Q&A: Eastern Conference Champions

17 Oct

Photo by Clay Patrick McBride

By Allison Flaker

To say that Eastern Conference Champions have had a busy and successful year would be an understatement. From touring to ditching their label to being on one of the most anticipated soundtracks of the year, this trio from Pennsylvania have created quite the dust cloud. With a new album ready for release, Speak-Ahh, they aren’t ready for it to settle. Their music is a combination of moody, conceptual vocals and folk instrumentation that produce songs like “Bloody Bells” and my favorite, the somewhat Radiohead-esque, “Common Sense.” Each song drips with a unique blend of irregular drum beats and guitar solos that don’t dominate but compliment lead singer Joshua Ostrander’s powerful voice. They also do a cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” that restores my hope in modern music.

Another reason to like this band: they have a chick bassist. I am forever grateful to Smashing Pumpkins’ bassist D’Arcy Wretzky for this awesome, female-empowering phenomenon. But I digress. I got a chance to ask Melissa Dougherty about the band’s recent independence, the new album, and their inclusion on the Twilight soundtrack.

Allison: With how many changes your band has encountered, what has been the most significant that has helped you get where you are?

Mellisa: I think being an independent band that has had some success on our own has taught us to believe in what we’re doing and to not second guess ourselves. There’s a real sense of integrity, pride of ownership and love that goes into everything we do…which I think has really been key to moving things forward. I think that more and more people are able to grasp onto and relate to these things.

Allison: Say what you will about the Twilight phenomenon, getting a spot on one of their soundtracks is a true honor particularly because of the caliber of music that is chosen. How has your inclusion in the soundtrack changed things? Has it increased your fan base?

Mellisa: To be included with the Twilight series has been a huge deal for a band like ours. It’s pretty awesome that Alex/Chop Shop took a chance on an unsigned band and featured us on the soundtrack. It’s definitely opened up doors and has introduced our band on a massive, global level. We are grateful and blown away by it all.

Allison: You’ve gotten to tour with some really great bands, The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Rogue Wave. What bands do you hope to tour with next?

Mellisa: It would be great to tour with those bands again but also Band of Horses, The Pixies, Gnarls Barkley, Dead Weather, My Morning Jacket, Band of Skulls, Florence and the Machine, MGMT, Wilco, The Black Keys, Pearl Jam, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Hot Heat because they’re one of the nicest bands ever.

Allison: The band is no longer part of a record label. Even though that allows you more freedom and the ability to make decisions on you own, has the band been faced with more challenges?

Mellisa: It’s definitely a lot more work and you’ve got to be super organized and involved since every step forward is directly connected to us finishing up a recording or Josh [Ostrander – vocals, guitar and piano] designing a poster for our residency. For now, it’s a blessing because we’ve learned very quickly that what you put in is what you get out. It’s amazing to, not only think of all the little details, but to actually have to tend to and see through all the little details. It’s definitely a labor of love and as we get more successful, we are all the more humbled by our advances because the three of us and our team are the ones who are making it all happen. Our successes will never be taken for granted but rather will be celebrated with a beer after handing out fliers.

Allison: Where does inspiration come from for ECC’s music? What current bands are most influential on the writing?

Mellisa: I think that we’re influenced by the human experience…the good with the bad, the rad with the sad. Honestly, we don’t actively listen to a lot of current music or bands that would be in our genre. In fact Josh won’t listen to anything while he’s writing and recording. We’re all into classic rock (The Who, The Stones, Big Brother & the Holding Company) as well as great songwriters (Dylan, Waits, Springsteen, Petty). Josh and I love Cee-Lo, Outkast, Aaliyah, Rihanna, The Roots. I teach guitar so I must thank my wonderful students for showing me all the cool and, sometimes not-so-cool, music that they’d like to learn.

Allison: You’re about to release your full length album, Speak-Ahh. What was it like recording and compiling the record?

Mellisa: Josh records all of our music at our studio in Downtown LA so it’s just the three of us doing it all. Typically what will happen is Josh demos stuff either at home or at the studio. Greg [Lyons, drums and synth] gives it a listen and a “yea” or “nay”…if it’s a “yea” he may redo the drums and/or add percussion. Then I come in and write parts on top of things or maybe suggest arrangement ideas or vocal harmonies. Sometimes Josh will email me a rough track that he’s put together with a drum beat from Greg and I’ll dump it into GarageBand and record my ideas on top of that. If it gets to these final stages, we go in and lay tracks down with our gear and that’s that. We’re not very self indulgent or precious as far as doing tons of takes when recording. We try to keep it simple and also leave those little imperfections in that come with recording a solo from start to finish or whatever. In the future hopefully we’ll have more time to be in the same room together but for now this system works out just fine.

Allison: I saw on your tour dates that in the midst of playing a residency at Spaceland, you traveled to Madison and Chicago. That sounds nuts. What shows did you play there?

Mellisa: Yeah we were in the Midwest for a few shows while we were in the middle our our Spaceland residency. We did Spaceland Monday night, unloaded our gear at 2:30am, got up at 6:45am to get to LAX, miraculously landed in Chicago Tuesday afternoon and then drove three hours to Madison, Wisconsin. Pretty insane and my eyes are still burning from the lack of sleep but September was a really great month for us and we had a blast. The shows in the Midwest went really well and we were all blown away by how cool and gracious the locals were. We can’t wait to get back out that way…Madison’s the best!

Allison: Where to next?

Mellisa: We’re currently figuring out how the album’s going to come out (label or self release). We’ll be playing at the Echoplex and Spaceland here in Los Angeles before the year’s finished and hope to do a two week West Coast tour this November. Ideally 2011 will be us in our van touring the USA in support of our record and then heading over to Europe soon after.

Eastern Conference Champions play Spaceland in LA on Nov. 3. http://www.myspace.com/easternconferencechampions

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