Joe Echoes Through The Ages

He's a hit in Israel, and Paul Oakenfold loves him. Francis Jones hears how it happened

Francis JonesHeadphone Icon LISTEN to Joe Echo: Personal Alcatraz

Following the disbanding of Leya, mercurial frontman Ciaran Gribbin decided to go it alone. He emerged from a creative chrysalis as Joe Echo, a one man fantasy island of wondrously divergent music.

Those familiar with Leya’s music - passionate and majestic, pocket symphonies that sought to move the soul and create a sense of instant epiphany - may be somewhat taken aback by Joe Echo’s adventures in sound. The passion is still very much in evidence, as is that voice, but this is music of no fixed identity. The rock spirituals of Leya are replaced by a myriad of styles and influences, not least the dark grooves of the dance-floor and guitar stylings of American alt-rock.

‘With Leya we’d created a monster of epic, dramatic sound, and the outside world demanded that we continue to be that beast,’ states Gribbin. ‘With Joe Echo I wanted to strip it back, to reinvent myself musically, but retain the passionate element we had in Leya. My singing voice carries strong emotion; I knew that was one of my key musical assets. To make a record and not utilise that would be suicidal and, ultimately, not me. In terms of sound I think that Joe Echo has a hypnotic feel, some songs are certainly dance influenced whilst others are more sparse affairs.’

Ciaran Gribbin with previous band LeyaFlitting effortlessly from mesmerizing dance to indie-rock to stripped-back acoustic numbers, the songs of Joe Echo prove beautifully self-contained. As such they defy easy categorisation. Indeed as far is Gribbin is concerned the only applicable label for his music is ‘quality’.

‘First and foremost I still want to be respected as a good songwriter, making music of true quality. I think people will appreciate that there is substance to the music, lyrics that try and say something more than ‘what’s that coming over the hill/is it a monster?’ or ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby’.

'However, I’d also love to be writing songs that go down well in indie clubs, songs with a real groove to them, that people can get down to. So it’s about incorporating all those elements, getting the balance just right.’

Another area in which he is determined to get it ‘just right’ is in seeking to streamline the recording and distribution process. Whereas Leya were bound by record industry convention, Gribbin is determined that initially, at least, Joe Echo will take a DIY approach to recording and releasing material.

‘If a record label comes along and wants to buy into Joe Echo then great, but honestly I’m not fussed if they do or not. The way things are set up at the moment is pretty simple. I’m not a control freak, but it’s good to have some say over your own destiny. With the industry there can be an 18 month to three year wait to get an album out. It’s a long period, bands can end up playing songs they recorded three or four years before. I think it can be the downfall of many a band, certainly it affected Leya.’

The internet is a great accelerator in the process of getting music from the artist to the audience. It is a tool that Joe Echo has already exploited.

‘I can record stuff at home, mix it down and by that evening have it on the internet,’ observes Gribbin. ‘Then if people want they can buy it off my website. Music’s supposed to be spontaneous and it’s that initial spark that is the most exciting thing about it.’

Spontaneity is also one of the great benefits of performing as a solo artiste.

‘I have total control over decisions on how things should sound. If I want to put delay on that piano or guitar then I go ahead and do it. In a band it’s a democracy, there’s a lot of back and forth, trying to keep everyone happy. It means that things can take various twists and turns before you reach your end point. Sometimes that’s good, at other times bad, but that’s the reality of band dynamics.’

A factor of band life, whose absence Gribbin is still coming to terms with, is the sense of camaraderie and support that being part of a group creates.

‘I miss being around the guys in the band, having that support network and just having them there to talk to and bounce ideas around. I know we’ll work together again. However, at this stage of the game I’m that bit older and hopefully wiser and, for now, the solo thing feels right.’

Nowhere is the support network of the band more conspicuously absent than in the live arena.

‘That’s the most nerve-wracking thing about being a solo performer. It’s just me up there with a loopstation for company. I play the stuff live, record it there and then and play it back. If you make a mistake then you’re reminded of it every four bars. It creates a sense of energy, albeit one tinged by nervousness. I’ll also be doing loops where I do my own backing vocals and harmonies, create a soundscape over which I can then sing the main lyric.’

This willingness to experiment and to engage with other musical forms has already yielded positive results for Gribbin.

‘There’s this guy called Liam Shahar, an Israeli DJ, who’s been championed by Paul Oakenfold as a supreme remixer. Liam picked up on the Leya stuff and remixed ‘On All My Sundays’. Oakenfold has been playing this track for months to thousands of clubbers in his live sets and wanted me to do more stuff with him. I’ve written another track, ‘The Waves’, which he’s remixed. It’s full on trance, heavy bass, club music. Both tracks are now gonna be released in conjunction with Perfecto Records, Oakenfold’s label. The coolest thing about it is that it proves I haven’t been stereotyped, that I can release my own Joe Echo stuff and that I can do Joe Echo in a dance or other context.’

Where his wild muse will take him, and in which context Joe Echo will next appear, even Gribbin cannot tell.

‘I’m really still finding my feet with it, what I do know is that I want this music to be real, to be passionate, but also that people can dance to it. A balance between those qualities is what I’m aiming for. With Joe Echo there are no boundaries, you just feel that you can go and do anything - and that’s a great feeling.’