Main Street, Late at Night: An Interview with Yello Echo
After having played together for about a year, Yello Echo have still managed to remain mostly unheard of, for reasons I can’t fathom. When I first saw them playing at an art exhibit opening a few weeks ago, I was quite literally staring in slack-jawed wonder, looking at people around me and asking, “don’t these guys just rock?”
Because they really do. They’re playing this kind of “little bit dirty, little bit sweet” rock n’ roll that’s influenced by old-school jazz and modern hip-hop, classic rock, and indie pop, with a big dose of Southern style thrown in. A kind of music that, in my opinion, is just what the doctor ordered. Despite a disappointing sound system, Yello Echo rocked Dean’s on Main with a high-energy, late night set two Saturdays ago, where I was able to pull them aside for a little interview.
I could continue to gush about them and their music, but instead I’ll let them do the talking — meet guitarist Mani Nezami, singer/bassist Crystal Toliver, and drummer Chris Bassett.
SCR: How did you all meet and start playing together?
Mani Nezari: My fiancée, Valerie, is [Crystal's] best friend from high school.
Crystal Toliver: And then we found Chris on Craigslist.
Chris Bassett: Don’t let anybody say that Craigslist doesn’t work. Because I’m telling you right now, if it wasn’t for me, these guys would still be –
Mani: Without Chris, we’d still be playing in our basement.
Crystal: So we sat up late talking one night about what kind of music we wanted to make, and our ideas were along the same trajectory. So we just started doin’ stuff. Last summer. We’re almost a year old!
Throw a party! Bake a cake!
Crystal: We will throw a party!
Chris: Our first live show was in August, I think. Or at least, the first time I played with them.
Mani: And it made his life. He was like, a nobody till he joined Yello Echo. [laughs]
Chris: I was a nobody!
Crystal: Aren’t we all, still?
Chris: Well, I’m just kind of sitting in until they get someone permanent.
Crystal: Yeah, whatever.
So, do you two [Mani and Crystal] mainly write the songs, or how does that process work?
Crystal: The songwriting process? I guess it just depends. Usually, [Mani]‘ll come up with a riff, or I’ll come with some words…
Chris: Yeah, a lot of times Mani’ll come up with a riff and bring it out, and then as a band we kind of get an arrangement going, and then Crystal goes home and comes up with lyrics to put over it.
Crystal: Most of our songs started with just me and Mani sitting in his apartment, kind of going back and forth with, “hey, I’ve got this riff,” or, “hey, I’ve got this melody.”
Chris: Yeah, like the first time we jammed, they had a bunch of songs already. So I would just add my part, and they’d be like, “hey, that sounds good.”
Mani: I think the thing about this band is that all three of us add our own influences to the pot. We’re all very different people. I think if all three of us just met each other right now, we’d be like, “we have nothing in fucking common.” [laughs] But, at the same time, somehow it works. We all come from different backgrounds, but when it comes to music, we all kind of groove on the same stuff.
And what are each of your different musical influences?
Mani: My favorite band of all times is The Beatles, but I think they’re pretty universal. I also like Radiohead a lot, and Stevie Wonder.
Crystal: The people I like the most… Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, ’50s girl groups. And guy groups. All the doo-wop stuff. That’s where I pick up a lot of influences for my vocals.
Mani: Yeah, there’s a lot Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder in there.
Crystal: Yeah, definitely. Anybody who sings and plays piano. Ray Charles.
Chris: I mainly come from the classic rock era. The John Bonham, the ’70s rock. With this band, my main influence is Stewart Copeland. I’m like the really poor man’s version of Stewart Copeland. That’s what I try for, anyway. And, of course, I like a lot of the old Motown stuff, too. And we all love The Beatles, and British invasion stuff. ’70s easy listening.
Mani: I don’t like easy listening.
Crystal: He likes difficult listening.
Chris: Oh, never mind.
So, you guys are recording an album right now, right? What are the plans for that?
Mani: We’re going in for mixing sometime soon; having the album out by the end of the summer is what the whole goal is. We’re gonna spend most of July on finishing the album — hopefully it will be done by August, and we’re hoping to have a CD release party in late August sometime. Possibly at the Caroline Sessions! We recorded with Chris Ryan, from Dead City Sound, the drummer from Black Congress.
Cool! What’re some of your favorite Houston bands?
Mani: Mic Skills!
Chris: He’s his best friend from high school. [laughs]
Mani: And Spain Colored Orange.
Crystal: I have a couple, I guess. The Clapping Bastards is one of my friend’s bands, a few of my friends are in it, and they’re really great musicians. And, even though it’s not like everybody’s thing, I have these friends who are in this band called Downfall 2012. It’s kind of more hardcore-type stuff, but they’re just great musicians all around. I really dig those guys. , Saxton Fox.
I’ve not seen either of them yet.
Chris: Yeah, we played gigs with both of those guys. In fact our first gig was with Art Institute at Bohemeo’s.
Mani: And we also want to give a shout-out to Lupe and his band Bomba Chica.
Chris: They own Bohemeo’s.
[Interrupted by a man wandering down Main who asks Crystal for a cigarette. She gives him one and wishes him a good night. What a champ.]
Chris: The perils of conducting an interview on Main Street in downtown Houston at 1 in the morning…
Exactly. What are you gonna do… So, what are you guys listening to now?
Mani: TV On the Radio’s new album.
Chris: Yeah, I’m all about that one.
Mani: I like that a lot… That’s pretty much it. (laughs)
Crystal: Ummm, I’m listening to old stuff — stuff I’ve already listened to. My mindset is in recording mode, so I’m just listening to a lot of things I like the recording of. Like, I started listening to [Amy Winehouse's] Back to Black again, just because we’re going into the studio, and I like the way that album was produced so, so much. But yeah, a lot of old school stuff.
Chris: I’m old school, but I’m really angry about the whole KTRU situation that went down. I mean, that was like the only radio station I listened to. The jazz Sundays — I would just put that on and drive around. And now that that’s gone… I mean, I thought it was the best radio station in Houston. I’m sure there were lots of bands on there that I knew, but I just didn’t know their names. I just knew it was good.
Yeah, for sure. I was a DJ at KTRU for a little while, actually.
Crystal: I bet that was great.
Oh, it was so much fun.
Mani: The Beatles have this album that I’m really into right now, it’s called Abbey Road — I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. I’m kind of into that right now. I’m kind of into that 24/7, really.
Chris: Yeah, go back to Abbey Road — man, you can just put that on repeat and listen to it constantly. Never get tired of it. The Beatles have that affect. It just doesn’t get old or boring.
So, wrapping it up, where/when can we see you guys play next?
Mani: You can catch us at Gay Pride Day, on the rooftop of Club Evo. We’ll be playing that on June 25th. END
(Interview photos & feature photo by Valerie Alberto.)