Echo Lake: Drowning in Reverb

Photography by Owen Richards

On their debut EP, Young Silence, Echo Lake’s expansive, hypnotic music is quietly overwhelming and completely irresistible. Bandleader and producer Thom Hill has created a sound that moves smoothly between icy, hissing guitar fuzz, keyboard textures denser than the atmosphere of Jupiter and tidal waves of psychedelic noise. When the delicately indecipherable vocals of Linda Jarvis come floating through the mix, equal parts wailing banshee and shy Victorian lady, the songs take off into uncharted musical and emotional territory. The delicious tension between Hill’s throbbing lo-fi production and Jarvis’s ethereal vocals has made Echo Lake one of Britain’s top bands, almost overnight. Not too bad for songs that almost didn’t make it off of the tape deck.

“I was sitting on the instrumental tracks I’d made for a while. I didn’t really have the confidence to do anything with them until I played them for Linda,” Hill recalls. He met Jarvis, a fellow student at Camberwell College of Arts in London, during a break between classes. “She told me they were great. She wanted to sing on them. Linda’s vocals have a ghostly presence and that’s exactly what I was aiming for. I like it when you listen to songs and get the words wrong and have to make up your own. Our lyrics always mean something, but that doesn’t mean we have to put them on a plate for people.”

Jarvis sang in choirs when she was a girl in Belgium, but doesn’t think her early experiences influenced her vocal style. “I’ve never had any formal training,” she says. “I was quite intimidated by the girls who’d sing soprano improvisations, but they were jealous that I was able to sing pop songs in a way they couldn’t. My voice was different and quite soft. The way I sing sounds like a sweeter version of how I speak. I speak quite softly and have a bit of a problem with loud voices.”

When Hill and Jarvis were satisfied with their homemade songs, they put a few of them on their MySpace page. They went viral and attracted the attention of No Pain In Pop, a website and record label. No Pain put the tunes on their site and the excitement intensified, thanks to rave reviews from Pitchfork, Fader and Gorilla vs Bear. It was time to put together a band and start playing live. Hill recruited old friends to fill out the line up.

“We were offered a lot of gigs early on, but turned them down because we didn’t feel ready to play live,” Hill says. “We waited for the initial buzz to die down a bit and focused on our live sound. I had an epic post-rock band when I was 16 with Kier (guitar), Steve (bass) and Pete (drums), so I invited them in. On stage, I play guitar and Linda sings and plays keys.”

Live, the band takes their densely layered sound to an extreme level. They crank up the volume and use effects pedals to push the music’s spacey vibe to the limits. The measured energy is replaced with a dynamic, over the top assault. “When we play live, it’s not like on the record; it’s louder and faster. We don’t want our live sound to be a straight copy of our sound on record. We’re still developing our style. We try not to rip off older bands, but sometimes our influences are pretty clear. I listened to a lot of My Bloody Valentine when I was young.”

“Our recordings are different from our live set,” Jarvis agrees. “When we record, there’s a lot of space for me to sing gently, but there is absolutely no chance of me being heard if I was to sing like that live. I have to do some pretty powerful howling to be heard over the loud instruments.”

Jarvis is also the band’s lyricist. Her cryptic, perplexing images add much to the band’s enigmatic aura. “When I sang along to pop records when I was younger, my English wasn’t very good, so I made up my own words. That probably influenced the way that I come up with my lyrics. Some people complain that you can’t make out what I’m singing, but I think in syllables—phonetics and vowels—before I think of meaning. With the effects we use, it can make some of my words hard to understand. I don’t really know why this bothers people. Nobody that I know of has complained about the Animal Collective or Cocteau Twins doing it.”

– J. Poet