VM: Hello Brett! Please accept my sincere congratulations on Echolyn's 15th Anniversary and the release of the band's first DVD >"Stars and Gardens"and share them with your colleagues. Many thanks for your willingness to do an interview for Progressor. Please tell me about your early days as a musician. When did you learn to sing and play guitar?
Brett: I've always been interested in music, as long as I can remember. My Brother and I would listen to old scratchy records of Herman's Hermits or classical music. I started to play guitar and piano when I was 13. I'm still learning everyday.
VM: At that time, who were your musical favorites?
Brett: Classical Music was a big favorite. In popular music I grew up listening to the top 40 of the 70's. During my teens in the 80's I listened to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rush, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Who, et al. I didn't really like the popular music of the 80's at the time. It was all Metal Hair bands or new wave. I've since discovered great music from that time period like REM, U2, Elvis Costello, Mettalica, etc.
VM: Have your musical tastes changed since then?
Brett: Not really. I still like a good tune with a great melody and cool arrangement. I find more and more in The Beatles every time I listen to them. They were the Kings of song craft and have influenced all popular music since.
VM: What were the circumstances, under which such a unique Progressive Rock formation as Echolyn has appeared on the map of the genre?
Brett: I was in a cover band and really wanted to play my own music so in 1989 I formed echolyn. I knew Paul and Ray from the cover band days and Chris came on board because he had the same musical sensibility we did. We didn't start this thing to be a progressive band. The style we have is completely natural and is what we get when we play together. We wanted to try lots of different styles and approaches to song writing. We still are doing that.
VM: Please tell me of your work on the first two albums, and also "And the Blossom".
Brett: Those first three albums really captured our spirit, frustration, youth and naivety. I think they got progressively better as we went. I really like "And Every Blossom". It's such a cool album, very original. The chords and melodies are so modern and impressionistic to me. The re-mixes I did for the Box set "A Little Nonsense Now and Then" are wonderful. Those four songs are really original sounding. A lot of people didn't get it. They expected something else. Expect the unexpected with us. We are truly progressive.
VM: Was the release of the EP linked with the success of "Suffocating the Bloom"?
Brett: Yes "And Every Blossom" was linked with "Suffocating the Bloom" in spirit. Spring was in the air and we really wanted to capture that feeling. The whole project took a month to do.
VM: Generally, what was the turning point that had brought Echolyn into the arms of Sony Music? How did it all start, and how did the subsequent events develop before "As the World" was released?
Brett: We were playing out a lot and wanted to get to the next level. Greg and I hooked up with a lawyer that put us in contact with a manager/promoter in Philadelphia. They both really like the music and got our foot in the door with Sony Music. With that said we had the goods to back up the solicitation. We were a real gigging band, had our own CS's, sold them world wide, had lots of positive press, and were selling out many shows. The A&R guy at Sony was impressed by this DIY (do it yourself) attitude and was a big fan of progressive music. We were his pet project.
VM: What could you tell us about the band's further, dramatic, relations with the major that, as far as I know, led to its break up?
Brett: Well, we took it as far as it could go. Sony did it's standard press, etc for "As The World". The sales generated didn't warrant another album with them. We were all pretty frustrated at that time. To us we were still selling more albums with every release but it wasn't enough for Sony. We really needed a break from each other and from the Biz. We worked very hard for 6 years. Every day was all about the band and what to do next. We were all in serious debt and couldn't see an end to the money pit. I'm glad it ended when it did.
VM: For me, the most obscure period in your creation is the years that followed Echolyn's break up in 1995. Please share your memories of that time and those of Still and Almost Always specifically.
Brett: That was the time period for some serious growth on all our parts. We went from being kids to adults. I learned so much between 1995 and 1999 because I got to play with tons of different people. Paul and I did many sessions for various people and we played in a group called Grey Eye Glances. That was a great experience. Paul, Ray and I released two beautiful, spontaneous albums in that interim also under the names "Still" and "Always Almost". They were reactionary albums of how we felt at the time. I'm re-mixing those and the three of us hope to do one more to complete the song cycle. Look for a triple disc set in the future. It was liberating to play in a trio. The three of us don't even need to look at each other when we play. With those albums I wanted to write better songs without all the fluff.... to get to the heart of what your trying to convey and not ruin it with a bad arrangement is a hard thing to do. As I said before, I'm still learning.
VM: Approximately at the same time you are becoming a member of the Mercury Records-based group Grey Eye Glances. What is more, at the end of the '90s you concentrated exclusively on this band. Could you tell me of this side of your creative activity?
Brett: Paul and I hoped that that would become the greatest job in the world. We got paid money to play our instruments! It wasn't the only thing we were doing though. As I said I was playing on tons of other peoples songs as a session guitar player. Grey Eye Glances was a wonderful experience for me, one in which I learned many things that I use today. We traveled all over the country and played in hundreds of Borders and Shulers Book stores. I got to meet a lot of cool people that I still stay in touch with today. I wouldn't trade that time for the world. I've since left the Band to concentrate on my studio but will probably record with them again...Paul still plays with them.
VM: As far as I can figure out your extended discography, you are still with them and you are one of the main masterminds behind Grey Eye Glances, too. Is it easy for you to work with the two different outfits simultaneously?
Brett: It was easy to play with them. Jen, Eric and Dwayne are my friends and some of the nicest people I've met. The last album we did, "A Little Voodoo", is very cool. I felt like part of the band for that one and recommend it to anyone that wants to check them out. On leaving... I needed to really get my business together and Playing with them was starting to hinder that. I decided it was time to leave. Now I have echolyn, my studio and various session works. It takes up all my time as is!
VM: Apart from Grey Eye Glance, however, there were a few other projects that you've been part of at the end of the last decade...
Brett: Lots of stuff, too many to mention. I've been getting into producing new bands/artists and hope to continue that.
VM: You also have one album under your own name: "Orange-ish Blue", which was released rather shortly after "Mei". It looks like you had a lot of unreleased ideas at that time. Please tell me how and why you arrived at the idea of releasing a solo album?
Brett: It actually came out before "Mei". I love the craft of song writing and doing it on your own is very pleasing and at the same time daunting. The music on my album is me. I think writing songs about or pertaining to love is extremely difficult because it's been done so many times but It's a well that I'm going to keep going to because love interests me. I'm working on another one as we speak and hope to release it along with a new echolyn album this spring.
VM: Is it musically closer to Still / Always Almost or Echolyn, or is it about something completely different? Is it possible that one day you would step on a solo path again?
Brett: My album is more of a singer /song writer kind of thing. It's not as heavy as the "Still", "Always Almost" stuff and not as rhythmic as echolyn but it has similarities because it's still me writing. I will and am working on a new batch of my songs for another solo release.
VM: It is time to ask you to tell me under what circumstances Echolyn was (thankfully) reformed, back in 2000?
Brett: Chris called me up to see what was up. We all missed playing together. Tom wasn't involved at first but we wanted to play anyway. We didn't want to do a reunion thing and were going to come up with a new name but after writing the songs it was undeniably echolyn music.
VM: While without Tony Hyatt and a free bass player in general, you still kept going as a quintet then. Did you really need to have two drummers on "Cowboy Poems Free"? I highly doubt that it was about to model a lineup after King Crimson, only with two lead singers instead of two bassists...
Brett: The only reason we had two drummers was because Paul was pretty busy with some other things and couldn't commit full time. Chris knew Jordan and asked him if he wanted to play with us. It worked out beautifully. It wasn't about having two drummers... you only need one good one. When we played out, one of the guys played percussion while the other played kit. Those bands that have two drummers: it's just ridiculous and obviously is just a flashy thing to do. Having percussion is another story and can add lots to a song. Jordan was a young kid that brought a "newness" with him and is now a sought after Berklee school of music session drummer. I can't say enough nice things about him. He will make a mark!
VM: I find >"Mei"Echolyn's most perfect album to date and one of the very best Symphonic Art-Rock albums released in recent years...
Brett: Yes it is perfect and is our best effort. We started with the idea to do one song. Not a bunch of pieces but one song using a few ideas in as many different ways as we could think of. Paul, Ray, Chris and I got together once a week for many months and wrote the song together. We kind of started in the middle and worked our way out. It was easily the hardest thing we've ever done and the most rewarding. Ray and I found a lyrical theme in "Dante's Inferno". This inspired us to apply that to a story that overlaps our own lives. Love is a central theme (there's that love thing again) as is fear. I don't remember writing many of the words. Many ideas came from dreams I've had and just letting my pencil have its way. I find more and more meaning in it every time I listen and get goose bumps when we play it. The song came from lots of hard work and from another dimension.
VM: Could you explain the process of composing and recording "Mei"?
Brett: Recording it was daunting to say the least. We had to be very organized with our approach." Keep it simple" was my mantra for the whole process. Chris did a great job arranging the extra instruments. They added texture without becoming over bearing or taking away from our sound. Everything was cut to a click track (many different tempos) so that we could have better control of the editing. Paul is the king at playing time and still with feel. We built the songs from the rhythm and feel up.
VM: Whose idea was it to use a chamber orchestra on "Mei"? The orchestra added lots of new wonderful colors to the band's sonic palette...
Brett: It was something we all wanted to do. Thank goodness we have Chris in the band and can tap into his knowledge and resources for orchestral arrangements.
VM: Echolyn put on a really great performance at the Sellersville Theater live show, which is presented on the DVD. How many people attended?
Brett: I think there were around 175 people there. It was a small theater with a great vibe. Everyone that came that night was blown away. The sound was impeccable. You could hear every note played.
VM: On the second song you present an unusually harsh sound by playing a guitar, which was placed on your lap. What can you tell about this instrument and your technique to play it?
Brett: That's called a lap steel Guitar. They were popular in the 40's and 50's and used on many country and Hawaiian recordings. The one I have is a 1949's Gibson Lap Steel. A lot of blues guys use them too. I have it tuned a certain way so that I can play chords by baring frets. For that tune I went with a sort of heavy 'Led Zeppelin' approach.
VM: What models of custom electric and acoustic guitars do you prefer?
Brett: I have lots of Guitars... 1973 Martin D-18, 1975 Gibson SG, 1984 Fender American Standard Stratocaster, 1980 Gibson ES 175, Guild NT-112 12 string, Alvarez Classical, Danalectro Baritone Guitar, 1995 Gibson Gospel, Fender Mandolin, Deering 6 string Banjo, 1973 Fender Lap steel. I use them all!
VM: On "Stars and Gardens" Echolyn appears in its classic lineup. What is bassist Tom Hyatt's current status in the band?
Brett: Tom is back in the band. I'm helping him with his own album too. We are all working on a new echolyn album as we speak. Tom needed a little bit more time to get things together before playing with us again. It's great to have him back. We all missed playing with him. He's got such a natural sense of humor.
VM: With the exception of "As the World", and also "When the Sweet Turns Sour", which is a compilation of unreleased tracks, all of the band's albums were released independently. I am almost certain that Echolyn had many offerings from progressive recording companies to join them, but you're still in an independent navigation. Could you comment on the situation?
Brett: I really enjoy all the facets of making music, including selling it. I like being in control plus the profit margin is much better if you do all the work. All of our albums are out selling the previous... that's always been the case. I still feel like a valid contributor to music culture in general. We all hate repeating ourselves, and we hope to continue exploring new areas of recording and song writing. The new songs are doing just that. With that Credo you sometimes confuse people because you challenge them to leave their comfort zone. For better or worse it's what we do.
VM: Your brother Greg is the manager of the band's current label, Multimedia Three Records. Was he also at the head of Echolyn Inc. in the '90s?
Brett: Greg was the sixth member of the band back then and was crucial to our success. Greg and I now have a business together called MM3. We decided we wanted the DVD "Stars And Gardens" to be part of that company and see how it goes. Who knows what that could lead to? The sky is the limit right now and we are all glad that he is part of the equation again.
VM: Can you briefly explain the work of your label? How do you distribute your albums in Europe? Do you have any releases in Japan (which is a very good Prog market in my view)?
Brett: We have distributors in Europe like "Just For Kicks" and "Progress Records". It's growing everyday. We have a company in Japan called" Marquee" too.
VM: What is your view on the current state of Symphonic Progressive, and do you think that there is still a lot of uncharted territory to explore?
Brett: None of us listen to "prog" music so I couldn't comment. In general western music only has 12 notes so it's pretty tuff to come up with new and interesting ways to group those notes... but that's the challenge. I look at a song as 4 components: Melody, Harmony (Chords), Rhythm, and Lyrics. It's a blast to find compelling ways to construct a song with those 4 things.
VM: Finally, what are your thoughts about the future of Echolyn and when can we expect a new studio CD?
Brett: We are working on a new album now and hope to have it out early next year. Tom is playing with us again on bass. Who knows where things will go. We are having fun playing together and that is the most important reason to continue.
VM: Thank you very much Brett for taking part in this interview. In closing, I wish for you to carry on delighting your fans (including me) with your creation for many years to come.
Brett: Thanks so much for the questions and the support!
PS Those wondering about the meaning of the band's name, please click here