By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of A Troop of Echoes
When four hometown friends from Rhode Island decided to form a band that would eschew vocals in exchange for saxophone-driven instrumental rock, not a lot of other bands were chomping at the bit to play with them. But the troop decided to stick to their guns, and took their vibrant new style out onto the road; playing a variety of venues alongside punks, jazzers, and metal heads.
They’ve certainly honed their sound and last month’s release, The Longest Year on Record, sounds far more realized and mature than one might come to expect from most bands’ sophomore efforts. BTR sits down with guitarist Nicholas Cooper of the quartet (and unjust recipients of an “Ugh” designation in A.V. Club’s Year in Band Names for 2012) to talk about creative influences, recording at home, and calling in Rod Stewart.
The sax driven rock and roll sound you’ve honed is something of a rarity. What was the process like discovering/developing your style?
The band started as a few high school friends who wanted to make music together. We weren’t really setting out to start a new genre or anything specific. Basically, we developed our sound the way most bands do–lots and lots of experimenting and writing, then trying to harness those ideas into good songs.
Obviously, having a saxophone instead of a vocalist makes our writing process a little different from a lot of bands. Most rock and roll saxophone (Clarence Clemons) is based off the blues and R&B. We’re trying to get away from that idea. The sax has a huge range of possible sounds, and Pete is great at incorporating some of the more unusual ones into our weird, loud songs.
Was the RI music scene very accommodating for A Troop of Echoes?
The Providence scene has always been pretty open-minded–there’s always been an experimental edge to a lot of what’s going on. Like anywhere else, Providence goes through stages in terms of what’s really popular. The noise scene was huge for a long time; weird dance music briefly took over; now the Americana thing is in full swing. We’ve never fit neatly in with any given trend, but we’ve always felt welcomed. People in Providence seem to be interested in bands trying new approaches and new sounds in general. It helps that we really throw ourselves into our shows, which crowds really appreciate. They want to see you give a shit.
What are some of your biggest influences as a guitar player, both musically and otherwise?
I tend to listen to guitarists more for their songwriting contributions than just strictly their playing style. That said, it doesn’t hurt to do something new and interesting. Some players that come to mind are Paul Maroon of The Walkmen, Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. Each has a completely distinct style, but more importantly their playing is indispensable to the entire fabric of each band’s respective sound.
Album art for The Longest Year On Record.
What was your favorite part about recording TLYOR?
Recording the album in our own space was definitely the best decision in the process. We live and practice in a pretty big warehouse space, and when we moved in we immediately noticed a huge difference in the way the songs felt–the high ceilings really filled out and warmed up the sound. It seemed really natural to record the songs in the space they were written in. Working out of our space also allowed us to be really patient with the recording process. We were able to explore some really cool sounds and incorporate a large number of guest musicians that would have been too hard to coordinate had we gone the traditional studio route. It was also pretty great being able to roll out of bed and immediately be in the studio.
There’s quite an extensive drum crew credited on the album. What’s that all about?
We have a nasty habit of accumulating old/broken/heavy drum equipment, and currently there are more than 6 drumsets residing in our space. There’s a big drum roll at the end of one of our songs. We joked about using every drum in the building for that part, and at some point we decided to actually do it. Instead of doing it all ourselves, we invited a bunch of drummers from around town to come bang it out. I’m sure this frustrated our recording engineer (Graham Mellor), but we let him play a drum as compensation.
What about the strings–do you plan on executing the songs with string accompaniment in a live setting?
The string parts are pretty tricky to pull off and especially difficult to coordinate with the volume of a live rock band, so for the moment we aren’t playing with strings live. Some of the horn players have been jumping in for certain shows, and that always spices things up a bit.
The title track off the record is the only one to have a vocal arrangement. Do you see yourself fitting more of this in on the next record?
Hard to say. We’ve always been an instrumental band, but we incorporated those wordless vocals to replace an existing synth part. We liked the idea of drawing on a bunch of new sounds to make things sound lush. We don’t really know what our plan for the next album is, but who knows? It’s likely that our next recording will be all-instrumental again, but maybe we’ll call in Rod Stewart or someone to help us out.
You guys have received press in Europe, Middle East, and Europe. How does it feel, and did you ever have an inkling that your tunes would cover so much ground?
The overseas press thing was pretty unexpected. It’s nice to know that it got out there and people are enjoying it. On the other hand, Russian music pirates had a field day with our last release. We should really find a way to collect those royalties.
What’s in store for 2014?
We’re trying to promote the record as much as we can and are currently on tour in the Midwest playing for anyone who will listen. There’ll be a European tour down the road, but right now we’re just enjoying having people hear the new songs and how much fun it really is to be in a rock band.