Band on the Brink: Eternal Summers talk Kombucha, DIY, and why they feel the scene owes them nothing
For four years now, Roanoke, VA’s Eternal Summers have been a band on the brink. Their debut record, 2010’s Silver, was a straight-forward collection of guitar and drum-based punk nugs that put the then-duo on the map; their most recent, 2012’s Correct Behavior, saw them expanding to a three-piece and winning blog buzz with shimmering dream pop numbers like the scintillating “Millions.”
They’ve spent the past half-decade touring around the country, playing shows at dive bars and beach bars and some random guy’s house, winning fans with high energy performances and a blustery blend of punk antics tempered with a shoegaze gloss. And as a result, they’re slowly transitioning to one of our very favorite bands making music right now, and a sure pick for 2014’s next breakout act.
This spring, Eternal Summers will release its third LP, The Drop Beneath, on March 4 via Kanine Records. (They’ll play Boot & Saddle one day later.) In advance of its release, we rung up one-half founding duo, singer/guitarist Nicole Yun, to hear more about Drop’s creation. Outside, winter storm Pax raged on, but inside our respective homes felt warm and comfy, as we talked songwriting, DIY, and the best tacos on the road. Read on!
The Key: How are you guys holding up this winter? Is it as bad in Virginia as it is here in Philly?
Nicole Yun: Yeah, it’s snowing nonstop here. We already got 14 inches. But it’s great because I don’t have to work and it’s nice to just have time off. I was telling a friend the other day: when you get used to all of the breaks in November and December with the holidays and you just slide through to January and you have to work straight through, it can be daunting…so it’s nice to have time. I have nothing I need to do, and I can do anything I want.
TK: Do you guys work other than being a band?
NY: I work at a health foods store, but it’s the type of place where I’m around people who were are very supportive of my music…so basically I can go on tour, then come back and do a little work for them.
Daniel (Cardiff, co-founder and drummer) does some teaching; he’s actually really great with elementary school age kids. I think it’s because he has a beard—he has this authority and the kids just respect him.
And Jonathan (Woods, bassist) is in a ton of other bands—he’s a member of Eternal Summers but he also plays with other groups too. So he is definitely living the music life.
TK: So tell me a little bit about the new record, The Drop Beneath. I heard a stream and it sounds a little dreamier, and a little less angular than Correct Behavior. What the writing and recording process like? How was it different writing your second record as a three-piece?
NY: I think the fact that it is our second record as a three-piece means we were more confident this time around. I think Jonathan in particular felt more assertive this time—I think last time he felt a bit more restrained, because we had been a duo and then he just joined as our bass player, and he didn’t want to “ruin” the dynamic. But none of us should feel any restraint at all. We’re a three-piece and we’re going to do whatever we want. (laughs)
As for the songs, some of the songs on this record we had written around the time we were recording Correct Behavior. That first single “Gouge” was actually a reject from Correct Behavior. We were really excited about it then, and wanted to include it. But some of the people who worked on the recording with us were like, no, it’s not ready. And honestly, I think they were right. The original mixes just didn’t sound quite right. And this time, the second time we recorded, it sounded much better, I think because we had been working with it for so long, and we were playing it better, and just had a better vision. So we had a lot of songs like that on the new record, that we were playing on tour for like a year and a half.
Other songs were more recent—there was a batch of songs I wrote around December 2012/January 2013 right before we recorded the record in February 2013…there was a lot of me just sitting down in my room and writing songs and recording them on my phone. And it was equal parts me sending these ideas to my producer, Doug Gillard (Guided by Voices, Nada Surf) and equal parts me bringing these ideas to Daniel and Jonathan and us flushing them out in practice.
This most recent single, “Never Enough,” was done this way, and also “Keep Me Away” and “Until the Day I Have Won.” This was nice because when we first started off as a band, that’s what the process was…just me figuring out some melodies in my room, very intimate, and then joining up with Daniel and just hashing it out. For me, it’s very cool to be able to have a quiet intimate process, and then see what happens with full instrumentation.
So maybe half of the record was done that way—me writing tunes, and taking them to the band—and the other half were songs we had a lot of time with. So it was a nice balance when we went into the recording studio, armed with both familiar songs and songs we let have their own life in the studio because they were so new.
TK: So the title of the record is The Drop Beneath and there’s also a song called “The Drop Beneath”, which is sort of this beautiful slow grower. What does The Drop Beneath mean to you guys? Where did the name come from?
NY: When I wrote that phrase in that song, the visual I was trying to convey was about being satisfied with very little. The line is talking about “quenching me” with a drop—the idea of being quenched by something that’s very small and seems insignificant.
I don’t know why, but that really rings true to us as a band. As a band I think we have really tried to make our thesis this idea that nobody owes us anything, and we owe ourselves everything. We need to learn how to be happy and content with whatever we get…because it’s so easy to compare ourselves to other bands, or just the way the music business is now, where it seems like really new bands will get big really fast, but maybe you don’t know the whole story. Like, maybe these people were in eight other bands before that. Or maybe quick success is what happens for them, but it’s gonna be hard for them to write a second album because of all the pressure.
So it’s like: we just try to be excited that we get to write and perform music almost for a living, because that’s awesome. So we were just thinking about that.
Then on another level, taken away from the lyric in the song, we were also thinking about the concept of “the drop beneath” as something that is deeperthan beneath. It’s about depths. Some people have said content-wise this that record seems thematically really dark, even if the music isn’t so dark. Hopefully this record has a little more depth than earlier stuff we’ve done. But I also hope every record we do comes across as deeper and more mature.
TK: So I know you guys are pals with one of our fave Philly bands, Bleeding Rainbow, and you play quite a bit in Philly. And another band from Roanoke that I like, The Bastards of Fate, seem to have a Philly connection as well. What’s your view on how the scenes are similar? How are you they interrelated? What do you like about playing in Philly?
NY: That’s a good question, because there is a similarity. What I love about the Philly scene is that there is definitely a strong DIY presence, which is amazing for a major city. And I feel like the musical styles and just the way people present their bands:…they seem very accepting of weird, quirky, whatever you want to do. It seems like a pretty accepting town. I’m sure there are pretentious people everywhere, but I never get that vibe.
It’s similar to Roanoke, where the scene has been struggling for a while, but I feel like it’s been really nurturing the last couple of years. And the vibe in Roanoke is: it doesn’t matter what style you are at all, or if it’s anything that is going on right now remotely—people are supportive. And it might not be a lot of people, because the scene is really small, but that’s what I love about it. Everything sounds different, and anything goes. It’s a real sense of community.
TK: You guys come from DIY roots—how do you think this influences how your band operates?
NY: We really try to be as involved with every single aspect of our music, including our videos, and our artwork, and our merch, as much as possible. I think with the last album we made a few mistakes where we were like, “we’ll just trust what other people think.” And a few things that came out we were disappointed with. And we realized we can’t stop being completely involved in every aspect
This time around, everything was DIY. For instance, Lurid Pictures, who did our “Gouge” video—even though it looks professional—there was a huge sense of DIY there, just because these were our friends, and our concepts, and I think the video just accurately describes what we are doing.
As for our artwork, our drummer Daniel does 90 percent of the artwork, 90 percent of our tee shirts. And that’s huge, because just having consistency with artwork just gives people a vibe, like, this is what the band think about ourselves visually.
DIY is still part of our band. We’ve never stopped being a DIY band. Especially now we sometimes like to collaborate with other people, like Lurid, because there are a lot of ideas that we can’t fully executive ourselves…but we’re even more married to the idea that we want to be fully engaged in every aspect of the band.
TK: So I enjoy following you guys on Instagram, and one of my fave things is seeing all the strange and delicious looking things you guys are eating and cooking, both on tour and back home. What’s your favorite thing to eat when you’re on the road?
NY: (laughs) We actually joke a lot that we’re a beverage band. We love having four drinks, or different bottles of things in the van—usually some kind of coffee, Kombucha, and the guys are into these huge gallon jugs of water, because it’s this goal they have (also if you’ve seen us live, both Jonathan and Daniel really sweat a lot, which I love, because I love being a more physical band.) We love Kombucha a lot, because it makes us feel balanced on the road.
As for food, it’s weird—I feel like the three of us eat healthier on the road, because maybe we’re challenging each other subconsciously. I’m not sure why. Literally, it won’t be me—but both of the guys will lose weight after tour, which is so unfair.
On our good days, we’ll eat all vegan food. And our bad days when we’re coming from tour, or driving through West Virginia, we will go to Cracker Barrel. After we had gone there a few times, we found out from one of their waitress that it’s unlimited biscuits for breakfast. And we were like “Whaaat?” So that’s like when we’re coming from tour and we’re a little depressed. So we do both sides of it.
We’re also really into having Thai food at least once or twice. And if we go to the West Coast, we’re really into doing this thing called the “Taco Trail.” We’ve taken it all the way up to Seattle. Really it’s supposed to end in San Francisco. And it’s just because here in Virginia we have horrible Mexican food. So we just kinda go crazy when we get up there.
As for Instagram, the food pictures are usually me. I like to cook. I like making comfort food with some healthy ingredients. It’s mostly for my own conscience, but I’ve also been working hard on recipes recently because we’re giving out recipe books to people who pledged to fund our album. So I’ve been putting together these books to come out with our vinyl, and I’m personalizing each one with a note.
TK: We wouldn’t expect anything less.
Eternal Summers’ third record, The Drop Beneath, is available March 4 via Kanine Records. They play Boot & Saddle on March 5. The 21+ show starts at 8:30 and tickets are $8–10; more info can be found via the venue’s website.