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Transforms Ascot Room into an Enchanted Forest
Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 17, 2005
By Greg Adams
The last few years for Eisley have streamed by at 65 to 70 miles per hour since they shot out of their home base of Tyler, Texas, to find their place among supernovas like Coldplay, Snow Patrol and New Found Glory. This summer, Eisley Dupree siblings Chauntelle (23), Sherri (21), Weston (19), and Stacy (17), along with friend Jonathan Wilson (21), embarked on their first headlining tour to promote their full-length Reprise Records debut, Room Noises, accompanied by fellow Texans Pilotdrift and Canton, Ohio’s Lovedrug.
July 17, 2005, they were smack dab in the middle of downtown Minneapolis preparing to play The Ascot Room, the cozy, mock-forested upstairs portion of The Quest Club. When Prince owned the venue, The Ascot Room was his exclusive domain, nicknamed “Heaven,” where he could gather in partial seclusion with fellow “super VIPs” to watch (and be seen by) everyone else crowded in the main room below. Now that The Ascot Room has transformed into The Quest’s very own 7th Street Entry (the cramped “sidecar” of Minneapolis’ legendary First Avenue the club immortalized in Prince’s movie Purple Rain), its mystique has diminished; however, with cherubic charm and endearing enthusiasm, Eisley penetrated the dusky atmosphere like “Jesus streak” rays through broken clouds to restore a little bit of heaven to this place.
Preshow: Eisley sought sanctuary at a nearby Starbucks. Back in the Ascot Room, Pilotdrift dove into their seismic-charged set. Eisley’s tour manager, Boyd Dupree whose more important title is “Dad” to 4/5 of the band suggested we move away from the crowded corner merchandise tables where his wife (a.k.a. “Mom”) and daughter are dishing out Eisley T’s, hoodies, posters and discs to eager fans. Dupree and I stood between the sizeable fake tree and indoor park fountain to get a better view of Pilotdrift. Dupree lip-synched the words; actually, he may have been singing full-out for all I know: Pilotdrift was LOUD! A glorious, otherworldly loud, that is. Impressive. As I got sucked into the captivating audio adventures unfolding on the stage before me, Dupree checked his watch.
Pilotdrift’s thunderous drum circle closer abruptly ended and Boyd excused himself to check on the sound crew or merchandise table or the dozen or so other balls he was currently juggling. I was left to reflect on my first introduction to Eisley (Moss Eisley back then). I’d heard a mention of them on another band’s website in 2001 or 2002 and sent off an e-mail to Sherri Dupree at Eisley.com. She sent me a CDR of their recently compiled EP2, which featured early versions of “Telescope Eyes,” “Over the Mountains,” and “Laughing City,” along with a few gems that haven’t found their way onto any subsequent releases. The band’s Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and Coldplay influence were evident even then. I couldn’t believe at that time they only ranged in age from 14-21. In just three short years, the band has gone from shyly playing their parents’ coffeehouse to opening for one of their musical mentors, Coldplay, at Madison Square Garden. How would such an accelerated trajectory to the top affect this young bunch of seemingly innocent kids?
Dupree returned and said the band had returned from Starbucks and was ready for me backstage. We slunk through the crowd gathering for Lovedrug’s set and disappeared behind the side-stage curtain. Dupree huddled up the band, and we packed into a cramped, messy backstage office area strewn with bent cigarette butts, boxes and road cases. Chauntelle, the eldest sister, extended her hand and introduced herself, but Lovedrug’s piano-driven opener smothered our exchange. Boyd motioned us out of the office, and we filed into the hallway and moved toward another area. The music still drowned us out. We hesitantly retraced our steps and finally found our way to an elevator to descend to a hopefully quieter spot. Boyd left us in a marbled entryway overlooking the street in front of The Quest. The band members sprawled out like high schoolers chilling on the steps after lunch period. From all outward appearances, Chauntelle, Sherri, Jonathan, Weston, and Stacy are average young people hip but modest clothing; guarded, knee-grabbing postures for the girls and nonchalant, one-leg-outstretched slouches for the guys.
After our awkward assembling backstage and fruitless search for a suitable interview spot (the music still pulsated heavily above and echoed off the stony walls around us), I decided to ease into the interview with some low-impact questions.
“You’d choose that over mullets?” Sherri said with a sideways glance at Chauntelle who had just replied that the one fashion trend she would have stopped would be mid-riff madness.
“Yeah, I would have stopped the whole showing your stomach for girls…showing too much skin,” Chauntelle confirmed.
Jonathan admitted that Seattle is the city that suited his personality best (the others concurred). “It’s got great coffee.”
Stacy confided that the one aspect of her life in which she wished she could be more ambitious was her songwriting.
Sherri smiled as she revealed that one advantage of being a daughter over a son is getting spoiled by your dad.
Weston hesitated. He’s having a hard time nailing down the best live musical performance he had ever seen. “Probably it would have to be our friends in a band called Midlake. They’re shows are always flawless,” he concluded.
With the ice broken, I pulled out more thoughtful questions about the band’s endless touring and family dynamics on the road. Since the band began as youngsters, and even now are barely (or not) old enough to enter many of the clubs they play, the band’s parents have played a key role in their success. How can a parent prepare his or her child to step into the turbulent, tempting world of the music business?
“I don’t think they really prepared us, because we’ve always walked through everything together,” Chauntelle explained. “None of us were prepared for this. It’s good that we’re such a close family. It’s easier to walk through something so huge as a family.”
“Your family keeps you grounded,” Sherri added. “It’s good to have them around. Our parents were always very involved _always_.”
“They did help out when we were starting. They bought all of our gear and drove us to, like, every show,” Weston said. “Our dad still is our tour manager.”
“[Our dad] can do so much,” Chauntelle admited. “To answer that question, he does prepare us for things. He tells us about interviews and keeps us informed of a lot of things.”
It’s difficult not to draw comparisons to other “family bands” when discussing Eisley. Similar to the fictitious Partridge Family or even a modern sibling-rich band like Kings of Leon, at some point, the family had to realize that the music created inside the garage or coffeehouse would reach far beyond the neighborhood.
“We never knew, not really,” Sherri said. “People were always telling us, like, ‘You guys are going to be, like, the next Beatles!’ It’s not something we’ve really been shooting for or even thinking about.”
Weston outlined the pattern for their expanding circle of influence: “It’s been cool every time something bigger happens.” He mentioned starting in Tyler, Texas, then drifting from their local scene into the larger Dallas scene where they picked up even more recognition. From there Eisley’s buzz-worthy sound and youthful exuberance propelled their popularity into the far-reaching corners of the country. “We’re surprised every time something new happens,” Weston said.
“We never really sought after it. Everything that’s happened we haven’t pushed for,” Sherri explained. “When it does happen, we just have to make decisions on what to do.”
“That’s not to say that we haven’t worked for it we have,” Stacy added.
Chauntelle summed up the overall impression of the band’s brush with greatness. “With every new opportunity, we’re like, ‘What? We get to do that?’ We work for it, because we love doing it, but I don’t think any of us have ever been, like, ‘Oh, I’ve always dreamed of being on the stage.…’”
“It’s kind of scary to think about that, because it comes with so much pressure and responsibility,” Stacy admitted. “But it happens once we do our best.”
Doing their best has led to this, their first headlining tour, supported by Pilotdrift and Lovedrug, bands that mesh well with the members of Eisley.
“They’re really awesome: we love them,” Chauntelle said of Dallas-based Pilotdrift. “They just blow people away. People who have never seen them before are impressed. They started out in the same scene as us.”
“There are so many, just like, boring bands in that scene…there are all these bands and nothing ever happens,” Weston commented. “Pilotdrift is one of the few that has made it out of that scene.”
Heads raised and Eisley members laughed and pointed to the street in front of us. As if on cue, several members of Pilotdrift meandered down the sidewalk outside. One rode a bike at a ridiculously slow pace to remain along side his slowly ambling mates.
Sherri interjected that Lovedrug is also amazing. “We’re all, like, good friends now. Their album [_Pretend You’re Alive_ on The Militia Group indie label] is one of my favorite albums.”
“Yeah, they all have big crushes on each other,” Weston playfully added with a chuckle.
With a sibling jab like that, Weston demonstrated the double blessing and dilemma of traveling together in such close quarters with people with whom one already shares a long history and finite space (i.e. home). It would be easy to imagine familial quarrels and bouts of mild “I can’t get away from these people” depression as the norm on a never-ending road trip with brothers, sisters, and parents. I wonder aloud what helps individual Eisley members bounce back from low energy or low emotional points on the road.
“Red Bull,” Stacy said, deadpan, which generates laughter among her band mates.
Sherri, who appeared distracted she was pouring water from her bottle into the upside-down cap on the floor said to the floor, “Just each other: friends, family.”
“We get over stuff really fast,” Chauntelle stated.
Other comments revealed that normal sibling fights do occur, as one would expect. Spending hours upon hours in the same crowded van, Chauntelle and the others admitted that gas stations are like little oases on the road, providing much-needed spatial asylum and distraction. Eisley admitted they often spend too much time wandering up and down the aisles of gas stations and truck stops simply because they are NOT in the van.
Along with impacting personal relationships, the road can heavily impact positively and negatively an individual’s faith life. As strong believers, Eisley do their best to keep the focus of their endeavors heavenward, which is not an easy task.
“It’s hard because we don’t get to go to church, unless there happens to be a Sunday when we’re off and can find a local church to go to,” Chauntelle explained. “You definitely have to search for a deeper relationship with God on your own. When you go to church, you’re taught what it’s really about…sometimes. For me, it’s made my faith more personal.”
“[The road] makes you really thankful,” Sherri said. “You go on tour with bands that are doing drugs and, like, drinking…it makes you thankful that you don’t need that in your life.”
The question of faith enters Eisley discussions often, since their music is carried in both secular and Christian stores. They are joining a string of successful bands that seem to have feet firmly planted in both the mainstream and Christian markets.
“I think it’s great with bands like Switchfoot and others you get to spread your music and your message to a wider range of people,” Sherri said. “It’s, like, only Christians listen to Christian music. If you’re a Christian band that plays strictly Christian music, then you’re not going to reach a lot of people that you could reach.”
Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, Eisley choose to throw their seeded Message across a broad, uncultivated field rather than into the already nutrient-rich soil of the well-tended Christian market. There’s nothing wrong with harvesting a pre-planted crop, but Eisley find satisfaction in the hope they might nurture other souls planted among the rocks and weeds. Though they didn’t push for it, Eisley’s CDs are carried in many Christian bookstores. With a low-to-no “Jesus-per-minute” count, bands like Eisley run the risk of being shunned by a more conservative Christian market for not being “Christian enough.” Jonathan said that Eisley never wanted to compromise their music just to please a particular market. He indicated the band is glad the Christian market has embraced them but equally gratified not to be pigeonholed into that narrow genre.
“When we decided we didn’t want to be on a Christian label, we kind of got a lot of crap,” Jonathan said. “People were wondering why and suggested we were calling ourselves Christians just so we could sell to that market.”
“We always use the analogy that if you’re a Christian and you’re a painter, you don’t just paint pictures of Jesus,” Sherri explained. “But if you do paint pictures of other things, then no one’s going to give you a hard time. People really pick on music. If we were writing about shady, dark things…but we’re not. We write about the normal world: life and friends and just making up stories. That’s using the creativity God gave us.”
“Just because we’re not singing ‘Hallelujah, Jesus!’ doesn’t mean we’re not thanking Him for the gifts He’s given us,” Weston added.
“It’s really your everyday, personal lives that thank Him, and you really should just think of that as important,” Sherri concluded.
Along with adjusting to the often-polar standards/demands of being a Christian musician, Eisley has had to become used to the idea that people suddenly care what they think…about nearly everything. Interviews are an intrusive reality in an artist’s life, and Eisley have tried hard not to crush people’s impression of them as young people set apart.
“Interviews are very weird,” Sherri admitted. “Intimidating, kind of.”
“There’s a little bit of pressure, too,” Chauntelle said. “We realize that we all want to be role models for other people; so, when people ask our opinions on issues, we want to have a good answer.”
“It does make you try harder to know how you do feel about things,” Weston stated.
Role models have a tough job, especially when they are young and Christian. The band strives for honesty, an attribute sung about but not often displayed in rock music. Luckily, Eisley are successfully true to themselves and forthright with their fans.
“Really, we’re all just a bunch of kids who don’t know anything either we’ re just trying to figure everything out, too,” Sherri concluded.
When Dupree called the band away from the interview to prepare for the show, I followed them up in the elevator. They were playful and genial, as if they were returning to class from passing time. The backstage area was dark, and the only face I could make out was Dupree’s, illuminated by the gray-blue glow of his laptop. He was checking in with the Eisley forum and getting details from someone about a new Eisley.com photo contest. My eyes adjusted, and I spied Eisley gathered in a circle for a pre-show huddle or prayer…I guessed the latter, but Radiohead on the house speakers prevented me from hearing anything else.
The crowd was packed near the front of the stage as the quintet took up their instruments Chauntelle and Sherri strapped on their guitars, flanking Stacy, who was set up front and center at a keyboard that far exceeded her tender age. Weston plopped down on his drum stool (there was a fake rooster atop his bass drum), and Jonathan slung his bass over his shoulder behind Sherri on the far side of the stage. Several digital and cell phone cameras shot above the crowd’s heads and flashed as Eisley launched into their set. Sherri was focused, Stacy sang from behind a curtain of dark, dyed hair, and Chauntelle head eased back with eyes closed as if she was smelling fine home cooking or basking in the sun gleefully sang along with her sisters away from the microphone. Boyd -- Dad -- wandered backstage and through the crowd with a small video camera held an arm’s length above his head, constantly pointed in the direction of his kids.
After some futile attempts to capture the band on film myself, I fought my way to the back edge of the crowd out front. Eisley delivered on all the songs I was hoping they would play: the sweet, enthralling “Just Like We Do,” the quirky iTunes exclusive “Vintage People,” and the wonderfully childlike “Tree Tops.” As I jotted down notes in the darkness, a flittering luminescence caught my eye. Tiny strings of strobe lights wove in and out of legs like lightning bugs among trees in an enchanted forest. It was a young girl, waist-high, sporting light-up flip-flops on her feet. She drifted effortlessly through the crowd and disappeared backstage.
Note: Eisley completed their
headlining tour July 7 and have since taken to the road again, this time
supporting Hot Hot Heat.