When we spoke to Echo & the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant in 2016, he said he and frontman Ian McCulloch had been writing new material and were considering releasing a series of EPs and holding off on an album.
But their plans changed when, in the summer of 2017, BMG signed the British alternative band, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. This is the first time the band has been represented by a major label since the 1990s.
“The plan was to do a series of EPs and then do a couple extra cuts and then put out an album,” Sergeant said in a recent interview from his home in England. “But that’s all changed now. Forget that.”
BMG suggested that Echo & the Bunnymen do an album made of re-recorded hits with an orchestra.
“We thought, ‘Yeah, we’ll give it a go,’” Sergeant says. “Simple as that. Anything else you hear will be not really the truth. That’s what it was. We just thought, ‘That sounds interesting. Let’s try that.’”
So, they started working on what would become The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon, which was released last month and also includes two new songs, “The Somnambulist” and “How Far?” The strings help buoy “transformed” versions like “The Killing Moon,” “Ocean Rain” and “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” while “The Cutter” feels fairly similar on the originals but with a fresh gloss. “Lips Like Sugar” is a more dramatic update, while the organ on “Rescue” gives the song more of a Doors “Soul Kitchen” sound, which the band has played live and even released as a bonus cut on a 1987 self-titled album.
“It’s been changed a little bit,” Sergeant says. “Jez [Wing], our keyboard player, does an organ thing, and it’s quite Doors-y, what he does. We like all that stuff, so it’s okay by us. I love the Doors. [Doors organist] Ray Manzarek was such a nice bloke.”
Echo & the Bunnymen first worked with Manzarek on a cover of the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” made for the 1987 film The Lost Boys. Manzarek also played keyboards on “Bedbugs & Ballyhoo,” from the band’s self-titled album.
A transformed version of “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo” is also on The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon, with Wing adding some Manzarek-esque organ work on the cut. Also on the album are reworked versions of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “Rust,” “Stars Are Stars,” and “Angels & Devils,” which Sergeant says went from 4/4 time to a 3/4 waltz beat.
Sergeant says McCulloch headed up the new album, which took a while to record, but he only spent a few days recording guitar for it in a London studio and at his home studio.
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“I wasn’t there all the time,” Sergeant says. “It’s kind of weird now that it’s all recorded. Everything’s fragmented. It’s not like four lads going into a room and thrashing it out and then refining it. It’s not like that anymore. It’s kind of like pieced together bit by bit.”
Just as Echo & the Bunnymen was planning on recording a series of EPs and instead made The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon at the suggestion of BMG, things change all the time, says Sergeant.
“It’s all very fluid, the whole thing,” he says. “I bet we’ll be doing a whole album of all original stuff next. I’ve got a load of ideas, but whether any of them get on the record or not is another story.”