gika and ross talk kimonos, their new album, and why you should listen to the lyrics.

by ray siegel

The last time we caught up with IO Echo we held a seance with Ioanna Gika and Leopold Ross during CMJ to tap the spirit of the deceased Heather McNamara (yes, from our all-time favorite movie, Heathers). We all agreed that her presence was felt, and that the seance was a success, but this time we wanted you to get to know the electro band, whose star is clearly rising ahead of their first official album, which comes out this April.

It all started when a mutual friend of theirs put both of their names on a flyer promising they'd perform some of the songs they had been playing around with. "We didn't even have a band name yet." Gika told me, and then went on to say how she first bonded with her future bandmate, Leopold Ross. "We met one evening and started talking about the Velvet Underground song "Venus in Furs," she said. Leo finished, "She had been listening to that song a lot and I was actually named after the guy who wrote the book Venus In Furs. All of the lyrics of that song are based on the book. We got along well, musically speaking, and started playing around with song ideas just for fun."

Considering IO Echo hasn't recorded anything official you might say it's astounding that they've succeeded in doing something that so many bands have tried, but failed to do: invent a completely new sound. There's even has a name for their musical creation; journalists have dubbed their version of electronic music, "New Orientalism." Gika and Ross were sure to clarify that they didn't coin the term and would not have came up with the name themselves. Gika said, "Orientalism is something that has existed for years, like French Chinoiserie, but it's usually applied to art. So applying it to music is new." If you've seen any of the band's visuals, you can tell from Gika's extensive kimono collection that they have an inclination towards the Far East (Jeremy Scott designed her a custom, hologram kimono because she wears them so much) but when you listen to their songs, you'll notice the use of instruments like the Japanese koto harps and Chinese violins, something we're not used to hearing at all, let alone during an electro performance.

Exotic instruments aside, we think it's their lyrics, which are both dark and hopeful at the same time, that play a role in setting them apart from other bands within the electronic realm. Ross pointed out, "The lyrics are a really huge strong point in our music. I listen to lyrics but I don't know if a lot of other people do." Dika added, "We love electronic music but there are different types, of course, and some types rely more on the sonics than the message. Sometimes the message, though it might be a good one, is one sentence that's being said over and over again. The words are just bounced around and it can sound a bit sterile."

But there's nothing sterile about the electro-pop meets John Hughes soundtrack. In fact it's some of the most fun music within that genre that we've heard. And while everyone is busy calling it dark and goth, we're able to see that there's a lightness that you'd expect from two serious musicians who clearly know how to have fun and don't take themselves too seriously at all. That is, unless they're trying to speak to a dead Heather. If you'll be on our coast, IO Echo is kicking off their tour with Bloc Party this Friday in Montclair, New Jersey. Check here for tickets and dates. And here for their latest video for "Outsiders."