Eye Drummer Brandon Smith Talks About The Band's New Album "Center Of The Sun"
The progressive rock band Eye takes a trip to the “Center Of The Sun” on their new album. Highlighted by the massive four-part, 20-minute title track, these guys are keeping to the spirit of some of the greats from the ‘70s, like Rush, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Heavy jamming, floaty vocals, and spacey keyboards are all distinct characteristics of Eye’s sound. If you like long solos and psychedelic overtones, “Center Of The Sun” might be worth digging into. I spoke to drummer Brandon Smith about the new album and how these songs come off in a live environment.
Tell me a little bit about how the band came together, for those just hearing about you guys for the first time.
We’re all friends and we’ve all been friends for a long time. We knew each other from playing local bands and stuff. Me and the guitar player Matt (Auxier) were already working on some stuff, and we met up with Matt Bailey, the bass player, at a show one night and said, ‘Hey man, we’re working on some new shit. We need somebody to play with.’ That’s how it happened. We started jamming and took it over from there immediately. We started playing shows within the first couple of months.
The material you started to write in the beginning, was it how it turned out on this album? Was it as progressive as it is now?
A lot of the stuff is the stuff that we recorded. Once we got Bailey and bass on it, we were really able to jam out more. The music progressed...it was just missing that element that we didn’t have. The songs were a little more basic and the arraignments weren’t what they are. It was just verses and choruses. As far as the freak outs, that stuff didn’t come along yet.
How did the jamming get incorporated into the music that you guys originally had?
You just set it up for an improv section. You just play that and build on it and build on it, and it eventually all comes together. For the most part, a lot of it is just us jamming. Someone in the room starts playing, and by the end of it, we come across something we like.
Is it hard to be make sense of the jamming, without going into all these different places that don’t connect at the end?
Yeah, as far as maybe being too self-indulgent, or if you played it in front of people, they wouldn’t put up with it (laughs). It probably does. Sometimes, we might jam for 40 minutes, not really talking about what we’re going to do and just playing. A lot of times we have a tape rolling and we’ll go back and hear it and say, ‘Okay, maybe do this for so long; fill it out.’ You just fill it out until you yourself need to move on. It’s all pretty fluent, so a lot of it happens pretty gradually. A lot of it is the first thing we did and we just stuck with it.
When that tape is rolling in the practice space and you guys are jamming out, how much of that material is actually usable?
It just depends. It works in a different way. Some songs we play, and stuff is not necessarily on the record, are just jams from start to finish. They’ll be just a certain set-up, and it goes wherever. Some of the stuff is nothing we’ll ever touch again. If it’s something where we already got maybe five minutes of song arranged, where it’s actually written first, with a chorus that goes into the jam, it could be anything. Sometimes it goes too far. Sometimes it goes someplace where it dives off and goes nowhere. In a 40-minute jam, we might decide, ‘Oh, let’s make this 10 minutes of this’ (laughs). We get some riffs out of it sometimes.
A lot of people listening to the album will focus their attention on the title track, which is four parts and almost 20 minutes long. Did that song come from jam sessions, or was it a process you guys thought through?
A little bit of both. Sporadically throughout it, there might have been a specific section that would be the first seed of the song. We would jam on it and I would have a tape over it. I would listen to it for a couple of days, and then I would start filling it in; making a song of it. That song, in particular, had certain parts set up into almost four different songs. It was kind of visualized to some extent.
Once we’re messing with the arrangements, it’s already visualized, and then from jamming, it takes a different route. Somebody might play something that’s suddenly slower and darker, and it evolved from there. A lot of that is a part that is written, but through jamming and jamming, it takes different shapes. What I would consider to be the second section of that song, which is most of the three and four part, that literally happened in an instant. We were just jamming on a riff and went into the next riff. It happened within a couple of minutes. The sum of it maybe took a little more thought to it.
Did you always intend to have a song of that length on your album?
It wasn’t necessarily an intention to make a 20-minute song. That just kind of happened. We weren’t necessarily sure if it was going to be the sort of thing that would a constant, fluid 20 minutes. One idea was to break it up, and maybe start it at the beginning of the record, go into the other stuff, and go back into it. Live, we do that kind of stuff too. We didn’t set out and say, ‘Oh, let’s make a 20-minute song.’ Luckily, it worked out to fit on a record side. It was one of the first things we wrote, so it just kind of happened that way.
It’s always interesting to me when a band puts an epic song like “Center Of The Sun” as the first track. Is there a risk in doing that, having the three other songs follow that one up?
Yeah, I think it can be. It’s a lot to ask of somebody, to sit down for that entire length, and listen to it. Some people don’t care. I got a lot of friends who only want two-and-a-half minute songs (laughs). Sometimes I want that, but I think it can be a lot to ask. I think if you are going to put a record on, you’re probably going to play at least a whole side at a time. You do what you want and you do what you like. I think people have been pretty receptive of it.
The album is only being released via digital download and vinyl. Why is it not being released on CD?
That was what Kemado Records was about. I think that was more their thing. It works for me. It seems like...CDs are becoming obsolete. I prefer listening to things on a record. It seems more worthwhile for this sort of thing, to put it out on vinyl. Maybe it will be available on CD. As far as right now, I don’t know.
There’s been a bit of a resurgence in vinyl over the last few years. It seems to be more relevant than it was a decade ago. How important is it for a band like yourselves to be releasing this album on vinyl? Do you think this album fits vinyl a lot better than a CD or digital download?
I think it works best for that. Initially, everything is tracked live to tape. Even down to the final mix, it’s a performance. I think that’s the best format for this album. It was always intentional to release it analog. That was in the band’s mind from the beginning; just try to get that warm, analog sound. I prefer it to be on LP and cassette. I think that’s where we’re suited best.
Out of the four songs on the album, is there a song that has more of an impact on you than the other ones?
They all do that for me. I like playing every one of them. As far as moments on the album, they all got stuff for me. I couldn’t pick one that’s more relevant. I like the first side because it’s the longest, and that’s a song you can really show a lot of what you do in a song like that, as opposed to a song that is constantly fast - I guess we don’t really have anything like that that is constantly one thing - but I feel like that one represents our sound more in its entirely.
As a drummer, what did you want to showcase to people listening to this album?
My involvement in this...I do a lot of the arranging, I do a lot of the writing. The drums for me, unless it’s a thing where it comes out of a jamming, and I’m playing a drum beat and somebody starts coming in on it, the drums are usually the last thing that goes into my thought process in writing any of it. I just wanted to give what the music needed.
Since you said that drums are one of the last things on your mind when arranging these songs, what is more important to you?
I get into a head space. I find an atmosphere; I find a mood. If I’m writing something, I’m not necessarily much of a guitarist or anything like that. Sometimes I got a vocal melody in my head, and I sit down and riff it out for a minute and find out where it’s at. That’s the first thing in my mind. It’s not necessarily a riff for the song or anything like that, but a skeleton for the song. It’s just an arrangement of parts, and then the other guys will fill that in. They will play what they want on it. It depends on what it is. Sometimes, all I’ve thought about is the vocal melody and the chord arrangement. By the time the drums are gotten to it, everybody else kind of has their stuff and I’m keeping time for them.
Which song came together quicker than the other ones?
The last track on the album, “Rik Rite,” came together really fast. I had pretty quickly come up with the verse and worked on it with Matt, the guitarist, and we pretty much arranged it immediately. Anything that wasn’t there came up in jamming. It was one of the first things we played with Bailey, and it was also the first thing we worked on with Adam (Smith), the guy on keys. That one was probably the quickest. The first time we tracked it to see if we liked the arrangement, it was done. It came together in maybe a day.
When bringing Adam, and the keys, into the music, what kind of dimensions or textures did that add to the music that weren’t there before?
I feel like a lot. It added at least 1/4 of the sound. His involvement had been long before he was playing with us. With “Rik Rite,” the first time we tracked that, we went over to his house and he put shit to it. It was already kind of there in our minds. We knew when we recorded that he would be recording with us. It took on new form when we started playing full time.
What kind of life do these songs take when unleashed in a live setting?
Oh, they’re all different. Each one of them is different when we play it live. Most of the time, we lay it on a little thicker. The jams are longer and more furious. All those sections that are on the album that you hear are jammy, live, they are really jammy. I think it’s a whole different experience. I think we’re more of a live band than a recording band right now. I’m happy with the record. It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded something that was kind of true to how we do it live. We’ve played it live before to people who weren’t really familiar with the album, and they heard it, and they weren’t sure that some of it was the same stuff.
Does the band tend to improv the jam parts every night?
It depends. Some nights we play a lot looser than we would. Not necessarily sloppily, but we free it up. There’s some stuff where we leave it up to...somebody might do something and lead you somewhere else. That happens a lot. That’s exciting. Those are usually the best moments for me, when they take on a new form and the song sounds new to you. We take it both ways. It just depends on what the sound allows. Some songs don’t really allow for it as much as others do.
What’s the one thing you want people to take away from “Center Of The Sun” when they hear it?
I just hope people enjoy it. I hope it’s one of those records where you sit down and want to hear it again and again. Lyrically, it’s mostly about far-out shit. It’s open to you, for the most part. It could be about anything to anybody. Musically, we just want to write music that people will like, and music that we like.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
Oh boy. It’s hard. You don’t want to pick somebody you would be in the shadow of (laughs). 1970 Miles Davis, I guess that band would have been great to see live every night. That was probably the best musicians in the world at the time. For that purpose, I would have liked to tour with them.
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