Eula Walk the Fine Line Between Chaos and Order
Brooklyn-by-way-of-Connecticut post-punk outfit EULA is a force of nature. Incorporating shades of Wire, Bikini Kill, X-Ray Spex, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gang of Four, and Blonde Redhead, singer/guitarist Alyse Lamb, bassist Jeff Maleri, and drummer Nate Rose make an awful lot of noise for three people as they walk the fine line between chaos and order, melody and dissonance, negative space and sensory overload for a result that's as visceral as it is catchy. On their self-released debut full-length Maurice Narcisse (2011)--and even more so in their crackling live shows--frontwoman Lamb swings wildly between animal wails, percussive chants, and delicate vocalizations that are all the more anxiety-inducing for their sweetness, as if she's teetering on the edge of violent breakdown. In advance of the release party for their new "Orderly"/"Meadows" 7" (out now on Bloodmoss Records, show details following interview), we spoke with Lamb about her classical training, her production collective, and her love of riding her bike around Bushwick.
See also: NYC's Top 10 Rising Female-Fronted Bands
Can you tell me a little about your musical background? You are classically trained, yes? Yes! I grew up in Cromwell, Connecticut and studied musical composition at the University of New Haven. I took piano, voice, and guitar, but it was grounded in written composition. I like dabbling around everywhere; it helps me write better to use different instruments rather than just one.
[Growing up], I listened to everything...I was actually a dancer so I love classical music, neoclassical music, everything. And you always listen to what your parents listen to, so I listened to classic rock, and my brother loved hip-hop and my sister was a dancer too, so she loved dance music...I was exposed to a lot of different shit.
My mom is a costume designer in CT and I always went to her shows, so I was exposed to a lot of musicals, a lot of operas, a lot of ballets, those always had gorgeous music. I'm glad I had that kind of foundation when I was younger. I knew song structures, and intonations and buildup, so I kind of had that grounding.
How did you first get into punk, post-punk, no wave, etc.? We had very few record stores, there was one chain called Strawberries...I didn't have much of the underground music that I had at college, so I was listening to the top 40 alt-rock hits on the radio like every other kid does...then they had this thing called "flashback lunchbox" and I heard the Pixies for the first time, and PJ Harvey, and I was like "what is this?"
How did you move from your classical training to starting a rock band? I was in a band here and there in high school. It was only about 90 kids on my class, super small. When I got to college at University of New Haven it was a much bigger pool, a lot of musicians. Right away I took a music production course. I bought a 4-track and it was my life's blood. I could finally record my demos, I learned how to properly record myself and use different types of mics and all that. So I did that and I recorded five or six demos and I wanted to play them live, so I eventually found a drummer and another guitarist and a bassist.
We started EULA during college and played around as much as we could, and took advantage of the recording studio on campus. We recorded a couple EPs, and then eventually became a three-piece with just me on guitar, which was huge, 'cause I was a nervous girl first starting out and doing all the guitar stuff myself was a big accomplishment for me. When it became a trio I felt much more empowered and I had much more flexibility to do whatever the fuck I wanted: noise, or just weird sounds, so it kinda grew very organically into what it is now.
Not everyone in indie rock puts a premium on performing or having a front person the way EULA does...does that have something to do with your theatrical background? I don't think it was ever a calculated decision to be like "oh look at me, I'm a frontperson that's gonna be this this and this," it just kind of happened. Maybe it's my dance background. I don't really like to think about it too much, I just like to do it. I move around however the music makes me feel. It's just a form of expression onstage that makes me feel good...I like blown out of proportion stuff, being kind of outrageous...it hits you, but there are also layers. You can get deep into it if you'd like to, or you can dance to it if you'd like to.
Your latest video ("Orderly") has a lot of retro, feminine iconography spliced together with you looking kind of angry...what effect were you going for? That song again is very percussive, sort of angular, but yet it has a sweetness behind it...so I wanted to juxtapose that sharp music with the 'I'm totally in love, my heart's about to burst' meaning behind it. I started this collective with Chris Mulligan, we're calling it Famous Swords, and this was our first project together. We wanted to use sort of trippy psychedelic images that had a very feminine edge to them, but also [have it be] very sharp and angular to go with the sounds of the song.
Tell me more about this collective! What else do you do? It's a huge production collective...we want to do music videos, recordings, t-shirts, kind of an all-encompassing art collective, that's kind of our vision behind it.
I [also] do a lot of design with my stage outfits...leotards, unitards, shirts...I just like creating, that's a big part of my mom that's in me, she's a costume designer and I've worked for her a lot, so I'm always making things with my hands and designing.
Lamb in a leotard of her own design
So I feel like a lot of the time, female singers get tagged as "political" if they express emotions that go outside the generally accepted, sweet and nice ones...do you think it's inherently political for a woman to do that? Yeah, I mean, that's a huge ongoing debate. When you see a very empowered woman on that stage singing her heart out or being a little angry, it all depends on how that viewer perceives it and I hope they see it as a strength rather than 'oh, it's just another woman complaining about something or trying to be preachy,' etc. But I haven't really run into a lot of shitty gender-centric things being in a band, which I'm thankful for. Maybe it's the people I choose to play with, but all the men in bands are always supportive. I've never felt looked down upon or like I have less of a right to be up on that stage. But many other places in the world, that's not the case.
Are there any bands on the New York scene that you are friends with and/or admire? Advaeta! They're so awesome, I love those girls. I love their music, they're so badass. The release show we're playing we have Courtship Ritual on Godmode records. And Big Ups, a bunch of great guys. Sleepies is another band we're friends with.
Do you think louder rock music is making a comeback on the Brooklyn scene versus the milquetoast indie rock we saw a lot of a few years back? For sure. Scenes kind of always change...and you never know how long it's gonna be here, or when it's on its way out...me personally, I always try to push myself, even when I'm listening to music, what bands I go see, I just want to keep pushing and discovering new music and new ways of hearing music and what people are composing.
I think it's important to expose yourself to different things and different ways of playing. I actually did a live score for this surreal short film festival at Nitehawk Cinema recently...I took two months just composing for this hour and a half segment, and it was a live score so I used guitar, I did a bunch of loops with pedals and vocal things and I had a clarinetist and he was also doing some loops, and I had a drummer who was also playing keyboard...so I had this lush, layered, weird, chaotic soundscape for these really fucked up surreal shorts. That was really a great opportunity for me to exercise that area of my brain.
How did you come to release a 7" with Bloodmoss? Originally, Matt Halverson, he saw us play a bunch and he really liked us and wanted to put out our album on vinyl but we decided to go with a 7"...we wanted to put out something smaller so we could really take our time with the album. They gave us complete control over the artwork and everything and it was done by Martin Bisi who's a legendary producer over in Gowanus...he's done stuff with Swans and Sonic Youth and Afrika Bambaataa...he's had the same spot since the '80s, and when I first went there the drum sound was amazing 'cause it's this huge basement with cement walls in this old factory, so it sounded beautiful. And I was like "Yes, we have to record here." So we're really happy to work with him. What's your favorite show you've played? One of our first really great shows was at Monster Island basement in 2011...it was an art gallery and there was art on the wall and we got to play the afterparty and it was so, so awesome and I remember thinking how amazing it was. The scene was so amazing and so supportive and there was all this love and I remember thinking "Oh my god, I have to just move here, this is amazing." That was pretty momentous for me, that first magical dipping of our toe into Brooklyn and finding out how great the scene is.
It's nice to hear someone be so positive about the Brooklyn music scene. What are your favorite things to do in the summertime in NYC? I live in Bushwick and it's got some of the greatest graffiti around...I like walking the streets and finding little haunts to go to and exploring. I like running through fire hydrants that are busted open, I'm on my bike and I go through them, it's pretty nice. I like hanging out outside and going down by the river and seeing the beautiful cityscape. I'm always in the studio, so it's a good break from scrutinizing a new song or trying to get a new part for something. It's like, 'All right Alyse, just go outside, you'll be fine."
Who would you most like to open for, like, in your dreams? I have to think about that one. Wire would be awesome, I'd love to open for Wire...and New Order would be amazing. Those are my top two.
Eula performs at Palisades at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 31st with
Wire, New Order, Big Ups, Pile, and Courtship Ritual.
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