[2 June 2014]
Over 25 years after the song’s release, the band and the video’s director reflect back on a song full of promise, some of which was short-term and some which turned out to be long-term.
It’s a big sounding, dynamic song. A muscular power pop ode full of hooks and jangle. A highlight of an already strong album. The accompanying video for the Reivers’ 1987 single “In Your Eyes” captures that same essence, that hyperkinetic energy, that dizzying rush of youth and infatuation. The song found the little-known band poised for a possible national breakthrough. Over 25 years later, the band and the video’s director reflect back on the song and video, a significant part of their lives and careers.
At the time the song was released, the music scene was experiencing a groundswell of what were called “college rock”, or sometimes “jangle pop”, bands. The success of early progenitors R.E.M. and the Bangles helped pave the way for groups like 10,000 Maniacs, Let’s Active, Guadalcanal Diary and more distantly related groups like the Replacements. In Austin, Texas, the movement earned the sobriquet “New Sincerity” and, along with the True Believers and the Wild Seeds, its main purveyors were the Reivers.
After an EP and a full-length on indie DB Records, plus a name change from Zeitgeist, the band found themselves on big league label Capitol. Capitol was also the home of heavy hitters the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Crowded House, Queensryche, Duran Duran, and Heart, to name a few. Hence, label and fan expectations, not to mention band hopes, were high. Don Dixon, who had co-produced R.E.M.’s first two albums, was brought in to produce Saturday, the first album for their new label. It was to be a collection of new tracks, as well as tracks the band had been fine tuning for some time, including “In Your Eyes”.
“I noticed that song well before ‘87”, No Depression music magazine co-founder and Austin-American Statesman music writer Peter Blackstock remembers. “They’d started playing it at live shows in ‘86; it was pretty clearly a crowd favorite and a likely single from the upcoming album. It’s also the only Reivers song I recall that had hand-signals to go with it.
Not sure how that started, but at some point all of the hardcore fans in the crowd at their shows would do this goofy little thing when the chorus came around: As Kim & Cindy sang, “And I see myself in your eyes,” audience members would point first to their own eyes (“see”), then to themselves (“myself”) and then to the band onstage (“in YOUR eyes”). About as corny as the “YMCA” hand-signals, but we had fun with it.”
Rob Thomas, creator of the TV series and movie Veronica Mars, bought Saturday when it came out. “I adore the song ‘In Your Eyes’ and I understand why they chose it as their single. It’s the best chorus, best hook on the album”, he says.
Reivers leader John Croslin co-wrote the song with bandmate Kim Longacre, a practice they didn’t do often but when they did the results were usually on the money. Croslin says today, “I love playing that song, it’s one of my faves. I like the lyric a lot—the chorus is one of those great mysterious Kim-phrases that were so much fun to write songs around.”
It was indeed a catchy, memorable and easy-to-identify-with track, but a closer listen revealed an impressionistic, and downright confusing storyline. Lines like “I can’t hear you spin above my record player” could leave you wondering if you were hearing things right. Longacre, who wrote the lyrics and is the song’s lead vocalist, explains:
“I wrote it about a weird situation I had been in. A good friend of mine decided he was in love with me. I felt robbed of my friend. It was as if all this time he’d not been connecting with me at all. I wrote those lyrics from his perspective: he sees himself, his whole fantasy, in her and he likes that, not her… He can’t hear her spin above the record player, meaning he doesn’t hear her—he’s caught up in his own romantic creation. It’s a twisted song that no one ever seemed to ‘get.’ Maybe it’s a metta joke! Everyone identifies with the protagonist… the lyrics are my abject failure or ultimate genius!” she laughs, concluding, “In some ways, it doesn’t matter what ‘I’ think they mean. That’s all art is there for, interpretation, right? “
As the first single from their promising new signing, Capitol gave the song a big push, with a 7” picture sleeve as well as a 12” single release. All that was left was the all-important video to attach to the song to get it on MTV, considered an essential outlet at the time.
Enter Kevin Kerslake, a young video director in California who would soon be helming videos for Nirvana, R.E.M., and The Rolling Stones, as well as commercials and documentaries. Kerslake was still early in his career, and had recently directed Sonic Youth’s dream-like “Shadow of a Doubt”.
“I was a huge fan of Zeitgeist and when I heard that they had been signed by Capitol and then had changed their name to the Reivers I sought them out through the video commissioner at Capitol, Cynthia Biederman. I think they had been signed so recently that even in the video department they hadn’t really heard of them yet. Obviously everybody in the A&R department had, but it hadn’t really travelled through the halls, so I kept on her in terms of ‘when it pops up on your radar, when it’s time to do a video, you’ve gotta put us together.’ She was kind enough to keep her word and eventually I just jumped on a plane to Austin. I was just an adoring fan that happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
He met up with the band on a cold, bleak winter day. Croslin remembers “We went to [a bar called] Deep Eddy Cabaret to discuss the video’s concept. We got some beer drinking done but no video ideas came. I expressed my concern about this and I remember Kevin saying ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.’
Despite the backing of a large record label, the budget was still tight. Filming was in a dusty, unheated warehouse between 2nd and 4th streets in the city – an area now remodeled as a shopping and entertainment district. There were no additional actors, and it’s a member of the small crew that we see looking in the window at the beginning of the video.
Despite the less than comfortable conditions (“I remember it being about as cold as fuck!”, says bassist Cindy Toth), Kerslake and the band got along well, with the director being taken with Austin and the down-to-earth attitude of the Reivers. “That may have been the first time I was in Austin. Austin’s such a great town – it’s such a music town. That was something that was really cool for me. You know, in L.A. and New York – which is where most of my experience was – you had bands that were very conscious about business and about image and all those things.
I think one thing that was really striking about working with the Reivers was that they were blue-blood musicians. They knew their history, and I feel there’s a completely different roots system than with the bands that came about in L.A. Not to say that one’s better than the other. It’s just to see them live music in a different way, which was much more about the music than it was about the career, it just felt like they were the real deal. There was no pretense or anything like that.”
In this era of Motley Crue and Poison, Kerslake recalls that record labels were offering him bands of that ilk, “But really I was just in the business to work with the bands that I liked. I didn’t have any ambition about big pop videos or glam videos or anything like that. It was all sort of on the same level that the Reivers made music, and at that point it was just rewarding to meet people that didn’t have excessively large hair…”
The result of their collaboration was a black and white video, a filming choice which reflected Kerslake’s perception of the group as an unadorned, straight-ahead rock band. The Reivers look a little dated now in their 80’s clothes, but their energy and enthusiasm remains the primary focal point. The most striking aspect was the hyperkinetic motion of the scenes, with lots of spinning camera shots (perhaps a tie-in to the “spin above my record player” line?).
“It’s funny, going back to it now”, says Kerslake. “It feels like the cut is too fast. That might have just been a flaw of youth in a way. I was maybe a little too reckless, you know, because in time I think I enjoyed, on camera, just watching something without having to get in the way of it and I think that maybe because I was so young I just felt like I always had to do something. I think that’s not necessarily the case when you’re a filmmaker – you can just sit back and enjoy just watching somebody. If I cut that now I probably would have languished a bit on everybody, but of course a lot of things would have changed. We might have used a different location, different lighting, different story if there was a story.”
“I think that the music drives that video. Whenever I see music videos, for me it’s always about the music and hoping that the video compliments that. That was such an amazing era for music and I think that the Reivers were really a cut above. In my mind to be a cut above then meant that you had some stuff goin’ on and for me, that’s my greatest memory I think – just the fact that I was able to meet them and work with them. I’m fond of the video, but I’m fonder of the music than I am of my own work. That’s typically how it is.”
Though it sold respectably, in the end, the song and the video didn’t break the band through on the scale hoped for. The face of rock was changing, with Guns N’ Roses’ mega-selling Appetite for Destruction dominating the radio that summer and the first sounds of grunge creeping across the land. It may have also been a factor of getting lost on a big corporate label. “I thought it seemed like an awful lot of money and effort spent”, says Longacre.
“Well, I think we all were pretty dubious as to cost/benefit of making a video. Kevin was very nice and talented - it wasn’t like we weren’t in good hands - it was more like no one really knew how to scaffold a career for an indie-band. We, or maybe I, assumed that the record company knew, so that’s why we did the video. It’s the same thing now with social media positions in some companies. People think they have to have this or they’ll be left behind…”
“In Your Eyes”, both as a song and a music video still stands as a snapshot of the best of a certain time and style of music. That’s enough to ensure its place in rock history. Sometimes the true worth of a song, however, is in its staying power, in its long-term life. “In Your Eyes” was and is a song that meant something to a large group of people – fans as well as the people involved in its creation. That longevity, in the end, is more important than having a fleeting hit on the charts which is promptly forgotten.
After parting ways in 1991, the Reivers reunited in 2008 for a show which sold out in one day. Due to that high demand, a second reunion show was added and they’ve been performing semi-regularly ever since, with an album of new material, called Second Story, debuting last year.
“In Your Eyes” is still a staple of their live sets, and if you listen closely you can still see yourself in the eyes of the song, feel the spindizzy intoxication of the chiming, onrushing guitar and Longacre’s soaring vocals. “It could be the lights, you could call it poetry…”
Rob Caldwell is a writer and librarian living near Toronto. He has written for various online publications, including The Allmusic Guide and No Depression music magazine, and has a music blog called Music To Eat.