Ebony Eyes
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Ebony Eyes

Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Knoxville, Tennessee, United States
Band Rock Punk




"Knoxville's Ebony Eyes Keep the Volume Turned Up"

For a band named after a ’70s disco-rock hit, Knoxville’s Ebony Eyes sure is having a hard time shaking its heavy-metal reputation. Known for its rowdy and decibel-surging shows, the group is often described as hyperaggressive. But drummer Bill Van Vleet says that there’s more to their sound than sheer heaviness.

“As far as rock ’n’ roll bands go, we get compared to stuff that’s really heavy, like metal,” Van Vleet says. “But that’s not what we do. Ebony Eyes’ music can be intense and it can be kind of aggressive, but it’s also very accessible.”

Singer/guitarist Russell Garner agrees. “I think a lot of times people confuse volume with being heavy,” he says. “We tend to play louder than what some people are used to, but there’s really nothing that heavy about what we do.”

Ebony Eyes has gone through a handful of transformations in the group’s two-year history. Formed in the summer of 2012, the band began as a casual experiment between Garner and a friend. Eventually, the duo went their separate ways, and Garner asked pal Nick Teague to come on board as a bassist. The pair then recruited mutual friend Derek Lynch, who played drums with the outfit for a year before moving away from Knoxville—just weeks before the band was scheduled to hit the road.

“We had all of these gigs scheduled and we obviously didn’t want to cancel them,” Garner says. “So we figured that if we could get Bill Van Vleet, the master, to play drums with us, we wouldn’t have to. Lucky for us, he agreed.”

At the time, Van Vleet—the longtime drummer for the now-defunct Knoxville outfit 1220 and current member of Nashville’s Birdwings—was living in Nashville and only planned on helping out the band for a handful of dates. But the trio gelled, and Van Vleet decided to come on board full-time.

“It’s hard to even compare the first iteration of Ebony Eyes to what we’re doing today,” Garner says. “Now that we have Bill, we can make everything better. Instead having ideas and just sort of messing around with them, we can figure out a way to lay them down.”

On their latest release, the 2014 EP Grow Into It, Ebony Eyes alternate between pockets of punchy psych-rock and spacey prog riffs. Throughout, Garner’s snarling vocals are muffled by a generous helping of distortion. Live, the group’s songs are transformed into harder, more spastic versions of themselves. To up the intensity factor, the trio thrashes across the stage, exhausting themselves in the process.

“There’s definitely a crazy physical aspect to the shows,” Garner says. “When we’re done playing, I feel like I’ve been trying out for a junior-high wrestling match or something. It’s hard to play like that the entire show. A lot of the time, I don’t think I’m even going to be able to do the last two songs. You can see us struggling to make it through. It creates a really cool, human kind of vibe that I think audiences are drawn to.”

It’s only been a few months since the release of Grow Into It, but Ebony Eyes has already started recording another six-song EP. “We’re really on this six-song kick at the moment,” Garner says. When it comes to the recording process, the trio tries to keep things open-ended.

“We’ve never aimed to achieve any particular sound,” Garner says. “It’s really just that we try to make songs that we would want to listen to. So if we’re playing something and are like, this is cool, we’ll flesh out a song and that’s the end of that.”

While their next EP will mostly feature songs from their current catalog, the band is looking forward to taking their new material in a fresh direction.

“I think we’re really moody as far as what kind of sound we’re going to come out with. Our next song is always different than the last,” Garner says. “I could see us going in sort of a dreamy direction or going straight-up thrash. We just sort of pivot as we’re playing it.”

But for a group that is used to constant change, the members of Ebony Eyes seem content with their current set-up—at least for the time being.

“We definitely like where we’re at right now,” Van Vleet says. “But the point is to always progress. You can never be completely happy with where you are because you always want to get better.” - Metro Pulse

"Band Scene: New drummer proves third time's the charm for Ebony Eyes"

The motives of Knoxville garage rock trio Ebony Eyes are anyone’s guess. Aggressive and detached all at once, one might question if they’re punk or metal. Are they ambitious or apathetic? Serious or silly? Crusaders or anarchists? If frontman Russell Garner’s previous duo Mother Mange provides a clue or pattern, it’s that he simply likes to make as much noise as possible with the fewest people. While the band cranked out two EPs within a six-month span ending in October, Ebony Eyes doesn’t care to discuss its own music, at least not at length. The act would rather let listeners draw their own conclusions. To facilitate this, the band offers its entire catalog for free on both Facebook and Bandcamp.

Ebony Eyes’ October release “Supernot” features six new tracks that pick up where May’s “Grow into It” EP left off. The group’s frantic garage sound conjures a mutant offspring of Sonic Youth, Pavement, Green Jelly and let’s say ... Deerhoof, sometimes at odds with itself as swirling guitar effects encircle Garner’s echoing vocal tantrums. For only three instruments, there is quite a bit going on. If one applies the time to deconstruct the individual elements within “Supernot’s” chaotic mire, the reward is substantial, yielding enough enjoyable hooks to populate twice as many songs. With two seamless six-song EPs released back to back, Ebony Eyes explains that smaller but steadier EP releases are preferable to sparse full-length offerings.

“We just put ‘Supernot’ out to the public,” says Garner. “I don’t know, it’s just easier to release smaller batches of songs. Six is a good number. We like six.”

Bassist Nik Teague elaborates: “Multiple EPs a year keep people interested, as opposed to one full-length that everyone forgets about in a month.”

Recently filling a drum vacancy with Bill Van Vleet (also of Earth Quaker, The Birdwings and a rumored 1220 reunion), Ebony Eyes claims to be stable at last. Despite Van Vleet’s demanding schedule and Nashville residence, the band agrees that the third drummer’s been the charm so far and things are coming easier with him on board.

“We have had lots of changes over the past two years,” Garner acknowledges. “Bill is our third drummer. We had some shows set up back in August 2013, and our second drummer had some life changes and had to move to Ohio. We didn’t want to cancel the dates, so we contacted Bill, and luckily he was available for that block of time.”

“We didn’t know if he’d be interested in being a full-time member,” adds Teague. “But he was, and we were very happy. He’s the kind of drummer who makes it easier. Bill’s made it easier to take a big idea for a song and shave it down to something much more concise.”

A new direction may be on the horizon as well for the band. Never one to answer directly, Ebony Eyes indicates it will chart new ground with its next batch of songs, feeling its nuances have sometimes been obscured by its heaviness. Ebony Eyes also looks to unveil physical copies of its EPs in the coming months as it shifts focus to out-of-town performances. With any luck, CD sales will enable the band to then release its work on vinyl.

“At one point early on, we were playing with lots of heavy bands, which was great, and we like heavy stuff, but it wasn’t planned on our part,” recalls Garner. “But over the past year and a half, we have been able to play with lots of different acts. ... January will bring new resolutions. We will get some physical copies ready, at which point we will have to go other places to sell them so that we can earn some (money) to put out some vinyl.” - News Sentinel


Ebony Eyes - Ebony Eyes (2013)
Ebony Eyes - Grow Into It (2014)
Ebony Eyes - Supernot (2014)