EISLEY have a thing for sounds. Since releasing Room Noises back in 2005, they have scored a few hits (“Smarter”, “Telescope Eyes”), toured with Coldplay and Say Anything, and remain one of the very best at blurring the divide between Felicity-era art pop and indie rock, and poeticizing it to the point where it should be featured in the Louvre. Last year’s I’m Only Dreaming was an unexpected shift with cousins Garron DuPree and Sherri DuPree-Bemis taking charge and being forced to shoulder the emotional weight that comes with new beginnings. But in true East Texas fashion, they dug deep.
The end result culminated in their best record to date. I’m Only Dreaming is a starry-eyed illustration of pop’s capacity to make your heart swoon, but it’s also a treatise on what it really means to love with intent — with awkward sentiments and admissions illuminating the way we tangle ourselves around the people we care for. It’s a more mature depiction of what it’s like to be wound up and let go, and it’s why it made sense for the duo to release Of Days Long Past — a complete reinterpretation that allows every petal of romanticism to be echoed in acoustic form, a la Ryan Adams’ Ashes & Fire and The Wonder Years’ Burst & Decay EP.
With their new collection being a must grab, we caught up with the DuPrees to talk about its conception, what it’s like to balance creative urges with motherhood, and how Eisley will continue as an ever evolving idea that’s here to help with the brightest times and the darkest times.
Earlier this year, you had noted that you hoped Of Days Long Past would allow fans to see that there can always be a new perspective “on love, on pain, and on the brightest times and the darkest times”. What inspired you two to pursue the idea of reinventing one of your records in full?
Garron DuPree: The making of I’m Only Dreaming was an important record for Sherri and I. We had just gone through so many changes as a band; it was an emotional, intimidating time for us. But in the end, the experience was very liberating and it served as bonding time for us. We explored our future without forgetting the past or who we were as a band. As for this record, I think we were drawing from several things. I don’t know if anyone remembers the acoustic tour we did in 2007 for Combinations, but something about the experience of playing songs stripped-down in those beautiful venues was unforgettable. And fans responded to it so well!
Sherri DuPree-Bemis: Garron really spearheaded the creative side of this album. He had such great ideas about reimagining the songs and I’ve always wanted to do a stripped-down album. I’d love to do more in the future if fans love this one as much as we do.
Is this something you have always wanted to do? Or did it just feel like the right thing to do with I’m Only Dreaming?
Garron: I would say it was more specific to this album. Possibly because it was only Sherri and I working on it and there was a sort of freedom we haven’t really experienced before. It just felt like it was time to do something fresh.
Sherri: It just felt like the right time and we had the drive to see it realized.
What was the process like in reinterpreting each song?
Sherri: The best! Like I said, Garron really ran with it. Everything we do is pretty evenly split these days. When we made I’m Only Dreaming, we worked on each song together — with our producer Will Yip — and shaped each piece as a team. On this album, Garron really got to use his creative juices and did most of the reinventing and I’m so proud of him! He has always been a big part of Eisley’s backbone, but most don’t realize he is an amazing guitar player and has been a big contributor our sound for a long time.
I’m Only Dreaming marked the first time Garron contributed more directly to songwriting, like on “You Are Mine” and “Defeatist”. So for this record, he really handled the music side which left me to focus more on what I love most which is vocals and singing.
Garron: It was a fantastic and such a great bonding experience for both of us. Obviously we’ve been making music together for a long time, but the dynamic here was totally new. We found ourselves making music purely as a duo.
Were there any reworks that were a lot more difficult to complete?
Garron: Oh definitely. Those who have listened to Of Days Long Past will notice that “Snowfall” was a dramatic departure from the I’m Only Dreaming version. The original version of the song is super quirky and has such a strong aesthetic. It was difficult to sort of get out of that box and transform it into something uniquely different.
Given the idea that certain songs can speak to us in an entirely different language as we get older, are there any from this release that evoke different feelings compared to when you first wrote them for I’m Only Dreaming?
Garron: I find myself considering each song we create as being a small time capsule of myself at a particular point in time. A bit of an audiological photograph of sorts, if you will. One of the amazing things about old photographs of yourself is you’re able to put context to particular points in time, and that context evokes a degree of reflection and perspective that you don’t get without revisiting those memories. For me, that sort of reflection requires more space in order to gain a new perspective on where you’ve been and where you might be headed so I don’t feel anything different. What can be so difficult about those snapshots is that we can often times let ourselves get too nostalgic about them.
If I were to put my finger on a single underlying statement for the listeners of Of Days Long Past, it’s that nostalgia can be a drug. Often times we find ourselves longing for the past; pouring over it and how events have unfolded — whether positively or negatively — and wishing that we could feel how we felt then. That aspect is one of the most powerful but often harmful aspects of music. Music has the power to take us back and make us feel how we felt when we heard an album for the first time. It’s important to appreciate your past and what you have been through, but it’s equally as important to keep your eyes forward and let the past be where it is. That was a part of the message that we wanted to capture on this album.
Sherri: Okay, Garron knows a lot of big words that I don’t. “Audiological”? Who are you? Charles Dickens? I’m dying. He’s too smart for his own good. The song that impacted me the most was the reinterpretation of “Defeatist”. When you slow it down and add that piano, it becomes so melancholic and beautiful! It becomes a tearjerker and not an anthem.
Looking back on your discography, are there any songs that you find yourself going back to again and again?
Sherri: Definitely! One of my favorites is “Blue Fish” off of Currents. I can’t even explain why really. I just love the jaunty beat layered with the haunting melody. Those are my favorite types of songs that we write. Quirky beats with eerie melodies. If I had my way, I would write an entire album that sounded like a soundtrack to an old carnival. Maybe someday we will!
Garron: I really try not to let myself look backwards too often. But of course, I love what we have accomplished up to this point. I tend to be an “album person” who listens to albums more than songs, and The Valley left a strong impression on me. It’s one of those things that’s difficult to explain, but it defined a significant part of my life for whatever reason. We had a lot of good memories making that album and there are a lot of quintessential memories that come back to me when I listen to it. The same could be said for our Deep Space EP which may be one of my favorite releases. It has probably been overlooked by a decent portion of our fan base, simply because it was more of a low-key release.
Which Eisley song would you say you’re most proud of?
Garron: Being a typical artist, I will always say our most recent work. But there are some songs that stand out to me over the years and one that comes to mind is “Blue Fish”. It’s a bit of an unstructured song, but there’s something about it that grew its own legs when we created it. I still reflect on it at times and think “How on earth did we think of that?”
Sherri: I’m laughing right now because I had no idea he was going to say “Blue Fish” (laughs). I had no idea that was one of your favourites! I also really love “You Are Mine” because it’s one that Garron wrote the music to and I really had to push myself to figure out the melody and lyrics that would fit. It was a really fun challenge for me.
Speaking of challenges, a lot has changed for you Sherri since 2005’s Room Noises as you are now a significant role model for women and the mother of three children. What’s it like to be a full-time mom that’s still writing, recording, and playing shows?
Sherri: Chaotic but awesome! I am happy that many young women and men look up to me as a role model, but ultimately I’m just like everyone else. I’m just putting time and effort into the things I love: family and music. I’m someone who loves deeply and works as hard as I am able to for the things that I love. I find myself equally inspired by fans and other moms who I’ve come into contact with, and I am so appreciative that I am in a situation where there is a reciprocal flow of love and inspiration.
Are there any tricks you’ve learned when it comes to touring and being on the road with younger kids?
Sherri: I decided before I had kids that I wouldn’t let being a mom keep me from doing the things that I love. Because that is what makes me myself and that’s who my children need to see! They need to see a mom who is bending over backwards for them but also respecting herself and her passions and career. I refuse to let things hold me down in life.
It definitely can be hard, but sometimes you just have to say “I don’t care that I’m tired or that it’s 35 degrees and snowing outside in Minneapolis, Minnesota or that I have two crying kids that are glued to my legs — we’re walking to Starbucks and we’re going to have ourselves a good time dammit!” (laughs). It’s always an enriching experience even if it’s slightly stressful. The kids get to experience life and people, and it’s beautiful to see how they adapt and make it so much more fun.
Touring with kids is harder than touring without kids but touring with kids is more fun than touring without kids! Once you set that precedent for yourself, you just make it a habit. Of course, there are some days where I’m just simply outmatched. And that’s okay too! It’s about the mindset that gets you through. If you decide that you’re going to take challenges head on, you’d be seriously surprised as to what you can overcome and how it can enrich your life.
How have they enjoyed being on the road with their Mom and Dad?
Sherri: We’ll see what they say in 10 years from now! For now, they’re super champs. For the most part they’re well behaved and seem excited to get out and take on the world with me. There’s an element of their awe and intrigue that inspires me. You can walk into a venue that you’ve been in around 30 times in your career, but when you bring your kid in there and throw a scooter or a soccer ball in the mix? It’s a whole new world. They eat it up.
Do you get any weird criticisms about their sleeping habits? A friend of mine noted she was once in a similar situation with her first kid as she was bartending at the time and still needed to keep her on her sleep schedule. It worked for the two of them but others were pretty snarky and judgemental if it came up in conversation.
Sherri: Definitely! But I have just had to accept that most people just can’t understand it, and that’s not their fault. We certainly have been exposed to our fair share of “parental police”, but I just accept it. When you’re in the public eye in any way, you open yourself up to being criticized on a bigger scale and especially when you share as much about your life as I do. But I’m a big believer in being transparent, vulnerable, open, and honest in life but also not apologizing for who you are and the choices you make. Are all of the choices I make for my kids the right ones? Who knows. But I think they are and that’s what matters because I’m their mom and I know best.
There will always be critics, and most of them have good intentions. I just keep myself focused on my world and doing the best that I can possibly do, and that’s all anyone should be expected to do. If my kids are loved unconditionally, fed, clothed and safe, then no one else should be worrying about them but me.
Have you ever found it difficult to create in such a busy environment?
Sherri: Absolutely, but I find that I just simply have to get more efficient at harnessing the creativity when it comes. I really haven’t found a way to force my creativity. It comes and it goes completely on its own. It’s a fickle friend! But I have gotten better at recognizing it when it hits me, and that allows me to take advantage of it whenever it comes.
Is there any form of advice you wish you could have given yourself when you had your first child?
Sherri: Probably just to relax. Trust yourself. Just trust yourself. Take one step at a time. There’s really no need to figure everything out at once. It’s a process and it’s a long one, and it’s ever changing! So enjoy that process and take it one day at a time because it slips by quickly and your kids don’t need to see you stressing out. They need you to play with them and let them make messes and find out who they are as individuals.
As musicians who have been in a band for more than a decade, is there anything you two would still like to accomplish before it’s all said and done?
Garron: There is plenty I would like to accomplish, but I try not to judge myself by my own accomplishments. There will always be a horizon to chase. That’s a part of the joy and the curse of living a creative life — you never have to be satisfied and you never really get to be satisfied. If I ever truly felt satisfied, I’d probably pick something else to do with my life. But chasing is what I do, and I find joy in that. As cliché as it sounds, as long as I have a breath left in my lungs, there will always be something else to accomplish and I wouldn’t change that if I could.
Sherri: I couldn’t have said it better myself. I feel like there is no “end goal” with Eisley. It’s just going to be ever evolving and changing as we evolve and change. But it will always be there, and that makes me feel happy and safe.