Echelon the Seeker’s eponymous EP (stylized as ɛʃəlan ðə sikər) is one of the most fully realized projects to come out of D.C. this year. A 10-track concept album that explores the relationship between information and the search for purpose, Echelon shuffles between neo-soul, hip hop and arena rock to create an intoxicating blend of style. A closer listen also reveals an intriguing ’80s pop rock sensibility.
“That’s no accident,” says Jason Sellers, the musician behind Echelon the Seeker. “That’s because I was watching a lot of ‘80s films when I was growing up in the house.” He laughs at that. “A lot of funk music in the house. It’s really just a culmination of my childhood and my early adult life. Failed relationships, successful moments, ‘80s films. It’s all mashed up into one big ball of music and energy.”
Born in Gaithersburg and raised in Frederick, Sellers left Maryland to study music composition at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. His EP began to slowly come into shape as he performed at weddings, churches and funerals to fund the production of the project.
When he moved back to the area, Sellers quickly felt at home again, meeting other established local acts like April + VISTA and Ciscero, and contributing to GoldLink‘s At What Cost. He also released his solo debut in January with Maryland label QODESH.
Still, Sellers credits much of his project to his experience in the South.
“If you ever get a chance to go down to Huntsville, Alabama, you should go because in that area you can find classical, jazz and soul–like it’s all in one,” says Sellers. “Anytime I’m sitting down to create music, I’m always thinking about trying to marry genres. Marrying negro spiritual choral music with, like, trap sounds, and then making really tangible melodic lines on that,” he says.
Sellers is serious–the genres are married. Moments like the frenetic, glossy guitar solo on “Vesuvius” feel unexpected, like falling into a freezing pool when the track fades into the pitch-altered, distinctly modern soul-hop of “Lord Ajima.” The retro-future pairing is nothing short of stunning.
The influence of choral music is also vivid on Sellers, both in the dense layers of instrumentation and in the vocal harmonies. The vocal harmonies on “Future,” a standout track that mixes a guitar lick that could’ve come from Miami Vice with Sellers’ sultry R&B-style vocals, are as rich as those produced by the prismizer popularized by Chance the Rapper. Sellers, like Chance, credits church music.
“They’re doing that on any given weekend [in black churches],” says Sellers. “Most musicians, especially black musicians, come out of church first. It sets a hard underpinning–a harmonic underpinning for the ear.”
Sellers is planning on releasing a few singles before 2017 ends, but on a higher level, he is interested in telling the story of Lord Ajima, the central villain of Echelon. It certainly would be harmonic to close the circle with a sister EP.