Category Archives: Interview

SONYA AURORA MADAN

IN 1995, ECHOBELLY WERE RIDING A CREST OF THE BRITPOP WAVE.
Championed by Morrissey during 1994, the band had gone on to build up a strong following in university towns and indie clubs across the UK during a tour to promote their confident single I CAN’T IMAGINE THE WORLD WITHOUT ME and accomplished debut album, EVERYONE’S GOT ONE.
Singer Sonya Aurora Madan made regular appearances in the inky music papers, and gained something of a reputation as unashamedly outspoken, discussing issues related to sexism and racism as regularly as she raised eyebrows: the band’s Top Of The Pops appearance for single GREAT THINGS had her provocatively dressed as a schoolgirl. The album which parented that hit was ON, and it was released during the ridiculous brouhaha surrounding Blur vs Oasis.
Despite having nothing much other than timing in common with most members of the movement they were caught up in, Echobelly were swept along, but began to fade from commercial view when the music papers decided to kill the scene by abandoning the gravy-boat and sinking it.
Another major label album, LUSTRA, was issued in 1997, followed by two low-key self-releases in the early 2000s – but despite the continued high quality watermark (and after losing around half a million pounds to fraud by their accountant) the band seemed to drop quietly off the radar by the mid-2000s.
Now, as Calm Of Zero, Sonya and guitarist/songwriter Glenn Johansson are back. A couple of acoustic EPs have been distributed online, and detail a much more relaxed and portable sound than under their previous moniker. Describing Calm Of Zero as “an idea that’s yet to fully evolve”, they are currently working on ‘bigger versions’ of these songs for their debut album. Sonya took a little time out from recording to speak to The Mouth Magazine about their days as Echobelly, and their plans for the future…


It may be the obvious place to begin talking with you, but I think the context is important. Looking back to the Britpop scene, I feel that Echobelly come out of it with credibility. You didn’t descend into being merely self-congratulatory, or fall into the trap of trying too hard to be part of the scene. Were you conscious that you were different to what was going on around you? Do you remember specific instances of thinking “How have I ended up here?”
Well I’m sitting here now, close to midnight, thinking “How have I ended up here?” alright… But for different reasons than you might suppose – it’s just kind of strange to reminisce so intensely about a period of our lives that seems a lifetime ago. In answering, I can only say that I always thought I had something to say, perhaps a need to share a different perspective than what was out there… I still do, actually…

When the papers decided to shut Britpop down, move on, sink the ship, several bands went down with it. You continued for a few more years but with diminishing returns, commercially. My feeling is that once the scene was “over”, the association with Britpop perhaps put you in a difficult position, a bit of a tailspin. Although you continued to write and record, there was perhaps an awareness that “the attention” of the wider public had passed. Would that be a fair comment to make?
Absolutely a fair comment to make… The scene was a real crash and burn ending for many. There were two moods to Echobelly and the more introspective, experimental side to our music, which was hinted at on b-sides, left us with the desire to carry it further. We released two albums (PEOPLE ARE EXPENSIVE and GRAVITY PULLS) through our own label and were able to take the music to where we wanted without label pressure but also, ironically, without label support.

So at what point, and why, did you finally decide to call it quits and abandon the name Echobelly?
First there were two of us then four of us, then five, then four etc, Towards the end when Andy, our drummer, left to become a happily married man, there were only two, the original two – Glenn and myself – and it just felt right to let it go…

What happened around this time – did you continue to work together, but just give up on the idea of pushing Echobelly as far as it could go, or did you completely have time off from music? How did you get by during this period? Was a return to “real life”, real jobs etc, a serious consideration?
We’ve never really had much time away from music but playing and writing in your home with the cats as your audience isn’t quite the same! Luckily, so far, we’ve managed to get by on (dwindling) royalties and song placements etc…  

Obviously it’s the same people writing the songs, but do you feel like the same people writing the songs?
I don’t think anyone remains the same person they once were. I’ve never really been that nostalgic about our past. I’m happy that it happened – but happier to be here now…

… and in the here-and-now you’ve been putting out acoustic EPs… but regarding an album… I SEEK IDENTITY was the suggested name. Will this see the light of day?
I SEEK IDENTITY was the title of a song. The lyrics were from an alien (as in extra-terrestrial) perspective and was probably way too esoteric to ever see the light of day. Anyway, I have another possible title that I think is ripe and waiting for the first real Calm Of Zero album… The acoustic session series are just that (sessions) and are meant to run along side what else we do. We hope to be a full on band in the near future…

The first acoustic EP you released contains the track FROM THE DEEP, which I think is a perfect example of that special gift you have for beautiful melodies and lovely turns of phrase…
… thank you for saying so ..!

… but the song GIVING IT ALL is something else – a very strong hybrid of Western folk music and Indian melody, perhaps the first time this has happened quite as explicitly in your music…
I really like both those songs. I think its funny that Glenn’s influence is decidedly Eastern on the guitar intro of GIVING IT ALL and my lyrics were inspired by (Jack) Kerouac’s On the Road…

You sometimes used your lyrics (and interviews) to talk about race issues in the UK. I’m thinking particularly of CALL ME NAMES, and the whole “My Country Too” t-shirt thing… Is this an area you are likely to visit again, lyrically? Does race has as much relevance to you, 15 or 16 years on, as it did as a young woman fighting her way through?
CALL ME NAMES was about looking through a child’s eyes at being seen as different, and the whole “racist” issue – that I have been a little too connected with – is not as important to me as has been picked up on. I don’t think there is a grown up person on the planet that has never had a racist thought of some sort (I know Indian culture divides its own people into lighter and darker shades) and when it comes down to it, all emotions are either of Love or of Fear…

What kind of relationship do you have with the younger you, some of the things you said and the stances you took?
 
I think the younger me was sweet and shy but came across rather differently…

So, finally, with this being the opening chapter of a second volume in your story and having been through some, I imagine, pretty intense and eye-opening experiences during your time as Echobelly, what advice would you give that younger self?
My only advice is that advice is over-rated!! Living it is part of the process.