s a small place, the music crests and is channeled through central mediums like NME. There’s very few avenues. So it’s quite insulated. It’s quite small as to what is popular there at any one time and I think America—like L.A., for example, there isn’t just one scene here. There’s many many different scenes here, and they’re all going at the same time. They all have something going on all the time.
Do you feel that we are at a high-water mark for front women in indie bands?
IO: I take a lot of influence from male bands. Even things like stage antics. It really can be traced back to when I was younger seeing Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Cramps. So I’m saying in a roundabout way that I don’t see myself as a girl.
LR: I feel like some females have picked up the baton for being the aggressive frontperson for the band. Ever since the mid-‘90s, there’s been quite a sharp turn for male-fronted bands to be very neutered and effeminate. The influence of bands—and I’m not saying that I don’t like them—but with the influence of bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keene… all this kind of stuff has testosterone reduced to virtually zero in male-fronted music, and maybe women are saying, ‘I want to see them rock!’ So maybe they’re just deciding to do it themselves. Even a band like the Horrors. They’re pretty cool. They’re not my favorite band in the world, but at least I like the way the dude comes out. He’s very tactile and he can intimidate but he can bring it all together. He kind of has that ‘fuck you’ attitude that seems to be missing in many male bands these days.
Who is your favorite Los Angeles band? And remember—this will follow you on Google for the rest of your lives.
LR: Motley Crue was a really good L.A. band.
I saw Mick Mars perform at a Nightwatchman benefit, and he sounded great but he can barely move.
LR: I sometimes wonder how he can perform on tour. I mean—do they wheel him in? But if he still has command of his digits he could still play. That’s a big tour.
The Cult is playing the Love album from beginning to end on tour. I love that album. How do you feel about the new trend of bands touring for classic albums that they play in their entirety?
LR: I like it a lot. As a fan, I’m really into that. I think it’s quite rare to have that album that your entire fan base really love. Sometimes when you’re in a band, you’re touring for a new album that maybe has one song that is a bigger hit than anything they had done previously. So they get a lot of people coming to the show that just knows that one song. That’s great for the band, but as a fan—being a sort of nerdy music fan—you sort of look around and go, ‘These guys aren’t real fans. They don’t know what track nine off their debut album is!’ I remember I went to see the Cure play in London a while back and they played the gothest show of all time. They played Disintegration, Head On The Door and Seventeen Seconds. They only did those albums—it was like WOW!
You don’t have to worry about that, since you never release a CD.
LR: But when we do, it will definitely be a classsic, and then we’ll have to play the whole thing from start to finish.
Who is your favorite Greek god?
IO: Artemis. She is the goddess of the hunt. She has the bow and arrow and she’s kind of badass. I like strong women. When I was little my dad would take me to museums and one of them had statues of all of the Greek gods and goddesses and he pointed to her and said, ‘See that one? You’re related to her.’ I was like OK, cool! I was six or seven, so at that age you’re like ‘Cool! I’m related to a superhero!’ That’s pretty great.
Did you ever try archery?
IO: I tried—I wasn’t bad. It’s fun. I don’t know where in L.A. you can do it. But I like it.
Did you know that Geena Davis is a world-class archer and tried out for the Olympic team in 2000?
IO: I didn’t know that. And I always loved her so much because she was in Beetlejuice!
I was actually going to ask you what your favorite Tim Burton film was.
IO: Beetlejuice. That was the first VHS tape that I ever owned. We are both actually huge Tim Burton fans.
LR: I like Beetlejuice too. But I like so many of them. Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas.
IO: I think I can recite Beetlejuice. Danny Elfman is a genius. I listened to a lot of Danny Elfman growing up. He’s a major, major influence. I think his scores are genius. I was really tiny when it came out and it may have been the first picture that my parents took me to. He made death seem like this happy, happy time. When I was little, the thought that these scary things could be a party really appealed to me. Because people in that movie are dead and happy about it.
LR: I like it because it’s so fucking weird.
IO: It was really well-written. We both love comedies. I love the social worker who is deceased, and she says, ‘If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident,’ and she has the slit wrists. As a tiny girl, I thought it was hilarious. My friends back then were super into Little Mermaid, and I love her, too, but I just assumed everyone also loved this so much, and I’d be like, ‘You’ve got to watch this!’ But not everyone was into it. But it totally resonated with me from a really young age.
What would you name the band if you named it after Leo?
IO: Leo Echo. His full name is Leopold Lincoln Fitzgerald Ross.
Are you a duke or something?
LR: I was born in America, so my parents took influence by the fact that were here. My other brothers and sisters were born in England.
IO: My middle name is George.
Like the George Foreman grill?
IO: Exactly. My parents really loved grilled cheeses.
What do you think of Metallica’s last CD?
LR: Master of Puppets was my favorite CD growing up. I didn’t really listen to it on CD because I kind of gave up on them after Load. A lot of old fans renounced the black album, but I really liked the black album. I was 11 when the black album came out, and that’s how I found Metallica. It was from there that I found …And Justice For All and Master of Puppets. So I can’t really say I don’t like it because I do. From there… Load, I tried my best to like it but I couldn’t. Re-Load, I lost faith. And I haven’t really listened to any new Metallica CD since. You get the same old story every time a new Metallica CD comes out. ‘They’re going back to their roots. They’re trying to get back to that Master of Puppets sound.’ So I don’t get swayed by that. When I heard the title Death Magnetic, I felt kind of negative about that. My friend gave me a ticket to the show in San Diego last December though, and it was fucking awesome. They ruled!
What is your favorite David Bowie period?
LR: Scary Monsters could rival Master of Puppets as my favorite album ever. What I like about that is that without a blueprint, it’s just really weird music. Robert Fripp is an astonishingly good guitar player. Just doing the wierdest shit. You listen to the guitar in ‘Fashion’ and you’re like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ He played on Scary Monsters, Low and I think Lodger as well. Low is one of my favorite albums ever.
Where do you expect IO Echo to be by this time next summer?
LR: I would like to do the European Festival circuit. I like to think we will have our recordings completed and printed. We can do a three-month tour in Europe of only festivals—there are so many. In England it’s insane! When I was growing up there was really only three—Reading, Glastonbury and there was one called Phoenix that doesn’t exist anymore. But now there are probably 12 festivals just in the U.K. I’m looking forward to all of the other festivals in Europe also.
What do the initials ‘J.A.’ tattooed on your inner forearm stand for?
LR: It’s German, pronounced ‘YAH.’ It means ‘yes.’ And the skulls and fire mean rock ‘n’ roll in ISL. I thought German is a rocking language.
How many foreign languages do you speak?
IO: I can speak a little French and Spanish. I have a decent ear, so if I’m somewhere a while, I can pick it up. I was in Brazil, and I picked up Portuguese pretty quickly.
So you won’t eat the poison mushrooms?
IO: Or—I will.