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Echobrain | interview | Jason Newsted | rock | metal | Lollipop
Echobrain (Chop House/Surf Dog)
An Interview with Jason Newsted
By Martin Popoff
Take a load off... and plop yourself down for some ethereal pop, courtesy of young prodigies Dylan Donkin and Brian Sagrafena. These California popsters have a bassist in tow, a slightly more aged artifact by the name of Jason Newsted, who used to play with a bigger band called Flotsam & Jetsam, and now with a bigger band (although only informally) called Voivod. But beware y'all, Echobrain is no reinvention of any wheel, nor is it heavy. Pure and simple, it's the alt.pop you've heard before, no worse no better, just more: Radiohead Smashed like a Pumpkin on the Pavement, while any collection of pencil-armed Brit poppers look on with affected gaze and glaze. For those reasons, it's got a tough slog ahead impressing both fans and critics. Lollipop caught up with Newsted after he'd recently left one of his other bands to talk all things Echobrain.
How about a general impression - maybe bringing in some other band names - of what Echobrain is?
Do I have to bring in other band names (laughs)? I've been asked about it, and it's cool for me because it turns up different ways to look at it. I find that most people who listen to a lot of music, and who are exposed to a lot of music through journalism, find it familiar but unfamiliar. For people our age, it takes you back to the music you listened to when you were 14 or 15, Zeppelin and the music that was on the radio at that time. While you were changing in those years, it reminds you of the things that stuck to you like glue, the sponginess of that certain music when you were discovering yourself. That's the stuff that stays really close to your heart. You may forget about it, but when those melodies come back to your ears, they appeal to you. That's what Echobrain does for people, as far as I've seen. It takes them to those places where they remembered cool, growing types of experiences.
Is there anything besides Echobrain and Voivod that you have fairly developed?
I produced the Speedealer album in November of last year. That's coming out on Palm in May. That's my contribution to the heaviness in the first six months of this year. That's very much true to the old school, speed metal, not the nü metal stuff, man, not the regurgitated shit but the real deal. First of all, I like to be able to churn things up and do the unexpected. That's how it should be. I wouldn't want to do a record that somebody would expect, a watered-down Metallica or a rap rock record or something stupid like that. That just wouldn't be the right thing to do. So by sharing this music, Echobrain, it shows people another side of where I'm going with certain things. And the Speedealer shows that the heavy stuff is still part of me. So I'm hoping people can really dig their teeth into that thing.
(Chop House/Surf Dog)
by Martin Popoff
Has the age gap between you and your two bandmates in Echobrain ever come up in any humorous way?
Yeah, they can't keep up with me (laughs). I don't know what's up, man... It's hard for them...
How about lyrically?
We do all the lyrics together. It has a real band vibe, the way it's supposed to. Half of the songs are from full-on jams from '99: In the room together, amplifiers, running tape, gnashing out arrangements, making a real song with Dylan just kind of singing syllables into the microphone, melody lines, not necessarily words. The best time we've had as a band was sitting in a room with those scratch tapes, and everybody with a pad of paper and having a couple beers or whatever, just knocking ideas off. "What does it sound like he said right there?" Someone come's up with something silly, someone comes up with something really good, and then someone comes up with something just huge... Everyone in the room just stops and says "That's it!" We'd write that down and go with it.
The other half of the songs are created from demo tapes that Dylan would bring with one voice and one acoustic guitar, or one voice and one piano track. Brian and I created soundscapes around them. And a lot of the songs that are acoustic-dominated, we tried to stay true to his original idea, leave that out front and put all the bass and psychedelic stuff around it.
What are some other things on Echobrain where you said, "Hey, I've really self-actualized on this thing?"
Hmm, good question... I'd have to start with the bright-eyed enthusiasm of Brian and Dylan. In terms of knowing their chops, they can play. Period. That has to be the basis of things. But to have everything be so new to them and have them get excited about things that I've taken for granted, it's just really cool to live that again and to taste that again.
Musically, I'm able to play things seriously that I wasn't able to before, things that weren't meant to be commercially shared. There was no intention of doing this for anybody other than ourselves in all the years that we played. We named it Echobrain in 2000, but we've been playing together since '96.
You've talked about being able to play in different keys than you are able to in Metallica.
Yes, it sounds so simple... Maybe it sounds like a silly thing to say, but it's such an elementary thing... Dylan's vocal range allows us to go to places and use textures that we could never use... You know, it's not three rock guys in a rock band, or four guys in a metal band. It's a jazz guy, a metal guy, and a funk rock guy. And that makes a different kind of soup. That's the fundamental basis of why the thing is so colorful and funky. I can throw whatever heavy thing I want to at Brian and he can still make it groove. That's the way it is. Musically, Dylan comes up with shit every day! I mean, you have to have the tape running at all times, wherever he is: On the porch with whatever instrument, in the house on the piano, or with his regular amp and Tele, whatever. You have to have shit rolling, because he's... constant, prolific, ongoing. And catch his riffs out of the blue. Brian picks up on them, they don't even have to speak. They've been playing for ten years together. Even though they're young, they have so many years under their belts together that you just feed off them. Brian is a good counterpoint player as well as an improv guy. They make shit work. It's very infectious.
Seeing as everybody is so good these days, do you worry that as you start all over again, you'll have so much competition that you'll be lost in a sea of great talent?
I don't know man, that's a pretty crazy generalization. I don't know if I agree with that. The production part, maybe. With ProTools involved, I mean, that's just a plain and simple fact... You don't even have to be able to sing! They can just bring shit up and make it all correct. I'm not naming names, but think of the live performances of certain bands that've sold a few million albums on the Tonight Show or whatever where you've just got straight TV mix and you're going, "Holy shit! How did these guys ever get anywhere!?" That kind of thing, being able to actually play what you play. The records on the charts, those people can't play nearly as well as they sound on the record. There are some cats who're the exception: Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper, P.J. Harvey, or people like Radiohead, guys who'll do it right there in your face. I'm down with that. But when you try to get too serious about it and take out all the organic feel, the human feel of the music, you can see that it's all cold and shit. You try to make it funky, but it can't be funky if it's not played by people. That's why more and more hip-hop artists - the good ones - have real bands to back them when they play, rather than just tapes, the way it used to be. There are a lot of things that are getting "more real" in that way, so I can agree with you on that side of things. But when it comes to the studio, they really do so much doctoring, it's not as pure as it used to be.
What's the direction of the next Echobrain album?
We have at least 15 new songs demoed and arranged. As much as I've heard and messed with them, I'd say if Pink Floyd was still alive in 2002...
Are you going to tour this backing up bigger bands, or will you go out and headline clubs?
We're headlining clubs: 400, 600, 800 seats. I never got that level of touring. I jumped from Flotsam to Metallica and never got to see the in-between. Dylan and Brian need to earn their way up. The band needs to earn its way up.
And one final thing, what's Echobrain mean?
We had a song called Echobrain - now called "The Feeling Is Over" - but we took the name for the band instead, and changed the name of the song (laughs). The song was initially called "Eyes Glued to the Back of Your Hand." From what I understand (laughs), Dylan's brother had a pretty bad acid trip, and had to hide between the mattress and the springboards of his bed for ten hours with his hand over his eyes. He couldn't get away from his brain; it kept echoing and shit. So he kind of freaked out and told Dylan about it. Dylan started thinking about how everybody has their conscious voice, and when you start having more than one voice in your head, you start arguing with yourself about something: "Should I do this? Should I do that?", thinking about what people might think of it, mulling shit over in your head with three or four characters involved (laughs)... That's the Echobrain.