IO ECHO with the Joy Formidable
7 p.m. Monday, May 6 | The Social, 54 N. Orange Ave. | 407-246-1419 | thesocial.org | $15
Happy coincidences can always help burgeoning relationships. Take the story of the first meeting between Ioanna Gika and Leopold Ross, bandmates in the Los Angeles-based Io Echo. A couple of years ago, Gika and Ross were in the same L.A. bar and about to be introduced through a mutual friend when Gika had the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” stuck in her head. After Ross offered Gika introductory pleasantries, Gika blurted out that she was fine but had this song floating around her head. “I was able to follow that on because I was actually named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote the book Venus in Furs on which the song is based,” Ross says.
That encounter set the stage for their relationship as friends and musicians. Both stem from considerably different backgrounds. Gika grew up in Washington, D.C., and spent a crucial period of her life in Southeast Asia (primarily Indonesia). Her parents’ fondness for Enya, Enigma and Vangelis imbued her with an early affection for New Age music. Meanwhile, Ross was raised in London alongside two brothers who introduced him to music all the time. The first genre he really enjoyed was hip-hop – N.W.A and Public Enemy were key names – but Nirvana also came to have a big effect on him. As a player, Ross would join his brother Atticus Ross (who later won an Oscar for The Social Network score) and Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz in the short-lived hardcore outfit Error, and tour as bassist with indie rock group the Big Pink.
April 2 marked the release of Ministry of Love, Io Echo’s first full-length. Even though the duo has mentioned those early favorite musicians listed above in a bevy of interviews, Ministry’s results don’t really invoke any of them. Io Echo’s indie pop is more in tune with ’80s goth and shoegaze outfits, what with their huge reverb-heavy textures, hooks that are there but somehow slip out of grasp, a woman’s heavenly echo floating over all the scenery, and a generally pensive and woozy air.
Both visually and sonically, the band is hugely into Far Eastern imagery. During shows, Gika dons kimonos (she avidly collects them), and projections of Kabuki dancers drape the performers. A handful of track titles on Ministry allude to this fascination (“Shanghai Girls,” “When the Lilies Die,” “Tiananmen Square”), as do their choices of certain instruments (Japanese koto harps and Chinese violins) and then the hand fan found on the cover of their 2012 Io Echo EP. By all signs, Gika is driving the use of all these cues. “In writing these lyrics and playing the koto harp, my mind just kept going back to the years that my family were in Southeast Asia,” she says. “I don’t know if it was a means of thinking of a happier and/or surreal time or a scary time or a sad time, but it just seemed like that’s where my heart kept going.”
Oscillating between moods is another thing Io Echo loves. Their music alternates between warmth and sadness, often merging the two elements right into one song. Someone tossed the phrase “pastel doom” into the info box on their Facebook page, and that phrase summarizes the blend perfectly. “Life is not just happy and represented by dance songs, but it’s not all sad ballads [either],” Gika says. “On the album, hopefully there’s a mix of types of songs and emotions expressed.”