Welcome to the Prognaut.com! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about your latest project The Tide Decides and Echo Us.
Prognaut.com: Wow! As you can read from my review I was blown away with The Tide Decides. It sounds like this music has been deep in your thoughts for a long time. Can you tell us about the genesis of the idea and theme for this album?
EM: Figments of lyrics and musicality go all the way back to late 2003 right after I’d moved to Portland. I was completing the mixes for the debut at the time and spent a lot of time exploring the city, and what was a new life for me. What was unique about the experience is that it was the first music I’d made that seemed to come from a ‘lighter’ place, rather than the dark of the past. For the first year or so of just writing the base compositions I didn’t really know it would develop into a concept album or that Echo Us would in fact turn out to be a sort of “concept project”- bringing in a lot of ideas and musicians rather than a solo affair. As things went along over the next couple of years I ended up moving into proper studio space. I went into a very hibernatory kind of space in my life. I researched and compiled a mountain of audio, visual, and written data- from recording samples, to traveling to the coast and around Northwest doing a lot of field recording and taking photography. I also compiled a lot of ideas from all sorts of philosophers, metaphysical writers, scientific gurus, genieousness and pontificators. It became clear that most of the album’s sounds would come from all original source sounds. Therefore, even the sea sounds you hear are all authentic and not from other sample libraries. The footsteps in the snow, everything is hand gathered. This approach took a long long time as one can imagine.
Towards the end of the compositional phase in 2007 I found that I needed a better room to mix and needed a slight geographical change as well, so I moved to Eugene for awhile where I eventually rented a loft house to set up a studio and make the mixes complete. At the same time, in Portland and Eugene I also composed the second album in the series- which I will begin finalizing soon. So, all in all I was working on a couple of records with interlocking themes.
Prognaut.com: The online notebook, complete with the sound of turning pages was genius. How did that idea and concept come about? What inspired you? Can you share with us the locations of some of the pictures?
EM: I knew that the booklet for the album would probably be small with little room for lyrics, so I began looking at some other possibilities to present the listener with all that words and extras. Eventually I found an e-book/magazine format that worked. It was time consuming to put together, but well worth it. There is what I’d call a “poetry synopsis” in the first few pages that I did almost as automatic writing- and I say “almost” because I did have to edit it quite a bit. It was to summarize each piece of music on the album, but also at the same time let my mind be free to write whatever came through my hands. That was the final thing that made me want to really present the notebook in the format that it is.
As mentioned, I do quite a bit of photography which I got into more while traveling up to British Columbia during the making of The Tide Decides. A lot of the pictures come from Howe Sound up on the “Sea to Sky Highway”, as they call it, just north of Vancouver. They are late winter shots and I picked a really nice day. Exquisite experience! It’s safe to say that the surroundings of the Pacific Northwest are quite important to Echo Us.
Prognaut.com: What is your favorite song off The Tide Decides?
EM: I really feel like From Snow To Sea/We Surfaced, State of Expectation and Descending From The Dream are all compositional highlights- but the whole album I was very satisfied with, and still am. I wanted to make something that was varied but extremely consistent in sound and feeling. I like albums that can be an experience from start to finish.
Prognaut.com: Please tell us about when you started to write and play music. I understand from reading some of your reviews that you started in the progressive genre.
EM: Yes- progressive is certainly where I started as far as releasing music, although I’ve flirted with other areas. Greyhaven was a progressive metal band that I formed and wrote a lot of music for. We released one album in 2000 which had a small and dedicated kind of following. I am not terribly fond of genre boundaries and even back with Greyhaven I was very intent on exploring many areas in music and not becoming a product of the culture around me. That said, progressive music can come from so many different spaces- which is why if I have to choose an area of music I like that one.
I’ve been involved in music since I was about 7 years old, and took to it very seriously by my early teens. I wrote a ‘demo’ of instrumental pieces in my mid teens and used that to get Greyhaven going originally. I was really into lots and lots of guitarists early on. My father has a long background in music teaching and playing classical saxophone, giving quite a few concerts at university and the like. Only one I am able to remember because I was old enough- he had gotten asked back to one of the colleges to play after he was through with school there.
So, music was always there as a child. My mom was probably more responsible for getting me into popular and modern music- from the old new age albums of the late 70’s and 80’s to Dire Straits, Sting and a bunch of stuff she and my Dad always had around. I still feel really kind of privileged from the standpoint that as a child there were a lot of good things going on that I was exposed too.
Prognaut.com: The self - titled debut album is very different. Where did your inspiration come for this project?
EM: At first I did not know- except that whatever energy was behind it was building for a long time. In the past I wrote a lot of music from a very personal perspective lyrically speaking. The Tide Decides was different. It could be a personal story, but only in the sense of fantasy. It could be a worldly story about the earth itself- but emphasizing purely that perspective seemed to eliminate the human side of things. I began also reading a lot of metaphysical authors as well as exploring the ideas of physics and more importantly- quantum physics.
There is a wonderful book by an author named Norman Friedman called “Bridging Science and Spirit” which combines a lot of David Bohm’s quantum theory, the ideas of Aldous Huxley’s “Perenial Philosophy” and the channeled consciousness of “Seth” that spoke through the writer Jane Roberts. The book does just that- philosophically at least bridges the scientific and spiritual. Another of his books goes to the more hard scientific data as well. Regarding the Seth/Jane end of the spectrum I found that whether or not one believes the concept of “channeling”, the ideas that Seth and Jane wrote about hit home, and after exploring more it became clear to me that living in a world of opposites, good and evil, etc, etc was not where I wanted to be anymore. At the very least taking steps away from this was my personal goal- and if quantum physics seemed to support this view, why not try and bring it to life? It was important with Echo Us to get out of this constant battle- grow out of the old line of consciousness where everything is a war between two opposing forces. That’s what the album is about to me. The harp and the heavy guitar can coincide peacefully, for instance.
I would hope that one could take the album as they see it themselves; experience it and interpret it their own way. For me music is about enjoyment and higher states of consciousness- not so much about standing up for a cultural worldview or playing out my own private thought exhibition. The concept of the album and Echo Us is about connectedness and wholeness- but not just from one perspective. It could be from an atomic perspective or from a personal human one, and many others.. In thinking about this, I like the term “omnijective”- which could be a state where subjective- based on the personal, and objective- based on physical facts in our reality we can see were combined, and cancelled out. It’s safe to say that art and music on our plane of reality probably can’t even achieve this, because someone will always dislike what another likes. But maybe that’s not the point. The music only represents a greater idea or ideal from the storage bank of a higher order (in quantum physics- the implicate order) expressed in our physical/sound/sight reality on earth (explicate order). And the seeds of consciousness that guild the whole process could yet be a higher level of the self, and the mass mind. These are some of the ideas that connected with me the past few years, and as a child I had a plethora of psychic phenomena – a lot of which I remember clearly to this day.
Prognaut.com: How well developed is the Portland, Oregon or Pacific Northwest progressive music scene?
EM: For specifically progressive not very. There is a lot of music that goes on from Portland up to Seattle. What is truly great about it is there are so many possibilities of musical collaboration. Everyone that contributed to The Tide Decides is from different areas of music and I think that is a wonderful thing!
Prognaut.com: Please tell us about your experience living here in the Northwest. Are you a native Oregonian?
EM: I am- although I lived in Boston MA for about 5 years from 98-2003. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to return- but I am glad I did! I’ve found that the “space” out here is much more conductive to my creativity and the kind of lifestyle I can appreciate. I used to call Oregon “Boregon” - believe it or not. After you live a crowded east coast city (as much as I do love Boston!) you come to appreciate vaster open spaces. As I said, I think the NW is pretty integral to Echo Us, and I don’t imagine leaving. I was able to travel long distances quite a bit years ago and in many ways like to stay put. The variation can come from inside the mind rather than seeking out external interests for me.
Prognaut.com: Who are some of your favorite artists?
EM: Lots- although I don’t sit and listen quite as much as I used to. It’s been everything from metal and fusion guitarists like Alan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale and Alex Skolnik in my teens to electronic music like Bjork and Tangerine Dream later on.
Another group I’ve come to really like recently is Qntal, and I enjoy listening to a few more obscure things from time to time. I’ve gone through some ‘classical’ listening phases as well which included Stravinsky, Debussy and some earlier 20th century “electro-acoustic” music which I studied a bit in college.
Prognaut.com: Are there some favorite artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?
EM: For Echo Us collaborators there would be many I think, but such a limited amount of time it sometimes seems! I am currently on the lookout for a female vocalist to sing a few songs on the next Echo Us album. Outside projects or groups are not something I am very interested in- but years ago one person I always thought would be neat to write with was Dan Rock of Darkstar/Psychotic Waltz. The two Darkstar releases were very unique and did some things that were similar to what I was doing with Greyhaven at the time- combinations of electronics with progressive metal and rock. Back then it was pretty different to do that, and it was interesting that we were doing some similar things without initially knowing about each other until after some reviews were published. I think it’s great when artists are able to break down barriers between styles. If I ever collaborated again outside Echo Us I’d want it to be something of experimentation again above, beyond, or to the side of what I have been accustomed too.
Prognaut.com: I understand from our early e-mail that you do not plan to take this album out on tour since Echo Us does not function as a full time band. What is your mission in providing your music?
EM: Many moons ago back in Boston Echo Us was a live group for a short period. We released a couple of short-run EPs and played out. Greyhaven also did some live playing before that. I got really tired of it at the time, and my life moved in a direction away from seeking that kind of attention. At the same time, I always knew that as I grew as a composer I wanted to spend a lot more time on something where only the music mattered- the recorded medium is perfect for that. To present an Echo Us concert would take a lot of preparation. Everyone involved has other projects to spend their musical time with too. I am not the kind of person to ask them to put everything aside and just focus on Echo Us to build it into a touring act. I don’t want that kind of attention for many reasons either- because it’s been detrimental to my music in the past. I don’t want to get in the way of the experience by putting a face on the music. Some label managers might say this is a terrible move, but the world is always changing you know? I suppose time will tell and I may play live again in some fashion- but maybe not the music of Echo Us.
Prognaut.com: What are your hobbies when you are not creating music?
EM: Photography is a big one for sure. I am vegetarian- almost vegan at this point and like to try and cook new creative things! I don’t follow veganism as a rule and did it more because my body has never dealt well with meat or dairy, so that is why- it’s not a religious thing for me. I read quite a bit and try and give myself the opportunity to experience different states of consciousness and perspective.
Prognaut.com: Now that you have completed this incredible work do you have plans for the next project?
EM: The next release is a continuation of the story started on The Tide Decides. To be brief, it is based around the idea that existence has moved to a higher plane. The album brings together a number of lyrical pieces that were, for lack of a better term- directly channeled through me. To briefly explain- I had to sound out the words phonetically as they came to my mind, and then look up different spellings to figure out what was trying to come out. Never happened to me before. It happened very fast and to express the musical portion I had to be able to work in my studio quite fast to keep up with the flow from my mind. I realize that sounds ridiculous to some people. I may write at length about what happened during the first stages of it. It was quite a trip! Also, the (miss) usage of some different sampling and other studio technologies move Echo Us into more and more original ground from a sound perspective as well.
Prognaut.com: Ethan, thank you for your responses and sharing your time with the Prognaut. We look forward to your future projects and hope to talk with you again.
EM: Thank you Mark and Prognaut! Always a pleasure.
Interviewed by Prof on August 11th, 2009