SCAD alum and Savannah music scene fixture Echo Wilcox is back!
(Well, for a night.)
Savannah is just one stop on the warpath blazed by Wilcox’s band, Ancient Warfare. Formed when Wilcox moved to Lexington, Kentucky, the quartet’s gained steam in light of an LP, The Pale Horse, out August 11 on Alias Records (Yo La Tengo, Archers of Loaf, Knapsack).
Looming like a dark moon silhouetted by Appalachian trees, The Pale Horse is an incredible achievement. Recorded by Duane Lundy of Shangri-La Productions, it feels like a Dum Dum Girls record littered in little Blair Witch altars, transcendentally poppy and woodsy, welcoming the listener in while keeping one eye squinted.
Five years in the making, The Pale Horse showcases Wilcox’s abilities as a multidisciplinary artist; through her studies of photography and motion graphics, refined at SCAD, she fleshes out visuals through sonic vibration and lyric, exploring mortality, affection, the apocalypse, and our collective inability as humans to escape the inevitable.
Ancient Warfare is joined by Michigan/Brooklyn songwriter Hailey Wojcik—the fusion of her crisp, clear voice singing out piercingly clever and perfect lyrics against nasty guitars and jangly percussion on single “XO Skeleton” hint toward a memorable performance.
Blackrune represent Savannah on the bill.
We had a quick chat with Wilcox about the allure of Savannah, building a band, and journey to create The Pale Horse.
Tell me a little about your musical formation in Savannah. Was your time at SCAD, among the Savannah music scene, and in the Lowcountry as a setting influential on your writing and musicianship?
The beginning story of Ancient Warfare was that of two best friends who attended SCAD and shared a passion for music. Azniv, who studied Sound Design and had recently released a solo record under the name Neva Geoffrey, was well-versed in performing with bands and writing music, yet had little experience behind a kit. She was interested in trying out a new instrument. I, on the other hand, grew up surrounded by music—tinkering with guitar and some bass—but had never really played with other musicians before. So there was this curiosity to start something completely fresh and new for both of us and it just sort of evolved into us playing as a two-piece band.
My time spent in Savannah (a little over 3 years) was a pivotal period both in my personal life and my musical endeavors. The haunting aesthetic played a huge part in my writing. I tend to think visually and that translated into the music. Even though Ancient Warfare was only in Savannah for a few months before moving to Lexington, to this day it still remains a huge influence on our sound. I often describe it as ‘southern gothic rock.’ Savannah has tons of history and layered emotions. I think our songs also share this in a way.
What was the transition to Kentucky like? What’s the scene like compared to Savannah? Has it influenced your writing?
This move came at a time in my life where change was definitely necessary and for personal reasons I needed to be back in my hometown. The Bluegrass Kentucky has always been home base for me, so it was a seamless transition. I had already been back-and-forth some to record what started out as a short EP with Duane Lundy at Shangri-La Productions. This spawned into what is now The Pale Horse after several sessions and transformations with the band.
There is a pretty diverse scene here in Lexington. You can get everything from a rootsy-Americana band to a more experimental rock group. Its location is also central and ideal for touring. During my time living in Savannah, there was a strong metal scene which I really grew to enjoy. Prior to living there, this was a genre I didnt know much about. The heavier elements of our live sound are probably a result of having been exposed to this. Savannah Stopover was only one year in at that point and I think the festival has had a significant impact on the music scene. Several national touring bands are coming through for this, and bands are now encouraged to add Savannah to their route. So I’m really excited to see what the music scene is like there now.
How did you meet the folks in your band? Is songwriting a very collaborative effort?
After graduating, Azniv moved to Los Angeles to pursue her sound design and music editing career and I moved back to Lexington to continue with Ancient Warfare. It was during this time that I approached Emily about playing drums. She had been involved with several projects and bands at this point including Chico Fellini, Jim James, and solo work, but she had spent little time behind the drum kit with a band (although she had majored in Music Performance for Percussion). She and I clicked right away and we remained a two-piece for a bit. Our sound developed simultaneously as we were recording The Pale Horse. About a year in we were approached by Rachael about playing violin with us. She added a whole new element to the raw two piece vibe we had going at that point. With her classically trained ear and unique style, the band really started to develop and settle into its skin.
With our songwriting, I will typically bring some skeleton of an idea to the table with guitar and vocals and we just kind of naturally build on that. Usually the arranging and re-arranging is a big part of the process for us, especially given the unconventional structure of our songs.
What was it like working with Duane Lundy? I understand the songs were “loosely established” when you approached him—was there a lot of fine tuning and development in the studio?
Duane and I have been friends for years now, which made for a pretty comfortable experience in the studio. This was my first time recording professionally, so I was a bit nervous going into it. He has a great way of pulling out the best in the artist. I would bring in some songs and we all just sort of approached them similarly to the way Ancient Warfare writes songs. The initial tracks had some amazing session musicians on board because I had yet to meet up with Emily and Rachael. Slowly, everything else was added in place. Duane has a similar process of working in an organic and visual way which was a perfect match for our sound and the direction The Pale Horse was going. The initial tracks were fine-tuned in the studio and as the band came together, we wrote and developed the remaining songs off of the record.
What’s next for Ancient Warfare?
Our album will be released Aug. 11 and we are hitting the road to promote and spread the good word as we speak!