While it might be a bit too early in the game to label Eisley as having a trademark sound, the release of their second album, Combinations, does bring back to the table the complex and, some might say, otherworldly, vocal harmonies achieved by sisters Sherri and Stacy DuPree and the superb musicianship on the part of all the members that made their debut, Room Noises, so engaging.
That said, much has changed for the indie-rocker siblings in the three short years since their last tour and it shows. The ten tracks that comprise Combinations leave behind the daydreamy, children’s storybook-like quality that characterized their first album in favor of a fuller, more serious sound. This is due, in no small part, to the band’s collaboration with Richard Gibbs, a former keyboardist for ’80’s pop icons Oingo Boingo-turned-film and TV music composer with an immense and varied list of credits.
On the phone from a venue in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Sherri DuPree, while waiting for sound check to begin, talked with me about some of the work that went into the recording of Combinations.
“It was just fate”, she says of the decision to bring on Gibbs as producer. “Our manager, Rick DeVoe, is Richard Gibbs’ brother-in-law and he came to some of our shows and told us that he was a film score composer. We were really intrigued because we love movie soundtracks and Rick told us that he understood music in that way, understood symphony compositions and how to write really intricate string pieces. That was really cool to us and we thought it would bring a cool aspect to our sound and make it more mature.”
And, in fact, the band ended up recording the new album at Gibbs’ personal studio. “He has this ridiculous place that he built in his yard”, Sherri continues, with a bit of awe in her voice. “The walls can be moved to create different sounding rooms. It was nuts. He’s really deep into it. And he has all of these exotic instruments from all over the world. He’s a collector, so he has all of this rare, random, unique stuff.
“One piece in his collection that we really liked is a thing called a marxiphone. We used it on the title track. It makes a sort of jangly guitar sound. You hit these tongs on it to vibrate these strings. It’s really cool. We ended up buying one and we use it live now. That was just one of the things we got to play with on the record. It was a lot of fun.”
One comment that has been tossed out repeatedly, and not always kindly, in critical assessments of Combinations is the comparison to Fleetwood Mac. Chuckling , Sherri states “This Fleetwood Mac thing is so funny because we’d never even listened to Rumors or any of their other albums, or any of Stevie Nicks’ stuff. We started listening to it because we wanted to check out what everyone was talking about and now we’re addicted to it. But we didn’t know anything about their music when we started writing songs for Combinations.”
But, as Sherri points out , the fan response has been much more positive. “Our fans are so loyal. They love us. Especially in what they write online. They feel that they really know us. I think it’s because we’re so open with our fans. They’ve grown along with us with the two albums. We’ve gotten older and our fans have gotten older. But they love the new record. So many people have told us that they like this one even more than our first. So, we seem to be keeping all our original fans. They’re coming with us. And it’s been very flattering”
On the whole, Combinations has a much more personal tone. Sherri wrote several songs about her growing relationship and eventual marriage to New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert, basically making a portion of the record an open love letter. But sister Stacy also took the opportunity to try to reach out to someone with the song “Come Clean”.
“She wrote the lyrics and music for that song”, explains Sherri. “It’s about a friend of ours who was trying to be something he wasn’t. He’d been involved with drugs for quite a while and was even still using around the time that we started working on the second album, but he tried to pretend like everything was fine and that he didn’t have a problem, to save face. So the song is a cry to him to just come clean. The song is saying that everyone has their problems and there’s no reason to hide them because people will still love you and accept you.”
Sherri and her siblings also take a stand with the accusatory “Taking Control”. “That song is definitely critical of some elements of the entertainment industry. Everyone assumes that it’s about Warner Brothers, but it’s not, at all. Warner Brothers has been amazing to us.
“Taking Control is actually about a group of people who managed us and who totally screwed us. They were terrible people and they screwed things up for a lot of our friends who they managed, too. But we got out of that situation and got new management. The song is our response to that experience. It’s a very pissed-off song directed at them for thinking that they could jerk us around and get away with it. This was happening toward the end of the record cycle and our tour for Room Noises and afterward.”
Sherri and Stacy also draw a great deal of inspiration from the sci-fi genre. After all, the band’s name is a Star Wars reference. “We’ll go to used book stores and stock up on all these ridiculous, cheesy sci-fi novels; stuff with the most ridiculous cover art. They can be so funny. We wrote the song “Invasion” after reading Jack Finney’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I had just picked that up randomly at a used book store and really loved it.
“We’re not super-mega-sci-fi-nerds who dress up and go to Star Wars conventions or anything like that, but it’s definitely been an inspiration, at times. It’s something we love.
“Stacy found one called “The Ice People” not too long ago. It was a really great book and it became the basis for a song that we wrote recently that we hope will end up another album.”
The interview coming to a close, as the band was now finally being called for sound check, Sherri ended with some thoughts on the topic of future projects. “We’d like to release some EPs or b-sides soon, but we don’t when we might release another full-length, studio album. Hopefully not before too long. As I understand it, the record cycle, the turnover rate right now, is such that people have been trying really hard to keep their music out there. It’s important to keep the fans interested. There’s a studio in Tyler(TX, their hometown) so maybe over the summer we’ll do some more recording.”
In an environment as uncertain and ever-shifting as the music business Eisley has been holding their own magnificently these past few years by doing things their own way. It might just be the thing that will allow them to pull through. And really, that might be all one can hope for nowadays.