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New Music To Know: IO Echo Charms Hollywood & Trent Reznor With Worldly Debut

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Jillian Mapes
Jillian Mapes, Radio.com Staff
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IO Echo backstage at Lollapalooza 2013. (Jeremy D. Larson/Radio.com)

The first time IO Echo’s Ioanna Gika recorded in a professional studio, she was working on an original song for a major motion picture, under the guidance of famed film composer James Newton Howard.

It’s not that Gika, who brought post-punk to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman via “Gone,” was a musical newb. Fancy studios aren’t necessarily how IO Echo rolls, opting instead for self-produced and self-recorded. Not exactly surprising stuff for an indie act… unless of course you’ve actually spent any time with IO Echo’s music.

The L.A. duo’s 2012 debut, Ministry of Love (IAMSOUND), just sounds big, even when it’s trying to be quiet. It transports listeners to cities like London, Berlin, Milan, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing–some locations more literally than others, lyrically speaking.

For Gika and bandmate Leopold Ross, their music is a product of their environments, both past and present. On one hand, they’re both lived overseas; Ross having been raised in London and Gika moving from D.C. a few years ago to travel with her family through Asia. It was during that period when Gika “fell in love” with the koto, i.e. the Japanese harp, which helps–along with the Chinese violin–to differentiate IO Echo’s sound.

On the other hand, IO Echo is the kind of band that could be categorized as aesthetic-driven, something that’s certainly complemented by the fact that they’ve curated shows at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, are set to perform at MoMA PS1 later this month (Aug. 31) and have been featured in Vogue more than a few times. They’re the sort of music you could hear at a runway show, international or otherwise: dark, electronic-tinged and most of all, driven by a vibe that transcends individual sounds.

Theirs is a vibe that’s resonated with a whole slew of collaborators, ranging from screenwriter/director Harmony Korine and James Franco to Trent Reznor and Shirley Manson.

First, to the film guys: Korine, best known for Kids and Spring Breakers, and Franco tapped the two for the score to their 2011 short film, Rebel. The fact that Korine actually liked and used their score surprised Ross, who’s no stranger to the soundtrack world. (In addition to his own work, Leopold’s brother is Atticus Ross, best known for co-writing the Oscar-winning Social Network score with Reznor.) Which brings us to the part where IO Echo opened for Nine Inch Nails on the final show of their big 2009 Wave Goodbye Tour.

“Trent is not the type of person to do things because he is told to do so or has to do it,” Gika said. “He curates his tours very particularly. We were beyond thrilled to be picked.”

But it goes beyond Reznor. This past spring, IO Echo opened for Garbage. Before that, shows alongside Bloc Party, Florence and the Machine and No Doubt. (This fall, they’ll hit the road alongside rising L.A. favorites Haim.) And they’ve picked up a few things they hope to someday pay forward.

“Being able to witness the kindness and professionalism of the bands we’ve worked with, for example Garbage and Nine Inch Nails, is inspiring,” Gika said. “It’s leading by example, the way that they conduct themselves. For such huge bands, one might think there would be huge egos involved, but both projects couldn’t be more down to earth. Shirley Manson, I consider to be a friend now. Garbage would watch our sets and sound checks, and help us out. Trent Reznor cut his sound check short to accommodate us. It makes me feel full of gratitude. I hope that if we are ever in a position to be that big, we will emulate that kindness.”

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