There has always been a correlation between punk and politics. From the snarled screeds of the Sex Pistols and the working-class woes of the Clash to contemporary artists like Strike Anywhere and Paint It Black, who condemn the current administration more than R. Kelly talks about hitting the club, punk rock has always been linked to dissent.
In the case of Echoes of Harpers Ferry, a Cleveland four-piece that blends the impassioned grit of Small Brown Bike with the condensed songwriting smarts of pop-punk stalwarts the Lawrence Arms, politics also serve as a fertile ground for inspiration. The difference is that Echoes blend their aggressive diatribes about the state of affairs with personal introspection and a sense of revelry to create a cocktail that can either be lit with a Zippo and thrown in protest or merely shared with a friend at a bar.
"I don't think we're necessarily a political band," says singer-guitarist Tim Gill. "We sing about social issues and what's going on in our lives, but often interpersonal problems are very reflective of macro problems." Don't look any further than the band's recently released debut, Never Forget, for an example of what Gill is talking about. From the album's artwork - which contrasts the post-9/11 American zeitgeist of paranoia, vulnerability, nationalism and war-time fervor with a number of mainstream-news-neglected attacks by the U.S. on foreign soil - to songs that question our nation's funding of dictators (like Panama's former leader, Manuel Noriega), the personal and the political are tied together in strong, unyielding knots. As drummer Patrick O'Connor notes, "It's important not to limit yourself to one sound or one topic. There's room for everything in music."
This diagram cross-section approach seems to encapsulate more than just Echoes' music, however. The band, which also includes singer-bassist Jeremy "Rozco" Provchy and guitarist Jeff Russell, wrapped up its first tour in August, a comb-ination road-trip vacation and worth-while learning exp-erience. So while the guys may have had a few beers, took part in a little sightseeing and hit the beach in Jersey, they also took the time to talk politics.
"When we were in Birmingham [Alabama], we met a guy who had been in the Haditha [a small town in Iraq] unit," says Russell, "and it was interesting to hear his side of the story. Our song 'Haditha' focuses on U.S. soldiers killing women and children in a town that wasn't even connected to the war. But this guy in Birmingham explained the sort of desensitized nature that military training creates and how their actions came only after watching a friend die. I think it was important to get that perspective"
Onstage, Echoes blend a sense of intellectual responsibility and accurate musicianship with weekend-warrior glee and abandon. The quartet is just as likely to take a swig of beer between songs as it is to comment on lyrical content. Still, Gill makes it clear his band isn't preaching.
"We don't want to make people feel like if they don't subscribe to our beliefs, they are wrong," says Gill. "We want to introduce people to an idea and then have them check it out for themselves. That's what bands like Propagandhi did for me when I was growing up. Today, the news is more concerned with Paris Hilton than the situation in East Timor, so you need to do your own investigating."
Echoes' approach to music and life can be refreshing for anyone tired of the militaristic stances and curmudgeonly personalities often found in political punk bands. The group brings a humanizing spirit to what can often be a pedantic genre. Still, what it comes down to seems to be a simple aesthetic perception.
"I don't think you truly appreciate art if you are solely using it as a form of entertainment," says Provchy, "Music is fun, but if you aren't trying to take something from it, what's the point?"
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