After years of touring, composing the soundtrack for Harmony Korine's Rebel, and a curatorial gig at MoCA for Jeffrey Deitch, goth-leaning, grunge-pop band, Io Echo have finally found the time to record their debut album, Ministry of Love. Vocalist Ioanna Gika and guitarist Leopold Ross stack Koto harps, Chinese violins, dark, winding guitart, and lullaby-like croons that take you on a long and distant journey. Cast in shadows created by projections of Kabuki dancers, the band droned on while Io, center stage, bounced purposefully haphazard and then confidently mimicked the movements seen in the projection. The sounds combined with this live show illustrate a sincere pleasure in the combination of light and dark, the swirling, whirling pink smoke of a foreign land and the guttery dredges of decaying materials. Though it might seem that Gika and Ross have descended from the heavens of the Far East, they've actually emerged from the desert wasteland of Los Angeles and the damp streets of London. At first meeting, the pair are masked by well-meaning jokes about sibling-hood and endless inspirations, but on a curb in the alleyway behind the Troubadour, before their show, Flaunt peered behind the veil and found: an Enya upbringing, freeze-dried ice cream, and undeniable Brat Pack Angst.
We expect, after today's release of Ministry of Love, to see them hurl past the rest of this grunge-goth-pop movement on their way up the "hanamichi." Because it's not about stardom. For Io and Leo, it's about collaboration, creation and vision. And of course, kicking up swirls of invisible smoke with exaulted glee.
When did your musical interest really develop?
Leo: I had two brothers that are a lot older than me, so they would bring home music all the time. When I was
a kid the first music I ever liked was NWA and Public Enemy, because that was what they brought home. I didnâ€™t really like rock music when I was a kid. And then I discovered Nirvana, and thatâ€™s when I sort of got into guitar. Pretty typical story.
Following in the footsteps until you developed your own taste?
Leo: Yeah I think I hit Nirvana when I was 10 or 11. Itâ€™s just that kind of age when you pick up an instrument or something, at least in that era, when we didnâ€™t have the internet and it was just that information load. You pick up a guitar and you're able to really focus on that. And spent years then just playing the guitar.
Io: I grew up with parents who were really into Enya and Enigma. They would play that all the time and I was really obsessed with it. They were basically really into New Age music, and classical music, and other things as well. But that type of music really had an influence on me. So I had a Yanni poster on my bedroom wall and went to his concert and...
What about Celtic Sounds?
Io: Oh, all for it. And Vangelli. Thatâ€™s when I became passionate about music, when I was really really small. And then they gave me the Sliver soundtrack, and that also had Enigma and Massive Attack and I just thought it was so cool.
Did you want to be an actress?
Io: I think I just wanted to be involved in the arts in any capacity. Though, certainly, any type that was on stage. I studied Shakespeare for a while and I think just the whole concept was interesting to me.
What were your other influences growing up?
Io: I thought I was going to be an astronomer to be honest, but I am so horrible at math.
Io: My dad did physics at MIT and so I was just like, â€śpiece of cake. Iâ€™m gonna get the math gene and thatâ€™ll be totally awesome...â€ť I canâ€™t even calculate a tip at a restaurant. Itâ€™s really, really sad.
Leo: I just feel like I got so obsessive with music at an early age, and then I had this realization that I just couldnâ€™t,I wouldnâ€™t be able to do anything else. I was terrified at the thought that...The idea of me having to...I donâ€™t know what I am saying...
Io: Are you high? I think people should exist without a parachute, so I think itâ€™s cool thatâ€™s what you did and there was no Plan B.
Leo: Yeah, if I wasnâ€™t doing music now, Iâ€™d be...
Leo: Well, I am hopeless in every other aspect, so...
More people should try that attitude out though. To be like, â€śNo, this is what I am going to do and Iâ€™m not going to plan for anything else, because I canâ€™t do anything else.â€ť
Leo: Yeah, I guess, eloquently, thatâ€™s what I was trying to say. Just paraphrase yourself on that one.
What about right now? What is influencing you?
Io: I am really fascinated by Kabuki theater. I read a lot about it and I pore over YouTube clips. I met one of the only Kabuki dancers in the United States. To be a Kabuki dancer you have to be recognized by the Japanese government, well at least according to this guy, unless he was just making this up. So our music reflects that because there are elements like the Japanese Koto harps and Chinese violins. These textures run through out the album.
What is it about Kabuki that fascinates you?
Io: I think itâ€™s the concept of contrasts and juxtapositions. In the 1600s, the Shogun government banned women
from doing Kabuki because they deemed it too promiscuous. But then you had these men doing it who were just as beautiful, dressed as women. It was really provocative, and it blurred the lines between male and female, real and not real. Iâ€™m always really fascinated by contrasts, and so I think that maybe sometimes that comes across in the music. Sometimes Leo will come up with some really booming, very driving guitar, wall of sound things. But then weâ€™ll be sure to make the vocals light so that the light and the dark exist together.
Leo: Thereâ€™s a book called In Praise of Shadows, which is about the cultural differences between the East and the West.
Io: Iâ€™m glad you brought it up. It talks about how in the West, people try, at least in their homes, to blast out any semblance of dark. All these houses have bright lights!
People want the light rather than what is happening in the shadows...
Io: Exactly, but in certain Eastern cultures, the dark and the shadows are really appreciated and respected. Theyâ€™re not saying everything has to be black, they are just saying that the darkness is something that should be embraced. The flower isnâ€™t just worthy when it has bloomed, itâ€™s just as beautiful when itâ€™s dying and the petals fall away in the wind. They appreciate every single aspect of it. Also in Japanese culture, if something breaks, I remember reading this quote that was talking about how if a vase breaks, they wonâ€™t try to like, repair it to look like nothing happened. Theyâ€™ll put like gold in it and to appreciate its history and the things its been through and its just as beautiful. It just makes my heart sing.
Do you think youâ€™ll ever figure it all out? Are you ever done acquiring things and moving forward?
Io: I think itâ€™s a cycle. I think things are born and grow and die and are born again in some capacity. Or the energy continues on. I think things are in a continuum. Itâ€™s a circle.
Leo: Actually a lot of what our album is about is the cyclical nature of life. A lot of the songs on the album talk about collecting these flowers to reference different meanings in different cultures.
Io: At the end of the album, we talk about collecting them all and throwing them into the can to let go, because you know that itâ€™ll sort of wash, or comes back around and each song kind of brings us back to...Tonight I will hold you in my arms again. Thatâ€™s the line of the first song.
How has spending so much time overseas helped shape you artistically?
Io: I love London. Leo, being from London, it's just a great place to visit and see friends and family and stuff.
Leo: I think it has probably shaped our sound a bit in that we did a lot of writing there. We actually did a lot of writing on the road in Europe. The energy is different in every place you go. So I think that probably had an effect on some of the stuff that we were writing. Ya know...whenever we started writing the album, in the middle of last year. So yeah, I think it probably shaped the song writing quite a bit.
Is â€śNew Orientalismâ€ť something that you guys have coined?
Io: No, itâ€™s something that someone said, and then other people picked up on it.
Does it make sense to you?
Io: In a way yeah, I understand it. You know, orientalism as an art form is something thatâ€™s been going on for hundreds of years. Yeah, we certainly have far eastern instruments and here I am sitting here in a kimono....
Leo: I think when we were starting to write when the album started to sort of form itself, and weâ€™d written a few songs, we noticed that there...there was sort of a common theme in that a lot for the songs were talking about kind of dealing with loss by wanting to remove yourself from reality. And to us a lot of the lyrics talk about Shangai and they talk about places that weâ€™ve never been. But itâ€™s not exactly referencing Shangai....Itâ€™s like this romantic idea of a place youâ€™ve never been.
Io: I mean thereâ€™s Hong Kong. But then the one we imagine is filled of pink smoke and its raining and thereâ€™s creatures....
How does composing for someone elseâ€™s visual work compare to just being together and creating for yourselves?
Leo: Well it was interesting. When we did the thing with Harmony Korine, he said just do a track...
That was easy...
Leo: We watched the footage and then we wrote the piece and sent it back. And usually, in our other experiences we get rounds of notes, but he just said, 'yeah, thatâ€™s cool.'
What was your process like then, to take inspiration from the visual?
Io: I find that there is an inherent rhythm in the images. And so it becomes a fun thing to be given something like that and to see how to enrich it without taking the focus away. Making it so that itâ€™s a collaborative effort, that can breathe. Sometimes you hear scores to films and itâ€™s like...galloping the whole time. Yeah itâ€™s a bit distracting...
So maybe something that mimics the visual?
Io: I think more something that dances with it. So if itâ€™s two dance partners, no one is stepping on each otherâ€™s feet. Theyâ€™re just sort of flowing together.
There is a very particular energy in L.A. right now, and you are a piece of a very dynamic peer group. Do you think that thereâ€™s something really poignant about Los Angeles happening here?
Io: I think L.A. is a really exciting place.
Leo: We did PLAY MOCA...
Io: Yeah, the L.A. of PLAY...we named it sort of after L.A. And I think itâ€™s a very exciting place right now. Itâ€™s a nurturing arts community and thereâ€™s a really open spirit. I think that New York was, in many ways, the rule of the roost for so long. I donâ€™t know if people just rested on their laurels or they just assumed that they were the greatest, but L.A. has to work twice as hard because it has such a reputation of being superficial. I think people are really working hard to find the good in L.A.
Leo: You know, the reason the whole PLAY MOCA thing came about is that Jeffery Deitch saw us play, and he came up to us after, and said, 'hey, will you come to my house, I want to talk to you about something.' We went to his house and he kind of said, basically what you just said, and about wanting to put a line under that and say, 'hey thereâ€™s something happening in L.A. right now.'
Absolutely. And what did you guys think about his house? Itâ€™s beautiful, huh?
Io: Yeah, itâ€™s amazing. I mean I would be so paranoid to have all that amazing art. But art is meant to be enjoyed...
Io: Yeah, lived with and not put on this insane pedestal. I think art is a way of rejoicing. I actually quite respected the way he lived with it and that he wasnâ€™t trying to make it this sterile thing.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
Io: Liquid courage.
Leo: Thatâ€™s usually it. Whiskey.
Io: Freeze dried ice cream is awesome. I was actually wondering what it would taste like...Have you had freeze dried ice cream?
Io: Itâ€™s basically like a Neapolitan thatâ€™s been frozen. It sort of has the consistency of the marshmallows in Lucky Charms, so itâ€™d be cool to sort of crumble it over cereal. See what happens...
What questions frustrate you during interviews?
Io: People always ask if weâ€™re brother and sister.
And youâ€™re not, right?
Io: Iâ€™m not gonna answer that...
Leo: I mean, we are, we just donâ€™t look alike.
Io: And one of us is from London...
How do you think things will change, if at all, after the album release?
Io: I think it will be interesting to see what happens, because no one actually owns the music. Itâ€™s always interesting to me to play shows and look out into the crowd and see people who know the words, because I donâ€™t know what the fuck theyâ€™ve done. They mustâ€™ve been diligent.
Written by Alexis Sophie Kozak