A New Name For A New Era: Get to know Echo Kid, the RFA spinoff featuring Brendan McHale and Christian Turzo-Egan
I love to attach the words “jangly nostalgic rock” to anything that Brendan McHale and Christian Turzo-Egan of RFA have a hand in outside of the full band. Echo Kid is the third project the two are entangled with, and just as Whaler Jr. (their other other project) was picking up speed last year, quarantine hit, and McHale and Turzo-Egan were forced back to the drawing board.
With all the downtime came the birth of Echo Kid, a hazier, no-holds-barred, psychedelic reimagining of the way they’d approach their songwriting process. Their debut release, Folks at Home, drips with a stunningly languorous sense of ease, effortless genre-blending, and an amalgam of intentional recorded conversation. The tracks flit from breezy indie to momentously psychedelic to punchy experimental rock. If you like the off-beat era of The Beatles (like they do), then you’ll like this.
The title emphasizes where we’ve all been the last year, and who these tracks are for. Stepping outside of the alt-rock space that RFA so comfortably resides in has allowed McHale and Turzo-Egan to explore the more experimental side of their craft. Though hot off a new RFA release (which is equally as masterful), you’d never know that these two albums came from the same people, which is exactly the point.
The duo talked about how their time was spent over the last year, why they feel Echo Kid’s music is the most authentic extension of themselves yet, and how they’re okay if that isn’t for everyone.
The Key: How do you manage to keep your three projects separate from each other? When you sit down to write, how are you able to compartmentalize something that’s meant for RFA versus something that’s meant for Echo Kid? Does the line ever get blurry?
Christian Turzo-Egan: We really don’t consciously try to keep the worlds separate, but I think when we’re writing something, it becomes clear where it fits into the picture. When RFA decided to put things on hold early in the spring [of 2020], the two of us decided to start something new and turn over a completely new leaf. Over the past couple years or so I’d been getting more involved with helping Brendan work on his Whaler Jr. songs, so Echo Kid is just sort of a natural progression from that.
It’s essentially the same partnership as Whaler Jr., just a new name for a new era. It seemed like the natural right thing to do at the time. We like that it’s this nebulous thing…but at least for the moment, Echo Kid is the only project we’re working on continuously…although I guess that the two of us do have a sort of musical ADD in common, and we’ve always sort of been involved with multiple bands going back to early high school. We’ve both always had trouble focusing on one single style.
TK: What did you feel wasn’t being said with RFA that now you feel is being said with the release of Folks at Home?
CT: There really wasn’t any particularly interesting reason, we just wanted to make something out of the music we were recording throughout the year. it goes without saying that the events of this year sort of drew a line in the sand of our lives, and it just felt like starting fresh was the natural thing to do…. In terms of Echo Kid’s relationship with RFA, they’re just two different musical worlds, both of which are reflections of pieces of our musical identities. That stuff is out there and that band says what it says and is what it is. But I don’t think either of us felt or feel that RFA’s music encapsulates everything that we’ve ever wanted to do musically. This stuff is just a different flavor.
We’ve done the alt-rock thing, and that stuff is cool, but this is just what we’re exploring at the moment. In a lot of ways, this project is sort of an anti-RFA — in that, where RFA is a clearly defined band with a clear aesthetic and tightly defined roles that each member has to play, Echo Kid is a lot more nebulous and a lot looser. RFA was always a live band first, and recording was always sort of an afterthought; Echo Kid is the opposite (by necessity on account of the plague).
Since it’s just the two of us recording the songs, the live thing is a lot less clear cut…so far, the live band has been very fluid, it’s just made up of our friends and whoever is around at the time. Alec and Will from RFA are the only constants aside from the two of us….Also, it’s a lot different in that the instrumentation changes all the time because we play different instruments on each song, and we like being free to experiment with different genres and different aesthetics day to day. We like that you can’t really tell who plays what on any given song. It’s been fun being able to stretch out a bit and play different characters, different versions of ourselves; it’s more like a collection of little bands than a band in and of itself.
The whole ethos of the project is really just a projection of our collective musical ADD…we’re just doing our best to roll with whatever impulses move us on any particular day. We try to loosely follow a “one-take rule,” trying not to think too much about anything and trying to let the rough edges go un-sanded. Also, I guess it’s worth noting that we decided to keep it a two-piece to streamline the process a little bit. One thing that I think weighs on anybody working in a democratic band setting is that stuff takes a lot longer to get done, and there’s more compromise involved. The two of us are lucky in that we share a lot of very similar tastes aesthetically and we generally agree on how most things should sound, and that combined with the fact that we both enjoy messing around on different instruments just sort of naturally led us to where we are.
TK: Do you prefer to write as a duo rather than a full band? Or do you feel like that doesn’t matter as long as you intrinsically trust the person you’re writing with, in the way that it’s apparent you two do?
CT: I think generally it’s difficult to really write as a full band with more than two people, and honestly we’ve never really been able to do it successfully. Like I mentioned earlier, this project is in a lot of ways a natural and opposite reaction to what we’ve experienced in the past. As I said, we’re lucky in that we tend to agree on most things anyway, and since we play all the instruments ourselves the whole process is way more streamlined. There’s a lot less discussion, a lot less compromise. We rarely talk when we’re working, we just roll with it. When we do disagree, in the end, we trust each other enough that if one of us feels super strongly about something, the other will just roll with it. “Fuck it, he’s probably right.” And if not, there’s always next time.
Brendan McHale: All the songs on this album were recorded on our iPhones to start. Occasionally we used extra mics for the drums but in the end we preferred the iPhone room mics actually. Once we had the songs mixed we would run them through the tascam 4 track tape machine we bought a few years ago. Sometimes Christian will record all of the instruments for a song he wrote and I will just put some vocals over it. Sometimes we sit down together and flesh the song out from scratch. We use the recording process to layer instruments one by one and that’s how the songs are essentially written.
TK: I love that this listens like nothing else that I’ve heard from you. What inspired these experimental sounds?
BM: These experiments have always been inside of us, in fact there’s still more in there somewhere. We just have to find them all and get them out. Richard Swift, Foxygen, Ty Segall, White Fence were all strong influences. The Beatles too. We obviously love them. As long as we’re having fun we’ll keep going this route, I think we have our systems and processes in place. We know we’ll usually start to record a song with two acoustic guitars, bass and drums as a foundation. Then whatever else goes on top is up to the song.
CT: I think this is all stuff that we’re interested in and we just thought it would be fun to make. Our tastes are all over the place…we love the most pristine Beatles records and the most disgusting sounding Velvet Underground, Sister Ray sludge records too, and most of all we love the two extremes juxtaposed right up against each other. We were listening to the Beatles a whole lot, and a lot of Paul McCartney’s early solo stuff too, McCartney I and Ram mostly, because we love the home-cooked loose feel of those records….Also lots of the Kinks stuff as well…Kinda Kinks, Arthur, Village Green, all those mid-late sixties records have been big at least for me personally this year.
We both got very into Foxygen and were very inspired by their whole sort of creative ethos (being a duo and recording everything themselves, keeping things loose and sloppy but still interesting)…and then I guess through them we began to embrace more of the psychedelic thing. But also we’ve been digging into a lot of good ole fashioned garage rock like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Shannon and the Clams, a whole lot of the late great Richard Swift and various projects he was involved with. Jessie Baylin, lots of this guy Kevin Basko who records under the name Rubber Band Gun. We love his whole mantra (records everything himself and releases it immediately…he released 25 albums in 2019 alone)……then all the nonsense stuff is just something else that we enjoy making and listening to for fun.
We’ll spend hours just overdubbing our voices making silly skits and things, just goofing off. We both love old Beatles outtakes where you can hear them doing different voices trying to make each other laugh, John Lennon mumbling “Queen says no to pot smoking FBI members” before “For You Blue,” that sort of thing. I don’t know why but non-sequiturs crack me up. Maybe someday we’ll release an entire album of random sounds, who knows. Really, that’s the essence of this whole project — us trying to make each other laugh and do something we’ve never done before.
TK: What do you want the listener to take away from this newfound creative ethos that involves less rules and more experimentation? What do you feel like you’ve accomplished in saying?
BM: I want them to dance a little and enjoy our grooves. Christian and I never really paid too much attention to lyrics. If a song is inspired by something great, we’ll certainly try to say it with our vocals, but in general we’re mostly focused on how everything sounds, not what it is. I feel like we’ve grown older and wiser and have more insight into recording techniques after this year too. Maybe not wiser, maybe more efficient. The room certainly affects the drums. For example, all of the songs on this album had drums recorded in Christian’s room…a tiny little square nestled on the third floor of our last apartment. Now we’re still getting used to our new bigger space.
CT: We just hope people enjoy the ride, there’s not really anything else we can ask for. If you dig it, that’s great and thank you for listening! If not, that’s great too. I’m not sure we’ve accomplished anything beyond making something we like and having a whole lot of fun doing it, but it does feel very good to have presented this other side of us to the world. It’s been very fun to indulge our more obscure impulses. But most importantly, we’re excited to move on to the next batch of songs and to release a whole lot more music in the near future. We’ve got a couple of EP’s finished and are working on another album that’ll be released later this year. I guess overall we’re just excited to stay busy and keep on moving forward.
Echo Kid’s Folks at Home is out now via Bandcamp, and you can find more by followin the band on Facebook.