interview with Echonest

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Have any of you played in other bands?
Warren Sharp - So many over the years! As Oceans, Obsidian Darling, and Rush tribute group called Cygnus X-2 are still very active too.
Keith Lewis - Dozens. This year is the first time I’ve been in only two bands since 2010: Echonest and The Pseudo Cowboys. I’m also writing music with my fiancée that we’re hoping to release this year.
How is it that you started playing music?
Warren - I was 14 when I started guitar. The short of it was having my friends already playing music and starting a band, so I had to start playing to keep hanging out with them! 
Keith - I saw Star Wars when I was 6 years old and was utterly floored by the score. I had to learn how to do that. I started piano when I was 8, picked up trumpet when I was 12, and finally settled on bass when I was 18.
What are your names? / Who plays what? / How old are you? Warren Sharp: Guitars, Keith Lewis: Bass, Michael Lamardo: Drums
Have you had other previous members? Warren - No one has been replaced or fired ever. We have some musicians in the area that fill in when necessary. 
Did you make music even when you were young?
Warren - I started playing music when I joined the school band at 10. I wanted to play drums originally but Mom wouldn’t have it! 
Keith - I started playing when I was 8, but I always played other people’s music until about 3 years ago. 
Where are you from?
Warren - Born in New Jersey (little state in the USA under New York). My family moved to North Carolina when I was in High School and have been here ever since.
Keith - Born in Connecticut, moved to Michigan when I was 4, Massachusetts when I was 12, North Carolina when I was 23.
What year did the band form? Warren - 2018, in fact at the time of writing this, our first show was 9 months ago!
What's your style of genre?
Warren - We are essentially Jazz/Rock Fusion band. I’m a huge straight ahead Jazz head like Trane, Parker, and Davis but I also love all the modern stuff too like Animals as Leaders, Plini, Sithu Aye, really anything that has interesting rhythms and virtuosic playing is right up my alley.
Keith - We always tell people that metal fans think we play jazz, and jazz fans think we play metal. No one else really knows what to do with us, but they seem to dig it anyway.
What inspires you?
Warren - It’s going to sound corny but really everything does. My wife is always getting embarrassed because I’ll notice the intervals of car horns going off or tapping on glass bottles in home goods store. I love talking walks in the woods with my dogs too. Musically, It’s hard not to be inspired by everything. I don’t love everything I hear, but rarely don’t want to start playing guitar when I hear music.
Keith - It’s really about playing with other musicians for me. I always try to find musicians who are challenging me in some way. Playing with Warren and Mike is like taking a masterclass in taking complex ideas and making them sound accessible and groovy, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m pretty boring on my own, but having to figure out a way to make my bass parts fit with what Warren and Mike are doing while keeping it listenable is excellent creative fuel.
How often and where do you reherse?
Warren - Well this is going to sound bad but we almost never rehearse. We have a practice space we share with other bands in Raleigh, North Carolina but we rehearse usually once the day before or day of a show. For our very first show, we actually got to have two rehearsals! Haha! To be fair, we all have the music written down and have recordings to practice to. We’re all in other bands and do a lot of gigging. This actually started as a side project for all of us!
Keith - The fact that Warren sends me sheet music is maybe my favorite part about him after his sparkling personality and his glorious beard.
How have you developed since you started with the music?
Warren - Not really sure. I’d like to think I’ve become a wiser, more generous person, but who knows. 
Keith - Every time we play “Vile Vortices” I’m pretty sure I age at least 6 months. Other than that, I’m definitely better at changing playing technique on the fly. Warren switches between picking, fingerstyle, slap, and tapping so fast it was really hard to keep up when I started playing with Echonest. Nothing motivates practice like an impending performance in front of your town’s local prog crowd.
Do you have other interests of work outside the band?
Warren - My day job is amp builder/final test at Carr Amplifiers in Pittsboro, North Carolina and I teach guitar lessons via Skype. I’ve been known to sling a few spells playing Magic: the Gathering. I also L O V E cooking. 
Keith - I’m a full time musician. Between performing, practicing, composing, teaching, doing sound design, mixing, recording, editing, etc. I play video games, am learning to cook, and am planning a wedding.
Are you looking for a booking agency, and what are your thoughts around that?
Warren - I don’t think so. We’re planning a short tour right now but we’re not big enough to warrant anything too serious. Maybe next year! haha!
Are you looking for a label, and what are your thoughts around that?
Warren - This is a interesting question. I’m not sure anymore. The bands I listened to growing up seem to be the last bands that got into the record label world. My other band As Oceans signed to small label called Subliminal Groove Records and they ended up closing shop. I would be interested in talking to a record label though especially about short vinyl pressing!
What made you decide to make this music?
Warren - The money. Haha! It’s just what I hear in my head when I walk my dogs or drive around with the windows down. That’s pretty artsy-fartsy to say but it’s the truth. I’ll sometime pick up a guitar and a riff will come out but probably 60-70% of the time something is playing in the space around my head before I sit down to write.
Keith - I’m a big believer in pushing my limits. Playing the music that Warren’s written for Echonest tests pretty much every limit I have from keeping all the weird key and time signatures straight in my head to just the physical limitations of playing a full scale 6 string bass, and how far my fingers can move in a given amount of time. Plus, Warren and Mike are two of the nicest guys on the planet, so the rehearsal hangs are always good.
What are your songs about? Warren - With the songs being instrumental, the meaning seems to change a lot for me. The band’s name “Echonest” comes from how one of my dogs likes move a blanket around before she goes to sleep, and her name is Echo. I have another song named after my other dog “Ella” (found on the “Wave” EP on Bandcamp). Other songs just seem to come from certain emotions, hearing something interesting, or it was just fun to play!
Who does the composing?
Warren - We all do. It started as my side project so I write the guitar parts that forms a song and then Mike and Keith write their parts around it. 
Keith - It’s an interesting process because Mike and I will often not talk to each other before we try a new song. We write our parts independently and then just play them without really demoing them for each other, so neither of us really knows what the other is going to do going into a rehearsal. It really shouldn’t work, but more often than not, it does.
Do you compose in a certain environment? Warren - Not really. Technically I record everything in my home studio but sometimes I’ll write a riff during a sound check.
Have you done any covers live?
Warren - I do a lot covers on the band’s Instagram and Facebook pages. Knower, Zeppelin, Animals as Leaders, Plini, Nkenge 1x, and the Crab Rave song.
What are the least and most people to attend one of your gigs?
Warren - no comment and somewhere around 200. Haha!
Keith - It’s always surprising to me that our shows are as well attended as they are. In my experience, prog tends to be hard to get people to come out for, but the response to this music has been fantastic!
What ages are most of your concert attendants? Warren - At our concerts it seems to be 21-30 year olds. We opened for Nantucket (popluar American ‘70’s rock band) in October of 2018 and we were the youngest people there by at least 25 years! haha!
Do you always play the same songs live, or do you vary? Warren - We’re a very young band so there’s not a lot to pull from yet but it does change show to show. I’m always writing and we’re always putting together new tunes.
Do you have a regular place you play live often? Warren - Slim’s in Raleigh, North Carolina has been a great home to us!
What was your first gig like?
Warren - You can hear it on Spotify! We recorded it just in case there would never be a second one. “Live at Slim’s”! It was a dream come true for me. I had been playing these songs at open mics for some time and to finally have two of the best musicians in the are on stage with me was amazing!
Keith - Awwwwww. We were pretty excited to be playing with you too Warren. The lead up to it was pretty anxiety ridden for me. This is definitely the hardest music that I’ve performed, and I was so nervous that I forgot to warm up before we got on stage. You can definitely hear some fun missed notes in that recording, but overall it was an absolutely blast.
What was your latest gig? Warren - We just opened up for a Mars Volta tribute show only a few days ago at the time of writing this
Have you had to cancel a gig? Warren - in other bands yes, but so far so good with Echonest!
Where have you played live this year? Warren - Well we’re only a week into 2019 but I am happy to report that we;ve already played the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh, NC. 
Where do you plan to gig the coming year? Warren - a lot of gigging in our home state but we’ll be getting on the road to play NY with Mid Atlantic Title in March and booking around that. 
When did you start to sell merchandise, and what do you have for sale?
Warren - We just started selling a really nice sticker set with art done by a local artist and friend Gabe Dunston. It features all of our instruments that are die cut and available in our BigCartel shop!
Where can people buy your merchandise? Warren - https://echonest.bigcartel.com/product/echonest-stickers-pack
What do you think about people downloading music instead of buying records now a days?
Warren - Whoa! That escalated quickly! Haha! Hard to say again. I think for musicians that were already in the machine, it’s devastating. For people my age, we grew up without it. We’ve all been our own record labels since the beginning releasing music on Bandcamp, Sound Cloud, and now even on the big streaming sites.  
Keith - In terms of the actual music industry as a whole, it’s been tough. So few bands can really make money at music anymore. That said, it’s been a huge creative boon. It’s easier now to produce and distribute music than at any point in history. Pretty much anyone can do it, and pretty much everyone is doing it. There is so much amazing music that is out there waiting to be discovered and so many weird niche genres and bands have popped up and become successful because they didn’t need to convince investors and spend a year developing a record. They just recorded whatever they wanted and made it available to people and found their audience that way. Releases don’t have to be these huge productions. You can release one song at a time, even if it doesn’t fit with the other 11 you’ve written. It’s been a tough transition, and fewer people are making a solid living through music, but I’m willing to be that there is more quality music being sold today than at any point in history.
How do you think the music industry have changed because of this?
Warren - Probably the biggest thing is that musicians now have to go on the road because merch and tickets sales are the only ways to make money without talking about distribution. Streaming does not get you pay out you need unless you have a good group of friends or already have a huge fan base...I think. Haha!
Keith - It’s a completely different monster. There are 20 times the number of genres of music today than there were 20 years ago. Albums are out of fashion, making EPs, or even exclusively releasing singles is in. Production cycles are shorter and cheaper, but the standard of quality has dropped significantly. More people are making money, but fewer are making a living. Basically everyone has to invent their business model from the ground up now, because the old system doesn’t work anymore, and no one has figured out a consistent, large scale way to make anything work.
Do you have any role models or idols?
Warren - Charlie Hunter, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Claudio Sanchez, Steve Vai, so many more honestly.
Keith - Tony Levin, Dave Larue, Zach Cooper, Mike Lomardo, Amos Williams, Alexander Verster, Simon Grove, Warren Sharp, and as always, Hugh Jackman.
Is it easier to find inspiration from older bands, or bands that are more active today?
Warren - There’s a lot of great music from all time periods. There’s also been a lot of shit! Haha! 
Keith - I have a hard time telling anymore what era music comes out of. I missed so many classic bands growing up, and retro sounds are so in style now, that it’s very confusing for me.
What have been your biggest obstacles?
Warren - Don’t really have any right now. I have a lot of things that take time away from music but it’s nothing different from what other musicians have to deal with. 
Keith - Basses are expensive and I want lots of them.
What advice would you give other bands or artists?
Warren - I’m really in no place to offer advice but something I need to hear constantly is practice!
Keith - People who are good at playing/writing/doing music are not hiding anything from you. There are no secrets, there are no tips or tricks. The only difference between you and the people that you look up to is that they’ve spent more time being bad at music so they’ve learned what not to do. Spend time doing music. That’s it.
How do you get psyched for a gig?
Warren - I don’t need to do anything to get psyched for one. Once it’s on the books, I’m excited and stay that way until after we’ve played it. I’m so lucky to have an amazing band of guys I really love playing our own music and we usually get to play with play with other bands we like.
Keith - Listening to music. Playing music that gets me excited. Watching the Rohirrim charge on to the Pelennor fields. The usual musician stuff.
Do you have any new material? Warren - I release a new song every week to the Echonest Sound Cloud and Bandcamp sites. I also post new riffs a few times a week to the Instagram and Facebook accounts. I just finished the third variation on a riff called “Homograph”. I recorded it at 130, 215, and 300 bpm. They all have the same “A” section but a different “B” section. 
What are your web sites? Warren - The main one is probably our Facebook (Facebook.com/echonestband) 
What are your plans for the future? Warren - Touring around a little bit, writing and recording a lot, having a good time playing out tunes.
Do you have something to add? Warren - If a question wasn’t asked, I can’t think of it! Thanks for having us!
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