Smarter Than You Think: An Interview with Eisley

Deep Space EP
Equal Vision

It’s 6:33 PM Eastern Standard Time in Covington, KY, a small town just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and the girls from Eisley are just walking into the room. We were scheduled to meet up at 6:30, but judging from their bountiful apologies, you’d think that they were running an hour late. Truth be told, most band interviews beginning 15 minutes late are considered ahead of schedule, but this showing of remorse paints the perfect picture of the band’s character. They’re kind, sweet, considerate, and most of all, genuine people.

Eisley’s three DuPree sisters, Chauntelle (guitar), Sherri (vocals, guitar), and Stacy (vocals, keyboard), are just returning from a nearby Walgreens where they hit a goldmine of one-dollar t-shirts. Along with their brother Weston (drums) and cousin Garron (bass), the band is on the back half of their current US tour and the t-shirts are a welcome sight as their wardrobes have begun to wear a little thin. The band is just into town from their previous night’s show in Detroit and will be heading to Nashville later in the night. Despite the wild schedule, the band has been enjoying themselves even in the midst of fatigue.

“It’s been a little tiring,” says Sherri. “The routing on this tour has been kind of wacky for some reason, so we’ve just been all over the place and nothing has really made sense as far as how we’ve been traveling, so there hasn’t been a lot of sleep. But the shows have been really fun!”

Last year at this time, the band was wrapping up some SXSW performances in celebration of their new full-length album The Valley. Although “celebration” may sound like a strange word to use in description of the album itself, it certainly describes the feeling of landing on the other side of such unfortunate circumstances. The Valley, one of last year’s hidden gems, paints a portrait of pain and confusion in the aftermath of divorce, a subject very personal to Sherri. The album’s content and feel stand in stark contrast to the band’s previous, more surreal, dream-like works, but this story required a much more blatant and forthcoming approach. In the end, releasing and performing The Valley served to be much more therapeutic than painful for the band, Sherri in particular.

“I think we’re pretty open, at least I am. I mean, my songs are always just ‘blech,'” Sherri’s hand motions and face depict a cathartic purging of ideas and emotion. “But that’s just me, that’s what you’re getting. I think the more personal a song is, the more people relate to it, so I think that’s something to shoot for. You have to be vulnerable, you know? That way people can connect with it.”

Having been recorded a few years prior to its release, The Valley and the events surrounding it had sufficient time to settle, giving everyone in the band the ability to process that time period and move forward. As the girls reflect on the album, they almost seem surprised at how far they’ve come since that difficult stage. “I feel like we’ve gone through so many changes as people since we recorded that record,” says Stacy. “I have no clue what’s going to come next because I just can’t imagine writing those songs now. I mean, even the style of them. I’m proud of it, but it was something very different for us, for sure.”

In addition to their personal trials during this time, the band also found itself stranded on a label (Warner Bros.) that refused to release the album that it had poured its heart and soul into creating. After two years of being in limbo, playing limited shows, and unable to release new material, Eisley and Warner Bros. parted ways at the beginning of 2010. Unfortunately, with their newfound freedom came an abundance of hard work to make up for time lost.

“It was nice to have a little bit of a break,” says Chauntelle. “But it also felt like it did us some damage in a way because people started to forget about us because we hadn’t been out in so long. We weren’t getting to do anything or move forward really.”

In the end, Sherri concludes that their time on a major label, albeit frustrating, also taught the band some valuable lessons and gave them a better understanding of what Eisley is all about. “You really don’t have a lot of control on those labels,” says Sherri. “That was probably why they didn’t like us, because we are very much the kind of group that fought for staying true to ourselves stylistically. We would turn down these big tours with pop stars that they wanted us to do and working with big producers. They wanted to turn us into something that would have made them, and probably us, money. But that wasn’t what we wanted.”

In seemingly no time at all, Eisley found the home it was looking for on Equal Vision Records — oddly enough the same label that hosts Sherri’s husband Max Bemis’ band Say Anything. Equal Vision not only promptly released The Valley, giving it the push it deserved, but also allowed the band to set up shop in Sherri and Max’s house in Tyler, TX, to record their new EP privately in the comfort of their own home. No longer feeling the pressure of major label executives breathing down their necks, the band was able to unwind in peace and rediscover their creative spark.

“We were pretty surprised that the label was cool with it,” says Sherri. “But they’re just awesome. They trust us and they trust our artistic vision, which is all we’ve ever wanted from a label.”

“It’s like you don’t even notice they’re there, really,” adds Stacy. “They’re just there to support you. They’re more like friends.”

The result of the band’s time spent in Tyler is this year’s Deep Space EP, a decidedly more relaxed and free-spirited outing than its predecessor. Released on Valentine’s Day, the EP touches on much happier matters while recapturing some of the mystery and ambiguity of the band’s earlier work. While only five tracks long, the album is packed with variety, featuring energetic, crunchy guitars on “Lights Out”, an acoustic throwback number in the form of “192 Days”, and some fun tempo changes thrown in for good measure on “One Last Song”.

“Something I was encouraged by when we put out the Deep Space EP is the reaction of a lot of our fans,” says Sherri. “They felt it sounded more like Eisley. More like Eisley than even The Valley sounded like Eisely.”

While there’s no denying that Deep Space certainly possesses some of the charm that made earlier releases such as Room Noises so memorable, the band says that most of those similarities are unintentional and are just products of their writing habits. “We’re songwriters at the core,” says Chauntelle. “So I think we just try to record the song in the best light. We think more like songwriters than producers. But there’s never like a conscious ‘okay, we’ve really got to make it sound like us,’ it just sort of happens on its own.”

“In the same sense,” adds Sherri, “we also don’t try to force anything to sound different, like ‘we’ve gotta make this record like this now because we’ve already done that kind of record.’ We don’t really think like that, it’s always just been whatever song comes out of you — whatever mood you’re in.”

Whether they’re all hanging out at home writing music or hitting the road again for another tour across the country, even bringing along their youngest siblings Christy and Collin as the opening act (Merriment), it’s clear that family is of the upmost importance to Eisley. Even as individual members of the band have begun their own families, the growth has only served to bolster their bond. Everyone in the band is in agreement that they’re all closer now than ever before, which has allowed for more freedom and creativity. In fact, Stacy is currently putting the finishing touches on a side project with her husband called Sucré, that’s due for release this spring.

“Getting to make a record with my husband has been the coolest thing ever,” shares Stacy. “It’s been a dream of mine from the time I met him. I’ve made it really slowly, so it was kind of just in the cracks, and I like that about it. It’s just making music that we love whenever we can.”

Later on in the evening as Eisley’s set winds to a close, Sherri will take the opportunity to speak up for her sister, pointing out Stacy’s modesty before telling the crowd about Sucré’s upcoming release. She excitedly reveals that she has already preordered a vinyl copy for herself and gushes over the new record. If sibling rivalry exists in the DuPree family, it’s hidden exceptionally well. Music has appeared to create a bond within the family that transcends the need for spotlight or attention. According to Sherri, the more ventures begun outside of Eisley, the better.

“It’s cool,” she says, “because with all of the extra projects that we have, there’s never any down time where you’re not working in music. It’s so fun that way, you know? It’s just all music, all the time.”

Sherri’s not kidding. As soon as the band finish up their dates this summer in support of Deep Space, the band is heading back home to Tyler to begin recording their next full length record, which they hope to release early next year on Equal Vision. What’s clear is that this drive to create and share their art has little to do with success and recognition and everything to do with passion and love for family, fans, and music. Perhaps now more than ever, the band is able to take joy in the very act of doing what they love most.

“We just want to sustain ourselves and make records that we really like,” says Stacy. “We’re not focused too much on the career aspect of it as much as just being family and making music.”

“I think now everyone is just more comfortable with where they are,” adds Sherri. “We enjoy what we do. We’re at the point where we enjoy being in Eisley. We just get to make records and hopefully our fans love them, and that’s enough.”

As unfortunate as many of the circumstances were that led Eisley to where they are now, both personally and as a band, it’s evident that their trials have only strengthened their bond with one another and made clear their purpose as musicians. While The Valley stands as a beautiful, yet tragic marker, signifying where the band has come from, it does little to define where they are headed. Perhaps it was a painful necessity, opening the floodgates for something even more beautiful to flow. “There was so much fear involved with that record,” concludes Chauntelle. “Nowadays it’s different. We’re free.”