The Beat Goes On • An Exclusive Interview with Drummer Matt Tecu

Bridging the Past and Present in the Groundbreaking Documentary ‘Echo in the Canyon’

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 890   By: Robert E Martin

09th January, 2020     0

For anybody that is a fan of popular music the documentary Echo in the Canyon is an equally embracing  and engaging time tunnel celebrating the ground-breaking music that came out of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon in the mid-1960s, at that critical period in time when folk music went electric and artists such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas, The Turtles, and Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention were all living together in the same neighborhood.

Directed by Andy Slater and hosted by Jakob Dylan, the film deftly explores this iconic and fertile period of innovative music with rare archival footage and never-before-heard personal details behind the bands and their songs and how this music continues to inspire a new generation of musicians today. In addition to interviews with the pivotal participants, a bevy of current & contemporary musicians including Beck, Norah Jones, and Fiona Apple join together to record and perform new translations of many of these ground-breaking songs, offering fresh interpretations and broader meaning to the weight of this material for current and future generations to absorb. As of September, 2019, the film has earned a total domestic gross of $3,345,774 and enjoyed the best per theatre opening of any documentary in 2019.

Through the connection of my dear friend and co-founder of The Verve Pipe,  Donny Brown, recently I had the good fortune to conduct an interview with Los Angeles based session drummer Matt Tecu, who performed with The Echo in the Canyon band featured in both the film, the studio recordings, and subsequent concert tour.  Affable, candid, and forthcoming, Tecu is also up for a Grammy Award this year for his work on Sugaray Rayford’s latest release, Somebody Save Me.

Review: Before getting into the specifics behind the ‘Echo in the Canyon’ project, can you share a bit of background in terms of how you first became interested in music and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?

Matt Tecu: I grew up in the Midwest and originally I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. To make a long story short, I attended a Hippie High School / Boarding school in Vermont and when I was 15-years old I started playing drums and got hired in a band the next day, so kept playing and practicing and went to a musical conservatory where I learned how to read music. Next I started putting bands together in St. Louis; one of which became one of the biggest bands in St. Louis. After that group broke up in 1991 I moved to Los Angeles and have been here since, recording dozens of records, touring the world, and playing with hundreds of artists as a studio musician.

Review: How did you become involved with the ‘Echo’ project? Was it a casting call or had you worked with Jakob Dylan before?

Matt Tecu: It was all the brainchild of the film’s director, Andy Slater. He was President of Capitol Records back in the ‘90s for a time and gave The Wallflowers a break by signing Jakob’s band and has been his manager since Jakob was 19-years old, or something like that.  Andy wanted to make an album and film that was a love letter to his musical heroes that came out of the California Rock scene from 1966-’69. Andy phoned me up a few years back, inviting me to his house in Beverly Hills to work on a batch of 1960s cover songs he had assembled with musicians he felt would do the best job doing the material justice; so we got together at his house.

The core band was the same featured in both the film and the recordings for Echo in the Canyon, and consisted of Geoff Pearlman and. Fernando Perdomo on guitar, Jordan Summers on keyboards, Dan Rothchild on bass, Justine Bennett on background vocals, and myself on drums.

I should also add that a lot of the band members knew one another from Canter’s Deli, which is a famous iconic gathering place on Sunset Strip. They have a place there called the Kibbitz Room, and every Tuesday night there’s a tradition of this core group of friends and musicians getting together to play covers and medleys. Andy Slater was always a big fan of that - he’s probably Neil Young’s biggest fan.

Review: One of the things I thought ingenious about Echo is that unlike traditional documentaries,  which simply cultivate archival footage and splice it together with current interviews from the subjects being profiled, Echo added this entirely new dimension of actually assembling a current group of contemporary musicians to render their own interpretations of the material.  What was that process like?  Were you familiar with a lot of this music when you first approached it?

MT:  Yes and No. A lot of it is in the Classic Rock repertoire that should be in any Pop musician’s vocabulary; and I remembered many of the songs growing up as a little kid listening to Buffalo Springfield, The Beach Boys, and The Mamas & the Papas. 

Once the album project had started it was decided to pull a full concert together, so with Andy and Jakob’s connections, it was easy for those two to pull other artists into the fold such as Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor, Beck, and Cat Power. It was more like a group of friends coming together to make some music and everybody had a personal connection first - friends sharing songs and ideas together.

Review: What did you come to appreciate about the music and these artists as you were deconstructing their songs?

MT: First, we recorded the album in producer/engineer Dave Way’s home studio up on Mullholland Drive, which isn’t far from Laurel Canyon, so it had that whole vibe going for it. We also recorded it to tape first, which is rare these days; and we used instruments from the 1950s and 1960s, so the project had an authentic feel to it in terms of style and sound. 

When the original songs were recorded it was basically by really talented young musicians that were probably stoned at the time, so in listening to the originals we didn’t want to stray too far from it, but we also didn’t want to do a note-for-note copy. The idea was to interpret but stay true to the original form. The songs didn’t need much changing because so much care was put into the original constructions, which was obvious when we started playing them; but we wanted to copy the spirit of the song more than doing an actual note-by-note replication.

Review: What do you feel it was about that period in time that made it so magical? A lot of those bands had strong individual performers with really big egos and none of them really lasted more than two or three years together tops. Were there any lessons you learned about the process of actually creating music of this caliber while making the film?

MT: Our film really was based on a brief period where pop music was folky but going electric; plus, once all these guys saw The Beatles in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, they all said, ‘We wanna do that, too!’ The Beatles original formula was a band with multiple singers and songwriters that played their own instruments; so with The Byrds, they tried to be the American Beatles - that’s the ‘echo’ part. Then Roger McGuinn played with a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, and George Harrison heard that, which in turned influenced Rubber Soul.  Rubber Soul then influenced Pet Sounds, which then inspired The Beatles to make St. Pepper, which influenced the whole album recording process to this day and kind of shows the true reverberations of the echo.

Some people complain that artists such as Joni Mitchell were left out, but that came from a later era that was more focused on the individual singer-songwriter.

Our intention was to show the spark that created this phenomenon, which is still burning brightly to this day.

Echo in the Canyon can be viewed currently on Netflix and the soundtrack album can be purchased on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

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