Echobelly Looks for TKO

Interview by Daniel Ewacha

The thriving British music scene, after a decade of ill attempts, is once again sending its best over to these shores in the hopes of making it in America. Collectively known as "Britpop," bands such as Blur, Shed Seven, Gene, and Supergrass have attempted to break through to the American market. And, though all have been somewhat successful in building a loyal following wherever they play, none have echoed the success they have encountered back home. For the moment, Oasis seems to have the edge over the above-mentioned bands in this new version of the British Invasion, but my money is on a quintet from London, known as Echobelly, to win the title and bringing back glory to ol' blighty.

"The whole new scene in Britain is great, the whole Britpop thing is picking up interest everywhere," exclaims lead vocalist Sonya Aurora Madan. "For the past five years in America, it's been grunge, grunge, grunge, but now people are discovering that there's more than grunge." Lead guitarist Glenn Johannson adds his thoughts: "The problem is that the record companies go, 'well, you don't have a record or Sony in Vancouver, so it's not financially smart to go there' but we find that once we go there...that's the best way to be heard and noticed."

The North American audience has always felt that, to a degree, the British have been pretentious. This observation does not surprise Madan and Johannson as they offer an explanation for this attitude: "We learned a lot from bands that came before us," says Madan. "Not to name anyone in particular, but a lot of bands that came over here who had a great deal of success back home had this attitude that, well, America owed them something. Because they had all this success in Britain and Europe, they felt that it should be the same here." Johannson adds, "It's been easier in the U.K. and Europe because you can reach a lot more people, but in Canada and the U.S., you really have to work, you have to go wherever you can and keep going back over and over again."

At first listen to Echobelly, it's hard to distinguish the various influences they incorporate into their music. There certainly are the punk and new wave overtones that jump out at the listener. Yet, looking beyond the obvious inspires a question which takes Madan and Johannson by surprise.

"I don't think the Smiths had an influence on our music," admits Madan laughing. "I mean, growing up I was aware of the Smiths but I wasn't a big fan. But Glenn, who grew up in Sweden, when he heard the Smiths he decided that the music scene in Britain was where his head was so he came to England. Ironically, Morrisey turned up at our flat last year and confessed his admiration for Echobelly and that was weird opening up the door and there's Morrisey standing there!" "Uninvited," quips Johannson.

Ask any artist or musician and they'll tell you that the last thing they want is to be labeled under any category or heading, especially something as passé as "Britpop." Echobelly is no different, as Madan points out: "It just gets frustrating when the press keeps labeling you or grouping you into a scene because it doesn't cover the other side of Echobelly. I mean, there's a lot more to Echobelly than just talking about London and what's going on in Britain you know. Lyrically, we are universal; we're not isolated in a U.K. way of thinking."

First published in Drop-D Magazine on April 4, 1996

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