After releasing a four-song EP and a handful of singles in 2012, Greg Mabry and Joe Frabotta established their project Evil Eyes with a style they describe as the “soundtrack for your midnight ride.” Whether that ride is aimless or packed with purpose, solemn or full of mischief, the now four-piece outfit offers a sound that simmers in subtle, we own the night vibrations.
At the helm of the project along with Frabotta (vocalist, synth-master and guitarist), Mabry lends the band many of its textured layers on guitar and vocals. We spoke briefly about his band’s debut LP, Borderlines, which was released at the end of July, and he described himself and Joe as the principle songwriters, explaining, “We’ll work on something till it’s fairly developed, and then bring it to the full band. Aleks and Brian have quite a bit of input on the bass and drums, so it’s also collaborative in that sense.”
In addition to evolving into a full band, Evil Eyes refined its sound quite a bit for its first full-length record. “First of all, we bought better recording gear, so the sound quality is a couple levels up. Also half the songs on the album have live drums…we recorded with a drum machine up to this point.” These differences are most noticeable on the three songs the band had previously recorded and released: “Evil Eyes,” “Saw Her In the Sun” and “Keep Your Mind On Me.” While the dreamy layers of these songs are more distinguishable on the LP, particularly the delicate harmonies and casual exchange of live drums and drum machine, they also weave in and out of each other more fluidly to create a cohesive whole.
Executed with the same attitude and disarmingly infectious pop sensibility, each song still carries its own agenda that will make you want to cause some trouble, run wild into the street, plunge into the darkness, or just lay back and enjoy the ride. He continues, “I think the arrangements are better. Joe started focusing heavily on synth parts during recording, and I focused on more unusual sounds and textures on the guitar. I think it made the album a lot more interesting and diverse.”
Along with all the dreamy pop elements of Evil Eyes’ sonic aesthetic, there’s an undeniable rustic feel to Borderlines that binds it together with a Western edge, though Mabry admits, “Honestly, I’m not sure where it comes from.” This dusty boot vibe is reflected clearly in the album art–a photo of Mabry and Frabotta posted up in front of what looks like the backside of an old saloon. “I always like to imagine those kinds of environments,” he describes. “Lonely highways, big expansive views. Some reviewer once called our music cinematic, which I think is a pretty accurate description. Maybe we’ve watched too many David Lynch movies.”
While the LP doesn’t hold the violent overtones of Lynch films, it smolders in dark, moody undercurrents that summons a certain Americana nostalgia, recalling the vibrations of old movies rather than old music–classic film noir rather than classic rock. With its first single and opening track, “Shake the Dust,” the record introduces a wandering, open-road mentality as guitar riffs, synthesizers and whispered vocals shift between a sense of urgency and calm.
“We were going for a super lush and laid back sound — there’s hardly any distortion on the album — and the songs we picked,” among the 40 or so he and Joe had written, “all had a similar vibe, dark and layered with lots of hooks. We wanted to make a really pretty album that was still engaging.”
Like a speeding car disappearing and reappearing between shadows and street lights, the track parallels the LP’s thematic dualities, or more specifically the shady areas or tipping points between those dualities. “A lot of lyrics deal with the push/pull nature of things we’ve experienced,” Mabry describes. “We both had some pretty heavy life stuff happen while we were recording, which I won’t go into now. But yeah, the lyrics are about feeling excited/burning out, getting lost/getting found, falling in love/falling out, and getting your shit together/freaking out.”
The title itself, “Borderlines“, alludes to these moments of uncertainty. “It’s that spot we all find ourselves in from time to time, where you feel like you’re in the gray area of life, and things could go either way. Overall,” he concedes, “l think it’s an optimistic record. Eventually you get a glimpse of the sun through the clouds.”
This sense of hope is most tangible on the record’s closing track, “Paper Thin Moon.” Capturing a certain wonder about San Francisco (“Wide awake, lying down beneath the city of clouds”), the song seems to reflect an acceptance of hard times (“We have nothing to lose”), while also looking towards the future (“I know how we can keep what we’ve found/We never have to leave, I’ll show you how.”) The song is a fitting way to close out an album that is a result of Mabry’s decision to leave his home in Nashville, move to the Bay Area and push forward with Joe under the moniker Evil Eyes.
“San Francisco is a vibrant and pretty city, full of creativity and weirdness. Although a lot of the folks who bring that vibe are getting priced out, which I hope is a trend that gets reversed somehow. But it’s a great place and we feel lucky to be here, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found.”
The shifting financial landscape of San Francisco has without a doubt shaken the cultural make-up of this city, but while many artists are discouraged by the tech-takeover, Mabry believes there are still plenty to be excited about. “There’s a lot of really, really good young bands in Bay Area right now. Cool Ghouls, Twin Steps, The Tambo Rays, Cocktails, Sam Flax, the list could go on.” Although, among things like more house parties and mini festivals, he admits, “I’d like to see more dancing at shows. That’s about it.”
Evil Eyes are celebrating their record release this evening at Thee Parkside along with Cocktails and The Electric Magpie, so bring your dancing shoes and best moves to the party!
Evil Eyes, Cocktails, The Electric Magpie
September 12, 2013