The Sum Of The Parts; An interview with Ephrata

Through lush, multi-layered, dream pop vocal harmonies and sparkling, shoegazey guitars Seattle’s Ephrata weaves darker tales than the sheet music suggests. The band formed in 2012 when guitarist and producer Brady Hall found Skadi von Reis after a lengthy search for a voice to complete a big batch of recordings. They were so happy with the end result that they immediately enlisted bassist Jules Jones and drummer Ben Bromage to round out an incarnation that could pull the music off in a live setting. Von Reis and Jones draw on their college a capella backgrounds to craft intricate three and four part harmonies while Hall creates unique guitar compositions and sounds to mesh with a foot-controlled synth and Bromage’s percussion to create something bigger than a four-piece band should be able to produce.

Two members of Ephrata (Hall and Jones) are filmmakers, allowing the band to make their own high quality videos and various other multi-media content. Hall’s useful skills also include sound engineering and carpentry, allowing him to record and master every recording from the comfort of the practice space he built with his bare hands and to toot his horn that he also built with metal he mined and forged himself (one of those things is a lie). All these “in-house” skills allow the band an autonomy that prevents them from being beholden to many hurdles that other bands have to deal with.

The release of their self-titled debut album September 22 coincided with a new music video, a performance video showcasing live renditions of ten songs, and plans for future live dates. Ghettoblaster recently caught up with the band to discuss these endeavors. This is what they told us.

When did you first begin writing the material for Ephrata? 

Jules: We are constantly writing new songs for the band. A few of the songs had been developed over time, up to even a year before we decided it was time to do a full-length, and several were composed once we decided it was time to pull the trigger. I think knowing there was a deadline for new material to make it on the record made us a little braver and increased the pace of our writing. We actually had a lot of great songs that didn’t make it into this album but we play them live and may release individually or on future records.

Brady: It’s a definite hodge-podge of new and old songs. “Pharaoh” was written before Skadi arrived on the scene and before this was even a band. It was in the very first batch of demos recorded. But things like “Sun Scenario,” “Evil Twin” and “What Is Mine” were written and recorded relatively late into the recording process. We chipped away at the album over the course of about 18 months, a little because of laziness and a lot because of huge work trips and life events — one of us giving birth.

Tell us about the record? Do you all contribute to the writing process?

Skadi: Brady definitely does the majority of the songwriting, but then it is really up to all of us to come up with our own parts and how it flows together. Jules and I collaborate a lot on the harmonies and coming up with unique vocal parts, playing with dissonance and off each other’s voices. We have all started contributing songs to the band too. Often they come to the band in partial form and then we just start hammering out parts. The wordless chorus in ‘What is Mine’ was thought up at practice.

We’re really digging “Tunguska.” What inspired you to write a song about the Tunguska event?

Brady: That was one of those songs where I came up with the music first and then had to figure out something to sing over it. I remember way back in the day reading some interview with Dough Martsch of Built To Spill about his lyric writing process and how it essentially amounted to “I just try to think of random concepts that don’t really mean anything and don’t sound too dumb” and I kind of took that torch and ran with it ever since. I could be completely misremembering that quote, but that’s the interpretation I’ve worked with.

So to be perfectly frank, at the time I was writing it I was playing a lot of Battlefield 4 multiplayer on the Xbox and there’s a vehicle in there called the “Tunguska,” an anti-aircraft vehicle if you’re curious, and the name was rattling around in my head so I worked it into a song. I already knew about the Tunguska event in Russia where a huge meteorite struck the earth in 1908 and was the equivalent of some of the larger nuclear bomb tests in the Cold War. So I just made the song into kind of a story from the perspective of people near that part of Russia when the impact happened.

The video for your first single, “Odds,” is pretty intense and hilarious. How did you come up with that angle?

Jules: Initially, we wanted to do something involving a rivalry between two competitive body builders. However, it wasn’t body building competition season so we had to save that idea for later. Next, as we usually do, we brainstormed on what resources — locations, cast, props — we have that were quick, free, and accessible. From there, we tried to Tetris those resources in with concepts that align with the themes of the song, which include conflict, crushed pride, and the desire to be left alone.

We’re pretty feminist in this band, and one of the things that comes up with us, and we see others experiencing both in real life and on the web, is unwanted attention from dudes, including unwelcome groping, which has even happened to Jules at a house show we played, and street harassment. Ultimately we realized we have ample guy friends, sidewalks to film on, and a pool of some pretty talented and dedicated stunt people here in Seattle – it occurred to us that we could do a pretty bad-ass take on what women experience walking down the street, and explore the fantasy of being able to kick those assholes’ asses. And thus, a brilliant idea was born.

Brady: I knew of Karleena, the star, through friends and she agreed that a day of running around kicking a bunch of dudes’ asses would be fun. We wrangled up some random actors and stunt guys and some of her wrestling buddies who already knew how to safely get smashed with chairs and trash cans and it just all came together so perfectly. It took one day to shoot down in Georgetown and nobody got hurt, but one person had their purse stolen by a still-unknown thief.

What new artists are you guys listening to these days? Any locals about to blow up?

Skadi: I’m currently listening to Big Thief and the new b-sides and rarities release from Beach House. Also obsessed with Daniel Norgren. As for locals I would watch Prom Queen…they have got something rad going on.

Jules: I’ve been listening to a lot of Active Child, Stars, Miike Snow, and Sharon von Etten, and her local heroes are Shelby Earl, Odesza, and  Motopony.

Brady: I am notoriously behind on new music so I have no real intel on that, but I agree that Prom Queen is the band in Seattle I am most stoked about. They have such a cool sound and look and stage show and Celene is jam packed with endless talent!

What’s next for Ephrata? Touring plans?

Brady: Right now we are mostly trying to get our new album out into as many ear holes as possible in hopes that radio stations or record labels might take a shine to it. After that we are batting around the idea of a tour or maybe doing SXSW in 2018. We did that in 2014 and it was loads of fun and we played 14 shows in six days and half of them were really great which frankly is a better batting average than most little tours.

(Visit Ephrata here:

http://ephrataband.com

https://www.facebook.com/ephrataband/

https://www.instagram.com/ephrataband/)