I had the pleasure to sit down with Jon Eckhaus, his black tea and a delicious chocolate-banana cookie at Stella’s to discuss his band Time/Being, Intelligent Dance Music and the Slobbertron4000.
The Sun: So, tell us a little bit about your band.
Jon Eckhaus: We’re a trio, so of the other two members — one is Ethan Cohen, he graduated from Cornell Government last year. The other one’s my best friend from high school who I used to play music with. He’s a fantastic percussionist. Ethan and I used to play a lot of ambient noise together, like weird sounds. I like to build my own instruments and he likes to do crazy pedal stuff.
Sun: What kind of instruments?
J.E.: I like to build noise-making instruments. I have a series called Slobbertrons. Right now I’m working on the Slobbertron4000. I made it for a saxophone originally. It’s basically a speaker that’s fixated into a contact mic that I wired up. I send the incoming input to a speaker that’s inside and have the mic that’s also on the inside pick up the speaker’s noise and then send it back into its own channel, creating this feedback chain. I put this all into the bell of a saxophone and it started feeding back in the same frequency as a saxophone. The idea was to do a duet with the saxophone. It worked out, but I don’t play saxophone so I just started putting it in my mouth and screaming into it and modulating stuff.
Sun: What kind of music does your band play?
J.E.: I’ve been producing electronic music, mostly IDM — intelligent dance music; it’s a neighbor of electronic music that’s not danceable. We have noise, we have ambient, we have our drummer who has a metal background, we have our guitarist who loves post-rock and really jamming out and so we kind of combine the three elements. It’s kind of like post-rocky but with an electronica feel. We’re trying to find this balance between not selling out, playing to an audience and maintaining artistic integrity.
Sun: Okay so you guys play a mix of electronic, post-rock, etc. What kind of music do you listen to?
J.E.: I’m very obsessed with electronic music. I’m very into Japanese minimal noise music where its just like “boop!” Like it’s just boops. And I really like IDM artists like Aphex Twin, Amon Tobin. Our guitarist loves Radiohead and you can hear that influence in our guitar and bass playing. Our drum player is a metal head but we kind of put a leash on him and told him not to rock out too hard.
Sun: What kind of audience are you trying to reach?
J.E.: Our music is still very rough around the edges, rough everywhere. It’s definitely music that asks something of the listeners. It’s not, “Okay, yeah, I’m going to start dancing,” It’s like, “Oh, I’m paying attention to this really long intro that’s not really going anywhere, oh, what are these sounds?” We want listeners who aren’t just looking to get drunk and dance around. Obviously we want people to have a good time, but we’re hoping for a crowd that’s looking to ask something of the music; a crowd that’s listening actively, not mindlessly.
Sun: What are you working on now?
J.E.: Until recently, my focus has been on my solo work. When I originally came here I wanted to do electronic music. I found the College Scholar program and while I like making music, I felt like it’s empty just to produce. So I got really into the psychology of how we perceive, what’s behind audition: what does our brain do on music? I study something I call audio production in perception design. It’s kind of transformed into something more theoretical — our active and passive interaction with media.
In terms of my band, recently I’m focusing on visualizers. We’ve yet to play with live visuals but it’s something I really want to get down and clean before I put it up. On each song, I want something different. I study a lot of synesthesia, audition and vision and the transfer between the two, so that’s why I got into visualizers: something to look at.
Sun: Where do you see yourself in one year? Still playing music with your band?
J.E.: It’s hard to say. I’d love to. I think it’s what I’m going to be doing. I don’t know if it’s going to be a comfortable living situation but I definitely want to pursue it for the next few years, whether we wind up becoming successful or not. Honestly, it’s a concern of mine, but I love playing and they’re my two best friends in the world. We’d love to play shows in the city but it’s a matter of whether we want to start experimenting in new areas where we don’t have a fan base whatsoever. I had a scary realization that a lot of times you’ll be playing shows for the people who run the venue and not for the fans. I remember one time, Mux Mool, this band that I idolized, came to the Haunt and nobody gave a fuck. Whether or not you have an impact on listeners at home, it doesn’t mean you’re always going to be playing shows with people there.
Sun: Is one of your goals to eventually be signed to a record label?
J.E.: Obviously it’s all premature, but our drummer went to school for music business and our guitarist went to school for Government theory so our drummer is like, “Let’s sign to a label,” and our guitarist is like, “Fuck labels, I don’t want to restrict myself to their ideology and sell out.” And I’m on the fence about it all. I like it all independent, nothing for money. I like the homegrown feeling, it’s natural. I feel like if we signed to a major label we’d become another one of those bands that’s just slowly filtered into the mainstream sound, which is not what we’re trying to do.
Sun: Where do you get most of your inspiration? Your own life, other bands? And how does that influence your songwriting?
J.E.: Definitely life. I like to write emotional music. I want to do scoring later in my life. Usually when I write I have an idea in my head, something in my life like a story and I tap into that and like to see it play out and score it in my head. Obviously, when I work with the band, my idea is segmented by other people’s ideas. Most of our songs have been collaborations and we all have different backgrounds.
Sun: What do you guys have coming up?
J.E.: We’re playing this Friday at Tammany, a small hall in Risley, and on November 5th we’re paying at Greenstar with Why The Wires and Bees, with Pterydactl, a Brooklyn-based band, headlining. It’s our first underground show. It’s weird how serendipitous it is to get involved with the music scene here.