S.F.'s We Be The Echo is here to sonically disembowel you
For being the drummer in a group named after a famous British serial killer, Ilk Koskelo, of San Francisco’s We Be the Echo, sounds pretty lucid on the phone.
“People hear the band name and think we’re a death-metal band,” Koskelo said. “It’s all pretty tongue in cheek.”
Although Koskelo might look a little maniacal while performing, he has a pretty calm Clark Kent existence. By day he’s is a physics professor, and his mathematical inclination is apparent in We Be The Echo’s music. All that right-brain activity has given birth to the band’s odd time signatures that might leave some listeners trying to count it out on their fingers.
WBTE is currently on tour to promote its new EP, All-Star Destroyers. And with that the members have left behind their day jobs to bounce up and down the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle as an alter-ego-worthy math-rock trio.
“We all have hectic lives,” Koskelo said. “When we do get together to play music it’s a huge energy release.”
Koskelo, bassist Myke Stryker and guitarist Graeme Nicholls (who grew up in the UK) met in San Francisco while playing in another experimental band, Bm Relocation Program, whose instrumental rock influence can be heard in We Be The Echo. To explain their split from Bm Relocation Program, the members looked to where else but Peter Sutcliffe, the infamous Yorkshire Ripper convicted in 1981 for the murder of 13 women in England.
Sutcliffe claimed to have heard the words “we be the echo” coming from a gravestone. In an odd bit of coincidence, the members of WBTE heard the very same phrase coming from the gravestone of Stanislaw Zapolski while they were prowling a local cemetery. The gravestone instructed the men to form a band and “sonically disembowel” their listeners.
That’s a fair statement.
Two of the tracks off All-Star Destroyers, “Cosmic Cosby Penguin Dance” and “Shredder of Wheat and Souls,” are spastic and precise, and pull as much from jazz as they do from punk and metal, with odd-timed beats accompanied by dual guitar leads. The songs are stacked with more layers than a wedding cake, but with careful listens you can also hear pieces of music and dialogue from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.
When WBTE formed, the intention was to create something that would blend the band members’ diverse musical interests, resulting in 2004’s Cubist Music and Stanislaw Stories in 2006.
And because the members of WBTE grew up listening to everything from reggae to ‘80s rock and punk (Nicholls played guitar in UK punk bands Voorhees and Break It Up), they seem to be trying to satisfy different inclinations through a variety of projects.
“We’re all kind of one big incestuous group,” admitted Koskelo, who also plays drums in S.F.'s The John Francis with other WBTE members. The John Francis is a better-known project that is distinctly folksy, and takes a much more mellow turn than WBTE. What started out as a side project quickly gained international success. The band had no intention of releasing an album, but it seemed to take on a life of its own, prompting popularity and remixes in places like Germany and Japan.
For the time being, however, the members are all about We Be The Echo, which will play six dates through mid-November. The band first played in Chico for a small, daytime crowd at last year’s Palais Idéal experimental music festival, impressing even the most punk-rockest of punk rock kids.
“Maybe because we play kind of crazy stuff,” Koskelo said. “I’m always surprised by the people who like us who aren’t usually into that kind of music.”