Oxford, Miss.-based singer-songwriter Morgan Pennington had in mind to record an album of Brandi Carlile-esque folk-rock when she approached local producer Winn McElroy in 2014. McElroy, a child of the ’80s with a serious synthesizer jones, heard her first track and decided he had other plans.
“When I heard her sing, in my mind I could hear more than just her voice and the acoustic guitar,” McElroy says. “I made it darker, stripped it down and rebuilt the track from scratch.”
McElroy says he initially hesitated to show off his meddlesome enterprise, for fear of Pennington’s reaction. He needn’t have worried. “I loved it,” Pennington says. “It was something I would never have thought that I could be doing. My only concern was pulling it off live.”
McElroy helped on that count, too. When Pennington received an offer to play the Double Decker music festival in Oxford, McElroy pulled together some extra synths and a temporary band. Soon thereafter, he and Pennington began writing songs together in earnest, under the new moniker And the Echo.
And the Echo’s music brings to mind the best of the 1980s New Wave and synth-pop movement, undergirded by the same dark currents of moody electronica that characterized Depeche Mode, only with Pennington’s bright, lissome vox carrying the melody over top of it all, rather than David Gahan’s mopey tenor.
“I grew up loving bands like Depeche Mode and New Order,” McElroy explains. “Later, I got into a lot of synth-driven soundtrack music, lots of horror movie soundtracks from the ’70s and ’80s. And having a studio for over 10 years, I accumulated a few synthesizers, and I liked to play with them. Most of my work is recording guitar-bass-drums rock bands, so the synthesizers were sort of my way of escaping from that.”
The band has two records now, 2016’s “And the Echo I” and this year’s “And the Echo II.” McElroy describes the first platter as “us throwing a lot of things against the wall and seeing what would stick.” On the latest, he says, “we knew more what we wanted to do… The songs stand on their own now, whereas on the first, they were more dependent on having that wall of sound.”
Which is just as well, given that McElroy and Pennington plan on entering the studio again in November, and recording a third album with less electronic ornamentation than its predecessors. “We’ve been bringing back the guitar a little, and there’s going to be more of it on this next record,” McElroy says. “At the same time, we’re stripping back some of the wall of sound. We’re being a little simpler, letting the songs stand for themselves.”
And the Echo will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 9 p.m.