This week, The Echoing Green releases its 11th album, In Scarlet & Vile (on the A Different Drum label). The incredibly talented and tireless lead singer and song writer Joey Belville recently agreed to an interview, in which he reflects on the evolution of band, where the inspiration for the group’s amazing songs comes from, his many side projects and what’s next.
Chuck Frey: So this new release is your 11th album. Congratulations! What is the theme of In Scarlet &Vile? How is this album a reflection of where you’re at in your life?
Joey Belville: Thank you so much. It’s definitely been a long time coming! I never really thought of the record as having a theme – but if I were to try to sum it up, it would be internal conflict. Almost every song on the record deals with some kind of struggle. Some resolve, some don’t. Both sides of that coin present hope, comfort, or both. Hope that things can resolve, or comfort in hearing that at least one or two people feel or have felt they way we do. The record is not so much a direct reflection of where I’m at in my life (much the way our previous albums were) so much has a collection of snapshots from our lives, or lives of people close to us.
Chuck: Where do you get your inspiration for the songs you write?
Joey: Friends and loved ones. So many of us know folks that are going through amazing things – some of them wonderful, some of them tragic. This is the first record where I’ve made an intentional effort, with some of the songs, to try and put myself in other people’s shoes and write from their perspective. So many of my songs have come from the things I’ve gone through – I felt it was time to look through some different lenses.
Chuck: How has The Echoing Green’s music evolved, and how is that reflected in the new album?
Joey: Well, as you know, we started off as purely synthpop. We went through a spell where we were playing live so much with rock, punk, and hardcore bands (believe it or not) we found ourselves integrating those elements into our music. I think those elements fully embodied themselves on our “Supernova” album. While that album was a milestone for us, afterwards we realized that we are most definitely NOT a rock band – and shouldn’t try to be. We ran away from all of that and pushed the pendulum back for The Winter of Our Discontent album – that record will always hold a special place in our hearts – it was like we came home.
In Scarlet is not purely electronic – but it’s more thought out than Supernova was. I think this record was our chance to “grow up” and make a record that feels like a much more natural evolution – instead of trying to pull a 180 on our fans. I feel like this is our best moment.
Chuck: Faith still seems to play a significant role in your songs, in songs like King Planet and Sanctuary. What experiences inspired those songs?
Joey: My faith is a large part of who I am. I don’t, nor will I ever, deny that. It’s what has been my lifeline to bring me through so many awful and traumatic experiences in my childhood. I don’t feel like a “survivor” or “victim” of anything. I feel whole and have for many, many years. The one thing, though, we work hard to distinguish in our music, is that there isn’t any sort of agenda. No secret codes. No preaching… Just honesty. I think anyone, whether our beliefs align or not, can relate to honesty. Honest about our victories and our failures. That’s what I try to convey. To say we’re a “Christian Band” is a lame stereotype that would lump us in with some artists that are completely shallow and write songs that were designed to be slogans on youth group t-shirts. That’s, most definitely, not us.
Chuck: You also seem to like resurrecting some 80s classics, like Voices Carry and Here is the House. What led you to cover these classic songs?
Joey: I will always have a soft spot in my heart for 80’s synthpop and new wave music… I can’t deny it! We know a lot of folks had waited a long time for our release and had bought some of our previous singles, so we wanted to include some extras for fans. Cover tunes seemed the quickest and best way to go about it – not to mention – they’re REALLY fun to make! It was bit of an adventure getting all the licensing permissions for them, but we got them in time… one of the beauties of the internet.
Chuck: What’s the difference between the bonus version of In Scarlet & Vile that you pre-released on Bandcamp.com and the official release of this album?
The “official” release (on iTunes, Amazon, etc) will only have 10 tracks. (for $10) but this special edition has five extra tracks. I’ll break them down, if you like:
Battered & Bruised – Originally by Statemachine. One of our all time fave tracks. It’s angry, but feels sooo good. It was a really nice spin on it, I think, to have Chrissy do all the leads on that one as well.
Matter – this one is actually not a cover. I wrote this at the last minute and decided to throw it in. It’s kinda lo-fi and demo-ish still, but I’d like to think that’s what makes it endearing. It’s totally synthpop… and I love it.
King Planet – was originally by a band called Fold Zandura, who’s members previous incarnation was an industrial band called Mortal. I had always been a fan and friend of Fold Zandura and thought it would be a different musical muscle to flex so-to-speak. The verses are not “sung” so they allowed me to have a little attitude that I don’t normally get to have.
Voices Carry – probably the most high-profile of the bonus tracks. Previously only available on the physical copy of our “Suffer” single – but we finally got the digital licensing cleared, so I was able to set it free. Another track where Chrissy sings lead. Those tend to be my favorite.. cause I love her & everything she brings to the table.
Here Is the House (Mikkel Natas Mix) – Our original version of this cover was on the digital version of the Suffer single (since we were forced to swap Voices Carry out at the time). It was also on the “MODEified by 7” Depeche Mode tribute compilation. Our friend Mikkel really wanted to do a remix – so I gave him the parts and he made one. Great mix and the perfect addition to a collection of “bonus” tracks.
We’ve also included in the special edition, the music video for “Flame” as well as a digital booklet.
So we decided to make all that available for the folks who follow us. Our fans most definitely deserve it (click here and use the code EGFRIEND to receive a 20% discount off of this bonus edition of In Scarlet & Vile)
Joey: Actually, Chrissy and I are both in Albuquerque. Her husband is one of my best friends, our kids play together, and she is pretty much my real sister. I’ve known her since she was in junior high. She’s gifted with an amazing sense of melody and is super easy to collaborate with. She definitely was the driving force that pushed us through the creative ruts I would tend to get us stuck in.
Wil, on the other hand, is in Indiana. Collaborating with him is probably the most difficult logistically, but always worth the hassle.
Chuck: You seem to have mastered “just enough” – lush production with everything just right, never overproduced or muddy sounding. Lovely to listen to on headphones! How do you manage that fine sense of balance?
Joey: Thanks for listening that closely! More care was put into the technical side of this record than ever before – so it’s great to hear that. That was a very conscious effort. 6 of the songs were mixed by Simeon Bowring in the UK (of Pentatonik and A1 People) and that was a MAJOR element to the sound of the record. As for the balance – that’s actually a real struggle for me as I can tend to over produce. I’m a super busy programmer, so I have to pull back a bit… err actually A LOT! Chrissy and Wil both usually slap me around when it gets to be too much. BUT I really tried hard to put as much effort into the arrangement on this record as I was the tech side of it.
Chuck: If I remember correctly, you teach ProTools at a local university – is that correct? How does that enhance the production you do for The Echoing Green and other groups?
Joey: I teach Logic Pro the Continuing Ed department of the University of New Mexico. I love translating geek-speak to plain english for folks. As for production – yes it’s definitely helps me step up my game. Knowing the program you work in really thoroughly helps you in all kinds of areas – workflow, editing, etc. That knowledge helps me get to the things I want to do and accomplish much faster.
Chuck: I noticed some other people in your band photos lately. Who are these people, and what are their roles? Did they contribute to the new album, or are they strictly used when you perform live?
John Ball is pictured. He plays guitar with us live – and played on quite a bit of the record. He’s all rock and roll and is totally energetic and amazing.. and really funny.
Dave Adams is pictured – he’s played drums with The Echoing Green since 1997. After the Supernova record and all of the record label downfalls that went with it – we all lost a bit of the wind on our sails and grew apart. Chrissy and I went into all electronic mode, as I mentioned before, so weren’t using live drums for quite some time. We realized we couldn’t live without Dave, especially live, so Chrissy and I wore him down until he came back. There was some wrestling involved.
Wil Foster is pictured as well. He’s been a long time collaborator with the EG via his other projects, Sheltershed, and the like. He came on board as part of the EG about half way through and made amazing contributions. Not to mention the guy is also one of my best friends on a personal level.
Chuck: Do you plan to tour in support of In Scarlet & Vile? If so, where should readers of the Modern Synthpop blog look for dates and locations? When?
Joey: We’d love to – but have nothing official planned yet. We love to work out a few runs for the summer. Right now we’re trying to get a record release show together here in Albuquerque. But we’ll keep you posted as soon as things come together!
Chuck: You also produce music for several other artists, don’t you? Which other groups?
Joey: That’s one of the reasons, actually, that this record took so long to make. I’ve produced two records for Leiahdorus, two records for an amazing act called Argyle Street, a lo-fi electro-punk group called Vertigo Venus, as well as new singles for my own side project, Pristina. I’ve also started work on new material for The Antique Toys and a new act called Lindsay Jayne. Not to mention a slew of one off remixes (Project 86, Switchfoot), a few scores for some short films, and such.
Chuck: How does working with these other groups bring new ideas and freshness back to The Echoing Green?
Joey: It brings a lot, because when I work with other acts I don’t have the same attachment I have to songs I write, which can sometimes give you tunnel vision (another reason I sent some of the songs to be mixed by someone else). I get to concentrate on the production of the material – which, by default, brings up my production game. It’s a win/win for sure. It’s made me better at my craft, by and large – which I will always work to improve.
Chuck: I love the concept behind Pristina. You write the songs, and then use a collection of very talented female singers, including Chrissy, for the vocals. Where did you get that idea?
Joey: I actually had the idea over 12 years ago – but didn’t have the means to pull it off. I just wanted to make a project that was more along what I like to listen to. (I can sit and listen to Pristina WAY more than I can tolerate listening to myself sing – no thanks, I’ve had enough of ME. lol) Most of my favorite acts are female fronted… it’s “ladies night” on my ipod most of the time!
Pristina keeps me recharged. It’s a creative outlet that I figured out I REALLY need in my life – and the collaborations are what will make it never get old. Every female artist brings something different to the table and every song sounds unique because of it – but yet somehow still glued together.
Chuck: What’s next for Pristina?
Joey: More singles! Gotta get to writing. I already have vocals tracked by Sarah Masen for a new track, that I have to now get all the programming out of the ghetto phase. Then I need to get Chrissy in, Sherri Shaw, Elle Puckett (of Poema) and Alicia Luma. There’s a couple other vocalists I’m trying to talk into it as well. I *really* like the idea of collaborating with vocalists who don’t normally do electronic music because it almost always turns out that they love doing something different then the genre they are comfortable in. It’s a refreshing change of pace almost always for everyone involved.
Chuck: Tell me about Pool Party Death Machine. I read an interview with Reese Roper of Five Iron Frenzy that mentions your name as one of the members of that new collaboration.
Joey: LOL – How did you hear about this already?? That’s so funny. Yes, that’s a collaboration I signed for… GLADLY. We’ll all be collaborating via the net so that will be interesting. But it’s pretty much a retro-new-wave supergroup with lots of tongue-in-cheek silly.
Chuck: Has the growth of Facebook as a medium for communicating with fans of The Echoing Green changed the dynamics of what you do? What benefits does having a page on Facebook brought to you as an artist?
Joey: It’s been fantastic. First off, it’s not as convoluted as Myspace was. Secondly – it allows for something I’ve always enjoyed – accessibility. We’re not rockstars in any sense of the word, so connecting with people who listen to us (instead of standing above them) is something I hold dear. Facebook has really helped bridge that gap. Does it always equal cash? Absolutely not. But that’s not why we do this. We would’ve quit a LONG time ago.. cause we’ve all gone broke over the EG at some point. Now we spend much smarter and aren’t at the mercy of big record labels who will never pay us cause they say we have to recoup expenses we’ve never seen or knew about. It’s funny how the smallest label we were on, A Different Drum, was the most legit.
Chuck: In closing, what’s next for The Echoing Green?
Joey: Well, we’re talking about shooting another video, playing out live, as well as keeping the recording going. We will take the nod from Pristina and push out a series of singles. We’re also coordinating a remix contest with the fantastic online community via Fixt. (fixtstore.com) Those guys are amazing.
Thanks, Joey, for giving us some awesome insights into where you’re at and where you’re headed. Thanks for putting as much care into answering my questions as you do into your music. It’s much appreciated!