Everything about the career of ETCHES to date says they’re not your average band.
A digitally enhanced word of mouth – you could call it word of tweet – catapulted their Soundcloud page featuring one song, Let’s Move In, into the public consciousness amid a shower of confused praise. The confusion lies not within the music – a beautifully crafted song that both broods and soars, creating a perfect marriage between light and dark emotions like all of the best pop records – but with its creators.
Any information about the band has been tightly guarded; this feature nearly didn’t happen, so reluctant were some of their number to be interviewed. All we know is that they are Etches, there are five of them, and they’re based in Liverpool. Initial contact with the band revealed they: “uphold strong ideals about separating art from the artist, so wouldn’t want to post-rationalise the music or give it or us any kind of romanticism.”
A commendable stance, but one that can be easily misconstrued as po-faced, or even disingenuous if their upward trajectory continues, carrying them into the stratosphere of major media players. As Ross (Keys, Lead Vocals) insists as we sip lattes on a quiet corner of Smithdown Road, it’s less about creating mystique, and more about maintaining control of how their music is perceived: “We’re not striving to be anonymous, we just don’t want to misrepresent ourselves. Interviews can be helpful if it’s intriguing information offering real insight, but so many end up as a circle jerk, designed to put artists on a pedestal, and we want no part of that. The beauty of art is the connection to real human emotion, and we don’t want to dilute that connection for our audience. We feel that the only really important thing about what we do is the music, and that generally that’s all that counts.”
Hear hear. Problem is, this position has the potential to become counter-productive. The more you tell people, particularly the press, that you don’t want to be judged on your personality, the more that becomes the story, rather than the music. Wary of falling into the same trap, Ross moves the conversation on to the writing process, which is unsurprisingly meticulous: “There’s no exclusivity to the writing. Often one of us will bring an idea, which is then developed by the band as a whole. We wouldn’t do it any other way, as we don’t want this to be any one person’s band – we all accept equal ownership and responsibility.”
Let’s Move In is certainly a confident opening gambit, despite the hints of vulnerability in Ross’ bruised baritone. A stabbed synth bassline converges with a shower of twinkling guitars to carry an impressive vocal melody, insistent and emotional in arrangement and delivery. As perfectly as these jigsaw pieces seem to fit, they are the result of months of fine-tuning: “We could’ve released Let’s Move In about a year ago, but we really wanted to make it count. In the past we might’ve been inclined to rush things, but figured it was better to have a more considered approach.”
The considered approach was certainly not the easy approach: “It was frustrating at times because plenty of people wanted to hear what we’d been doing, but we couldn’t waste it by putting it out with nothing to back it up. Now we’ve got plenty of songs ready to keep people interested over the next few months.” Those who haven’t attended the handful of shows they’ve played so far will no doubt be interested to hear what these songs sound like. Many reviews jumped on the “understated electronics” quote from their brief bio and, in conjunction with hearing Let’s Move In, concluded that they sound like a myriad of bands, from Bastille to the Bunnymen. However, Ross rejects any notion of pre-ordained themes: “We’ve never written with a level of intention as to how we want to sound, and I think it can be unproductive to try and sound like someone or something. Influences are more successful when they are subconscious.”
Ross admits to being intrigued and often baffled by the names mentioned, if not exactly surprised: “I guess it’s easy for people to zone in on a particular characteristic of our music that isn’t fully representative of us based on one song. We’re all fans of electronic music, but also of jazz, and soul and hip hop. We’re immersed in a vast array of music as we all have different tastes, and we utilise that melting pot of sounds. We’re glad that we’ve got people’s attention, but when we release more music I think we’ll surprise them.”
Let’s Move In was initially billed as a demo when it began doing the rounds, but as the band have shot a professional looking (and fittingly abstract) music video for it, expect that version to appear on an album. At some point. “It’s hard to say [when the album will be ready for release]. We’ve got six or seven songs we’re happy to play at the moment, but we’ve got up to fifty unfinished ideas that have the potential to become songs.”
Those six or seven songs formed the basis of live performances in Leeds, Manchester and London, and at the time of writing the band are rehearsing for a show at East Village Arts Club with Glass Animals. As much as they’ve enjoyed the crowd’s reactions to a slightly wider spectrum of their work, at this embryonic stage of their career it’s clear the studio is where Etches come alive: “I can’t wait to get back”, beams Ross. “After this show we’re recording for the next month. We’re still getting used to playing with each other on stage, but being in the studio, watching the tunes come together, that’s the part I love.”
Etches give a strong indication of a band that believe in themselves, and the ability of their methods to get results. Every answer given by Ross has been debated in conjunction with the other four members – Elliot (Drums) Luke (Guitar, Vocals) Paul (Bass, Vocals) and Owen (Guitar, Keys, Vocals), and there’s an admirable determination that every decision taken on behalf of the band will be made on their own terms. Ross’ occasional references to the past betray the fact that each member has a musical history prior to Etches, but they insist that its only relevance to their current project is in their ability to learn what they do and don’t want to do. Etches pour every effort they have into everything they do, they’d just prefer to keep that creative process hidden. If the end product keeps getting full marks, no one will care whether they show the workings out or not.