Ahead of a review of the new echolyn album, i heard you listening, here’s everything you ever needed to know about the band. But were afraid to ask…
echolyn’s musical style, progressive in the truest sense of the word, defies any one musical categorization and yet all their albums have achieved critical acclaim from around the globe as they continue to release new music.
echolyn started in the late 1980’s when Brett Kull, Raymond Weston, and Paul Ramsey played in a cover band named Narcissus; however in 1988 that band disbanded as the members tired of playing cover tunes.
A year later Christopher Buzby joined Kull and Ramsey to form echolyn, making a conscious decision to focus entirely on original music. Weston soon returned to the band and they began recording the eponymous CD “echolyn” in 1990. Jesse Reyes covered bass duties until Thomas Hyatt joined the band permanently during the recording process of this first studio album.
“echolyn” was released independently on their own Bridge Records label and the first pressing sold out quickly. The CD was even a sought-after collector’s item for a while, fetching high $$’s on several internet auction sites. echolyn was indeed a welcome addition of new, unique and challenging music in a generally lean time for progressive rock music.
In 1992 the band released “suffocating the bloom“, now regarded by many as an early ’90s progressive rock classic. The album honed echolyn’s trademark two-and three-part vocal harmonies with tight, angular and contrapuntal instrumental musicianship, and featured the 25-minute opus “A Suite for the Everyman.” Lyrically “suffocating the bloom” deals with the loss of childhood innocence and idealism.
In the spring of 1993 the band released a 4-song unplugged mini-CD “…and every blossom,” however it was “suffocating the bloom” that attracted the attention of executives at major label Sony Music/Epic Records, and the band signed a multi-album deal in the summer of 1993, tied to the release of their next full-length album on Sony/Epic/550 Music.
During this time period echolyn performed live extensively, playing sold-out shows throughout the Philadelphia region, most notably at the Ambler, 23 East and Chestnut Cabarets and at the Theater of the Living Arts on South Street in Philadelphia, as well and a featured set at a progressive rock music festival (ProgFest ’94) in Los Angeles, CA, just prior to the release of their own Sony/Epic/550 Music album debut.
A major label deal would not corrupt echolyn’s musical ambitions. “as the world” was, and is, an uncompromising piece of echolyn’s musical output. Recorded in Nashville, TN in the spring of 1994, the album was released in March of 1995 to critical acclaim as it broke down musical and lyrical stereotypes, making honest and artistic statements about conformity, coupled with the plight of being human.
At the time, many spoke of echolyn as the best chance for wider mainstream acceptance of progressive music, however Sony maddeningly refused to support touring, echolyn’s best way to reach new ears and their musical lifeblood, and thus marked the beginning of the end to echolyn’s short-lived major label career. The band headlined the inaugural ProgDay Festival in North Carolina in September 1995, without label support, and shortly thereafter were dropped by Sony. Hyatt and Buzby next left the band, and after over 250 live shows and 4 studio album releases, echolyn had seemingly met its end.
A posthumous fifth album recording entitled “when the sweet turns sour,” was released on SynPhonic and Cyclops, GFT in 1996. This CD consisted of working demos of unreleased new songs, an acoustic version of “Meaning and the Moment,” a cover of “Where the Sour Turns to Sweet” originally arranged and recorded for a Genesis tribute album, and live tracks from the ProgDay ‘95 show in North Carolina.
The members of echolyn, however, remained very active in music…
Kull, Ramsey, and Weston formed Still, which released “Always Almost” in 1996, focusing on song-writing in a hard-rock format with a powerful, melodic approach. Re-named Always Almost, the same trio released “God Pounds His Nails” in 1997, which featured a Gentle Giant cover of “Aspirations.” Both of these recordings were released on Georgia-based Pleasant Green Records. Kull and Ramsey also started recording and touring as session musicians with the major-label folk-rock group Grey Eye Glances on both studio albums & live shows/tours.
Meanwhile Buzby formed a new band named finneus gauge with several other musicians, including his brother Jonn on drums, and released two albums of intricate jazz-fusion influenced progressive rock, “more once more” (1997) and “one inch of the fall” (1999) to worldwide critical acclaim. Keyboard magazine picked “more once more” as “One of the Top 5 Records of 1997” in an editor’s poll, while Guitar World recognized finneus gauge as “One of the 10 Best in the Current Progressive Rock Underground” in 1998.
In the spring of 2000, 4/5ths of echolyn reunited and released a brand new collection of 10 songs and their first studio album in over four years, titled “cowboy poems free.” The line-up featured original members Buzby, Kull, Ramsey, and Weston, along with new drummer and percussionist Jordan Perlson, a student of Buzby’s at the time. echolyn played a couple of live shows in support of “cowboy poems free,” most notably the stifling-hot and jam-packed NEARfest pre-show in 2000 in Allentown, PA.
echolyn retired again to the studio after the summer of 2000 to begin meticulous work on their next album titled “mei,” released in June of 2002. Always striving for the next challenge and musical adventure, “mei” is the most diverse echolyn recording to date. Featuring several guest musicians on timpani, marimba, vibraphone, clarinet, flute, violin and cello, and clocking in at just under 50 minutes in length, “mei” is echolyn’s modern day version of a symphonic tone poem.
Following the success of “mei,” echolyn decided to take the current live show on the road for a few shows in Philly, Baltimore, Canada and Boston. Following a positive worldwide reception to “mei,” the band also decided it was time to truly empty the vaults and give the newer fans everything they had been looking for + old fans and completists all of the non-released tracks and out-takes from years past.
Thus “a little nonsense: now and then” was born. Released in December of 2002, the box set included the entire re-masters of echolyn’s debut album, “and every blossom” and “when the sweet turns sour.” The release of this box set finally, and officially, closed the door on the first 13 years of echolyn. It also included the return of Tom Hyatt as guest bassist for a few live shows, followed by Tom’s official return to the band in the fall of 2003.
At this point in their career echolyn still did not have one thing on their resume: a “live” album. It was finally time for an official live bootleg album “The Jersey Tomato.” Released as a 2-CD limited-edition pressing, it sold out before the actual CDs and jewel cases were even ready for shipping. Featuring 13 live echolyn tunes, and a powerful, complete band version of “mei” (without the chamber orchestra), this release was recorded at a show echolyn performed at The Jersey ProgHouse in September of 2002.
Always looking for the next challenge, echolyn also began planning work in a new medium. During 2003 the band played several live shows in Baltimore, Quebec, Lowell, MA and Pennsylvania, the latter being filmed for a DVD release. In 2004 production took place on “Stars and Gardens,” which contained film footage of live echolyn from the previous year plus a video documentary spanning the band’s entire career. Released on September 7, 2004, the DVD finally lets fans outside the USA see the band on stage and in the studio. With positive reviews coming in from around the world, the DVD further promotes the success of a one-of-a-kind American band that continues to defy the odds and push the boundaries of original progressive rock music.
Brett Kull’s solo album releases, “Orange-ish Blue” (2002) and “The Last of the Curlews” (2008), plus Ray Weston’s ”This is My Halo” (2003) are further proof that the originality and musical output from the members of echolyn is never done, nor complete. All three solo album releases were heralded by music fans from around the world as bold, necessary, and musical steps forward for both Brett and Ray.
With the re-release of the album “as the world” in July 2005, along with a companion DVD of the band performing many selections from “as the world,” filmed in Michigan just 2 days before the original March of 1995 album release, the band completed and released a brand new album titled ”The End Is Beautiful” – an urban, angular, somewhat back-to-basics, rock album on August 23, 2005 – followed immediately by the band’s first-ever European tour in early September of 2005.
With 9 shows in 6 countries over 15 days, the European tour was wildly successful in that the band not only did all their own leg-work in lining up the shows, tour bus, venues and cartage/gear, but actually more-than-broke-even financially – proving once again their DIY approach to writing, releasing and promoting their own music and tours still has its benefits. With many new friends and fans across the pond – and actual faces to place with e-mail addresses – echolyn came home tired, but fulfilled, from another bucket-list adventure. The tour even inspired the band to write a new song, “15 Days,” which was exclusively featured on the Hurricane Katrina survivor benefit album, “After the Storm.”
Seven long years would next unfold with the band working on-and-off to release another studio album and playing brilliant shows in North America. With multiple false-starts and release dates, the band eventually realized that this next set of songs would, and could, only be released when it was time…and time it took.
Finally, in the winter of 2012, all the right songs, arrangements and recorded tracks fell-into-place to create a new double-CD (and limited-pressing double vinyl release) titled eponymously, just like their debut album: echolyn. This beautifully melodic, mature and introspective set of 8 songs best captures echolyn doing what they do best – writing songs about life and living life – an ever-important reminder to the band members why echolyn was formed back in September of 1989 in the first place: to create truly honest and original music together. With album sales over 30,000 copies to date, this 2012 album release, lovingly titled “the windowpane album” by fans, continues to leave its mark in the music world with introspective, moving song lyrics, lush and powerful music, coupled with intimate and sparse, musical arrangements.
Which brings us to the here, and the now: the same band just getting started again and creating more, once more:
On July 31, 2015 echolyn will release a brand new and powerful musical statement titled
“i heard you listening” – 9 new stories of life – delivered with a musical and lyrical sensibility that is still echolyn. Music written to be both heard and felt, echolyn has hit a new stride for their musical future with an album that is, for them, another giant step forward. echolyn hopes to hear you listening…