Sonya Aurora Madan claims to have had "no experience before echobelly," the budding band in which she serves as singer, songwriter and frontwoman. But on record, she certainly doesn't sound like a shy novice. For example, during "Scream," the final cut on Everyone's Got One, the act's 1994 full-length, this unflappable, charismatic woman fulfills the promise of the tune's title. "It's about the frustration of the primal scream," she notes. "Just wanting to go, 'Ahhh, fuck, fuck, fuck!' It's about aching to be somewhere, to achieve something, and then getting it and it's not what you wanted."
The members of echobelly (Madan, guitarists Glenn Johansson and Debbie Smith, drummer Andy Henderson and bassist Alex Keyser) hope they're not about to find themselves in the same situation. You see, these Brits may be largely unknown in America, but they're in the midst of being discovered in their homeland. "Dark Therapy" (from echobelly's latest CD, ON) has been lauded as the single of the week by the BBC's Radio One and record shops across England.
The quintet's much-deserved leap to the almost-top is relatively sudden; echobelly came together only three years ago, when Madan first began working with Johansson, the former publisher of Eros, a magazine focusing on matters of the flesh. "Glenn being Swedish and in the porn industry I suppose is a bit of a cliche," she concedes. "But it happened, and he's not going to lie about it. And it wasn't a straightforward tits-and-ass magazine he was working on. It actually covered things like the history of eroticismEand it was for couples, so it was nonsexist."
As is the material that's sprung from echobelly's creative womb. The group's debut, Bellyache (a now-collectible EP), appeared in 1993 on the tiny Pandemonium imprint. Two of the disc's four songs--"Give Her a Gun" and the title track--resurfaced on Everyone's Got One, a Fauve issue. That album laid the groundwork for ON, released by Sony/550 Music. The recording brims with flawless pop and fine playing, but it's Madan's charming melodies and provocative lyrics that make it memorable. Despite her verbosity on vinyl, though, she finds it difficult to put her creative process into words.
"Very often it comes out and I don't know where it comes from--it's almost like I'm not writing," she allows. "Glenn writes the music, and I get it and I write the lyrics to it. I've tried the other way around, but that's actually quite difficult because--it's not that it's poetry, but when you write lyrics down, if you have to then cut them up to fit music, that's quite frustrating." She describes her muse as "the world inside my head, everyday situations, just traveling around. Even if you just sit still for a few hours, things are always going on inside your head."
Inspirations from this source fill the new album, which Madan feels is echobelly's best. "There's a lot of substance there--it's more interactive," she observes. "It's more up to the listener to pick out what they want and interpret it in their way and join in. It's something to do with the listener and me this time, as opposed to me just voicing my opinions like I was on the first album. I think I grew up a lot in that space of a year. I've mellowed out slightly."
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The majority of the music hasn't; ON is dominated by upbeat tunes such as "King of the Kerb," "Car Fiction" and "I Can't Imagine the World Without Me." The last, according to Madan, was written about "attitude, the beauty, the exuberance of youth. People can't imagine the world without them, really." She jokes, "The world really does revolve around you." As for "Pantyhose and Roses," Madan says it is based on the death of a British Parliamentarian who "was found hung, with a pair of women's pantyhose on and an orange in his mouth." After claiming not to know much about the practice of autoerotic asphyxia, she notes, "He was obviously indulging in this and it went too far. It made the headlines because he was conservative. I just started thinking about sexual fantasies and how certain people in society are not allowed to have them or to have sex--they're banned from even talking about it. But it's something other people are encouraged to do."
The compelling "Dark Therapy" also sports S&M undertones. Madan says she came up with the concept while undergoing hypnotherapy. "I wasn't eating. I sort of started wasting away. I was running on empty for so long I thought I'd better get some hypnotherapy and sort myself out." During one session, she elaborates, "I started seeing some very extreme imagery. It was always complete left and complete right, extreme beauty and extreme destruction."
"Great Things" is considerably less ethereal; in it, Madan announces, "I wanna do great things/I don't wanna compromise." This line of thinking resonates through the band's decision to end its brief tenure as an opening act. Madan acknowledges that the combo's last such tour, in support of Electrafixion (Ian McCulloch's latest band), turned out to be "a sore point, because our band didn't want to do it." The matchup probably didn't do any damage to echobelly's career--Madan and friends wound up drawing more fans than the overhyped headliners--but the experience was not a pleasant one. "We've always felt it's better to do your own show," she explains. "Do a smaller show if you have to, but do your own show."
And do your own thing.
echobelly, with For Squirrels and Superdrag. 8 p.m. Monday, March 18, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $7, 830-TIXS or 294-9281.