Ecce Hobo (Latin for "Behold the Hobo!") creates art-pop music that combines the happenin' sounds of today with influences as diverse as German Cabaret, The Kinks, Gregorian Chant and Hank Williams. Musically powerful and lyrically provoking, these four social migrants sing melodic and catchy tunes of the open road, of refugees riding the rails of the global marketplace, and the darkness just around the bend.
Taking a cue from Bertolt Brecht's Epic Theater, Ecce Hobo's shows are unforgettable multimedia performances with a plethora of musical styles and supportive images incorporating projections, props, and a big slice of hobo wisdom.
The band's principal writers are John Feodorov and Paul Amiel. Having met at in high school orchestra, John and Paul have been collaborating on numerous music and art projects ever since. The band is fronted by John, who is also an internationally recognized visual artist featured on the PBS series Art:21-Art for the Twenty-First Century (www.pbs.org/art21) alongside such artists as Laurie Anderson. Paul has studied traditional Chinese and Turkish music abroad and performs on a variety of instruments with various medieval and ethno-music consorts. Mark has dedicated his talent to the pure percussive expression of the moment; in other words, he plays what he wants. When not playing with Ecce Hobo, Amanda enjoys listening to buzzing amps at full volume and drumming out Haitian rhythms on salad bowls.
Paul Amiel: Keyboards, flute, harp, vocals
John Feodorov: Vocals, guitar, violin, san xian
Mark Reynolds: Drums and bass
Amanda Sloane: Keyboards and backup vocals
Below are commentaries on each song on the CD
Evil Ways: Originally written for the country-western InstaBand Shit from Shinola, Evil Ways is a sermon-song inspired by the often ridiculous pronouncements of television preachers, encountered first hand by Paul during his stint in Oklahoma (where he met Mark Reynolds), and by everyone everywhere who has a goddamn television. John's "sermon" enumerates sins, mostly (well, entirely) sexual, with their often-unexpected consequences. Evil Ways opens the CD (and the performance) as it outlines the moral universe being examined by Ecce Hobo, and it rocks.
Man on a Street: Now that the masses are huddled and hiding in their suburban dream homes, and being a "street person" has become a derogatory term, John's song seems to be a simple description of walking on a street, no judgments, almost camera-like in observation. But the richness of public life has been reduced to a "soundtrack of noise and confusion" and our man on the street yearns to return to the dull safety of home. An astute listener will hear echoes of Mott the Hoople and Sparks in the treatment of the music, two of the many influences informing Ecce Hobo.
Hobo March: Aaron Copeland may have written “Fanfare For The Common Man”, but what of the hobo? After writing this short procession, the band asked themselves, “If John Phillip Sousa wrote a march for hobos, how many trombones would he use?” They still haven't come up with an answer.
The Moon: This song has taken on many incarnations and perhaps has never been realized successfully until now. It first appeared on John's previous CD with the band Skinwalkers. John envisioned it as a song sung around a campfire (or burning trash can). It is a stab at creating a new mythic narrative that is both ominous and comforting - a lullaby with a disco beat.
Satan's Dug: This jaunty little jazz-like tune originated in the InstaBand Goat Wife, but is right at home with the ontology of hobo-dom. It equates "sinful" behavior with the metaphor of "suckling on Satan's dug" (or teat). Jazz, another problematic art form for the band, is used to express such an evil, absurd image. While the melody is original, it sounds exactly like a TV commercial for a Turkish cleaning product---what could be more disturbing? In "Civilization and It's Discontents," Freud equates the human yearning for spiritual connection and significance with being separated from the mother's nipple. Ecce Hobo applies this metaphor in ways that Freud never intended.
Calling My Own Name: A gentle tune about lost faith and belief--not through any horrible event or philosophical argument, but by just fading away. The refrain, "The angels never show their faces / Silence fills the holy places," while possibly interpreted as a great disappointment, is the point of view Ecce Hobo often takes--getting used to reality and not whining about it too much. Calling My Own Name was recorded by John and Mark.
Voices: This Kurt Weill inspired song is an internal examination of the disjunction between a person and his/her own thoughts, the observer and the observed. Everything in John's lyrics--age, memory, dreams--are foreign, boring, and annoying, which the singer is unsuccessfully trying to ignore. Musically, Paul wrote the complicated structure based on minor chords with major sevenths; Marks' drumming creates a sinister circus feeling; Amanda's theremin wails an unearthly shriek; and John's violent guitar solo adds a stab of Dada to the Cabaret atmosphere.
Exit the Sun: A song only someone shut up in a windowless, oppressive bureaucratic environment could write. John used his experience working in such a place to write Exit the Sun. A day of life, the most vital human reality, is swallowed up by the labor necessitated by the economic system we are caught in to sustain ourselves (or, the wealthy) at an exaggerated level of materialism. (We are not communists: Wobblies, maybe). The rhythm of the song is strangely metered, an ominous drone growls underneath, everything just off-kilter enough to be as mildly disturbing as the fluorescent lights humming over our bowed heads.
The Ballad of Bob and Betty: This old song has always been sinister at the core. Originally written as "Last Holiday for Belinda," it has been reworked to fit the satirical, bibulous theme of the CD. Bob and Betty have miserable lives, and have decided to get their revenge on the responsible party, God. With gun and Ford they "drive out west to shoot the lord." The style of Bob and Betty is Ecce Hobo's way of honoring the storytelling of country music while simultaneously insulting the mind-frame of that American musical/lyrical tradition.
My Soul is Saving Me: An existentialist pop song! But aren't they all? This is written from the point of view of a new ager, who has embraced that all of the smoke and mirrors of religion are actually located in his individual self, and no longer is there any need to look beyond his own imagination for divinity or salvation. A song of ultimate self-deception. We gave it a French accordion feel because, well, it does seem a rather twisted French existentialist sentiment, everyone loves baguettes, wine, stinky cheeses, pouty French girls...and Paul has a beret.
Freeway Song: John and Paul both grew up in megapolis Los Angeles, where the entire city exists in shattered suburban patches divided by the deep scars of the freeway system. John wrote the lyrics as a non-commentary on the contradiction between the human need to live in a meaningful environment, and the rational but meaningless environment of our super cities. Their first band together (Akimbo) was in the backroom of Paul's house, where the loud volume of the music was masked by the even louder roar of the 605 freeway in Paul's backyard. This song also references one of their favorite bands, Kraftwerk, whose song Autobahn is a joyful celebration of such an artifice--something possible only in Germany.
Hobo's Lament: A simple waltz originally written and played by Paul for a PBS documentary addressing hunger in Oklahoma. Mark conceived of the recording as an old children's record, hence the surface pops and scratches. It serves as a wistful and sentimental memory before Hobo reality sets back in.
God's Eye: Sounding very much like early metal bands (John and Paul were big Sabbath / Zeppelin fans), God's Eye looks at the terror of human existence due to the positing of a judgmental, eternal being. If Job wrote a pop song, this would be it. There is no redemption in this lyric, just the horror of mortality. What could be more metal? The extended ending of the song was encouraged by Amanda, who could sway in such trance-beat patterns for hours (similar to much of the music she creates). This was also to drive home the point that the fear of mortality engulfs us in a rather pleasing way.
Where the Devil Dances is written as a folk ballad for guitar and violin. Sermon-like, it is an admonition to leave the immoral pleasures of the city for purification in the unknown wilderness, with a warning: while the desert may be the place of transformation, it is also the place of deep temptation and danger--the domain of Satan. The CD is named after Where the Devil Dances, as all of the songs address the ultimate moral ambiguity and despair of people being caught wandering between the two illusive ideas of good and evil. The illusion of an old wax-disc recording was created by recording the static off a television and the drone of an air-conditioner. It ends with an "interviewer" asking the singer about where he learned the song (in a bow to Folkways recordings, which we love); and in the singer's confusion, we know its true history has been lost.