Ever wondered about the western indie duo Escondido, otherwise known as the team of Jessica Maros and Tyler James? They’re based at Nashville, but adopted Escondido as a name, and claim Mayor Sam Abed keeps emailing them. Will they ever play at their namesake town, who knows? But for now, listen to them speak courtesy of University of Toronto student Michaela Fuchs who interviewed them when they came to Toronto fa ew weeks ago to perform at NXNE, the North by Northeast musical festival. “They sat down with us to discuss the challenges of the music industry, working as a duo, and future plans,” Fuchs said, and we’re off…
How did you guys come up with the band name, Escondido?
T: We just found it on a map. It was a southwestern name that sounded like the music.
J: He said it to me one day when we sat down for coffee soon after he asked if I wanted to turn this into a band. He was like, “Well I already have a name if I could run it by you,” and then asked what I thought of Escondido, and [I was] like, “Done!”
T: It’s an actual place just north of Mexico in California.
Have you guys ever played there?
J: The city wants us to play.
T: The mayor has been emailing us.
J: Yeah, several times.
T: Our biggest [following] is in L.A., which is pretty close to there…. They always question if we are actually from Escondido.
J: It’s so true. People only question us there, everywhere else [they] think it’s a rad name!
T: It has been received positively.
Is there a specific reason why you chose the theme of music/style you do?
T: I always wanted to start a band that was inspired by Southwestern/spaghetti-western vibes, but in the form of three minute “pop” songs. I love all those old western sounds; they are so inspiring and beautiful, and work well with many visuals.
J: The vocals are eerie, distant, and haunting sounding [so] that the production all came together, [along with] the songwriting too. It just lent itself to the style and it was a really good collaboration on both our ends—my house even in Nashville has all the mid-century Western style.
Your second album, Walking with a Stranger (2016), is a lot more “intense” than your first one. Are there any specific albums that inspired you to transfer towards that direction?
J: It was a more emotional record. I don’t like to listen to other people’s music when I am making a record. I want it to be … real and coming from a place from what I’m going through at the time. I want to tell my own story without it being influenced by others.
Do you both write the lyrics together? Or does only one of you do that?
J: We both do. I usually start it, and Tyler will make it a lot better.
T: She sends me what sounds like a done song, and then I’ll work on lyrics or something. For example, with “Cold October,” I really liked the chorus but [I] didn’t like the verse. So I made the chorus into a verse, and then I took lyrics [I wrote] from about five years ago and made that into the [new] chorus.
J: Yeah, we blended both of our songs together.
T: We colab our stuff together—we take what is best from our own things; if it’s a lyric or good melody.
J: Tyler is like the editor and I just don’t have patience. I have millions of ideas, and then he tones it down.
T: The new record is probably more aggressive because we spent more time on it. It is more complex.
There was a three-year period between the two, right?
T: Yeah, we started the second one right after we put out our first one. It didn’t take long to necessarily make, it just took a year to find the right mixer for it, and then another year to figure how to put it out.
J: We also had to save enough money.
T: I wanted it to be bigger, ballsy, and a little more ’90s quality—slightly less precious about having it be “desert-western style.” I wanted it to sound like a natural part of our music. The “Footprints” song is definitely way more intense and angry.
That’s actually my favourite song on the album.
T: The record is basically about love, loss, and relationships, and that specific song was actually written for a Johnny Depp film.
J: The Lone Ranger.
T: It didn’t get used but we liked the song—we did not want to change the lyrics, but [they] were supposed to be about what we thought the movie was going to be about, [so] pretty much about ravaging and killing a whole village for revenge.
J: It’s very weird sometimes to sing it live because with everything going on in the world right now, I feel like I’m touching on a subject that I don’t really feel comfortable about—but The Lone Ranger is fantasy, so it can be fun, but it is definitely awkward sometimes because we never experienced these things.
T: Wait, you’ve never murdered anybody?
J: *shakes head*
T: Come on, everybody’s done that.
J: Maybe in a metaphorical way.
Have there been any challenges as a duo?
T: We are best friends now and we did used to date for a little bit, so we do have a complex relationship. We typically get along alright creatively, we have the same career goals and desires for the band. The rut just comes from the day-to-day things—decision-making. We are an independent band, we run our own label, and we tour manage ourselves, so we will have stupid disagreements about how to respond to an email, or something stupid like Instagram takeovers. It’s a good thing that we have the same musical vision and career goals I think. If we didn’t have that, it would make things a lot harder.
With streaming becoming a major impact on the music industry, how has that presented challenges/difficulties and how have you overcome that?
J: There are pros and cons to streaming. Spotify allows a lot more people to become aware and find you. The cons are that there is a lot more content, so to keep people coming back makes it difficult. With streaming, it is difficult for bands to make money these days—it’s unfortunate, but I think it is an industry that musicians need to be more familiar [with]. The rates that independent musicians are getting are so little—musicians need to stick together and fight for what they are getting, and not just give it away for free.
It must be difficult for bands to continue pursuing music with that factor.
J: For new bands like us, it’s great for exposure, but to keep it up and make a living, and continue doing it the way we are doing it, is really tough.
T: I think it’s great. I think it’s the future.
J: And now you see the duo here.
T: We are a fairly new band, so we don’t have a history of selling millions of records to compare it to. And for us, we aren’t selling a ton of physical records compared to bigger labels, so this has been a saving grace. I look at how I like listening to music [personally], so I need to represent what is normal—and for me, I love Spotify, Apple, and Tidal. They have been kind to us and have featured us, [so] we get exposure from that.
J: Tyler’s totally right, like right now, we don’t know the age of making money in music. But also, we are pretty proactive and trying to get by musically. Yes, we are putting out music, but we also have other jobs to get by. How can we create and record songs the way we do without the means to finance them? Now music is mostly digital and easy to create, but we are a live band, so we need to create everything with instruments.
T: It’s game changing [that] we show up in people’s Spotify Discover Weekly list. Before, people physically had to search you out, [but] now people discover new bands all the time. We are one of the lucky groups that have enough streams for the finances to even out. It is what the future is, so you can either embrace it and learn to work within the confinements or be like Taylor Swift who was like, “Fuck it.”
J: She has the fans, she has the money, and she can take risks. But smaller bands can’t.
Do you guys have any future plans or are you just focusing on touring for your newest release?
J: We are touring a bunch for our first headlining tour. We are doing a lot of festivals [as well].
T: We are wrapping up five or six months of touring. We are going to take next month off, and then start our new record this fall and probably tour a bit then.
J: We are just focusing on our new record now, and probably going to make a new music video.
You guys make your own outfits right?
J: Yeah, I was a fashion designer.
T: I left my outfit in New York yesterday, so they need to ship it out here for tomorrow. Anytime we have a few months off, Jessica will make a new outfit.
Do you have any other background besides music performance?
T: I studied music business in college, and I do a lot of branding and graphic design. I produce records as well. We write for others, including for TV and film. Our band is our main thing, but we do have other things we do—luckily they are all creative. I am lucky that this band allows me to do what I do, and it is not the same thing every day. I can work on an album cover for a week, then go on tour, etc.
J: It is definitely not boring, that’s for sure.