Eyebawl Opens Up

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The Wilmington band with an ocular name talks about their history and their recording/performing process

 

Pinning down a musical style for Eyebawl can be a difficult undertaking. They don’t fit any single genre. They count Modest Mouse, Nirvana, and The Cure as significant influences, but calling them a copy of any of those bands would be a drastic mischaracterization.

Pat McCutcheon, who owns Oddity Bar along with Andrea McCauley, describes them as “upbeat indie garage rock.”

Connor Murray, Eyebawl’s label manager with Crafted Sounds, sticks with garage rock, and adds “grungy, high energy.”

Put in simpler terms, Eyebawl excels at polished grunge rock.

I sat down with the band at Catherine Rooney’s in Trolley Square, where they were grabbing dinner after a recent Tuesday night practice.

All three members of the group are from the Mid-Atlantic area. Erin Silva, lead vocalist and guitarist, was born in Frederick, Md., moved to Smyrna as a child, and now resides in Wilmington. Tyler Yoder, the bassist, is originally from Middletown and moved to Newark in his 20s. Brian Bruce, drummer, comes from Delaware County, Pa., but moved to Wilmington when he was 10.

Bruce and Yoder, now roommates in South Philadelphia, met while attending and playing house gigs in Newark, circa 2011. Over dinner at Rooney’s, Bruce says to Yoder, “I saw your old band, [Easy Pyramids] play at a house venue in Newark called Black Gold. That was probably back in 2010 or 2011.”

Silva broke onto the scene in 2013, when a friend booked her for a solo act at Home Grown Cafe on Main Street in Newark (coincidentally, Yoder had a solo gig on the same night). “I’d been writing songs in my room,” says Silva. “He said, ‘you need to play these and also I can pay you a bunch of money [as the booker].’ It was the push that I needed to finally show these songs to people.”

“For the better part of a decade,” says Yoder, “we’ve all been in the same music bubble and catching the same bands we were separately a part of.”

Around 2017, Silva decided to build a group using material from her solo act as a foundation. She turns to Yoder and Bruce and says, “I really didn’t ask anyone else. I asked you two and that was that.”

Eyebawl’s first EP, 2018’s Gutterbawl, was built mostly on music Silva had already prepared. She would come to practice with a song she’d written most of, then Yoder and Bruce would help solidify the idea by developing better bass riffs or shaking up the percussion.

The songwriting process changed for 2019’s EP, Never Again. It was more free-form, fluid, and collaborative from the outset. Summing up the new approach, Yoder says, “I think because we all have such a big musical past, we all have a pretty good sense of song structure, and really keeping things simple fits the style we play, too.”

Bruce and Silva are quick to agree and add their own thoughts: “We’re kind of like, ‘How is this feeling?’” says Silva. “And it’s black and white. We always end up on the same page about it.”

Says Bruce: “Usually there’s a practice, either the first or second one that we’ve been working on a tune, where we can all say, ‘Yeah, that’s awesome.’”

“Or,” adds Silva, “be like, f___ that,” for a song that isn’t successful.

Performance, Live and Recorded

They’ve certainly made a splash in the local music community. In Wilmington, Eyebawl regularly appears at Oddity Bar and 1984, and has played at the Jackson Inn and Kelly’s Logan House. In Newark, house venues, along with Home Grown Cafe and Deer Park Tavern, were consistent sources of gigs when they were starting out.

McCutcheon is an enthusiastic supporter. “[Eyebawl is] a driving force of local music,” he says. “They’re definitely among the best-drawing indie bands in Delaware.”

It’s easy to see why. On stage, they’re a cohesive unit. They recognize that a live performance affords them more leeway for experimentation than their recordings, but they don’t abuse that freedom. Above all, says Yoder, “Our set flows as a single piece. There’s no question about what comes next.”

Watching an Eyebawl performance is to see three good friends play refined music they believe in.

It’s why longtime fan Lizzie Wilson continues seeking out their gigs, including the one at 1984. When I spoke to her there, she said, “They’ve known each other for so long and they work really, really well together. They bounce off each other.”

It’s an energy their eventual label manager, Connor Murray of Crafted Sounds, in Pittsburgh, loves capturing. Talking about Gutterbawl, Murray says, “[They] didn’t sound like anything else we were working with in 2018. Erin’s voice was very gritty, the bass had a cool, sludgy tone, and the chops were sharp.”

In the mid-2010s, Murray was a prospective student touring the University of Delaware when he stopped in Rainbow Records and picked up a Grace Vonderkuhn tape. He didn’t end up attending UD, but he kept Vonderkuhn’ s name in mind as he worked his way through the University of Pittsburgh.

A few years later, in March of 2018, Murray was doing artist and repertoire work–essentially talent scouting–and he contacted Vonderkuhn to see if she wanted to work together.

Vonderkuhn was already signed with someone else, but she offered an alternative. “She said her friend, Erin, was working on music,” says Murray. “She connected us, and I liked the music.”

The timing was serendipitous. “[Eyebawl] had a debut EP in the oven and I was pretty interested, so things moved kinda fast,” says Murray of what would eventually become Gutterbawl. “Their first release went pretty well, and Eyebawl wanted to work with us again for [2019’s EP] Never Again, so we helped make it happen.”

About the Name

Coming up with the band’s name involved a web of emotional associations for Silva, starting with pop culture. Explaining that she has a fascination for illustration as well as music, she says, “I’ve always liked the show Daria [a spin-off of Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head], and something about the way they drew her eyes resonated with me.” Her fascination with Daria’s peepers soon expanded to eyes in general, and that’s apparent in the way she renders them in her own illustrative work. “You can draw an eye and just the way the lid is can express a feeling,” she says.

From there, she connected her illustrative work with her music. “I was writing sad songs at the time,” she says. “So I was like, ‘I bawl’—like crying. That ties up all the weird things I do as creative outlets and puts it in one little package.”

The unusual spelling also had an unforeseen benefit. “It works because if we spelled it like ‘eyeball’ it would be a pain in the ass to find us on the internet,” Bruce says. Silva animatedly elaborates: “Can you imagine? Uncharted territory [on the internet] is so few and far between, I was immediately excited.”

Sure enough, a quick Google search instantly returns Eyebawl’s Bandcamp, Facebook, Spotify, and Instagram pages, along with YouTube videos and local press coverage.

Looking to the Future

Now Eyebawl is looking for opportunities out of state, plenty of which exist. So far, they’ve played in Rochester, N.Y.; at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.; Baltimore and Frederick, M.D.; Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

For future gigs, Silva lists Richmond and New York City as two places they’re keeping a special eye on (so to speak), though their hopes aren’t limited to those two places. According to Bruce, the main deciding factor  is financial viability, and there are a few ways they can evaluate that: Can the band afford to travel to the gig? Does it pay well enough? If they’re working on new, original music, is the writing time they’re going to lose to rehearsal balanced out by the benefits of taking the gig?

Ultimately, all three band members agree that new connections are the strongest advantage of traveling for a show. “The first time you might go play a crappy show in New York,” says Bruce. “But then you meet somebody who’ll book you on a show that’s a little bit better. And you keep going and the shows get better.”

For now, that might mean their out-of-state shows take place in venues that are half vegetarian restaurant, half bike shop (a venue they’ve booked in real life on at least two occasions in two cities).

No matter where Eyebawl takes them, the members have plenty of good things to say about Wilmington’s musical bona fides. “I think people [we meet traveling] are shocked when they ask [about Wilmington], ‘So what’s the scene like?” says Silva. “It’s actually pretty great.”

Adds Bruce: “I’ll always say, ‘This band’s from Wilmington.’”

Eyebawl’s music is available digitally on eyebawl.bandcamp.com or on cassette from the Crafted Sounds website (craftedsounds.net).

Upcoming live performances include Oddity Bar on Saturday, March 21, 9 p.m.

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