Echosmith: The Cool Kids Graduate With a Few Growing Pains

BB19 2017 - DO NOT USE
Nate Hoffman
From left: Sydney, Graham and Noah Sierota of Echosmith photographed on Aug. 2, 2017 at Fixé Studio in Los Angeles.

"What is sumac?" asks Echosmith frontwoman Sydney Sierota, 20, scanning the diverse menu at Manuela, an eatery in Los Angeles’ Arts District. "A Middle Eastern spice," replies her brother Noah, the band’s 21-year-old bassist. "It has a tartness, but with earthy undertones." Noah can’t decide between the fried quail and the elk loin, so he orders both for the table.

Sydney and Noah are disarmingly mature: The latter recently celebrated turning the legal drinking age by marrying his childhood sweetheart and moving to the L.A. suburbs. Only Graham, the band’s drummer and youngest sibling, betrays his age (18) -- but just barely. "Do you have hot chocolate?" he politely asks the waiter, unfazed by the stifling August humidity.

The trio has neither the palate nor demeanor typical of its top 40 peers, a fact that somewhat contradicts the chorus of "Cool Kids," Echosmith’s 2014 breakout single: "I wish that I could be like the cool kids/’Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in." Three summers ago, the new wave nugget was inescapable on pop radio, climbing to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100; it was synched on MTV’s Awkward and sung by Taylor Swift when the superstar invited Echosmith onstage at a June 2015 show during her 1989 Tour.

With its new album, Inside a Dream (out Sept. 29), Echosmith will end the four year wait for a follow-up to the band’s 2013 debut, Talking Dreams. "It has been a beautiful, challenging, rough experience," says Noah. Last November, the act announced that 24-year-old Jamie Sierota, the group’s eldest brother and lead guitarist, had dropped out to stay home with his wife and baby.

"I was speechless," says Sydney, who recalls Jamie breaking the news on tour in late 2015. "In a personal way, it’s heartbreaking. In a business way, it’s tough. Who is Echosmith without Jamie?" But there are no hard feelings. "It has been a positive thing for me and the rest of the band," says Jamie. "We still have a great relationship as a family."

Echosmith has been a family affair since the Sierota brood started playing music together in Southern California 11 years ago. In their earliest incarnation, the private-school students performed at farmer’s markets as The Water Bottles, with their father-manager, Jeffery David, presiding over their career. David also co-wrote "Cool Kids," has worked with Zedd and Goo Goo Dolls, has over 350 commercial synchs and spent 15 years as a music director and worship leader at a Christian church in Los Angeles.

"They want to write songs that can win at radio," says David, who introduced his children to The Smiths and Talking Heads when they were kids, and later brought them into jam sessions with artists like Seal. "I’m trying to keep the vision of a great act that can tour forever."

At this point, none of the Sierota children seem eager to work with anyone other than family (their mother, Linda, also serves as tour manager). Over churros and blueberry meringue, Sydney describes being produced by her dad as "life changing." Noah concurs: "We can be so honest with each other -- it’s scary to tell someone who had 29 hit songs, 'We didn’t really like that.'"

That said, Echosmith made an exception and recruited Ryan Tedder to help finish "Crazy Love," a dance track that highlights Inside a Dream. The group tweaked the song with Tedder’s help after sending Warner Bros. some demos last summer that it had cut in the backyard studio of the family’s home in the Valley. The label’s response was not enthusiastic. "They weren’t sure if they had the singles, or if the sound was right," recalls Sydney. "We were caught by surprise."

The group struggled to forge ahead as a trio and recapture the magic of its signature hit. "'Cool Kids' was one of the last songs we wrote for the first record," says Noah. "We wanted to continue that [sound], but Jamie was a big piece of the equation." Instead, the bandmembers doubled down on the synth driven moments of their first album. For Noah, the set’s post-Jamie breakthrough came on lead single "Goodbye," which features a finger-picked acoustic intro and a samba-esque chorus.

"I don’t mean this in a lame way, but it has a little bit of swag to it," he says. "It’s like how Echosmith would interpret a Drake song." Other tracks, like "Get Into My Car" and "Lessons From a Love Song," proudly brandish their '80s influence.

The Sierotas’ parents will join them for their fall headlining tour, which begins Oct. 4, and although they avoid politics -- the band once played a Hillary Clinton rally without realizing it until later -- they hope to spread positivity on the road during an admittedly contentious period in the United States. The group does not make religious music, but David’s influence as a church leader comes across when the members discuss the ultimate goal of Echosmith.

"We believe that we’re on this earth to help make a difference," says Sydney. "Music is just a vehicle, but our purpose is to bring hope."

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of Billboard.