Keeping an Eye on Eyelids

Vortex Music Magazine

Five Portland elder statesmen assemble as a “fun necessity”—an excuse to practice background vocals and eat Mexican food. With the debut LP '854' out on Jealous Butcher Records on October 14 and a release party at The Secret Society on October 30, they've now got something to show for it.

Ambling over to John Moen’s house on a recent sunny morning, I immediately notice the vaunted drummer for such high-profile acts as The Decemberists, Black Prairie, Boston Spaceships, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, and the Dharma Bums out front slaving away on an old-fashioned push lawn mower. After deciding against making a “Moen the lawn” joke, I ask him about Eyelids, his latest musical foray with guitarists Chris Slusarenko (Guided by Voices, Boston Spaceships, Deep Fried Boogie Band) and Jonathan Drews (Sunset Valley).

“You mean, why did we bother?” he laughs, fetching me a glass of water. “Yeah, we’re all doing other stuff and it would be very easy not to do it—but we’re not not doing it. That’s our current status.”

We adjourn to his tastefully bohemian record-collector living room as bandmate Slusarenko drives up and begins unloading gear.

Plenty of folks are aware of Moen’s prowess as a percussionist, but he’s been a singer and songwriter since day one, fronting The Maroons—a Feelies-esque, knotty guitar band—during its heyday back in the late 1990s. Eyelids operate on a similar six-string frequency with Moen, Slusarenko and Drews sharing guitar and singing duties, while an equally pedigreed rhythm section of bassist Jim Talstra (The Minus 5, Dharma Bums) and drummer Paulie Pulvirenti (No. 2, Jr. High, Elliott Smith) keep all the lovely chords locked down and propellant.

“This is the first band I’ve ever been in that has background vocals,” marvels Slusarenko, who has been kicking around local clubs since his teenage stint in Death Midget during Reagan’s first turn in the White House, and subsequently in Sprinkler, the first Portland band signed to Sub Pop Records.

“Before John was in The Decemberists and before I was in Guided by Voices, we demoed a couple of songs together,” he recalls. “We had bonded over our mutual love of ’80s Paisley Underground bands like The Dream Syndicate [whom Eyelids will be opening for at the Doug Fir Lounge on August 29], Rain Parade and Green on Red.”

Songs like “I Can’t Be Told,” “Psych #1” and “Seagulls Into Submission” are intricate, homespun guitar collages floating on overcast vocal clouds, not unlike the better work of the aforementioned bands that they collectively admire, along with a dollop of R.E.M. and other southern-psych college radio bands.

“We have three guitars, but there’s still plenty of room,” Moen says, describing the process. He and Slusarenko both write and sing, while Drews adds his own vocal might to the blustery background vocals.

The initial batch of 13 songs that Slusarenko refers to as “lopsided pop” and pretty, but not soft, will see the light of day some time this fall on the band’s debut album 854.

“We’re not sure who will be releasing the album,” Slusarenko says, “but it’s definitely happening. And then we’re recording a four-song EP with Peter Buck.” The most likely site of this future session will be Portland’s Type Foundry with Adam Selzer, he adds.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the logistics of operating a band with a fair amount of ambition between the touring schedules of various other bands (drummer Pulvirenti also plays with Battleme) hasn’t proven to be an obstacle—at least thus far.

“We just jam Eyelids into whatever vacant sections of our lives we can. And it gives the five of us a chance to go to La Carreta together,” Slusarenko explains, name-checking the venerable Mexican eatery on SE McLoughlin Boulevard known for its roving band of mariachis, dubious cuisine and towering cocktails.

“It’s become a fun necessity,” he concludes.

UPDATE 9/30/14:

Due out on October 14 on Jealous Butcher Records, most of 854 "was recorded at Type Foundry with some of it being recorded at Drews and Kaitlyn ni Donovan's studio Last of the Explorers," Slusarenko says. Celebrate the record's release at The Secret Society on Thursday, October 30 with The Minders and Denim Wedding.

Discover more New in #PDXmusic artists featuring the best new sounds from new acts in the local music scene.

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