Music

Smarter Than You Think: An Interview with Eisley

Kiel Hauck

Free from their major label chains and having just released a new, daring EP (along with each band member having their own musical side project), Eisley have never felt so alive. The whole band sits down with PopMatters to talk all about it ...


Eisley

Deep Space EP

Label: Equal Vision
US Release Date: 2012-02-12
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Eisley

The Valley

Label: Equal Vision
US Release Date: 2011-03-01
UK Release Date: 2011-03-07
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

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."

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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