Band To Watch: The Echo Friendly

Band To Watch: The Echo Friendly

Johnny Cash and June Carter. Ike and Tina Turner. As long as there have been bands, there have been band couples. Some are time-tested, others have fallen apart, but few make their relationships the main focus of their music. Enter Jake Rabinbach and Shannon Esper of The Echo Friendly, an on-again-off-again couple and this year’s band to watch.

Listen to their moody pop music—the tension is palpable. Sure, it’s the retelling of their intimate stories, conversations, and letters—often word-for-word—but it speaks to anyone who’s ever gone through romantic troubles. These tunes are personal, emotional, and without metaphor, much like the improvised films that first brought them together.

The pair met in the summer of 2009 while working on the mumblecore film Open Five. For Rabinbach, previously of the band Francis and the Lights, the chemistry with Esper—who was in a relationship at the time—was immediate. “I was just trying and trying to not get crushy,” he says, “and [she was] not helping at all.” After a complicated beginning, the two finally got together, eventually breaking it off.

A year later, Rabinbach asked Esper to sing with him. “I lied,” he says. “I said that I had already written a song for us to sing together.” After Esper agreed, he went home to finish the song “Boats,” based entirely on their relationship. At this point, the two had only sung together once before—and totally “tanked,” Esper adds.

“It was complicated, but I loved the songs,” she says. “I think more than anything, I was just excited about the kinds of songs he was writing. It was really different than what he had been making before.”

What started as a collaboration for the fun of it—and maybe as a way to win a girl back—quickly turned into a project with potential. “At a certain point, I started thinking this is by far the most viable thing I had ever done,” Rabinbach says. “[The song] ‘Same Mistakes’ was so much closer to the music I thought I should be making. I suddenly became very serious.” The song, heavy, sad, and frank, and whose refrain goes, “I haven’t changed a bit / I’m still not over it / I make the same mistakes / I make the same mistakes,” played to closing credits during the first season of HBO’sGirls.

“I just didn’t feel like it was okay to fuck around with metaphors anymore,” Rabinbach says. “I had pretty bad writer’s block for a while and then I was like, ‘What if I just say what happened?’ Like exactly what happened,” getting into Esper’s head as much as his own to write their boy-girl duets.

And just like playing themselves in the films they made when they first met, The Echo Friendly continues to sing their everyday thoughts, experiences, and feelings, regardless of what’s happening in their relationship. “I never really run out of things to say about our interactions,” he says.

“Maybe it’s just growing up on the Internet,” Esper adds. “It’s exciting to just be totally yourself.” —Sasha Levine (@sashalevine)

Echo Friendly’s first full-length album, Love Panic, will come out this summer.