Photos courtesy of A Troop of Echoes
Interview by Bethany Hung and Jake Goodman
We talked to A Troop of Echoes, a Providence instrumental band, on a dark and stormy night. Across from a wall-sized 3D anaglyph rendering of the Moon in the Lincoln Field Building, we sat and discussed the band’s album, touring history, and current projects. Band members Dan, Nick, Pete, and Harry introduced themselves and told us a bit about their lives – including their favorite animals and the scene in which they grew up.
Jake: Hi guys, nice to meet with you. Can you tell us your names, what you play, and your favorite animal?
Nick: I play the guitar, and occasionally other things. Favorite animal? Tiger.
Dan: I’m Dan, I play the drums, and…
Nick: Maybe a cheetah.
Dan: Oh. So I’m Dan, I play the drums, and the xylophone, and the glockenspiel, and occasionally the Moog, and my favorite animal is a lamprey.
Harry: I’m Harrison, Harry for short. I play the bass, and also occasionally play Moog, keyboards, also unofficial recording engineer. Red panda.
Pete: Hi, I’m Pete. I play all the saxophone in A Troop of Echoes, and my favorite animal is Dan.
Dan: Ooh, hey buddy.
Harry: The Danimal.
Bethany: When did you guys start making music? Individually and as a group.
Dan: I think our first band practice was in 2004, so it’s been a while.
Nick: So, 2004 was when the band became a thing. I mean, I’ve been playing guitar since 2000…?
Dan: And Nick is the first person I played music with, so we’re still going strong seventeen years later.
Harry: Yeah, I started in 2000 as well. I actually knew a mutual friend who knew Pete, and he said Pete was trying to get a band together, and he needed a bass player. And so he recommended me, and I was 14 when I joined the band. And I’m 27 now. So, yeah, we’ve had a lot of maturing to do over the course of this band.
Pete: So yeah, I started playing in 1995... I was in third grade. I barely played, though, until I was 16, which would’ve been 2002, and then I hit it pretty hard.
Dan: Wait Pete, when did you start playing?
Dan: When were you guys born?
Bethany & Jake: 1997.
Dan: Nice. Pete’s saxophone is older than you guys.
Jake: How would you guys define your genre, or style?
Pete: So, we’ve had a big problem with that over the years, partially because we’re a rock band with a saxophone, but also because our style changed so much at times. So like we used to be kind of a math rock band, and now we’re essentially post-rock, as much as none of us really like that label at all. We sound like other bands that kind of exist in that space, so we kind of use that now.
Dan: Labels aren’t always bad.
Nick: We’re an instrumental band with an atypical structure at times.
Harry: It’s not always straight ahead, verse-chorus-verse type of thing. But, you know, when you have to be quick and pithy, sometimes you just have to be like, “Alright, this is sort of the sandbox we’ve been playing in.” Make that compromise – not a compromise, but sort of make that call.
Bethany: So I read your Facebook bio… I know Peter, Nick, and Harry, you guys study music, and Dan, you’re a geology PhD at Brown. How does what you study relate to your music? Do you see it reflected in what you play as a band, or not so much?
Dan: That’s a heady one.
Harry: I think that at least, for Nick and Pete and I, the music majors, I think being in that academic setting, you would get introduced to some music that you might not necessarily think about. Like, I got really heavily into 20th century classical music when I started to be a music major. And, granted, we’re not writing huge pieces for 50-piece orchestra with graphic notation, but it’s just sort of opening the doors about what is out there and what can be done. And I think it’s helped us hone our skills, to be able to have the theory.
Nick: Yeah, it definitely infects the language that you end up using – kind of more technical language at times, just because you have the name for something. But I think, procedurally, it’s not much different from what every other band does. Just get in a room together and try to make some cool stuff. Generally, when we’re playing, we do a lot of writing through spontaneous jamming, like a lot of bands do. So it’s still totally an intuitive process, but you can’t help having the things that you study kind of infect the things you’re going to do. It’s sort of like what you read determines how you’re going to write in a lot of ways, same kind of deal.
Dan: There are a couple songs on the new album with string arrangements, horns, something like that, and those kinds of embellishments would’ve been tricky to do without some sort of education.
Nick: We probably would’ve had to talk to someone else, at least, to help us get it on the paper or whatever. Whereas, instead, any of us could just score something out and write actual music and give it to some string players and be like “Hey, this is exactly what we’re thinking of.” So I guess having a little bit of that background helped us sort of make that a possibility.
Harry: Also, at the same time, though, sometimes that language hinders you. Dan, especially – some rehearsals we’ve had where we’re just talking for thirty, forty minutes about something and Dan’s just like, “Nah, play it, like, more open” and we’re like, “What,” and he says “Just play it open!” and we play it again and it’s like “Oh, yeah, yeah, just do it like that!”
Dan: Just play it really loud.
Harry: So sometimes being tied to those technical terms does hinder you.
Dan: I think the worst music we wrote was when you guys all were in school together because we were basically just so far up our own asses with technical stuff. The songs got lost in the technique, so it was only a few years after they got out of school where we started to make it more organic, started to breathe a little more.
Bethany: Continuing on the influences, most of the bands we tend to interview are Brown student bands who haven’t had much exposure to the broader Rhode Island-Providence music scene. How do you think being a part of that has shaped your style as a band?
Pete: I could go on about this, but the thing about being part of the Providence music scene is that we’ve been lucky to grow up around bands who are so ridiculously amazing. Some of them are famous and a lot of them are not, and Providence just has this huge creative energy in the community. When we started, we didn’t have that exposure to that community, because we were right out of high school, so the first thing that happened to us as a band was going out to shows together. We were just soaking in it the whole time and being influenced by the people who are around us, and we got really lucky to be born in a town where that actually works out, you know. That’s what I’ve taken out of it.
Harry: I also think that Providence is so diverse. And there are certain people who… I wouldn’t say they’re heroes of the local music scene, but they’re people who have been in bands for twenty years – like the guys from Dropdead, you’ll see them at the vegan restaurant down the street, or you’ll see them at a show or something like that, and they’re all really really positive about everything. Some of them will be like, “Well, your music’s not my thing, but I’m really happy that you’re here and that you’re doing it.” And to have that kind of support and just do what we want to do, play the music we want to play – we’re glad to have that here in this scene. That’s really what’s important, and I can’t imagine this band working anywhere else besides Providence, honestly.
Dan: Yeah, in those early days, we’d go see bands together a lot and shamelessly rip them off. We’d go see Lightning Bolt and want to write a noise jam, but with a saxophone. And then we’d see Mahi Mahi and want to write an electro-dance-rock piece, but with a saxophone. We jumped off the ship of aping the scene once everyone in Providence started folk bands.
Harry: Or doom metal bands.
Dan: We skipped the doom metal stage.
Harry: And then we started to do things like, alright, how do we combine this into something else? Something a little less isolated from song to song; combine it into something that’s a little more… coherent.
Nick: Yeah, we just found a sound that we all liked and wanted to build on.
Jake: Did you guys say that you all grew up in Rhode Island?
Nick: So Dan, Pete, and I all went to high school together, actually, so that’s very Rhode Island of us. And Harry grew up a town away. We were very lucky... seems like it’s not really the same now. So I teach guitar, and I have a lot of younger students, high-school age students. I don’t get the vibe from any of them that it’s really the same anymore, which is kind of sad. When we were in high school, there were probably a hundred kids who played in bands. We had Battle of the Bands in our high school, in a white suburban town, in Rhode Island, but we had Battle of the Bands with well over a dozen bands. Probably close to twenty bands. Usually not a lot of repeat customers from band to band. Just all unique individuals.
Dan: And they’re all doing different stuff, for the most part.
Nick: So we kind of came from an anomaly, a weird scene for our town, a weird moment in time. And that sort of catapulted us into it when we got into Providence; it was not so strange for us to just sort of be thrown into a mix of all kinds of different shit.
Pete: That’s true, actually. Like Nick, Dan, and I, when we were in that high school, it’s true – you could have a concert of just high school kids where sixty or a hundred people would play or something, which is obviously super unusual. But, like you said, that translated really easily into being a part of the Providence scene.
Nick: With hardcore bands, and doom bands, and classic rock cover bands. Just everything. You name it, we had it. You get here and it’s like yeah, it’s a little more experimental, in general, definitely at the time. There was lot of noise stuff, and out-there electronica-type music, when we got to Providence, but it wasn’t any extreme sort of culture shock.
Jake: Did you guys play around Brown a decent amount?
Nick: We played on the radio, right?
Dan: We did. That was before I was going here, too. We also played a couple parties, at one point.
Nick: Yeah, Brown Student Radio. We were in studio there, once. In 2007 or something. Which was a riot. That was a blast. We also probably played five years ago, some party down Benefit Street, or Congdon Street.
Pete: We’re not going to tell you about what happened there.
Nick: Needless to say, it was pretty wild. But other than that, not that many house shows or anything around here. At least not on the East Side.
Pete: Yeah, but we play in Providence a lot, obviously.
Jake: So what are the venues that you usually play at most often? Or favorites, fete or anything like that?
Dan: So for Providence, probably AS220.
Harry: That was really where we cut our teeth, I think.
Nick: When we first came out, there was also The Living Room, which no longer exists. That was the place where we first started playing before we could even get into AS220. Back in the day, AS220 was a little bit more insular, which is sort of a negative word, but that’s what it felt like. They sort of had their faves, and they would pick from that same pool of people whereas a couple years after that, they really opened it up.
Harry: Yeah, it was when their booking agent changed.
Nick: But yeah, the Living Room would book anyone. If you wanted to play, it didn’t matter if your side project wanted to play a show, if your new experimental music project with one person in it wanted to play a show, they would book you and say, “Yeah, that’s great, you’re on Thursday night. It’s $6 at the door.”
Pete: And no one will be there.
Nick: That was just a grime-hole, but it was also like… Think of shows that are now at the Met, now – those shows were at the Living Room. Mid-level touring bands would play through there and now they’d come to the Met, which is way better, in some ways.
Dan: Yeah, there’s not like puddles of water on the stage.
Harry: There are doors on the bathrooms…
Pete: I think we did the highest number of shows at AS220, and probably our best shows were also there. We also played at the Met.
Pete: Yeah, that was a good time. They were nice dudes. I think they played the Brown Spring Weekend a few years back.
Dan: Honestly, the most fun shows we’ve had are at warehouses spaces or DIY places, just showing up and someone has Christmas lights in their basement.
Pete: In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot more regional touring and a lot less playing a bunch of shows in Providence. You know, we stopped relying on this particular scene so much. We would play one or two shows in Providence in a couple months and play all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
Bethany: So have you guys mostly toured on the East Coast?
Nick: We’ve been down to New Orleans, down the Atlantic Coast, and went through Nashville and Florida. So we’ve done that sorta route a couple of times. Then we went out to the Midwest. We went out to Chicago, Minneapolis, Canada, Port Huron.
Dan: Up into Toronto, Montreal. That’s our boundary region of shows.
Bethany: I saw on your website you have a food blog. I’m curious – why a food blog?
Harry: We just got so sick of rest stops.
Dan: Burger King.
Harry: Every hour you would see Wendy’s, McDonald's.
Dan: Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. (laughs)
Harry: We weren’t making a ton of money, but when we toured it was like a vacation. So we’d be like “We’ll spend a bit of money to get a good meal.” We would start asking people we were playing with “What’s your favorite restaurant in the city; where should we go if we can only go to one restaurant?” We’d get all sorts of things. It really started with the Annabel Lee in Baltimore.
Pete: A magical, magical, place.
Harry: It’s this great tavern. Dark and moody. Edgar Allan Poe-inspired. They have a great beer selection, great crab cakes. It was kind of a joke to say oh we should start reviewing these places. But after a while we started actually doing it.
Dan: When you’re on tour, you don’t really get to see a city. You show up, unload your gear, play the show, you load your gear back up, go to wherever you’re sleeping, and it’s four AM. So the things that we could do to see what a city was about was to get food for dinner. That was the only interaction we had with a city except for getting gas and sleeping in a stranger’s room (band laughs). So that was kinda the point of the food blog. Just like, here’s the way we’re interacting with the cities.
Nick: Also, it was a pretext for a tour blog that wasn’t just about playing shows. It was a lead in. Most of them have a story behind them. Like all the ridiculous stuff that happened to us seen through the lens of fine dining.
Harry: I will say they’re not all positive reviews. There’s one review I think that was the only negative review we have, but it was such a bizarre place.
Pete: We stopped by this one that was like a messed up off-brand Subway restaurant, but they had a million video cameras, a strangely conspicuous number of security cameras.
Harry: They also served pizza, breakfast all day, and ice cream.
Pete: The food was the weirdest thing ever. It was all very uncomfortable. But yeah, that’s kind of the thing. When you go on tour, weird things happen to you. That’s how it goes. We didn’t have a way to talk about that.
Nick: You have no idea what you’re going to get into any given day.
Harry: We just wanted free wifi (Everyone laughs). To be fair, they didn’t share their wifi password with their employees. So what’s going on there?
Bethany: So the takeaway is the Annabel Lee in Baltimore, and your rockstar moment is being denied wifi (everyone laughs). Okay, sounds good.
Nick: Sorta an everyman’s tale.
Bethany: Even at Brown sometimes.
Nick: Come on Brown Guest. (Laughs) Most of our weird stories have been crashing with weird people.
Harry: Once you have the gig, it’s business as usual. But between the gig and when you actually go to sleep, that’s the no man’s land. That’s when the weird things start to happen.
Pete: Tour is basically a bunch of concerts interspersed with collective hallucinations. (Everyone laughs.) That’s basically what it feels like.
Nick: We were in South Carolina, and we crashed with a dude who was a professional wrestler.
Harry: Yeah! Yeah!
Nick: He had a handlebar mustache and a bunch of, let’s just say, colorful characters he lived with and engaged with us fairly directly.
Dan: One watched us sleep. Uncomfortable.
Bethany: Sweet. Well, here's my final question: where did you take the album cover for The Longest Year on Record?
Harry: Ahh. There’s this guy Freddie Ross that’s very close with the band. Dan was filling in on drums with a hardcore band out of Massachusetts. And Freddie was pretty tight with those dudes, so that’s how we first met him. He’s a photographer, and he would go to shows and just take incredible photos. His other jam is roller coasters. He’s a wooden roller coaster buff, and travels the country riding and taking pictures of these things. So when we were looking for album art, we knew we wanted to work with him. We were like, “What do you got, Freddie?” He sent us a bunch of photos of wooden coasters somewhere in Wisconsin.
Dan: We found it on Google Maps.
Harry: It’s still up and running. As far as I know, none of the four of us have been there, unfortunately.
Dan: One day, we’ll make a pilgrimage.
Nick: We’ll make a road trip for the 20th anniversary of the album.
Dan: We’ll track down the kid who’s on it. (everyone laughs)
Pete: I think what we kinda liked about it was…. Freddie has a really cool emotional tone to his photography…like it always looks like it means something. And it’s also a really good composition. He’s really good at framing the shot and making it look almost like a painting. We had just gone through orchestrating this really ridiculous album with wind instruments and string quartets we didn’t really need, so I think that might’ve subconsciously appealed to us a little bit. We wanted something that was really well constructed, and Freddie’s that good.
Nick: And something that wasn’t too heavy. It has a lot of depth to it without feeling too overbearing. Some levity to it.
Dan: Right. It has some suspenseful uncertainty, but it’s not like a doom metal cover.
Nick: Or even a post-rock thing with a big field. Yeah.