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Echoing Green's Epiphany
By Steve White
There's an effigy of who I was.Joey Belville. has had an epiphany. At the risk of sounding cynical, he has grown tired of the business side of making music. And with the song "Epiphany" Joey's band, The Echoing Green, is poised to step out of the CCM world, and venture into new markets, where they feel the music needs to be heard. While it could be a risky move, Joey's going forward. "I just realized that God called me to make music that touches people. That deal was struck 10 years ago between me and God. It had nothing to do with corporate anything. God never said 'Go make music that will chart on CCM top 40 stations'. I think it's easy to lose site of your original goals when the industry is constantly breathing down your back with questions like: 'Are the songs catchy enough? Are they Jesus-y enough? Are you selling enough units in these areas? What's with all the weird synthesizer stuff?' and whatever. CCM is, first and foremost, a business. Ministry is fine as long as it's making you a few bucks."
Last fall brought the band's fourth full-length album, and another record label. With Supernova The Echoing Green had developed from a one-man synth pop act fronted by Joey B. to a full-fledged band, with keyboards by Jesse Dworak, vocals by Chrissy Franklin, and drums by David Adams. The group thought they had a solid album on their hands, and although Joey B. doesn't regret the last decade, he adds "My only recent regret is the frustration of delivering a record that we felt was a true accomplishment - only to have it cast to the wayside."
Even before Supernova hit store shelves, the band had several more songs waiting to see the light of day. Those songs, some written before Supernova may be an indication of the band's future, as they now comprise the independent release Music from the Ocean Picture being sold online from http://www.adifferentdrum.com. It could be the first of many independent releases from the Christian synth-pop pioneers.
Tollbooth: Joey, tell us a little about the new album _Music from the Ocean Picture_
Joey B.: Even though this album was started before Supernova - most of the recording was done after. The major difference between the two albums is the production. With Supernova, we had a huge budget and recorded in big studios, etc. That record is super polished. Ocean Picture is not. Normally, I would be a little afraid to release material that would, normally, be considered sub-par from a previous work. But, surprisingly, we had a lot of hardcore fans feel like Supernova was a bit TOO polished (a view which I'm still too confused to react to) - so this album is a bit more lo-fi. Also, during this recording, I totally changed my recording setup. I went from recording to ADAT multi-tracks, to recording straight to hard disk via Emagic's Logic Audio on my Mac. (I switched from PC to Mac during the process which was also new for me). You can tell the difference with songs like "Tragic" or "Noise" which were all adat - to a song like "Goodbye" which was a mix of both (which is probably not the best mix since the songs were kind of a guinea pig with my new stuff which I wasn't too familiar with at the time) to songs like "Beautiful", "Trip", and "Ceremony" which were totally done in a digital environment - after I finally figured out what I was doing.
Tollbooth: Musically, did you take any different approaches on the new album?
Joey B.: This album was decidedly more electronic and stripped down. I originally started out trying to make a "guitarless" album but I just couldn't do it. I think it was kind of stupid to put those kind of boundaries on myself in the first place. But, nevertheless, there's only guitar on about three or four songs - and only prominent on mainly two.
Tollbooth: With a sound based in electronic music, how important has it been to gel as a band? Is important to be able to play as a live act as well as in the studio?
Joey B.: Absolutely. There's nothing more fun than us all playing on stage to a crowd that's feeling the energy right there with us. We will always have a bond because of it. Chrissy is all over Ocean Picture, but not as much as the Supernova album.
Tollbooth: One thing you have always done is connecting to fans on the net, as well as making new friends on the road. What role does this play in your continued success, and sanity?
Joey B.: I think a large part of our success is due to the fact that we make ourselves so accessible. We've never had an interest in being rock stars. The fact that we are so accessible is a large part of our ministry. But there are a lot of folks who don't get it. It's unfortunate that a lot of people focus so much on whether we said the word "Jesus" enough times in a song rather than seeing the big picture of what our songs and our lives are about.
Tollbooth: Joey, you and your band mates also spend time interacting with listeners on a web message board, whom you thank on the new album. I know you often will let them hear sneak peaks of new songs, or release mp3s of rare tunes. Do you really enjoy getting that kind of feedback?
Joey B.: Absolutely. While our fan forum is a pretty small part of our fan base, it's the most vocal and interactive one. The great thing about our forum is that everyone treats each other with respect and if there is a misunderstanding or whatever - there's always an apology. It's very cool. Although I did have one little scare a few months back where one overly-enthusiastic fan decided it would be fun to track our personal phone numbers down and prank call us. He literally had no clue why we wouldn't think it was funny. It was quite the opposite and very disturbing But that kind of stuff can happen whether you frequent a forum or not. We're in the public eye - it happens.
Tollbooth: Speaking of interacting with audiences, the band did not play Cornerstone last year. So how stoked are you to get to come back for 2001?
Joey B.: Very. We missed last year, which was an odd break in tradition. We'll be playing on a fairly small stage this year, but I don't really care. I enjoy hanging out and fellowshipping with folks more than the show itself. :)
Tollbooth: Having just released Supernova last fall through Pamplin Music, a fairly big player in Christian music, and now with the new Ocean Picture album being released through the independent label A Different Drum, what's the future hold? Will you continue with a major CCM label, or go the indie route?
Joey B.: Well it's funny you should ask that because it's something that I've been pondering over for quite sometime. The song "Epiphany" on Ocean Picture is pretty much about our decision to say a quiet farewell to the CCM Industry. Now, mind you, that doesn't mean saying farewell to Christianity, writing Christian songs, playing Christian shows, etc. What we stand for will never change. :) It's simply a farewell to an industry that has never really understood us - or really tried to. I've been in this business for about ten years now. . . I'm tired. I've put sweat and tears into the EG and the industry has never noticed. We refused to move to Nashville and work the corporate thing - which may or may not have hurt us - I don't know. I'm sure there are a lot of things we could have done differently to cater to CCM labels. So anyway - we are completely uncertain what the future holds. We are totally open - and God will show us a way to go - I'm sure of it. And you never know - we just may sign to another Christian label - but it would have to be under different circumstances for sure. :) We're actually excited about our relationship with A Different Drum and the possibilities it holds. The folks buying our records through them are, predominantly, the folks who really need to hear what we have to say.
Tollbooth: Because you've released albums on several different labels, have you ever considered dropping the Echoing Green name, as a means of starting over as a new band with a new start?
Joey B.: I have been considering that for awhile. It all depends. I don't think I could ever put the EG down totally. If I did start a new band, I would simply "move" the EG to a more underground level.
Tollbooth: What about getting out of the music business?
Joey B.: I've considered
that TONS of times. But that wouldn't be right. God put this desire to
make music in me and I can't ignore it. If I did I'd be miserable. I will
always be involved with music in some aspect for the rest of my life. It's
who I am. :)