Iza Mortag Freund and James Brook came to know and love each other basically because of an essential piece of missing furniture. The Danish dynamite and the classically cool Brit burst onto the punk scene in Aahrus, Denmark by creating the music they wished they were hearing. Their tools are simple — Iza’s remarkable rock ‘n’ roll voice and James’s instinct for instruments. With over-the-top theatrical outfits, including a collection of over 100 hats, their stage presence is electrifying. Their punchy sound is born out of irresistibly raucous vocals, dance inducing guitar riffs, and pulsing drum-machine beats. The Echo Vamper isn’t music for the timid.
A conversation about their churning childhood, the ego on the stage and rockstar attitude.
A conversation about their churning childhood, the ego on the stage and rockstar attitude.
How did you guys meet?
Iza: We met four years ago, and it went from not knowing each other to making music and basically being together from the second time we met.
James: You told me you had a sofa, but you didn’t.
I: James didn’t have a place to stay. It was somehow sweet, but I should have known what was going to happen. He asked if I sung and then we started talking about music — we played music and hardly spoke because we were very attracted to each other. We became very clumsy and juvenile. In the morning we went out for breakfast and after that we were together. Constantly.
What the first song you released?
I: It was two years ago. We wrote a little song in three hours — bluesy, sleazy, and what became the basis for our first release, “Lover.”
When did you decide that you were really a band?
J: We put two songs on the Internet. They had 2000 visitors a day. Then a guy called us and asked if we wanted to DJ at a concert where the German band Bonaparte was playing. Of course we said yes. He heard our music afterwards and called us back saying he wanted us to play, not DJ. We wrote six songs in one and a half weeks.
Is there an addiction to being on stage?
I: Definitely. It is so empowering. When I walk on stage it’s like, “This is my space on earth; from here I can do anything.” What happens from then on is really up to chance but you feel in some way that you can rely on it, that you can just be completely free.
Did you both create new personas — The Echo Vamper version of yourselves?
I: A lot of people look at us and think we’ve created characters. It’s not like that. It’s us, just channeled through the music.
There is this one quote from trumpeter Charlie Parker: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” I guess it’s like this for all creative jobs.
I: Totally, I agree. And that’s the thing about being addicted to it. There are a lot of situations when you start thinking, “Fucking hell, is it really worth it?”
Is it because you are so in love with the music and simply don’t care if somebody doesn’t get it?
J: We don’t need people to get it.
But you need an audience, don’t you?
J: That’s the interesting thing. We make the music we missed hearing. That’s our main goal — making music that makes us happy. We didn’t plan to take any of this out in front of people. But when we did, people responded very well. We instantly had an audience without looking for one.
I: I think that’s the only reason we are as good as we are. It’s an honest passion and people are responding to it, because it has content. We never forget to focus on being professional, because we know — the better the sound, the better the performance.
Let’s look forward five years from now. You are super successful. Could you see yourselves getting an attitude, saying things like, “I need white towels, flowers in the backstage area, and just bagels for catering, otherwise I won’t show up?”
J: We spend half our time writing songs about people like that. If there is one thing that disgusts us, it’s exactly this. We take great pleasure in the everyday. We don’t like other people doing things for us. It is easy to let even a small amount of success go to your head. We know so much about music history and the thing that killed a lot of artists and bands we admire was their big egos. They get a fancy life and suddenly they have nothing to write about that connects to the lives of average people. It’s not that we have no egos; we have big egos but we are aware of the importance of balance.
I think it can happen naturally. The bigger you get, the bigger the studio, the better the equipment, and so on.
J: I’ve been surrounded by professional instruments and recording equipment. Even after all that, I know that the best way to keep the sound is you want is to use as little equipment as possible.
I: We’ve been offered the chance to play in a big studio, and our manager wanted to kill us several times because we said no to big opportunities. But it didn’t feel right.
Can you give an example?
J: We turned down the chance to work with Denmark’s biggest producer just because we didn’t like the song. Everybody thought we were completely crazy. We missed out
on a massive amount of media exposure and a lot of money.
Where does this consciousness come from?
I: From a young age we both experienced hard lives. And the connection between us was knowing the only way we can make it is by doing The Echo Vamper by ourselves.
How were your lives hard?
I: We’ve both experience hardship and loss. My father ended his life when I was very young. Then life was a constant struggle with personal demons. You get to know yourself very well. Life is hard work, love is hard work.
J: I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. My father was quite violent. I ran away from home when I was 17 and went to London. I haven’t seen my family for 11 years now, and haven’t spoken to them either.
Was it because of the religion or because of the violence?
J: Both. I was always obsessed with music. That was a big problem for my father. I wasn’t allowed to have any instruments.
Is it part of the religion?
J: Yes, especially rock music. When I was seven years old there was a television show in Britain where they would show old music videos. I saw The Who playing and at the end of the video they smashed all their instruments. I thought — that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. My father saw that it had a strong effect on me, and he turned the TV off and said it was “drug music”. That was when I started thinking, “I want to take drugs. Because that is what I want to do with my life.” Music, not drugs. No surprise my parents isolated me, they took me out of school for six years.
Is that legal in Britain?
J: No, but the community hides it. They have a strong network.
I: I haven’t had the same things to fight against. My family was very open, even after the tragedy. But in both of our lives our saving grace has been that we had a fantasy. Although we are living it now we didn’t really change.
Do you think you will be able to make peace with your parents?
J: This year will be the first time for 11 years that I’m back in Britain. I will see my sister for the first time since I left. I’ve settled with the fact that I will never make peace with my father. He had an extremely bad childhood as well, but he didn’t work with it so he ended up repeating all of the mistakes his father made. I knew even as a child that I would leave and never see my parents again.
Is ego a bad thing, something you have to fear as you become more successful?
J: It all depends how you use it. We all have demons inside and we all have angels. We have parts in us that have, not to be kept down, but respected and balanced.
I: My mother once said to me, “My greatest task in being your parent is to learn that you also live in the real world.” This provoked me for many years. That was how my childhood was. I peed in my pants because I was so preoccupied with what I was doing that I didn’t remember to go to the bathroom. Not that that’s a dark side of the ego but it is being so enraptured in a certain part of the world that it makes you lose your ground.
For some people it might be hard to accept. There is a couple, in love, living their dream, being successful and making beautiful music. Have you experienced any jealousy?
I: We have to juggle being lovers, working colleagues, creative partners, and best friends. There are teenage girls contacting James daily because they don’t believe in the boyfriend/girlfriend thing. Or they don’t care. In the press I am seen as the band, because I’m the lead singer. We have to find balance in these things — it’s just special, because we do it together. I couldn’t do it alone. Of course there are some things that are hard to hear. All of the rumors that we are not a couple, we don’t make the music by ourselves, that we’re both gay, that it’s all just personas and so on.
J: A lot of the attention you get from the public can go to your head. Or tear you apart. If you allow yourself to be overwhelmed with all this you will wake up somewhere in a year and not even know how you got there.
TALENT: IZA MORTAG FREUND, JAMES BROOKS AS THE ECHO VAMPER
Fashion: Kathi Kauder
Hair & Make-Up: Manuela Kopp
PHOTO Assistant: MATTHIAS WEINGÄRTNER
STYLING Assistant: Emily Gessner
Shot at delight studios berlin