We’re not really introducing Eyelids OR (or just Eyelids in their homeland) as we have been going on about the band for some time.
We reviewed their debut album 854 back in 2014, and we’ve been raving about their subsequent single releases ever since.
However the band have just announced their first ever UK dates, supporting Drive-By Truckers, so it seemed to be the perfect time to catch up with the band’s songwriters, Chris Slusarenko and John Moen, to find out a bit more about the band.
You have been playing together for years. How did you meet?
JOHN: Chris and I met as young guys playing music in Portland. I moved to town in 1986 just after graduating from high school. Our bands played together here and there, but I especially remember being introduced by the cartoonist, Joe Sacco at a cafe. We were both skinnier then. I was bleaching my hair to stand out, and Chris wore a beret. I think we were both carrying satchels full of poetry.
Why Eyelids? (and how do you come up with band names? How do you top Death Midget?)
CHRIS: Well Death Midget was born out of innocence and teenage years. Plus it was the era of Butthole Surfers, Killdozer… So it fit our mess. To tell you the truth I’ve rarely got to name a band I’ve been in and I always thought Guided By Voices was one of the greatest band names of all time so it was special to be part of that. But names are tough… Eyelids (with an Or attached for our home state of Oregon—blessed on us via Tim Burgess of The Charlatans UK) just seemed to sound like our music a bit. A bit hazy, a bit eye-opening… It so weird when I stop to think about the word “eyelids” it just starts to fold in on itself… Once you’re the name you rarely stop to think of what it means anymore… it just becomes you.
You’ve both been in the background in some great bands, How do you feel about being the front-men?
JOHN: I think it’s terrifying, but it’s also kind of hard to resist. It seems there’s a fine line between “rocking-out” and looking like you’re about to die. Chris does most of the talking, thank goodness.
CHRIS: I can’t help the banter!!! Singing with Jonathan and John is easy–they come up with great ideas and I’m always surprised to hear harmonies. All my earlier bands never had them!!! Argh…so nice to have finally! And since John and myself both sing and write the songs it’s a nice back and forth between us live as well. I do like to rock out and look like I’m going to die so I’ll take that position for the band…everyone else can look cool. I’ll sweat it out…!
I first came across you from your work with Robert Pollard in Boston Spaceships. He’s a ten album a year kind of guy. How do you keep up? (Both in the recording and the drinking)
CHRIS: Well you just gladly jump in. Part of Bob’s work ethic definitely had an effect on John and myself and was the reason that we both realized we worked really well together. Since Bob would send us a cassette of him singing and playing guitar John and myself had to quickly help create the album he wanted (knowing full well there was another EP or LP or double LP breathing down your neck right behind it). I really wanted to go back to way early GBV worked. Not letting the “band” know the song very well and just get inspired takes before over thinking it. That has kind of flowed over into Eyelids where often the first ideas we play over someone else’s song tend to be the ones we use. Just letting your mind and fingers drift… none of us are what you’d call smoking guitar players but we do love our riffs and hooks. As many as we can pile on we will. And in terms of releases with the upcoming RSD 7” we’re doing with Gary of the Cribs singing lead and the full length in May that will be 5 7”s, a 12” Ep, and 2 full lengths in under 3 years… not too shabby. And we have 4 songs already finished for our next EP as well.
854 was one of our favourite albums of 2015 (and 2016 when it came out in the UK). How do you follow that on your second album?
CHRIS: This is actually the only second album I’ve ever made that I’ve been a principal songwriter in besides The Takeovers albums I did with Bob (Chris performed and wrote all the music, Robert Pollard sang and wrote lyrics). So it’s kind of abstract to think about what a 2nd album means for us. The first album was made with John, Jonathan and myself as a recording project/dare. But after we put a full band together to play the songs live a different character came into it as well. The EP we did after 854 reflects that pretty well. It rocks a little more but still has that weepy quality that I like. The new album was the first one where all 5 of us were there from the beginning and it was pretty exciting to hear that. For example I was playing a new song to everyone called “Moony”. It’s kind of a pretty looping type feel. But then John and Jonathan started adding this cool Television type interplay and Paulie and Jim were playing this XTC Black Sea area drumbeat and I was so happy. My simple little phrase all the sudden had an unexpected life pumped into it.
Peter Buck is producing for you, how did you come to work with him?
JOHN: Peter moved to Portland several years ago, and he is very generous with his time and talents. We are connected through Scott McCaughey who played in REM, and was instrumental in helping my first recording/touring band, Dharma Bums. Scott produced that bands first record and encouraged us in many ways. Peter has played guitar on a Decemberists record, as well, and he would come into Chris’s video store fairly often, where they got to know one another. Also, Chris was pretty heavy into the REM fan club in the old days. I believe he and Peter corresponded. All that to say, we are huge fans and we had to ask him to produce!
CHRIS: Yeah I wrote to R.E.M. right before Murmur was released and Peter was kind enough to write back. We wrote back and forth about 3 years after that. They’d send me reject photos, weird old posters, chronic town t-shirts that were bootlegs. Very generous. He told me they always wrote to anyone where the hadn’t played yet figuring someone in NY or Chicago would find their way. But at the time they were thinking “what the hell is Portland?” Then we re-connected as adults and it’s been a great friendship. And in terms of producing you really want to do well when he’s in the room! No waste ya know!!! He’s got great ideas and he’s been great to work with.
You also have a Record Store Day release with Gary Jarman of The Cribs on vocals, how did you come to pick him for the track?
CHRIS: I’d written some music for Robert Pollard to sing over called The Carbon Whales. It was a fake UK Post-Punk band—like a lost EP that he released. Gary heard it and said it was so convincing and true to the spirit of the original era—he loved it. So when we wanted to do another Record Store Day 7” I wanted to do something that would stand alone. So many RSD releases these days are live tracks or reissues. I wanted something that was made specifically for this event. So we thought it would be cool to have a Gary and his intense Wakefield accent sing lead on both tracks. He’s got such an amazing voice and delivery. It was perfect. I wrote the songs as I would have when I was 17. Kind of innocent but full of confidence. The lyrics I banged out really quick too. Then we all just played on it and had Gary come in and it became a real thing. The 7” is called Eyelids Meet Gary Jarman.
Your dates with Drive-By Truckers are your first gigs in the UK. What should we expect from an Eyelids live show?
JOHN: Jet lagged American imperialists, of course! Ha. We are a rock band trying to play pretty… Sounds terrible, right? I really don’t know… I’m sure we will be a bit giddy to be playing with the Truckers(amazing!) in such killer venues. As a band, I think we are good at enjoying the moment together, and that energy( along with the songs that we are quite proud of) translates as a good time to those watching and listening.
CHRIS: I never get tired of playing out and to finally get to play these songs overseas will be incredible. Live I think we’re pretty kick ass so hopefully people will be ready for the songs to be amped up a bit. Pretty and loud. Also I’m a total anglophile in terms of music, film, books… For instance we’re doing an in-store at Rough Trade Records and to me as someone all the way over here on the West Coast of the U.S. it still makes me flutter my eyelids… can’t help it…
If you had to sell Eyelids to someone who had never heard you play before, how would you describe the band?
JOHN: I often dream of not being a salesperson… but, if cornered, I would say that we are a melodic rock band that wouldn’t mind being thought of as an (inclusive) art project. We are strong enough that your weird uncle won’t think we suck, but are soft enough to remind you of that rare house cat that will allow you to stroke its belly. There you go.
CHRIS: What he said.
Chris and John were interviewed by Dorian Rogers
Tickets for the band’s shows with Drive-By Truckers are available here.