Ekko Park is a band America needs to know, and know now
Photo via Ekko Park’s Facebook
When I asked Ekko Park singer/guitarist Joe Walsh what some of his and his band’s influences were, and he responded with “I am a huge Pearl Jam fan, but also love Sigur Ros,” I knew immediately that even though we’d never met we were kindred spirits as far as our musical tastes were concerned. That went a long way to explaining why the first time I really listened to Ekko Park’s excellent 2015 album Know Hope, it felt like I was hearing something I knew and loved for the first time all over again.
When he continued to graciously share the musical influences and likes of the rest of the members of the band, I realized that Ekko Park was the best type of band that there can be: a band comprised of fans with deep and varied likes and influences. The New Zealand band, fronted by Irishman Joe Walsh, and comprised of members with an affinity for artists as diverse as Van Morrison, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Placebo, Metallica, Old Crow Medicine Show, and a wide range of punk rock, but sound like none, and yet all, of them at the same time was something special that deserves to have legions of fans of their own around the world… and here in America.
In an email interview peppered with questions that were honestly designed to introduce Ekko Park to an American audience, I asked Joe many of the types of questions that served as “get to know you” type of cookie cutter questions, and I felt a little bad about that as Joe and Ekko Park are leagues beyond the “get to know phase” throughout most of the world. Joe could have laughed off the questions or given me short answers, but he really took the time to respond thoughtfully and eloquently to what really could be considered basic and rote interview questions. For that I, in particular, and Shutter 16, in general, want to thank and acknowledge his graciousness, openness, and willingness to respond. He also, very graciously, took time out of Ekko Park’s currently very busy recording schedule to answer my interview questions. The band is hard at work on their third album, as evidenced on their facebook page posts, many of which are great little snippets of insight into this hard working, and very talented band of rock n’ roll fans.
Ekko Park are huge rock music fans first and foremost.
They accomplish the elusive goal of not sounding like their most influential favorite bands or singer/songwriters and instead add something new to the mix. When I first spun Know Hope (I guess I should say “queued up,” but old descriptive habits die hard) the first thing I thought was, “Well, here’s New Zealand’s answer to Foo Fighters,” but upon closer listen, irregardless of Ekko Park’s penchant for quiet/loud dynamics like Grohl (and just about every 90s band) indulges in, they really don’t sound like Foo Fighters.
There are guitar lines in songs like the standout track “Validation” off of Know Hope that sound unlike nearly anything Grohl wrote into a Foo Fighter’s song, and honestly recall the type of sound more associated with Oasis, but as if Oasis wrote pop-punk songs, even though it’s akin to a mortal sin to refer to “Validation” as something as basic as a “pop-punk song.”
It’s as thematically and lyrically as deep and honestly earnest as “The Fixer” from Pearl Jam is, but as hard hitting as Green Day is at their heaviest. That might be the longest explanation of what I hear in one song that I’ve ever written. That’s inspiring. Rarely does a band that I, ashamedly, write off as as anyone’s “answer to” band turn out to inspire me to write, and listen, as passionately as Ekko Park has.
In the best of the big passionate sounding rock band traditions, and in the traditions of his biggest influences, Joe explained that the inspiration for the hopeful and inspiring lyrics, like those in “Validation,” comes from “the Irish influences… growing up listening to Van Morrison, Luke Kelly, and other storytellers. I get so inspired by the writing of Jeff Tweedy and Conor Oberst and Glen Hansard and, of course, Eddie Vedder.”
Joe continued, “I try not to write any throwaway lyrics. Every line means something to me. Sometimes I write about world events, I write about the world around me, sometimes I place myself in the mindset of a book or movie character. The final song on Know Hope is called ‘White Lies’ and I wrote those lyrics after watching the final episode of Breaking Bad and putting myself in Walter’s position as he’s lying there dying, and I just wanted to write down what I thought that person could be thinking! Our last single ‘Going Uptown’ I wrote after seeing pictures that my friend Sara in Seattle posted as she joined the Women’s Marches in Jan of 2017. I do try to be ambiguous with my lyrics but they are very much a vehicle for me to empty out my thoughts. I guess it’s my kind of therapy. I lost both of my Grandmothers in 2017 so there are some songs on the new album about that. I do take lyrics very personally and its important to me that they mean something to me, however, it is pretty special when someone else hears your words and apply them to their life. That’s the beauty of music.”
It’s pretty obvious that with a lyricist and singer like that, a band like Ekko Park is something worth listening to. A thoughtful yet energetic and lyrically gifted frontman is key to a band’s success. Although I know that Joe would never claim that description for himself, especially with all the quick, honest, and emphatic praise Joe has for his bandmates:
“Although we had some early radio singles, I truly believe Ekko Park only began to be alive once Nick (the drummer) joined the band. He is a major influence on our sound and really is the metaphorical heartbeat of the band. Bryan joined us on bass, although not actually being a bass player in a band before. He’s just one those musical guys that can play anything and he’s a huge part of our sound now. Following our first Italian tour, founding member Joel left the band in late 2017. Bryan and I have been friends with Alex for quite a few years and we instantly thought she would be a perfect fit for the band. She is such a great player with an incredible rocknroll energy. Luckily she is a big fan of Ekko Park and gave us the honour of joining our band!! Exciting times indeed!!”
Again, Joe simply exudes a positive energy and passion that is as addictive and catching when he speaks about his bandmates as it is when speaks about his lyrics. It’s the type of energy and honest and raw intensity that permeates each and every Ekko Park song.
It seems though, that with all of Ekko Park’s accomplishments, the best is yet to come.
”We would love to finally play in the States. Our previous records, especially Know Hope, have had notable success in Europe. So we hope that this new record cannot just emulate that but also take us to places we have yet to go as a band. The States is definitely high on our list.”
Getting exposure in The States though isn’t the only big thing on the horizon for the band. The aforementioned new album is hotly anticipated by Ekko Park fans, including this one. The hopes are high for a sound that is all Ekko Park, but at an even higher, if that’s possible, level of intensity and musical integrity No one has higher hopes than Joe himself though:
“The new album is incredibly exciting. This is our first full album writing with Bryan. He just has this unerring knack of making everyone up their game and bringing out the best in a song. Since Alex joined last year we have immersed ourselves in these new songs. It was super important to me that she come in and be herself. I wanted Alex to help paint the Ekko picture by adding her brushstrokes rather than trying to emulate our previous works. I think that is really evident on this record. We took ourselves off to the countryside here in New Zealand, set up our stuff and just wrote and played. Although at its heart it is very much Ekko Park, there is a freshness and excitement to these songs that could only come from having these four people in a room shaping them together.”
Time will tell what heights Ekko Park will take themselves to, but this band definitely has the back catalogue and future slate of new music to soar to some lofty heights. Fame in The States, whether it comes or not, is honestly irrelevant to the experience of the great intensity that is Ekko Park’s music. One just has listen to them to know the hope that they infuse their songs with and be touched by it.