Following the demise of their former acts, prolific Knoxville musicians Russell Garner and Tony Johnson began collaborating in May of this year. The duo began performing as Ebony Eyes only one month after beginning work on the project. With the recent addition of Nick Teague on bass, Ebony Eyes has become the power trio it was envisioned to be and will soon begin work on its first recording effort.
Garner, best known for his work in garage duo Mother Mange, was introduced to Johnson (formerly of Atropos, Kamuy and Unicobra) this spring. Using old Mother Mange material as a starting point, the two began writing and performing while seeking a third member to complete its roster. Teague, currently a resident of Nashville, signed on with Ebony Eyes just over two months ago and joined the act on stage almost immediately afterward.
"We were introduced through a mutual friend in May," recalls Johnson of the initial formation with Garner. "We had both been looking for other locals to play with. We both like the same music; there was no genre or gimmick that we were trying to fulfill. We like guitars and drums. After the first day of playing together, we felt like we were onto something worthwhile. Russell and I played around three shows together as a duo in June, and we really wanted a bass player. Russell had been good friends with Nick and knew that he could play various instruments, so when he offered to play bass we were glad to accept because he is an excellent young man."
"I did not want to do a duo at all," adds Garner. "I was really wanting to have more of a band this time. We really dig the power trio and always wanted a bass player. We only played as a duo because we wanted to stay active while looking for a bassist in the meantime. … As a duo we were playing about six songs; now we have about 10. Nick joined in mid-August and played his first show with us at The Well within that first week. Some of the songs are older Mother Mange songs, and those songs are all open to having bass added even though there were no existing bass ideas. We just stand in a room and pound it out."
The nature of Ebony Eyes' catalog suitably resembles a hybrid of Garner's gritty, noisy Mother Mange catalog and the spacier, ambient and instrumentally focused work of Johnson's Kamuy. Most recognizable throughout the band's songs is Garner's use of vocal effects. While these voice warps give the songs identity, they may be more reflective of Garner's expressed stance against music that takes itself too seriously, as he notes the banality of and low priority placed in his own lyrical content.
"It's louder, and the music is less urgent…" says Garner, in comparison to his last act. "Vocal effects are a go all the time. I like them, and it gives a nice psychedelic feel. Eventually, we may progress even further on vocal effects. Lyrics are nonsense; they're all melody-based — music first, then vocals."
Well aware of the average band's lifespan, Garner and Johnson have fast-tracked this project. While Ebony Eyes is still in the process of fleshing out and developing bass parts for its existing material, the band is intent on entering the studio soon.
"We just need something recorded so that folks can get an idea," Johnson explains. "As far as developing our sound, that's always happening. We just get in the room and go. The time is now. It's got to be in the moment. We have 10 songs so far… not sure what will happen with the release. It may be a demo, maybe DIY; not sure. We just have to get some tracks out there."
Tonight (Friday) Ebony Eyes joins Wolf at the Door and Mobility Chief for a performance at The Well. Music kicks off at 10 p.m. and admission is $5.
With: Wolf at the Door and Mobility Chief
When: 10 p.m. tonight
Where: The Well, 4620 Kingston Pike
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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