Introducing…The Echo and the Always

The Echo and the Always

In The Insight’s coverage of the Swn Festival last year, we were particularly full of praise for a band called The Echo and the Always. For me, they were one of the highlights of last year’s event. A key feature of the Swansea/Cardiff based five-piece’s sound is their warm, dreamy pop melodies, melded with a yearning indie rock grandeur. Add in the elegant, soothing vocals of singer Laura Hancock and a dash of Arcade Fire-esque horns, and you have a band with a distinctive, characteristic sound that they make their own. I had the privilege of interviewing the band before their return gig to Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff.

How long have you all been together as a band?

Angela: The band was formed two years, but we’ve been playing with our current line-up for a year now. Until then, I played in a lot of other bands back in Canada, until I moved from Canada to the UK four years ago.

Edd: We’ve already done a lot in the short space of time we’ve been together. We’re definitely stepping in the right direction as a band.

Who are the biggest musical influences on the band?

Angela: It’s always tough one because there’s five of us and we all have different musical tastes. Each of the members brings their own influences and their own individual style. It’s hard to condone a single influence.

Edd: I think what actually really influences us is not so much any particular bands, but the general music scene that we’re surrounded by and all those people that are still really working hard to get somewhere with their music. We’re inspired by them and they are inspired by us, and we’re all help each other get to where we want to be musically and professionally. That’s what really drives us to work hard and keep going as a band, to perfect our sound and to write great music.

Angela: We’re lucky to be surrounded by so many great artists in Cardiff and in Wales, and that we as musicians can feed off that.

The music scene in Wales tends to be overlooked. Do you think there is a strong future for the Welsh music scene?

Angela: Right now, there are more opportunities than ever for musicians based in Wales to go on to bigger things. For years, you would normally look to places like London which still present huge opportunities for artists to make it professionally, but now there are more and more festivals in Wales that are growing bigger and bigger, including Swn Festival, that have helped put Wales on the map. Plus, there are more music businesses based here and more music initiatives being launched, so I think there’s definitely more potential for the Welsh music scene to grow.

Your performance at the Swn Festival last year was your first time playing the event. What did you all make of the experience?

Angela: It was absolutely brilliant to be a part of it. Just to be in the line-up with so many other fantastic bands and artists. During the festival, Womanby Street felt like a gigantic house party. You would see all your friends and meet lots of other people as well, the atmosphere was rowdy but friendly at the same time, and there was so much great music wherever you went. The only downside is if you’re playing, setting up on stage or soundchecking, that’s a big chuck of time where you can’t see other bands.

You’re currently not signed to a record label. Do you have plans to remain independent, or possibly sign to a record label in the future?

Edd: The downside of working with a label is obviously the lack of creative control. As a band, we like trying out new things musically, and we want to be able to keep doing that and keep our own image, because that’s who we are. We put a lot of effort into keeping to who we are, and we don’t want anyone to change that. That’s why we want to stay independent for as long as we can. Independent labels are another story. It depends on what their values are. There’s a few independent labels in Cardiff, such as See Monkey Do Monkey, that can help bands get somewhere, give them an added ‘oomph’ in the local music scene and give bands a more professional image. The work these type of record labels do is phenomenal, and we favour independent labels over all the major ones.

Do you have any new material coming up in the next year?

Angela: We’ve written a whole bunch of new material lately and will continue to write more. We have a new EP out soon, a music video, and we’ll also be recording during the summer. The plan now is to release a series of EPs and singles over the next year.

Will this lead to a debut album eventually?

Angela: We’ve focused on doing smaller releases because we have a big local following in Cardiff and Swansea but not beyond that, so it’s better to do small releases, issue music more frequently and hopefully get ourselves noticed and build our fanbase. Certainly in the future, an album would be great.

Are you planning to tour more venues outside of Wales?

Angela: It’s all a matter of timing because we all have day jobs outside of the band. Hopefully during the summer, if we can plan well then we can tour more. It would be a dream to take the band to America and to my home in Canada, but the next step for us is to definitely tour more cities in the UK.

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Interview with George Ezra: ‘I’m still shocked at success’

George Ezra

Rising singer-songwriter and BBC Sound of 2014 nominee George Ezra is set to release his hotly anticipated debut album ‘Wanted on Voyage’ next month (30 June), which will follow lead single Budapest (15 June). Earlier this year, The Insight reporters Dean Hodge and Alex Spiceley caught an exclusive interview with George backstage just before he kicked off his first major tour in Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff. Check out the interview here as the musician gave his thoughts on his upcoming debut album, the Bristol music scene, breaking America and other topics.

You’re currently working on your debut studio album. Can you tell us about the type of sound people can expect from your album?

I’ve recorded about 19 songs for the record, so what needs to happen now is we have to do the gruelling task of axing however many songs. The whole point of the two EP’s I’ve released (‘Did You Hear the Rain?’ and ‘Cassy’O’) is they’re easing people into the idea of me having a band. I still gig on my own, but the album was recorded with a band and I have sourced a band now.

Can you describe your songwriting process?

Because there’s been a lot of moving around in the last few years, I’ve just been carrying notebooks and writing down anything like conversations or ideas I have and I allow myself to forget that I haven’t wrote any of it. So I come back to them a few months later, and then it feels like someone else’s words. I normally sing melodies or guitar lines into my iPhone. Then it’s just piecing bits together and trying stuff out. It’s interesting because a lot of songs I record, different versions, different melodies but the same lyrics.

Which artists were the biggest influences on you growing up?

The one artist I know who inspired me to go into music was Bob Dylan. But there was so much because when I was 13 or 14, the Arctic Monkeys came out and Britain had a lot of amazing indie bands who I listened to a lot. I also did a lot of rummaging around and found blues acts as well. But I think when you trace it back to where it all began, it all started with Dylan.

Did the music scene in Bristol have an influence on you as an artist?

I moved to Bristol about four years ago. Before I moved there, I’d always been in bands. I haven’t worked out whether that’s just because of the fact that I move to a city by myself and no matter where I went I was going to be inspired, but I do think Bristol has something to do with that.

I actually get to go back to Bristol for the first time since November and actually sleep in my own bed which is nice.

You’re originally from North London. Why did you go to Bristol?

I studied for a year at university there. I didn’t carry on, but I stayed in Bristol. A lot of my friends are in their third year now which is what I’d be doing now. I just did one year and at that point, I was in a position where I can still live there. When I’m in London, I find myself going home back to Hartord because it’s easier.

Was it always music for you, or were there other career ideas?

I don’t know if music is a career idea yet! I left school when I was 16 and went to study Music at a college. I enjoyed it but I think then I was just a chancer like everyone else and there was no point with me staying on at school. I’ve always wanted to do music but at the same time I don’t feel like I’m doing it, it just all comes naturally. It doesn’t feel like I’ve woken up and suddenly I’m a professional musician and get to gig every night. It’s just what happens.

A lot of your influences are ‘bluesy’ and ‘American’. Have you ever thought of performing over in America?

It will happen at some point. Whether it works or not who knows. At the moment, I’m not interested in going as it’s too big a place. I’ve only just started gigging across Europe and that feels quite natural and healthy to do that. A lot of people waste a lot of money flying a lot of people and gear over to America. Plus, there’s a different radio station in every state. You don’t even break America, you break one state. I want to know when I go to America that I got something to come back to, not go there just because I can.

You travelled to Europe for inspiration. What were your favourite places that you visited?

I went Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Barcelona then back up to Paris. A lot of the album was written there. The verses of Cassy’O’ were written while I was going around. I took a guitar but I was written songs on the guitar, I was just writing every little thing down in these little journals. Vienna was my favourite place, I don’t know why, it was just a really pretty, good looking city.

Not to be cheeky, but how was your Valentine’s Day?

You know what, not great, it was my first day off since being on tour. I was so excited about having a day off and we were all in Manchester then. But then we woke up, and everyone was going ‘what shall we do?’ like the vultures in The Jungle Book. Literally, we wasted hours doing that. Then I randomly went to buy a mask – I bought a baboon mask the other week for £8 – and I went in the mask shop and the man had a go at me for putting the mask in the wrong place, right in front of everyone! I just picked this really awful mask off a shelf and tried it on because it was so bad and then put it back and he told me off. He even called me ‘good boy’ in front of the whole shop when I put it back in the right place. Then I did go and watch American Hustle but didn’t really like it. Afterwards, I just got pissed in the evening!

How to feel that most of your fan base who come to your shows are girls?

I supported Tom Odell last year and obviously his fan base is mostly female. Luckily, I also supported Ray Morris and Lianne Le Havas, and they both have really mixed audiences. So far on my first headline tour, mine has been mostly mixed. It’s been predominated 20 or over and a few young people. Cardiff is actually the most people I performed to before, it’s not been like that in any other city. There’s two girls that have been there every time and I met them supporting Tom Odell here. They got me a card and some Kinder Bueno.

Do you often see the same people at your gigs and does it ever feel odd?

I’ve never been somebody that understands wanting someone’s autograph. I got one from Mickey Mouse when I went to Disneyland. Also, I’m a fool! You don’t want my name written down because I’m just me. I just see myself as a bit of a muppet. People ask me for my autograph all the time and I’m just like ‘Yeah OK’.

So you’re still very down to earth then!

Definitely! Whenever I step on to any stage, I’m still a bit shocked that it’s sold out. Also, I’ve supported so many people and you meet a few who think they are owed something or should have attention, and it’s not about that. With all these pools that I was put in for 2014 (including the BBC Sound of 2014 poll), there are a lot of people asking me which artists I wanted to beat and who I considered my main competition, but they’ve got the wrong guy. It’s not about that for me, I just appreciate I’ve been considered.

Do you think having a band on your tour will change your style of music?

In my head, a lot of the songs, since recording them… I guess it’s just because I know what I’ve recorded on top of them. Because we were such a part of it, as in me and my producer didn’t get other musicians in but just did a lot of it ourselves, so it’s looser and more honest. People spend fortunes getting the best keyboard player, but they don’t care about what they’re doing , they’re just very good at playing the right note. We had a lot of fun making the album and that’s all I’m interested in, having fun.

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Introducing…Baby Queens

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I recently got to interview one of Cardiff’s hottest up-and-coming artists and one of the twelve chosen acts to be selected for the new Horizons music scheme launched this year – Cardiff’s own girl band with added attitude, Baby Queens.

Signed to Cardiff-based label Strangetown Records and managed/produced by Super Furry Animals member Cian Ciarán, the female five-piece – composed of Cara Elise, Estelle Ios, Monique B, Ruth Vibes and Vanity – combine influences from blues, soul, R’n’B and pop, and blend and refine them into one intoxicating, harmonious musical cocktail that warms the soul and melts the mind. The result is a distinctive, unique sound that is sassy, sultry and soulful in equal measure. Both individually and collectively, they are an explosive force on stage as well as on record.

Check out my exclusive interview with the ladies in the midst of their ascent to the upper echelons of Welsh pop royalty.

How did you first form as a band?

Cara Elise: Me and Estelle are sisters, Monique and Ruth are cousins, and Vanity’s a very good friend of all of ours. We’re basically one big family, as well as best friends, and we’re very blessed that we’re in a band with each other. Up to now though, we’ve all played music independently. The one night when we were all together in the same room, we decided to jam together and we just clicked as a musical group.

Who are the biggest musical influences on the group?

Monique B: We like to stay as a collective of music genres rather than box ourselves into one genre. We each have our own individual influences – rock, soul, Motown, pretty much everything! Possibly one of the biggest sole influences on the group as a whole is Frank Ocean, not just in his sound and musical talent but what he represents in music. His songs are so deep and powerful, and there’s an undercurrent of raw emotion and anger that is delivered in such a beautiful, peaceful way. That’s what we want to represent ourselves as. We just do it for the love of music.

Cara: We look up to all the ‘legends’ of music that really stood up for something, and brought back the true meaning of rock ‘n’ roll, and of music.

How did it feel to be selected for the Horizon scheme?

Vanity: It was simply amazing! We started off as just friends jamming together. We weren’t so much a band as just a close family of people making music for the fun of it. We had one song that did really well and took off, which was a shock to us. After that, it was one thing quickly after another. Of course, we’re all really excited and happy but at the same time overwhelmed because we’ve never had this before. It’s an exciting journey for all of us, and we all get to be part of it together.

Any new material currently in the pipeline?

Monique B: We’re looking to release an album next year. At the moment, what we’re collectively focusing on is perfecting our performance and delivery on-stage, so when people come to see us they are not disappointed in any way, shape or form.

Cara Elise: There will be a few more releases in the meantime as well, including singles and EPs later this year, before the album gets released.

Monique B: Then, come 2015, look out for the new album by Baby Queens!

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