Get to know: The struggles and triumphs of Echo Brown

It goes without saying most of us are struggling right now. If you don’t live in New Zealand then 2021 hasn’t started the way you wanted it to… But there will be an end, and there will be some positivity to come. It’s a message up-and-coming talent Echo Brown is a purveyor of – none more so than in Struggles, his debut EP for The North Quarter, which we can officially announce is landing next month.

The EP represents the techy, soulful sound Echo Brown believes in, and a direction he’s determined to make a name for. It’s an ambition that has been recognised by TNQ’s Lenzman, who has taken Echo Brown in and given him the platform he has always aspired to stand on.

But it hasn’t been an easy path to get here for the producer. From growing up in a country where being black comes with countless restriction and dread, to having to fight for a style of music that has constantly been looked down on by many Americans over the years.

There have been a lot of struggles along the way, but they’ve all led Echo Brown to his biggest triumph yet with a debut EP on TNQ. This isn’t just any release though. It’s a release on a label he has followed from the start, and one he sees a future in.

It represents the beginning of an exciting journey culminating around the release of Struggles on February 12. With the first EP single Affirmations dropping today, UKF felt it would be an ideal time to get to know the struggles and triumphs of Echo Brown a bit better.

Affirmations is out today! How’re you feeling?

Incredibly happy. Honestly, it’s such a well put together track. Without KinKai it wouldn’t be what it is. When Lenzman talked about bringing him onto the project I was like – that’s next level. I was already listening to his tune Plantain & Champagne with KinKai on repeat. This one has been in the works for a while, so I’m very happy it’s finally coming to light.

It must feel good knowing you’ve got an EP on the horizon too?

Oh yeah! The tracks on the EP weren’t written with the intention of being released. They’re just direct reflections of the sound I’m passionate about producing. When Lenzman approached me about putting an EP together I sent him the tracks and didn’t think they’d make the cut… It’s funny because the music I sent didn’t fit the traditional TNQ soulful, jazzy sound. But he told me he wasn’t looking for that! It’s incredible because the tracks Lenzman wanted are the ones I’m trying to build my sound around. He could tell those tracks represented me. Affirmations is a reflection of that.

He clearly wants to get the best out of you!

No doubt. He has been very supportive and has helped me position myself in the best possible way. It’s nice making music I feel is a genuine extension of myself. It’s funny because I used to go by the name Echo B, which was a name I used a couple years ago in my jump up days.

I didn’t know about this….

Haha, it happened! Here in the US jump up is in the same consideration as liquid, particularly the soulful, deep style that is hot in the UK. So everyone here thinks the music I specialise in is deep, heavy jump up… I’m afraid not. It was a phase. It’s nice to now be focusing on the music I want to make, without being told to make a certain sound just because it’s popular – which people have done.

It’s easy to follow the masses and produce music that will get reactions, but there’s a strength in sticking to what you want to do.

That’s the big thing here in the US. Lots of producers, myself included, have fallen down that rabbit hole of making music with the potential to get on the biggest labels – whether it’s Hospital, Ram, Viper. They’re all incredible labels, but that’s never been my style. I’ve always been on the underground sound, which is deep, techy liquid. It has always been my goal to make music like this.

You’ve had a few releases on TNQ now where people have had a glimpse of what you’re all about, but it feels like your Struggles EP will be the moment you properly introduce yourself.

This is my debut EP for really expressing myself as a D&B artist. I’ve had some humbling releases with a couple of labels already, like my Stutter EP on inHabit Recordings, but this EP features tracks I’ve had in my dub stash for too long. They’re a genuine collection of me.

Looking ahead to the EP dropping next month, what’s the story behind Struggles? It’s a powerful title.

It’s an EP of personal reflection. 2020 was stressful to say the least, but the EP is also an extension of the past few years I’ve had. My music tends to have this moody, atmospheric vibe to it, which stems from things I’ve gone through – whether it’s anxiety, depression, money problems, love. I’ve always been inspired to make music based on emotion. I’m not one of those people who writes a nice song because I’m happy. That’s not me. It’s got to be something mildly tragic that makes me want to write because I feel like crap, haha.

That’s where the best music culminates from!

A lot of the tracks on the EP were culminations. Affirmations is a good example providing context of stressful situations, with the message of always trying to persevere – grinding away to be a better person. It’s about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and staying positive. Making relatable music is important to me. If people don’t have the context of what statement you’re trying to make through your art, then it’s difficult to connect with it. It has got to come from heart.

Agreed. So we won’t give too much away about the EP… But on the topic of relevancy, Tug O’ War is a track that needs mentioning.

I’m super excited to share this track with everyone. When I’m not making D&B I have a hip-hop side project, and that was one of the tracks I put aside as an instrumental to sell online. But Lenzman and Abnormal Sleepz, who did the bars on the track, wanted it. Tug O’ War refers to dealing with various struggles in life. Especially since summer with Black Lives Matter, there is a powerful message in the track regarding the fight against systemic racism. That’s important to me because I’m a black man living in the US. I deal with a lot of the things mentioned in the track. Hopefully others can listen to the track and relate to it. There’s a sense of positive reinforcement in it that everything is going to be okay.

What has your experience of being a black man growing up in the US been like?

The best way to put it is existential dread every morning. I live in a residential neighbourhood that is about 25% diverse. I feel anxious going for a walk as I worry about situations like someone seeing me walk past their house and not liking the fact there is a black person outside. So they call the cops, then I get interrogated on the spot. I’ve had to deal with a lot of that. It’s stressful and humiliating. Some black people have had it worse than me, and that scares me. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice. Regardless of their situation, in that moment they got murdered. Every day is a coin toss. That’s the best way to put it.

It’s horrific. I have a friend in Texas who can’t stop in certain towns out of fear for his own life.

There are some people who will try to evade those claims, saying it’s hyperbolic. But from experience, it’s as bad as they say. There are parts of I-95, which is this big East Coast Highway from Maine down to Florida, where if you’re black and you stop at a gas station, then there’s a high possibility you might not live. I fly when I go places in the US – unless it’s around my home area of New York City/New Jersey, as I know they’re liberal. It’s crazy I have to stay away from certain places. It’s the unfortunate reality. That’s just the face value racism too. That doesn’t even touch the systemic or institutional racism.

Now that Trump is out of power, are you hopeful for future progress?

Absolutely. Trump has been a massive dampener on any sort of American progress for years. Just look at what happened at the Capitol building riot. People genuinely believe the election was rigged because Trump said it was… This is the stupidity we’ve been dealing with for four years. Trump does not care about anything other than bringing profit to his name. Now that he is out there is going to be some serious progress.

From a music perspective, I imagine another big struggle has been trying to progress as a D&B artist in a country where the genre is often overlooked.

Oh man… The sound is received more progressively in certain states. The California, DC, and NYC scenes have been pretty accepting of where the D&B sound is heading. But in some regions – especially here in the Southeast – there’s not much acceptance towards the current direction of D&B. There was a time in the early 2000’s where it really took hold at a good level thanks to the neurofunk renaissance with Human Imprint, Gridlok and Dieselboy. But the issue we have here is that there’s lots of older heads wanting the genre to be the same as 15 years ago. They think the way it’s progressing now sounds like bubble gum pop music – and I’m talking about the sort of music that comes out on TNQ…

That’s crazy! It’s such sophisticated music.

I know! I remember going to a show in Ashville in 2019 with Lenzman playing, and about 50 people showed up… Half of them were only there because they heard there was a party, not because they knew him. I was seeing one of my biggest inspirations play to an empty crowd. That bothered me. There were people I knew coming up to me saying “Lenzman is dope, but I hate the music he’s playing right now”. I looked at them with complete perplexity… That being said, there are artists here making genuinely good, individual D&B. People like Submorphics, Random Movement, Winslow, T.R.A.C., Justin Hawkes, Velle and Blacklab are really pushing forward a new level of awareness and innovation in American D&B.

Clearly the Europeans are taking note. TNQ are a great gateway into the scene for you.

I don’t consider them to be a gateway. They’re the destination. I’ve always wanted to find a label who understood my direction. I never thought Lenzman would reach out to me. He literally hit me up on Soundcloud while I was working in an office… I remember seeing the message and having a small fit of utter joy, haha. I sent him Show You, which made it onto the Quarter to Quarter compilation, and he loved it. The rest is history.

I’m excited to get my Struggles EP out there as it has given me the opportunity to culminate all of my influences and craft my sound. Honestly, the only thing I’ve ever wanted as an artist is to know what my sound is.

So looking ahead, is working in music full-time the goal?

Definitely. I currently work for a website host company in customer service, which is the last thing a musician wants to be doing… The goal is to do music full-time, but it feels like a pipedream to me. I’m still going through that impostor syndrome stage where it’s hard to grasp I’ve got music coming out with a label I’ve been following since it started. I’m still checking for glitches in the matrix as I don’t get what’s happening…

Echo Brown – Struggles it out February 12 on The North Quarter

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