By Brian Tucker
If you’re looking to keep the Azalea Festival fun going (or need something not associated with it) it’s worth a visit to Bourgie Nights. Brooklyn’s Gillian will be performing and judging by their The Eyes in My Head EP Sunday night will feel more like Friday night.
They’re a highly energetic band playing catchy indie rock that boasts dual singers (Geoff Bennington and Kym Hawkins). In the vein of The Replacements meets Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Eyes in My Head is outstanding, a combination of uplifting vibes and dynamic music with feet in different decades and whose sound is both raucous and sunshiny.
They were named after a dear friend that three of the founding members have known since childhood. It’s a fitting name – in the Urban dictionary Gillian is defined as “an amazing person inside, attractive, can be shy on the outside to new people, but once you get to know them, very outgoing and silly in a good way. Best friend to possibly have, never tells secrets. Sometimes insecure because others put them down. Gillian is a truly fun person to be around.”
The Eyes in My Head is fun. Does it closely reflect the band’s live show?
Geoff: I would say so. We definitely like to have fun on stage. I’ve been known to occasionally fall over.
Kym: I feel like it comes close, but they’re different kinds of energy. So much of the live energy comes from interaction, movement, dancing, but with a recording you really have to find the perfect tempo that isn’t going to slow down your exciting parts or speed up your verses. And then there’s the act of layering that gives you more umph on a track when you start building extra parts that are impossible to create in a live setting (such as) multiple vocal tracks by one person doing different things. They’re separate animals, live and studio, but yeah we definitely try to make them sound similar.
Playing in Brooklyn, did people catch on quickly? Is your sound is a desire for something new?
Geoff: We had a very positive reception once we started playing shows. I’ve never really thought about our sound reflecting our environment but I suppose it probably does on some level. People seem to always want something new, especially in New York City, but I wouldn’t say that we deliberately try to be new or even really unique; we just try to write what sounds good to us.
Kym: There are a lot of bands in Brooklyn, for sure. A lot of them doing the same things, and who knows if and how we differ. There’s so much out there it’s nearly impossible to compare. We go to a lot of shows is more like, we play whatever comes out and then we might use the smaller stylistic things to add contemporary elements we like. It’s like this with all art I think, you gotta keep up with what’s hot and what’s been done so you can put your own spin on things, but the best stuff is going to be deeper than a reaction to what is trending.
Did the band hit it off quickly? The music is so inviting.
Geoff: Paul (Demyanovich), Brian (Yourachek) and I have been close friends since childhood. We grew up playing in various different bands together, starting when we were in third grade. As soon as we had this line-up set and started rehearsing we all clicked. We’re definitely all great friends as well as band mates, which is good because we spend a lot of time together.
Kym: Absolutely. These dudes are pretty stand-up. You have to get along if you’re going to work together as much as we do. The last band I was in, Plainclothes Tracy, we were around for seven years and I met some of my best friends there. In fact, we’re playing with a former member at Bourgie Nights. My old drummer is in Mr. T and the Dogwalker – Eric Grass. I was a groom’s lady in his wedding this past year. But yeah, my current band gets along wonderfully too. These guys are like family to me. I honestly can’t wait for them to meet each other at the show.
Forming, were there specific ideas in mind, to be positive sounding, have dual singers?
Geoff: Staying positive is something that’s important to me. When we were forming I think we all just agreed we wanted to make songs people can dance and sing along to. We want to make people feel good for at least a little bit of time when they come see us play. As far as the dual vocals, I have always liked bands with multiple singers, I feel like it can open up a lot of opportunities for what you can do with a song both lyrically and melodically. So when we got Kym to join us I was very excited about getting to write songs with that in mind.
With each EP the band’s sound explores more. Is this a conscious effort?
Geoff: Probably a little bit of both. Every time we record and write we learn more about what works and what doesn’t with us, it’s an ongoing experiment. We definitely like to keep an open mind when we’re writing and explore with different tones and grooves.
Kym: We worked with the same producer on the last two EPs, and the same recording engineer on all three, so I think that has allowed for continuity, and meanwhile we’ve all learned a lot about how we need to plan/carry out our process. Geoff’s right, it’s definitely both, but I see even bigger, more explorative changes in the future.
Are you surprised by the band’s growth in the studio or playing live?
Geoff: I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by it because we’ve been putting in a lot of hours of rehearsing. But I’m definitely really happy with the way things have been going.
Kym: Agree. I mean, there’s always something you want to change after the fact, no work of art is ever finished, but I feel like we’re learning more every time about how we can get it closer to the vision. The hardest part is stepping back and trying to see it how someone else might, after a while you’re too familiar with the songs and it’s hard to edit.
The “Freak Flag” video is great. Was that a band concept and was it done one day?
Geoff: That was all masterminded by Andrew Moorehead, who is yet another good friend of ours since childhood. It was all filmed in one day. Kym was pretty exhausted at the end of it from running around all day.
Playing “Out and Out,” about infidelity, does it get easier to perform?
Kym: I wrote the lyrics to this song when Brian had a similar experience to one I’d had in the past. I was over my incident, but it was fresh to him and as much as we see each other, I think all five of us went through it with him in a way. We’ve all been there. It sucks when someone betrays you out of nowhere. But this song was kind of cathartic at the time. It put reality into a story and fictionalized the whole thing, including the outcome.
It now exists as a spaghetti-western battlefield type of scenario, which allows me to step into the story as this gunslinger character. It’s not painful to perform, it’s actually quite fun. Every time we play it, I channel those emotions without dwelling. What else can you do with the remnants of a bad memory? Might as well make a story out of it.
Can you share the story behind the song “Colorize”?
Geoff: I wrote that song a pretty long time ago while I was living in Burlington, Vermont. I started writing it about this really great night I had with some friends where we just decided to take the ferry to Plattsburgh and go check out some bars and just kind of get out of our element for a night.
And it wasn’t a particularly crazy night or anything, but we had a ton of fun and I was just happy to be surrounded by people who have this ability to make any situation into the best moment it could possibly be. Something about that night, and those people, just restored my faith in humanity again and I wanted to write about what that felt like.
Kym: Yeah, most Gillian songs are a conglomerate of our lyrics, but this was all his. I may have swapped around some words in the break, but didn’t really want to change much because it felt like tampering with a historical record. It’s all about an experience he had, which reminded me a lot of some good times I’d had in Knoxville, Tennessee, so it was easy to step in and act them out. We all have these songs from past lives. I think it’s really cool to see something he wrote so many years ago finally get published.
Will you continue to release EP’s versus full albums? Are there benefits to an EP?
Geoff: We’re not really sure what exactly will come after Colorize. We are still trying to figure it out, although we have already written a bunch of new songs. Full lengths can take an incredible amount of time and money to do it right. I’ve been in bands before where the first thing we do is make a full length and by the time it’s done the band doesn’t even want to play those songs live anymore or someone quits or whatever. I think it’s advantageous for newer groups to do shorter EP’s at first so you have some time to develop as a band, and let people hear you grow.
Kym: I think that the EP style is good for independent acts that aren’t on a label, for the purpose of time and money. It’s also been good for us artistically. For instance, we have a small project where we’ve been writing songs based off of the novel Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. This is manageable for a 5 or 6 song EP, we’re not burning ourselves out before we turn a new leaf and start the next project. If we had more time and resources, it wouldn’t be difficult to do more, but this is where we are right now.
What inspired you about Benji Hughes’ music?
Geoff: His vocal melodies are incredible, that’s probably the first thing that drew me into his sound. I’ve really only recently heard his songs, but the second I heard his music I was hooked.
Kym, I read where you worked as a luthier. Did you learn this skill from family?
Kym: I was actually an apprentice, training under Richie from Richie’s Guitars. It’s like the broke musician’s speakeasy guitar shop, you have to know him or state your acquaintance to book with him. It was a great experience to have when I first came to New York City, I truly learned a lot.
The goal was to acquire the skills to do my own set-ups and repairs, and to meet musicians in the city to start a new band. I figured it would be a good place to meet people who actually care enough about music to keep their instruments well-groomed. And it worked. I met Geoff.