It’s sad to say that in the realm of power pop, the word underrated comes to mind with far too many acts. It’s hard to pinpoint the reason, but the genre has always seemed to fall below the radar of the mainstream. Of course, there are exceptions like Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello, XTC, and R.E.M., but then there are acts like Big Star, Badfinger, and Redd Kross who have always been seen as critical darlings but never quite caught on despite having loyal followings.
Featuring an all-star cast of musicians who currently or formerly played with The Decemberists, Guided by Voices, Elliott Smith, Quasi, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Portland, Oregon’s Eyelids have spent a handful of years crafting the kind of thoughtful and rocking power pop that pulls in the critics but, perhaps unfairly, eludes the mainstream. For those in the know, the band’s blend of jangly guitars and huge solos, intellectually-charged yet catchy-as-hell lyrics, and tight chemistry as musicians has propelled them into the realm of musical greatness.
Now, with a cult following eagerly awaiting, Eyelids are gearing up to release their new album The Accidental Falls on Valentine’s Day. Produced by fellow Portlander and R.E.M. member Peter Buck, the album finds the band collaborating with poet Larry Beckett (who worked with Tim Buckley), who wrote new lyrics specifically for them. With another writer at the helm, the band has taken on the role of crafting perfect morsels of power pop, meticulously working to balance soft and dreamy with loud and rocking. Every song on The Album Falls grabs you, inducing fist pumping exuberance one song only to have you swaying slowly along the next. Ultimately, it’s the kind of rock album that rarely gets made these days, and as the band gears up for its release we talked with co-frontman John Moen, who splits his time between Eyelids and The Decemberists.
You collaborated with Larry Beckett on this album. How did this whole thing come about and was there a point when you realized you had chemistry?
Chris [Slusarenko] and Larry’s kids went to the same school, and the two of them became acquainted. I think they chatted at some function or other and Larry looked us up. He said we were his cup of tea and offered that we should come by and look at his lyric book. We were intrigued but didn’t want to over-commit, thinking that at best, we’d be able to make a single together. Once we met with Larry, both Chris and I got pretty inspired and started throwing song ideas at him as well as poring through the pages of his already finished lyrics. The chemistry was brewing at this point, and I remember having a day at home where I was quite sick with a flu, and writing in a very excited and maniacal way, three songs in a row from his older material. We were also offered the Tim Buckley/Larry composition, “Found at the Scene of a Rendezvous That Failed”, and thought at the time that we would not attempt to do the song. We gathered courage as we went, working on the other material, and eventually decided that we should give it a try.
I read that Larry wrote new lyrics and also included words from the past four decades. Can you elaborate on how this worked out and the process of incorporating Larry’s words into the Eyelids sound?
This whole thing came about because Larry loved our sound, and we were intrigued by his history and experience. He is a musician himself, listens very deeply and knows what he likes. The first thing I did with Larry was send him the music for what would become “Insomnia” on the album. Although it wasn’t intentionally a test of any kind, I think that starting in this manner, and having him be so ready to go, showed me that the project was not just going to be some kind of nostalgia trip about the 60’s, etc. I know that we were concerned that the collaboration feel to us like an authentic next step for Eyelids, not just a nifty trip into the past. I was looking for things in his lyric book that hadn’t already been recorded by other artists, and for things that spoke to me in a personal way. There was plenty of material that fit these qualifications. It was a truly amazing opportunity!
Is there a theme that ties all of these songs together?
There isn’t a particular theme, but Larry does have a style, and certain elements reoccur. Water is a big one; he certainly appears to have a bit of a Mermaid obsession. Ha! I think he is often speaking in a poetic and originally “Larry” kind of way about all of our shared experience. It’s stated personally but has the capability to resonate with most people if they let it. Basically, he is really, really good at writing lyrics.
Every member of the band has such a unique and long musical history. What is the process like for putting together songs in the studio?
First, Chris and I work apart to get our share of the tunes roughed into shape. (We each write approximately half the material for any given project.) Second, we get together with our amazing guitar player, singer and (often) co-producer, Jonathan [Drews], to see which songs are feeling complete and what might need some more work; he is a secret weapon, and a keen editor. Lastly, everything gets arranged by the group, and everyone has a chance to influence the direction that the song ends up taking. Jim [Talstra] has a particularly great sense of melody as a bassist, and Paulie [Pulvirenti] must only be heard once to make it onto anyone’s favorite drummer list. They always add great moments to anything we bring them.
You’ve worked with Peter Buck before and he produced this record. What does he bring to the table creatively for you all?
Peter brings it all! We find ourselves working with one of our greatest musical influences, and one of rock and roll’s truly original guitarists. He is a fan of music and, like Larry, is a great listener. He has a vast knowledge of musical history and recording technique. Seeing Peter across the glass from us when we’re in the studio does a lot for our sense of self worth(something that can be fragile for “artists”).
If there is one easy descriptor to apply to Eyelids and the new album, it is probably power pop. Who are some of the band’s shared power pop favorites, and specifically were there any albums or artists you were listening to going into the album production?
When we first started, we were trying to invoke bands like Rain Parade, and maybe some New Zealand bands like Straight Jacket Fits. It’s hard to escape R.E.M. because they mean so much to us, but there wasn’t any conscious attempt to sound like anything specific on this album. We are always going to be the sum of our inspirations over the years, but hopefully we aren’t wearing them too loudly on our sleeve.
One of the hallmarks of the Eyelid sound is big, shimmering guitar hooks. Does the guitar come before anything else?
Maybe we are showing our age too much, but the guitar will most likely always come first. I think we get a lot of mileage out of having three guitarists that are willing to do the small things; three guitarists who can see that the end result is always better with a little self-editing. You have to be on the lookout for the guy next to you who may have the best hook for the tune. Everyone gets their chance to shine. It’s one of my favorite parts about being an Eyelid.
The songs on the album seem to go from soaring, cathartic rock to more subdued. Was it a goal from the start to balance brighter material and heavier, darker songs?
There wasn’t any grand plan in the beginning as far as tone – the collaboration with Larry was the “theme” until the songs started to come together. The album was taken one song at a time with an emphasis on making each one personal and intentional. The overall trajectory started to show itself as we went. (For instance, we hadn’t planned it, but Chris added the song “Monterey” nearer the end of the recording time when we felt it would pull things together and give the record what it needed to feel complete.) I think we approach things in a fairly sculptural manner, for lack of a better word.
The Accidental Falls is out on February 14th. For tour dates and more info visit musicofeyelids.com.