Words by Tommy Johnson
Anyone who makes the trip up to Portland, Oregon, knows that they are in a city of enchantment and wonder. The Decemberists‘ John Moen and former Guided by Voices and Boston Spaceships member Chris Slusarenko have been ever so fortunate to call Portland home since birth. The duo has been slightly taken aback on the boom of their hometown. “It was such a sleepy town that we could get away with musical murder in for a long time,” Slusarenko said during our phone conversation. “I keep forgetting people come up here to visit, eat food, and stay here. I remember when bands wouldn’t come here.”
In regards to the music scene, an ample share of great bands has been cutting their teeth to a supportive collection of people. Teaming up with Jonathan Drews (guitar), Jim Taltstra (bass), and Paulie Pulvirenti (drums), Moen and Slusarenko formed Eyelids several years ago. Tapping into influences like L.A. Paisley Underground, Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, Eyelids have produced a library full of songs that are bursting with pretty-pop guitars, yielding vocals, and immaculate drums.
For their latest, The Accidental Falls – which could be their most substantial work to date – the band worked with poet, songwriter, and literary critic Larry Beckett to write lyrics as well as giving them access to his words from the last four decades. Produced by Peter Buck (who has worked with the band on several releases), The Accidental Falls also features Tucker Martine (Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) and Heba Kadry (Deerhunter, Bjork) who mixed and mastered the record respectively.
“It was recorded a year ago, but we wanted to wait till we all could tour on it and give some good focus and attention that it needed,” Slusarenko says. “We felt like something we made something special. We knew that when we had the time, it will be great for it to stand out.”
Moen added, “I’m rediscovering it as I rehearse… it’s exhilarating to play the songs after sitting on them for a while.”
Off Shelf: Having been keeping up with the band, it seems that Eyelids has a steady flow in regards to the work. Whatever happens, happens. Is that fair to say?
Chris Slusarenko: Yeah… I think we are still fans of the creation of the moments where we are still excited about something that we are making. I think that’s why we put out a lot of 45’s; we like, “Let’s make this now while we are feeling like we haven’t overthought it.”
There’s a beauty to that. Even with [The Accidental Falls]…we worked on it, but we didn’t overthink it, and we didn’t over record it. There’s a lot of happy accidents on it and weird moments.
I think Eyelids works pretty quickly… we have known each other for a long time as friends and equal collaborators in all of these different projects. Rarely, the first ideas aren’t the ones that stick, and we are excited about it. Everyone’s instincts are pretty right on. The process is pretty quick; there’s a flunky magic between all five of us.
OS: You two have known each other since the 80s, right? Has the rest of the group been around since that time?
CS: Pretty close. Yeah… Jonathan was around the early 90s, and Paulie probably around then, too. At least ’91. We have just been circling around each other, going to each other’s shows for decades [laughs].
OS: So ultimately what was the driving force to form Eyelids? Was it primarily due to the fact that all of you were going to each other’s show so much?
CS: Before John got busy with The Decemberists’ and I got busy with Guided By Voices we had wanted to do something together. When Boston Spaceships ended with Bob [Pollard], and we weren’t making a bunch of records and touring, we loved working with each other. Again we worked really quick… there was telekinetic osmosis moments. Right away, it was exciting to us; it felt right and beautiful. I don’t know…I think it was a little bit of where we were all at this time. Even though we have known each since the 80s or 90s, this band would not have existed or made the music it does then.
John Moen: I think we work really hard to make it slot in between other things and pursuits. It doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most important things; we just have got everything to weave together. I think we are all aware of the fondness of this and project it.
OS: I can only imagine working with Bob ultimately influenced you in working fast.
CS: I learned a lot from working with Bob. He trusted me a lot in finding the character in it. John was essential in laying down things that created such a distinct character with it rhythmically and stylistically. We would come up with little things to make each song different. That process for John and myself was really fun, and I think that we feel that with Eyelids. I’ve been in a lot of things where I hear myself in things that I’ve done.
In Eyelids, I feel like I listen to it and say, “There’s no way that I was in this. I like it too much.” I kinda like this out of body feeling of being able to appreciate this thing that I never thought that I could be a part of or create.
OS: Knowing each other for so long, do you feel like you are still learning about each other?
JM: Yes (laughs)!
CS: I think that John and myself have a definite love for each other, and we have each other’s back. We have been friends long before we started to work together musically. We were fans of each other’s music. I think it allows us to trust each other. John can pull me in a certain direction, and I can pull John in a certain direction. I don’t think the Eyelids music sounds-it’s not a put on. We don’t try to jam something in. We are honestly who we are; all the influences that are within us just come out in a really cool way. Eyelids is a band of friends that made some accidentally good music.
JM: Its strange how we quickly we can arrange a song now; everyone knows each other’s tendencies. But it’s not like you can’t write either. There’s a strange bluesy number on “Passion”…when we first started the band, we were talking about Rain Parade and art, among various things. It was kinda meant to be a psych band; we played with that, but ultimately we are songwriters, and you have to go where the songs go. I wouldn’t have in that first year brought a song like “Passion” into the group. We stretched things out more, and I think it’s interesting to see there’s not too many boundaries.
CM: I totally agree, John. Even like a song like “The Accidental Fall”… I think that when we were thinking about what we were going to do originally, I might have been nervous about something that had that much muscle in it or aggressive tendencies. I think we realized that we didn’t need to be associated in a way just with psych music or paisley underground; those things are so iconic and perfect. Even though we devoured it in real-time and it influenced us, it’s about the songs; how we wanted to tip them sideways and step on their back a bit. We messed up things in a lovely way. The new album has some variety on it, but it feels accidentally cohesive just because of how we worked.
OS: How did Larry Beckett get involved with this new album?
JM: Chris’s daughter Riley and Larry’s son went to school together, and you ended up in a PTA meeting or school pickup?
CM: No, I was picking Riley up at Larry’s house. They were just hanging out.
JM: I think Chris had no idea, but Larry’s wife mentioned that Larry was into music too and started a conversation. Larry liked our band and offered up his songbook. He liked where we went with the textures and harmonies. He hadn’t worked with anyone for a while and saw it as an opportunity. We were flattered and little trepidatious about how much we would do. He thought we would do a single, just to check it out. The single turned into an EP; the EP turned into an album. I think we realized that there was enough there and our connection we were having with him and his work that we could stretch things out. I was just playing some of the songs today and thinking about how I couldn’t have written those lyrics but how personal they all have become to me. Once again, that’s magic and a lot of goodwill from a lot of different people.
CS: I think Larry’s ability to trust us, helped us get rid of the roadblocks that we had. My biggest worry was it wasn’t going to sound like Eyelids because we are internalizing someone else’s content. But right away, we owned it. I felt like an extension of me. I didn’t know that Tim Buckley had a lyricist; to me, Tim Buckley is a fully formed mythological icon. It just seemed unfathomable. Having the ability to be able to write in such a way that someone can make it completely their own is a gift of Larry’s. Also he was really trusting. He was really excited by what we were doing. He was a fan of our music; he was in the studio every day with us. He loved our instincts. Having Peter there as well…he is like the teacher that you want to impress and write a better essay for because they are a person that has made a difference.
OS: Did Larry have everything written before going into the studio?
JM: Initially, the invitation was to look through the old phone book that had hundreds of poems and lyrics. We were both interested in that, but we were keen to see what he was still doing. For me, that was a nice way of starting. The first thing that I actually did with Larry was send him music for the song “Insomnia.” He wanted to know what the idea was about when writing the music. I told him that I didn’t know; I just haven’t been sleeping very well, which is a theme for me [laughs]. Four or five days later, he sent me the lyrics, and it was so concise and awesome. Any trepidation I had about how this process was going to work just started to be bowled over by excitement.
OS: Larry must have also looked into your older albums as inspiration.
CS: After I had the initial conversation with Larry and being bewildered with his accomplishments, the next time I saw him, he bought all the Eyelids records. He had really good questions about why we made certain decisions, the harmonies on “Mile to Wave” [found on 854]… he just loved it. His favorite American band of all-time is The Byrds, and I think there are elements of some of that in our music. It took me by surprise…he had listened to the lyrics. That made me go to the rest of the Eyelids and say let’s go meet with him. In the first meeting, he slid the sheet music that he and Tim wrote in 1966 that hadn’t been recorded, but it almost written out. He said that it was an option and very few people have seen it. We were like, “No, thanks. We are not Tim Buckley; we don’t sound like him.” What was cool was that once started working with Larry and he did a piano demo of the song, we realized that we should do it. We have Larry’s blessing. We have the blessing of Tim’s estate. We can get into the character and do this as our own. Having something from both of them on the album. It feels very lovely.
OS: Is there any chance of working with Larry again down the road?
CS: I don’t think we know. I think that we are open to it. Working with Larry inspired us to honor the process of writing lyrics more than we normally do. What do you think, John?
JM: That was one of the discoveries along the way, finding inspiration in what we have written. I would hope that we can work with Larry sometime down the road.