Samantha Echo: the Bohemian Girl
New NYC Region CD Releases #2
Photo by Jody Borhani
Once upon a time there were forests that echoed with laughter. There were fairy kings, queens, and magical sprites. The world of Samantha Echo is not like that of most millennials today. She lives in a Victorian dream. She fills such venues as The Bitter End, The Parkside Lounge, and Caffe Vivaldi in New York City, bringing something different to the circuit.
Poison Skies is her late 2016 release and it’s nothing less than thoroughly entertaining. Echo is doing art rock. Most of the songs are piano based, which makes for a different sound with the absence of guitar. Some of her writing is in the spirit of Morrissey. “Show Me Your Facebook,” “Next to Your Foot” and “I Want to Shake Her Hand” are centered around her being hopelessly in love with married men, frustration, and jealousy. They have lines like (paraphrased) “let me put my hand where your wife’s should be.”
“I Want to Shake Her Hand” is an upbeat pop song about a love triangle that could legitimately be rendered as a punk song. It has the same kind of whimsical attitude Morrissey’s “Hairdresser on Fire” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” have, songs that sound like pop but have covert decadence that challenges the listener’s expectations. “Show Me Your Facebook” is a little more of a ballad, expressing the self-torment of the other woman pining over her crush’s social media wall vicariously wanting to be with him as she peruses his posts. Echo seizes the zeitgeists of the moment with the expressions of the day such as Facebook, baby-man, and she even drops an “F” bomb.
“Next to Your Foot” is another humorous track with a certain amount of pathos. It’s about how she carelessly left her heart on the floor and it got stepped on by her nerdy guy. The nerdy guy is another motif that runs through her work and pops up in “James, the Baby-Man,” and “Wednesday Guy.”
In “The Slut of Denmark” she tells of men with freckled faces and pointy noses. She wails “ why can’t I find a man who treats me nice.” Don’t worry Echo your luck has to change. “Wednesday Guy” is not on the album but will in her forthcoming video.
With her vivid imagination she works the crowd well with her off center sense of wit when she performs. She puts on a fun show. I asked her if the audiences get the humor, being that she is quite eccentric.
“Most people get the humor lot; it’s the sadness that doesn’t always come across, but when people identify with my lyrics I think they get that part, too,” said Echo. “That’s partially because my melodies are often bouncy and uplifting, in contrast with my lyrics: it’s called lyrical dissonance (that’s why I think of the lyrics and melody being written by two different sides of my personality).”
Lyrical dissonance, that’s a term I’ve never heard of. There’s is a good amount of paradox in Echo’s music. For her, the sad songs are harder to deliver. The great dramatic thespian Laurence Olivier stated in an interview once that comedy is much more difficult for most actors to do, but like many things in Echo’s world things are upside down.
“But also I think the humor is intentional because I believe that an entertainer’s only job is to be entertaining, and the easiest way of doing that is to make people laugh, if that comes naturally to you,” said Echo. “Honestly, though, I feel like you have to listen to each of my songs twice in a row–once for the humor and the second time for the sadness. When I get famous enough I’m going to parody myself and string together all the most depressing lines from all my songs into one sad poem. But I suppose that dissonance already plays into the ‘crying clown’ trope that exists.” I couldn’t find better words to describe what she does.
Echo is classically trained; she studied at the Bloomingdale School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and currently, Ripley Grier Studio. At her live shows she will throw in some opera. The last time I saw her she did “The Bohemian Girl” from Michael William Balfe’s 1843 English opus. She plays guitar and is gifted on piano. When I asked her if her music could be considered art rock she replied, “Art Rock is a good way of describing it. I studied classical voice for many years so I am definitely influenced by classical composers–Schubert’s great. I also love Tosti, Bellini, and Puccini. I worry sometimes that my voice is ‘too operatic’ or ‘too theatre’ but I think we’re in a time when fusing genres is acceptable.”
Echo has a love for antiquity but is still in tune with the now. My first impression of her music was that she must have been influenced by Franz Schubert and Romantic Period music (circa 1850 to 1910). The Romantic movement in poetry and art technically was a few decades earlier than the music movement. Schubert, who was early (he was a romanticist before most composers were), did what were called art songs in small intimate settings, a good example is his 1817’s “The Trout.” Art songs told stories and were art for art sake. Much of the music and art from the 19th Century movements drew from classical Greco-Roman subject matter, especially myth. Echo is all about this kind of romanticism.
“The Slut of Denmark” (one of my favorite tracks of hers) has a very different style from her sweeter songs. It is sung to Hamlet Prince of Denmark from the point of view of a woman scorned. It’s bitter, like the sweet price was. Here she paints a picture that brings to mind bobkins, ghosts and dungeons.
“There is no room for me in your kingdom” is the unrequited love theme that runs through her work. And like all her songs, her phrasing is impeccable. Phrasing is the most important thing for a songwriter, good phrasing makes the story clear.
Echo’s father, Philip Margulies, helped her write “I Don’t Wish,” “Next to Your Foot,” and “Run to the City.” These three numbers contrast each other. “I Don’t Wish” is a sad melodic track that develops in an operatic style, “Run for the City” is an energetic tune with clever lyrics. Echo could easily be a crossover artist; her songs could easily translate into show tunes. Maybe she should do a concept album? Her writing can give the folks on Broadway the run for their money.
Echo would be a natural for a concept album. She has created five personages, or as she calls “incarnations.” All of which are as amusing as her lyrics.
“I have five personas:
- Princess Anthea, a cartoon Fairy and the spirit of Fort Tryon Park.
- Dr. Shmu: A mad scientist and professor of existentialist philosophy. She once brought Lord Byron back from the dead by making fun of his clubfoot and spreading rumors that he had a clubbed penis as well. He came back so he could prove her wrong.
- Samantham: A precocious eleven-year-old girl who has the body of a fourteen-year-old but dresses like she’s five. She wears a hair bow and dresses to hide her curves but she is my favorite and the most mentally stable
- Echo: the spirit of the same name from Greek Mythology. Also incarnated as Ophelia sometimes
- Alexandra Stern, the goddess of Manhattan (futuristic)”
These personas are expressed through costume. She is known for wearing fairy wings on stage. Echo posts a lot of self portraits of herself in these costumes on social media of herself as these characters. They are colorful illustrations she does herself in pencil and mixed media. She is definitely a right side of the brain person. There is no rest for her imagination, she has two guitars one named Oscar Wilde and the other Lord Byron.
Q: What else would like people to know about you, Echo?
A: There was a cool video about me which was part of the “CUNY: Study with the Best” series. I have a cool music video for Show Me Your Facebook which is horror-themed, and another music video coming out in early 2018, for my song “Wednesday Guy,” which is also horror-themed.
She added: “I have a Halloween-themed concert at the Bitter End NYC with the Balladeer on October 24th 7:45pm. Some Nightmare before Christmas, some Wendy Rule, some of his stuff and some of my stuff about Hamlet and ghosts.”
Escapism is needed the way the world is today. So if you have the time, sit back, close your eyes put on Samantha Echo’s Poison Skies and travel to the Isle of Avalon.