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Aimee Echo on Ciao Baby, the relationship between emo and nu-metal, and how much money you can make as a high priestess of it

Left: Aimee Echo in Cardiff
Photo by Matt Hamm

With a pedigree that includes Snot and Human Waste Project, that theSTART are still virtually unknown on these shores is strange enough. The fact that they've been tossing out perfect electro-fused new wave punk years before the indie scene caught on is damn near criminal. Phill May caught up with the legendary Aimee Echo in Cardiff to talk about new album Ciao Baby, how today's emo scene reflects the rise of nu-metal, and turning down "sh*t-ton"'s of money...

Chances are, you won't have heard of theSTART. Having recently released their third album of infectious, engaging music, and containing an admirable musical lineage, they remain bafflingly bereft of a decent push on these shores. However, in a musical climate full of hip electro acts and even heavier music becoming more accepting of electronic elements, their melding of indie, punk and metal with new-wave and electro proves their time in the spotlight is long overdue.

Originally consisting of two parts Snot (Jamie Miller and guitarist Mike Smith) and two parts Human Waste Project (Aimee Echo and drummer Scott Ellis), theSTART went through a number of line-up changes, settling on bassist Lance Webber and drummer Chelsea Davis. It's led to a diversity of sounds within theSTART's development. Their latest release, Ciao Baby, for instance has less guitar and more electronics, keys and layers than ever before.

"I think that every time, we just do what we’re feeling." Crammed into Cardiff Barfly’s tiny band room on a damp Sunday, Aimee Echo is natural, friendly and effortlessly cheerful "At this point, again, we're at a line-up change with our band. We're worse than Spinal Tap as far drummers go. Only one has lost a leg, and this one hasn't exploded yet. Yet."

theSTART's remaining founders, Aimee Echo and Jamie Miller, have a commendable history, who’s previous bands were cut short before attaining the success they were tipped for. Miller's band, Snot, had their time cut short by the tragic death of frontman Lynn Strait. Echo's Human Waste Project were a too-short-lived band that could have shaped the developing nu-metal scene – something that at the time could have earned the band success, promotion and as Echo puts it: "A sh*t-ton of money." Thing is, HWP weren't nu-metal. They weren't even that far from theSTART. But having friends and touring buddies in the likes of Korn, Deftones and Coal Chamber, clearly made you guilty by association.

"Yeah, whether we sounded like it or not! The thing that's interesting about it is that there were so many bands that were so diverse at that point from the scene that we were coming up out of in Los Angeles. The most successful of all of them had 'sort of' a similar sound, but even those bands were dissimilar. You wouldn’t say that Korn sounds like the Deftones. I don't think that they do."

They didn't then and they don't now. But that didn't stop HWP from ending up in the same pigeonhole, and as with any emerging scene, a tidal wave of imitators was hot on their heels.

"It was really Korn, us and Deftones and then Coal Chamber and a few others coming later from that scene, and everybody was completely different, sounded completely different. It was sort of the bands that followed in the wake that defined what 'nu-metal' was. We never even called ourselves a metal band; it was other people that tagged us with that."

HWP never adhered to the image and style created by those bands that followed, but instead of highlighting this, the press instead focussed on what – at the time – was a rare occurrence in heavy music – a female vocalist.

"Actually, that's kind of why I quit the band – when I was called 'the high-priestess of nu-metal'. It was kind of depressing. I was like 'If this is how it's going to be, then I think it's time to start over'. The funny thing is that so many people really did take that scene – kind of what's happening with Emo right now – they took that scene and said 'Oh, if we do this, if we dress like this and look like this and sound like this, we’ll make a sh*t ton of money.' And we didn't dress like that, sound like that or look like that, and we were getting called that. We could have tweaked a couple of things here and there because of where we were at, and we could have made a sh*t ton of money."

And what did Echo do about this potentially lucrative prospect?

"Instead... I preferred to walk away... and starve."

It would have been easier to compromise her band and be the 'High Priestess' everyone wanted her to be; Human Waste Project could still be in the Family Values tour line-up and the CD racks of thousands of homes. But she left and formed another band. Rockmidgets couldn’t be happier about that: Nu-metal may have gone on to make a lot of money, but it also went on to become the most maligned genre a band could ever be pigeonholed into. Nearly a decade on, theSTART have three diverse, exciting albums behind them. They may not get the promotion or push they deserve, but they can be who they want to be. And while the venues of their recent UK tour may not have been full, Echo remains relentlessly upbeat.

"We're having a blast. I'm really excited that people even care to come to shows. This is our first real official album release, this is our first real official tour... I know that a lot of it has to do with my old band but it's shocking that ten years later people even know that band existed. Especially with people's attention spans and the way the media is these days, people don't remember a band that came out last year... So. It's been good, it's been fun. We're just coming over and seeing what happens. So if there's fifty people in the room, I'm happy."

A few hours later, theSTART play in front of around that number, a mere handful with prior knowledge of the band. By the end of the set, everyone is having a good time. This is what theSTART are capable of – and why it's so baffling that a country currently rife with awful bands using any old new-wave or 80’s synth get coverage in major music magazines and sell out venues – yet remain blissfully unaware of a band that has been doing something similar – but better – since the turn of the century. Chances are, you won't see theSTART on magazine covers or British radio any time soon. But they're having a blast, making the music they want to, so it’s not their fault that we’re missing out.

by Phill May

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