Echo Nebraska fights through sorrow on debut album

Folk rock band play the Roxy on Saturday

Echo Nebraska and Coldwater Road, Roxy Cabaret, Saturday, June 16. Tickets: $10 Doors: 7 p.m., 19+.

They were a blank canvas.

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In the music video for “Hey, Allison,” the first single put out by Vancouver-based folk-rock outfit Echo Nebraska back in 2014, the band comes into focus wearing all white clothing as a warm acoustic sound builds to an anthemic crescendo around them.

“Hey, Allison, where were you hiding? Have all your dreams run dry? And why?” croons singer Devan Christodoulou. But by the video’s end, the band is drenched in colourful strokes of paint dished out by an enthusiastic young woman. Maybe Allison’s dreams haven’t run dry after all?

That interplay between the pain of loss and the power of life affirming positivity builds to a headway on Echo Nebraska’s new album, Hold Up to the Fire, their second release and first full-length record.

“On this tour it’s been a little different because we played a variety of shows. We’ve played some theatres, we’ve played cafés, we’ve played house concerts, we’ve done bars,” explains band co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Andy Schichter. “For the most part, people are really dancing to some of the songs. It’s nice to see people get up there and tap their feet and move.”

Hold Up was released June 1. The band’s playing their hometown gig at the Roxy in Vancouver on Saturday.

And while the band’s ecstatic over how the record’s turned out, building upon their penchant for soulful acoustic songs with melodic pop chops, the album was born from a place of pain, Schichter explains.

“It was definitely a bit strange not having Gunn part of the album,” he says, referring to the band’s friend and founding member, bassist Gunn Park, who passed away after a brief battle with cancer in 2016. “It was a little strange not having him there in the studio every day.”

Echo Nebraska started five years ago after Schichter moved to Vancouver and connected with songwriter Christodoulou and Park.

Schichter was assisting on a record that the pair were putting out with their other band, the alt-rock project Amber Hills. While helping produce the record, Schichter observed that Christodoulou would often tinker with some acoustic songs in the back of the studio.

“I just invited him over one day to start demoing some songs – thought maybe I’d get to produce a solo record for him,” Schichter recalls.

But that part never materialized, and a year and a half later the trio decided to form their own band. They quickly got to work on an EP, 2015’s Send the Ships, and made the aforementioned music video for “Hey, Allison” that garnered the band quick success.

“A week later CBC Music – it was on their list of Best New Music Videos for that month. That was shocking,” Schichter says.

The band toured across Canada for the next few years, returning to record the new album with “clear minds” focused on channeling the loss of Park in a positive direction.

“We knew all the songs that were going to go on the record. … It was almost two full months of every single day,” Schichter says, adding that their performances at Canadian Music Week in Toronto last year added to the band’s busy schedule but helped sharpen their musical tools when it came time to record.

Asked to choose a favourite song on Hold Up, Schichter goes with “Leave the Lights On,” citing the track’s infectious melody and catchy chorus.

“I think it’s just a lot of heart and soul on that song. I think everyone’s playing great on that track,” he says.

But perhaps the emotional centre of the album is on the title track that pays direct homage to Park, written by Christodoulou after visiting him in hospital towards the end of his battle with cancer.

“That song was 100 per cent written for him. I believe ‘Gravity’ is about loss as well. ‘Follow Me’ is about overcoming hardships. (But) ‘Hold Up to the Fire’ is the big one because that was specifically written for him,” Schichter explains.

“Hopefully we made him proud with the album.”

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