Echoing back to their prime

Appeared in "The Lowell Sun", written by Austin O'Connor
May 2003

Back in the mid-1990s, the guys in Echolyn thought they were set. On the strength of an independently recorded album called Suffocating The Bloom, the progressive rockers earned a major label deal with Sony Records. In 1995, when they recorded As The World, their first (and, as it turned out, only) Sony album, they were on top of the world.

"It's like winning the lottery," guitarist Brett Kull recalls about that record deal during a recent phone call. "The first thing we did was we all quit our jobs. We had a nice size budget for the album, and everything looked great."

But, according to Kull, when the album was released it, along with the band, was virtually ignored by the Sony suits. There was hardly a promotional push, and no plans for a tour to support it. As The World turned out to be a flop, and the members of Echolyn soon went their separate ways.

"It really sucked," Kull admits. "It's earth crushing. But looking back on it now, it just didn't work out. Record companies really don't push the buttons anymore. They need big sells to cover themselves."

"You've seen that movie Almost Famous?" he continued. "It's not like that anymore. The labels sign hundreds of bands a year and they really only need like one or two to work out. We were one of those bands that was sort of thrown against the wall to see if we stuck. It's just the way that the industry is. I have no animosity toward any of that stuff. It just didn't work out."

Though the collapse of the deal led to the temporary break up of Echolyn, Kull kept himself busy in the down time. He [along with Paul Ramsey] joined Grey Eye Glances, a folk outfit in which he remains and one that couldn't be more different from Echolyn. He runs his own recording studio in the Philadelphia area. And since Echolyn, which plays the Lowell Brewery tonight at 8, reformed a few years back, all those commitments have kept him busy.

"Honestly, it's all part of my nature," he says about his jam-packed calendar. "I'm just really happy that it's worked out so well."

Tonight's show at the Brewery is part of the ongoing Thursday night New England Art Rock Series at the Lowell venue upcoming acts include Alex Skolnick of the Trans Siberian Orchestra and The Flower Kings but Kull says he and Echolyn try to avoid being pigeonholed into the prog/art rock genre.

"I don't buy it. I don't like it," he says about the prog rock label. "I hate getting lumped into it. These people (prog rockers) are trying to play these really difficult things. That's the criteria for their songwriting, it's got to be difficult. But they're not playing it well. That's what bothers me."

Kull says he often hears pop tunes on the radio, the type that are disdained by many prog rockers, and admires them more than the overdone anthems that fill the art rock genre. He agrees that Tool is the preeminent name in prog rock at the moment, but says groups like Wilco and Radiohead should be considered art rockers, too.

"Any band that's out there sort of doing something really outside the mainstream," is how he defines the genre. Which means Echolyn, a group whose newest album, Mei, which consists of one song that lasts 45 minutes, would fall neatly inside its parameters.

But at 36, Kull says he veers more toward the rock side of the genre than the art. Sometimes, art rock is weird for weird's sake, he says, and purposefully avoids songs that might be considered too mainstream. He credits his experience with Grey Eye Glances as expanding his perspective on what makes for good music.

"Being in that group has taught me quite a bit, and I love learning new things," he says.

The fact that Echolyn, wobbled but not knocked-out by its sucker punch from the major labels, is still around nearly 15 years after its formation is obviously a source of pride. And for a guy who loves learning new things, it was an old lesson he drew on when, a few years back, another major label came calling. Kull and his bandmates said no, and are glad they did.

"Frankly, we've already made ten times the amount of money we would with a label," he says, referring to band's strong Internet presence and its grassroots marketing ploys. "Being on a label now is about getting a commitment from them to do the marketing and get the radio thing going. But there are a lot of bands that are just doing it on their own."

Echolyn plays the Brewery Exchange on Cabot Street in Lowell tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $12. For more information on the New England Art Rock Series, visit newears.org.

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