an interview w/ Eternal Summers (on playing CMJ, touring Europe, their new album, videos, songwriting & more)
Nicole Yun photo by Thomas James Keywood
Eternal Summers released their fifth album, Gold & Stone, via Kanine Records, fittingly, this past summer. This is their first self-produced album and one of their best. Gold & Stone is a vibrant, dreamlike record, yet it doesn't shy away from also combining punk elements that the band has previously used in other albums. Eternal Summers also experienced another first by going on their first-ever Europe/UK tour. Despite being back home for only a week, they're going to CMJ, where they will play five shows.
I spoke with frontwoman Nicole Yun about their last LP, their European and UK tour, their stunning music videos, and CMJ.
BV: You recently came back from touring Europe and the UK, your first ever European tour. How does touring in Europe/UK differ from the US?
Nicole of Eternal Summers: Yeah, it's really interesting, going over there. I think the main thing that we noticed is that every country had a different vibe. People are really serious about concerts over there. Watching shows, I barely saw anyone with phones out ever, not even to text or take photos. People were there just to really pay attention to the music. Sometimes that was hard for us, depending on where we were. In England, we had to get used to the fact that people paid so much attention that they don't move, they just watch, but then afterwards people would be like, 'Hey. I really enjoyed that'. We noticed after three shows in England, that people are just not going to move as much, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not a good show.
But then, we noticed in Paris and Germany, people did move around a lot, but they were just so there for the show and not distracted at all. It was just really interesting because in the US, I love that generally people know how to move their neck or head, like bob around a little bit. And they can be really small, but you can tell "Okay, they're having fun." But I think, just that respect level of "I'm not even going to bring my phone out at all" is just not an American thing. I don't know if it's a bad thing or a good thing, but it's just one of those first things that was really super obvious to us.
It sounds like a good thing.
I think it was, and I really feel like over there, they don't really take it for granted when people come from overseas to play shows. I think people are like "I'm here for a concert and these people came from overseas to play, it gets my undivided attention." I thought it was really, really cool.
Which cities did you like the most. Who had the best audience?
I was really surprised, but I think Paris was amazing. I don't know why I thought it was going to be different, but I think that some other bands that I was talking to said that sometimes the crowd in Paris can, I don't know, love you or hate you. But what I loved about the show we played there, which was at this place called Espace B, is that people were just dancing, and it was really sweaty and hot. Some people had been following us for a while, and we've been around for a little more than five years as a band ... It just felt comfortable. It was like "I'm just going to scream out the song name that I want to hear from the band," which was really exciting, fun, and warm. It was more on the ruckus side than I expected. I think that's why I really liked it.
You seem to have a somewhat large following in the UK. I just came back from living in London for almost a year, and you had quite a few fans there. Were you expecting to have such a good turnout there?
Oh, that's cool. Yeah, I don't know if that's true or not. It did seem like we're highly enjoyed by a lot of UK bands, so I don't know. Maybe because we were in England and love England, maybe England might love us back. That's corny but yeah. It's so hard to tell when you have never been to a country to tour, what your popularity is like there. But this time in the UK was really, really great. There was a good turnout at our shows, especially for being a band that's been around for a few years and going somewhere for the first time, it's just hard to know what your expectations should be. We had zero expectations, and I think that was good because it was really encouraging. The turnout was really cool.
You're back only for a few days and are heading to NYC to play CMJ before heading out on another tour. What keeps bringing you back to CMJ?
We've played CMJ a few times, pretty sporadically. I think when we were just coming out as a band, we went a couple years in a row, and then we took a break for a while. CMJ is a really great avenue for newer fans. For us, I think any chance to play New York is good, and it's fun. Sometimes it can be hectic, playing something like CMJ. I know a lot of bands will really try to talk up their schedule, play seven shows or something like that. We're playing five, which is kind of more than I thought we would play. But I think it's exciting knowing that a lot of bands that you're excited about are also playing, and you'll get many chances to see them as well. It feels kind of like summer camp for bands, sort of. Just like, 'Oh, I know I'm going to see these bands I'm friends with,' or these bands are from another country that I'll never get a chance to see, and the fact that I'd get a chance to see them now that they're coming to CMJ.
I think it's that kind of draw, being a person that loves music and loves to see my friends who are in other bands. That's the real pull, I think, as somebody who was a college radio DJ and attended CMJ as a college student. I remember how exciting that was and finding out about all this new stuff. It's a really good avenue for exposing people to our music, because that's how I found out about a lot of bands I'd never heard of -- being a college student and checking it out.
Who are some of the bands you're excited to see at CMJ this year?
Makthaverskan, Protomartyr, Chomp, Pinact, Wildhoney, and Expert Alterations
Your recent album, Gold &Stone , is your first self-produced album in a while. Do you think this allowed you to have more freedom experimenting with your sound and overall feel of the album?
Yeah. I think so. Earlier on, when we were recording our first record, we felt a lot of freedom, but also, at least from me, I felt a lot of fear in the studio, just not feeling comfortable. Daniel, our drummer --he, and then when Jonathan joined on later for the Correct Behavior album --they're both just a little more comfortable in the studio situation. Their kind of recreational activity was, "Oh, let's hang out at our friend's studio and goof around and make cool different sounds," and things like that. I think for me, back then, even though we had a lot of freedom, I felt pretty shy. Then we had a few albums produced by other people, and then this album. I think it's really cool to be at this point where we've recorded a good number of albums to feel comfortable in the studio, but then also know more exactly what we want, and also not feel apologetic for trying things out. I think that took, at least me personally, a long time to get there.
Our engineer for this album also worked on our previous album from last year, The Drop Beneath. Having that bridge as well of someone we felt really comfortable with, who understood our music really well, kind of helped us to feel like, "Okay, this is our friend, we can bounce all these ideas on him, and we can tell him exactly what we think and not feel shy about it or intimidated." It was really great. I'm super proud of this album because I think it's a milestone of feeling comfortable in our own skin.
Gold & Stone seems less melodically dark than your previous album, The Drop Beneath, yet still has some of the dark lyrical elements, such as in the titular track "Gold & Stone" and "Together or Alone." Is the contrast between darker, somber topics and an upbeat sound intentional?
I don't think so. I think a lot of my favorite songwriters are a little more keyed in to how they write a song, what lyrics they're using with what melodies and stuff. For me, I don't really do that. I think basically what comes out, comes out. Maybe subconsciously, that's just a thing that I tend to gravitate towards, but I don't ever really think about it like, "Oh, this is like a pop melody and I want a darker lyric." I just think sometimes, it's kind of like a subconscious thing, where it will just happen that way.
For me, when I'm writing a melody, a lot of the times I'll just use nonsense words to help me come up with that melody. But a lot of times when I'm using nonsense words, real words will just come out and they'll stay, they'll end up being the real lyrics to the song. It's almost like a song will form itself. Not that I didn't have anything to do with it, but I just think that the intentional quality, the intentionality that some people have, I don't have that.
What was the overall inspiration for this particular album?
I don't think there was an overall inspiration as far as an idea, but I think there was an overall feeling that the band was having, I think. We wanted to do something on our own terms. We wanted to not show being limited by anything. I think with that mentality, some of the songs were written without feeling like, "Oh, this is gonna fit with that," or "This is too different than this other song." I think it was just like it does not matter. Whatever kind of songs that you feel like playing, and eventually we'll just have to choose the ones that fit on the album. I think there wasn't really a "Oh, the theme of the album is this."
Though, in the last album, The Drop Beneath, there was more like a concise theme. I think we wanted it to be a heavier, guitar-driven album that was dark. I think that's what happened. I think for this one, it was just kind of the mentality of the world being your oyster, don't limit yourself, and don't feel like anything's too far out there. I think the ones that really were way far out there actually ended up getting cut from the album, which is unfortunate, but I'm glad the songs still got written, and they still got recorded, eventually they'll get released in a different way. I think it was more of a feeling, and a direction of what we wanted to do rather than a theme or a style we were trying to go for.
You mentioned in previous interviews that you didn't really have an idea of how the album should sound. You didn't write songs beforehand. What is that process of actually figuring it out like? Do you just get together and brainstorm ideas, or do you just write the songs and then think about how you're going to make it sound?
Yeah, no brainstorming. We really ride on instinct so much, almost one hundred percent instinct. Instinctual band. Not to say that we don't think about our parts, we totally do, but when we write a song, there's a lot of bits and pieces. Like maybe I'll have a guitar riff or a melody, and then we'll just play it, and we'll just play it until everyone feels great about what they're adding to the song. I think that's kind of been the way that the band has been going for the past couple years. It's just, "Hey, we all really trust each other as musicians, and we all have really different influences. So let's just see where this goes." But yeah, barely any brainstorming. It's more just like, "Let me give you these little nuggets, and let's just see what happens when we try to play it."
Besides drumming, Daniel also sings on some of your tracks, including "Ebb Tide" and "Electric Blue." You've mentioned before that you haven't really been able to play those songs live because you don't have somebody on drums. Would you consider changing that in the future?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think we've always been talking about how we want to do the next album, and I think that won't be for a while. But we also have been talking about maybe having another person to help us perform some of these songs. We'll see how it goes. I have no idea what will happen, because this whole 'being in a band' thing is always, you know, you're in a band one day, you're not in the band the next day.
We want to look into those options because there are a lot of songs that we haven't been able to perform because of the drumming situation. There's been songs that we've had drum machine on, but we haven't done that yet live. That's not hard to do, but we just haven't really... we've been a little lazy when it comes to doing that in a live show. But it's not a closed door for sure, we all really do want to be able to play our full repertoire of songs.
You really excel at is making music videos. Your music videos tell a story; each of them are different and stunning, including your recent stop-motion video for "The Roses." What inspires the creation of them?
Oh, you know, we can't ever really take full credit because we always collaborate with different directors. Usually, there will be a conversation beforehand, like, "Here's the song, here are the lyrics." They'll think about it, we'll think about it, and then something will happen. I think there were a few particular videos where we just had this idea and the director really took it in a great way.
There's a video for our song 'Good As You,' which is also from Correct Behavior. The director, his name is Abe [Abraham Vilchez-Moran], said, "Hey, I kind of see this romantic scene.' And I was like, "Hey, I know that the lyrics can be romantic, but can this be more about personal struggle, maybe cerebral struggle?" So he suggested a mental institution. And I was like, "What?!" And he said, "How about somebody in a straight jacket in a mental institution?" I told him, "If you can make this work, and it's not cheesy, let's do it.'
And that video ... It's one of my favorite ones because he ended up finding this abandoned mental institution near Richmond, Virginia in a town called Petersburg, Virginia. We had to get police clearance to get into the building. There was no electricity, it was shut down in the 70's. They shot one of the Hannibal movies in there, so it was so creepy in there. It has dead birds on the ground, an abandoned electric shock therapy box...you can't even ask for props like this. We just thought "Woah, this place is perfect for this video." If you get a chance to look at it, you should watch it because It's just beyond.
Then he used the people who did underwater photography and underwater filming, so he used different shots of that. In one scene, they were these girls wearing flowing, colorful dresses while underwater, but in a crazy mirror image. They were able to get deep into the idea of cerebral, mental struggle with symbolism. That was just one example where it was like, "Okay, I don't have a clear idea, but I have a clear feeling and vibe." The directors that we work with have always been so great about taking it in a creative direction that we we personally wouldn't ever have come up with. Most of our videos are definite collaborations, not really specifically our own ideas. but I'm glad people like them.
You and Daniel started out as a collective, the Magic Twig Community. How do you think you've evolved as musicians since then?
Well, it's hard to say. I think back then ...I really just came in on the show of that whole music scene. Daniel was really hardcore in that scene, and Jonathan was in it as well. The two of them were really involved with a ton of different projects, from the spectrum of bands that sounded like The Byrds, like '60's, tango-y stuff, to new age dance music, to really avant garde stuff.
I think, with Eternal Summers, the focal point, as far as "Okay, we all want to put a lot of energy into this band", was a little bit bittersweet. I feel like there were a lot of other projects that were going on that, especially my two band mates, but Daniel, specifically was in, because he was focusing on this band, those bands kind of decided not to do certain things. Some of the bands just didn't want to tour or play as many shows, so it just kind of became this thing like, "Okay, well, the three of us really like this project, and the demands of it are more." There's more touring involved, there's more working on albums consistently. So I think what ends up happening is, we just all got--not tunnel vision, but there was a lot of extra focus. For instance, Daniel had never played drums in a band before Eternal Summers, and he would probably say his drumming was very Velvet Underground, just simple beats when we first started. For me as well, I'm not a trained guitarist at all, and I definitely only used a handful of chords when the band began. But then as we just decided, "Okay, we're really jumping into this band," I think all we could do was play more and more, practice more and more, and get better, better-- better at our instruments and better at songwriting.
I think it was really important that the guys, specifically, were in such a vibrant, creative community because of all the different types of recording things that we're doing with the band, and all the different types of songwriting. Both Jonathan and Daniel play many different instruments. I think, when we approached Eternal Summers' albums and even our live performance, there was a broader spectrum of experience and creative ideas than if Daniel was just a drummer and Jonathan was just a bass player. I really rely on them a lot, even in the recording studio because they recorded with all these different projects, and then I did Twig Community ... I think they're just these two really hair-brained, wild ideas, and I'm not. I'm more like, "Oh, I want this vocal to be good, I want this guitar to be good." I think it really brought a really great magic for our band, the experience in the community.
It was pretty amazing back in those days, like in the mid-2000s, just how many projects were going on. I was in a few bands that weren't in the collective, but we were all playing shows together. When I think about it, it was just really so creatively free, and really hair-brained. There was no limit to what type of music you wanted to play and perform and record, and nobody was judging anyone. It was kind of utopian, when I think about it.
Eternal Summers CMJ shows and dates
WED Oct 14 @ Pianos (5:15 PM):
Kanine Day party w/ Yung, Car Seat Headrest, Pinact, Oscar, Expert Alterations, Weaves, Beverly, Mercury Girls (Philly), Cheatahs, Wildhoney, Hin Du, Hockey Dad (FREE)
WED Oct 14 @ The Rock Shop (11 PM):
International Rescue showcase w/ Chomp, SAVAK, Pinact, Bird Courage (tickets )
THU Oct 15 - Philadelphia, PA @ Bourbon & Branch
FRI Oct 16 - NY, NY @ Pianos (11 PM):
The Deli showcase w/ Ohnomoon, Mild High Club, Weaves, Beverly, Diet Cig, Stolen Jars, Controller, The Fluids, Vundabar (tickets)
SAT Oct 17 - NY @ Cake Shop (day):
Cake Shop day party w/ Solids, Gemma, Chomp, Expert Alterations, Garden of Elks (FREE)
SAT Oct 17 @ Knitting Factory (12 AM):
Flower Booking showcase w/ The Album Leaf, Diet Cig, Stealing Sheep, S, Lyla Foy ( tickets )
SUN Oct 18 Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong
MON Oct 19 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter