Click to Reveal Content Warnings
- Discussions of death
- References to and discussion of cancer (Multiple Myeloma)
- References to previous abusive romantic relationship
- Complex greiving
- References to alcohol and drug use
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BRITISH INDEPENDENT MUSIC REVIEW
Infinite Eyes – The Lazarus of Pop Music
From their lifetime of obscurity to their sudden climb up the charts, the meteoric rise of Infinite Eyes speaks volumes about the state of new music – and modern society.
By Annie Purdell
It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to new music that excites me, and even longer since I’ve been put on the tail of a brilliant band that’s been around for ages but who I’ve never heard of. Don’t get me wrong; Infinite Eyes are by no means revolutionary. You’ve heard every element of their sound somewhere before. There’s a touch of Cobain in Tyler Brundle’s lyrics, the echoes of Neutral Milk Hotel in the jangling guitars, and you can’t miss the influence of Breeders and the Pixies in the pounding drums and the pulsing, perfectly orchestrated bass lines. What makes them stand out is in the construction of these elements, and how their frontman manages to pull their collection of influences together with an angsty, tattered bow. He manages to make Infinite Eyes sound exciting and new. If I’d ever had a chance to see them live, I’d have crowded him after the show so I was sure I could tell him just how brilliant I think their sound actually is.
I’ll never have a chance to see this band live, though. The abundance of footage of their shows available online makes my anguish even keener. Brundle, now dead for more than six years, is an energetic and enthusiastic front man, emoting from every inch of his body. He curls around his guitar as though it’s an aching part of him, cradles the mic like it’s a lost lover. He is, in short, the perfect burgeoning Rockstar. His death is a tragedy for music made more bittersweet by the fact it’s taken six years for anyone to really notice it happened.
Unlike Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, Brundle was not at the peak of his career when fate snuffed out his quest for success in the music industry. It’s worth mentioning that he had much less of a part to play in his death than either of them. Infinite Eyes had just signed a mediocre record deal and were half-way through recording their debut album for limited release when Brundle’s illness became too much for him to grit his teeth through and the band finally stopped working on their music altogether. It makes me wonder how many other blossoming stars have been halted on their path towards stardom by circumstances like these. Probably more than it would be reasonable to try and count.
What makes Infinite Eyes different to all these other bands of missed opportunity is that they have risen posthumously from the ashes of obscurity and are currently rocketing towards the top of the charts both in the US and the UK. Brundle is the Lazarus to Cobain and Winehouse’s Icarus; a man rising from beyond the grave, in blistering glory.
It’s hard to know how Brundle would feel about his band’s resurrection. Infinite Eyes formed in late 2009 after Brundle convinced his co-members Joel Dawkins and Laura Plath to drop out of the University of York’s music program. They spent years plugging away together, playing un-listened-to in local venues. Hardly anyone was paying attention to them, though just before Brundle’s death there had been a spark of interest from local journalists. In an interview with the student newspaper, Brundle described his university course as a place where musicians had ‘the creativity sucked out of them’. Brundle had been blogging about his experiences on the course since he’d started studying in 2007, describing a suffocating environment. Certainly, his own denouncement of the course led to an explosion both in his musical productivity and his self-destructive behaviour.
If nothing else, Brundle was always remarkably articulate. Marnie DeLillo, the creator of the now-viral Tyler Brundle 30th birthday video, discusses at some length a subtext to Brundle’s description of the reasons he dropped out of his course. DeLillo points out his decision to leave the course coincides rather suspiciously with a dip in his mental health, as evidenced by his posts on his blog. ‘I’m stuck in an endless stream of dead days’, he tells his readers in May of 2008, just a month before he officially dropped out of the course. ‘How can I work towards something as hollow and empty as this when I can barely find the conviction to look at myself in the mirror?’
I can’t pretend that my interest in Infinite Eyes was not piqued by DeLillo’s now-infamous video about Brundle, and its content has certainly coloured my feelings about the band. It sent me on an hours-long binge of Brundle’s blog, and through that I unpicked layers of meaning in the music I might have otherwise completely missed. This isn’t a wholly unusual experience for me; I quite often lose days to trawling through old tweets by my favourite bands or tracking back as far as a frontman’s Instagram will allow. The famous are more accessible than ever before, and even though Brundle is dead, he is remarkably present through this blog, and the words he archived there stand as a testament to his creative efforts and those of the band as a whole.
Still, I find it hard to really understand the ramifications of Infinite Eyes upon the modern music industry, and perhaps more importantly, what it says about our approach to celebrities in the modern era. Brundle’s blog is the force behind DeLillo’s video, and without the video Infinite Eyes would not have been hurtled towards stardom. The troubling part of this is the way that it commodifies not only Brundle’s creative process but his personal struggles. It seems painfully telling to me that it is a band with a front man who has been dead for more than half a decade that seems to speak the loudest to this generation of people who demand access to all but the deepest and most private thoughts of anyone who presents themselves online.
An important thing to note about Brundle is that his blog started on the cusp of the social media revolution; just a year after YouTube was founded and when Myspace was still relevant. Having died in 2013, before Vine managed to eat itself and during what many consider to be the prime of YouTube, Brundle could not possibly have anticipated the landscape of social media today. The kinds of fans that have propelled him into stardom simply didn’t exist when Brundle cultivated his online persona, at least not in the spades required to launch an entire career as they have done in the past few months.
Brundle’s blog reads like an unexamined diary, quite apart from the highly stylised and particularly worded blogs of similar rising stars today. Infinite Eyes’ closest compatriot in career trajectory is probably the Artic Monkeys, and their success was far more centred around their music than around their personal lives. However, in terms of the kind of information that inspires adoration for Infinite Eyes, the band is much closer to Nirvana, not because of their influence (potential or otherwise) on the music scene they grew up inside of, but because of how crucial the frontman’s death and subsequent attention on his personal writings is for the maintenance of a steady flow of new fans.
Despite all of this, it’s definitely excitement and not apprehension which most authentically describes my feelings towards Infinite Eyes. Hints by Dawkins and Plath on twitter suggest that what remains of those album recording sessions could be useable. A new album written by a dead man would solidify Infinite Eyes’ position as the Lazarus of Pop Music. More than that, there is a huge potential for inspiration from this band, and the youth of its many new fans suggests a fertile breeding ground for new, exciting sounds, and that is something I cannot disparage, whatever my concerns about their interest in Brundle’s death.
Fig. 25. Wren
Wren had returned to work because he’d run out of excuses not to. The longer he stayed away, the more Tabby became convinced during their long evening phone calls that he never would, and the more insistent she became about him coming to stay with her. Every time she suggested it the words got harder, the edges of them becoming more defined until it was clear what she really meant was that Wren should pack up everything he had and stay down in London permanently.
This suggestion didn’t upset him. He wasn’t sure if it would have earlier. No, the reason he had to go back to work was to prove to himself that there was more to his life in York than hanging around, waiting for ghosts to appear. Coming back to work had not really helped.
It was not like it had been at the start of Infinite Eyes’ coming to public attention. They were big news now, no longer the subject of conversations over heavily marked-up books. The last term was coming to an end, anyway, and the library was busier but filled with heavy silence punctuated by the flustered rustlings of pages and frustrated sighs. It felt like Wren’s mind had spilled forth into reality.
At the end of his third day back, he slouched into the café on the library’s side, rammed with students who had only bought coffee because there was nowhere left in the library proper for them to sit down. Wren bought himself a burrito and leaned against the glass wall, looking out at the early evening sunshine.
‘Oh my god,’ a voice squeaked. Wren turned lazily, expecting to eavesdrop on something, but instead found a pair of wide blue eyes fixed on him. The girl they belonged to was standing only a couple of feet from him, one headphone in her ear, the other hung over her shoulder. ‘You’re here,’ she said.
Wren looked around, but her words were definitely directed at him. ‘Do I know you?’ he said.
The girl shook herself and removed her over headphones. ‘Sorry. I’ve been a fan of Infinite Eyes since I was little.’
Wren’s stomach dropped to the region of his ankles. ‘Shit,’ he said. He looked across the crowds towards the door.
‘Oh, no!’ she said, her hand reaching towards Wren like she was going to clutch onto his sleeve. ‘I mean! Wait. I. I would love to just talk a minute. I didn’t mean to freak you out.’
Wren glanced around anxiously. He felt foolish; he should have been expecting people to recognise him, what with Tyler, but he’d always been so careful to make sure not too much of himself got put on the internet. Tyler had respected that, for the most part. Even if it had only been accidental, as Wren suspected. Of course, he didn’t come up in the blogs that much. He wasn’t important enough.
‘We can sit on the benches, outside? Away from everyone,’ she said. Her expression was unashamedly eager. Like a punch to the gut, it reminded Wren of Tyler, of his bold-faced flirting. Alabaster scalped and still with the cheek to nip Wren’s lip. It was this that compelled Wren into nodding, into following the girl through the tables and out into the small picnic area. It was roughly the same temperature outside as it had been in. She perched on the end of the table instead of on the bench and fished a pouch of tobacco from her pocket. He watched her roll.
‘You want?’ she said, gesturing at her finished cigarette.
She frowned, lighting up. ‘It’s Thea, by the way. I don’t know why, but I pegged you for a smoker.’
Wren blinked at her curiously. ‘I used to be.’ Wren tried for a smile. ‘I stopped, when Tyler…’
Thea froze mid-drag, eyes fixed at some point in the middle distance.
‘They wouldn’t let him outside in the end. His immune system was shot. He’d have probably died with a joint hanging out of his mouth otherwise,’ Wren said.
Thea thawed out and grinned crookedly. ‘He sounds fun.’
Wren nodded. ‘He was. And he wasn’t. You know how it is.’
Thea ducked her head. Wren sighed. He looked down the slope to the road, double-decker buses trundling along beneath them. If he closed his eyes, he could remember Tyler standing in one of their doorways, his hat pulled over his ears against the cold. That had been the last day, the last time before he knew what was really going on. He’d always suspected, of course. But knowing changed things. It made it feel more real.
Knowing about the myeloma had made Tyler something different. Falling in love with him became like catching bubbles. Wren was left with nothing but soapy splatters on his fingertips.
‘I suppose this is going to happen more and more.’ Wren ran his hands through his hair. ‘Now Tyler has finally made it.’
‘Bet that’s a bit of a mind fuck,’ said Thea.
A startled laugh tumbled out of Wren. ‘Yeah, it is.’ A moment of silence passed, the rustle of the trees around them in time with the wind whipping through Thea’s short hair. ‘So, are you a student?’
‘I work in the IT department,’ said Thea, her cheeks turning pink, which Wren didn’t understand. He fiddled with his fingers. ‘You aren’t what I was expecting.’
‘I don’t know. I just thought you’d be different.’
For some reason, her words stung Wren. He shrank around himself. ‘I never got it, either,’ he heard himself say, as though from across a great distance.
‘What Tyler saw in me.’
Thea froze up for a second. ‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘No!’ said Thea. She took an angry drag of her cigarette. ‘I just. I don’t know. People are never really what you expect, I suppose.’
Wren stared hard over Thea’s shoulder. He clenched and unclenched his fists and forced himself to breathe out slowly through his nose.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Thea.
‘Don’t be.’ Wren raked a hand angrily through his hair. ‘Damn, I could do with a pint.’
‘Tell me about it. I’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours.’
Wren laughed stiffly. Thea cocked her head to her side. What was it about her, that kept making Wren think of him?
‘How long’s it been since you hit a campus bar?’
‘God. Years,’ said Wren. Not since he’d finished his own degree, in fact.
‘Let me buy you an apology pint,’ said Thea. ‘For harassing you,’ she added quickly, before he could tell her again, she didn’t need to be sorry. He was glad, because he felt a great tide welling up behind that admonishment. It wasn’t her fault he was miserable. That he was alone. That it had been so long, and it would still mean so much to him to think someone thought Tyler wouldn’t like him.
They crossed the walkway from the library to the rest of campus and found their way to the nearest bar. It was quiet, early as it was, but not deserted. They sipped their pints from plastic cups in a dark booth in the corner. Thea’s phone buzzed through the awkward quiet between them.
‘Hey ho,’ Thea answered with an apologetic smile at Wren. She turned her head away from him and half stood up from their table. ‘No, I left. I’m at the pub. With Wren. Abelard.’ She glanced over her shoulder at him. ‘Yeah, I know. Yeah. Of course, I’ll make it for rehearsal.’
So, she was in a band. Maybe that’s what it was, the Tyler-ish-ness. Wren cleared his throat. Lila hung up and pocketed her phone.
‘Do you need to dash off?’ asked Wren.
‘Not dash. I’ve got to be at Colloquium for half seven. I’ve got ages yet.’
‘You’re in a band?’
Thea half-smiled. ‘No, I’m just a fan. My friends are the band.’
Wren winced. ‘Listen, I…’
‘Thanks for chatting with me,’ said Thea quickly.
‘Oh,’ said Wren. ‘No problem.’
‘You’re a cool guy,’ said Thea.
Thea shook her head. ‘Do you want to come? For the rehearsal, I mean?’
‘Tonight?’ said Wren, scratching his elbow.
Thea blushed. For a second it wasn’t Tyler he was reminded of, but himself. She didn’t look at him as she spoke again. ‘I mean, no obligations.’
‘I…’ Wren wanted to collapse into his couch and not move for days. ‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘No, it’s fine,’ Thea said. ‘Look. The show isn’t for a fortnight, if you want to come along. They’re really good, and it’d be cool.’
‘Thursday in two weeks?’ he asked.
‘Yeah,’ said Thea. She seemed to be considering something. She whipped out her phone and presented it to him. ‘Put in your number and you can let me know if you’re showing, yeah?’
Wren hesitated, his fingers over the keys. Thea smiled encouragingly. As soon as he was done, she sent him a text of just her name. ‘I won’t harass you,’ she promised.
Wren laughed nervously and downed the rest of his pint. Thea tipped her plastic glass in Wren’s direction before taking another sip.
‘It’s an Infinite Eyes tribute night, actually.’
Wren’s throat sealed shut. An Infinite Eyes night? Had they got so big that there were tribute bands, people getting up on stages and pretending to by Tyler, like they pretended to be Elvis and Freddie Mercury? How long did he have until there were Tyler Brundle costumes at Halloween, before there were terrible quotes misattributed to him and posted on office walls for inspiration, next to photographs of mountains and hanging kittens?
‘I need to head off,’ Wren said. He didn’t meet Thea’s gaze as he hurried out of the bar and back into the pale gold evening light.
He was walking fast, hands balled at his sides, knees aching with the force and speed of his pace, as quickly as he could move without breaking into a run. Maybe he should call Tabby. Maybe he should step out in front of the double decker bus hurtling past him on the road to the library’s carpark. Wren’s heart was hammering. He felt like he was going to throw up. Once he reached his car, he flung himself into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut.
‘Shit!’ he yelled. ‘Shit, shit, SHIT!’ he hammered his fists on the steering wheel. A woman carrying a box of paperwork paused in her own attempts to get into her car. Wren slumped against the seat, chest heaving.
Wren sat there for some time, shadows lengthening before his eyes. It would be getting dark before long. His mind was racing, but the thoughts were nonsense. Shared cigarettes, the smell of Tyler’s hair, the taste of him on his lips. The way he’d looked on stage; in bed; curled naked on the ground. All of it was bleeding through, so bright and real in his mind that Wren could taste copper on his tongue.
Finally, he jammed his keys into the ignition. The radio sprang to life. ‘And now, a track from everyone’s favourite, Infinite Eyes!’
Fig. 26. Tyler
The spring air was so cold that every breath felt like a mouthful of water. There were cabs pulled into the rank at the front of the hospital, but Tyler breezed past them. He trudged right across the carpark, through the snow-topped vehicles. The ones that had been parked all day were cover in a thick layer. The others were dusted lightly, confectioners’ sugar on cake toppings.
Someone beeped their horn at him, and he leapt out of the way. He steadied himself against the bonnet of a car. The cool metal clung to his skin.
He should call Wren. He’d come if Tyler asked him. He didn’t want him to. He didn’t want Wren to have to stop. Tyler wanted to lift him high, not drag him down. It was all so stupid and trivial. Calling Wren wasn’t going to stop the shitty things from happening, it would just spread the field of collateral damage even wider than it already was.
Tyler walked out of the carpark through the bushes, feeling them tear at his clothes and scratch open the back of his hand. He raised it to his mouth, tonguing the coppery blood. Poisoned. He’d poisoned himself from the inside.
His breaths misted in the air in front of him and hung still before he stepped through them. His back started to hurt, stiffening in the cold. He couldn’t feel his toes or the end of his nose. He was shivering.
As he got closer to town, the roads got busier. More horns blared at him as he walked decrepitly along the edge of the road. There was music; some kind of festival. He could smell street-food from the markets on main-street – fresh doughnuts and funnel cake, spiced ciders and wines, meat cooked slowly on rotisseries.
Tyler bundled into his coat. His phone buzzed in his pocket. ‘Tyler, where are you? Do you need me to pick you up from somewhere?’ Wren asked, panicked. Tyler hung up and put his phone back. It started ringing again. It was Wren. He turned the phone off.
He sloped into the first bar he came across and straightened up, dusting the snow from his lapels. It was crowded with families laughing and smiling, corny pop music playing over the speakers dotted around the room. ‘Tyler?’
Joel put his hand on Tyler’s shoulder, turning him slightly to face him. There was a moment of tension where they appraised one another. Tyler braced himself, waiting for Joel to say something about his hair or his weight or his colour, but he didn’t. He just grinned wide, ear to ear, and pulled him in for a hug. Tyler clutched him back. It was a relief for someone to be holding him.
‘I came here to be alone,’ said Tyler.
Joel’s smile shrunk back. ‘Nice to see you, too, dude.’
Tyler shook his head. ‘I need a drink.’
‘Something has happened, hasn’t it?’
Tyler laughed. ‘Hasn’t it always.’
Joel was sipped his beer and Tyler ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. After only a few minutes, he slammed the empty glass down onto the wooden table.
‘Jeez, dude,’ Joel remarked.
Tyler smirked. ‘So, have you thought about putting ‘Nepenthe’ on the album?’
‘I like it,’ he shrugged. ‘Laura’s being… Well. You know Laura.’
Tyler raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m getting another drink.’
He returned a moment later with a bright green concoction that he’d ordered for the sole reason that it had absinthe in it.
‘It’s a dark day when someone orders the Sour Frog, dude,’ Joel noted, nodding at Tyler’s drink.
He sipped it. It tasted only of absinthe. The chemical harshness of it was all too like the taste that chemo left in his mouth. He shuddered. ‘Ugh. It’s foul.’
‘The menu specifically says it’s for punishing yourself. It’s supposed to be terrible.’
‘Tell the barman to make it my usual,’ Tyler mumbled. He took a bigger sip and grimaced.
‘You can say if there’s something going on’
‘So that you can tell Wren and Laura about without my permission?’
Joel sighed. ‘I’m just asking if you’re okay, dude.’
‘Well, fuck off,’ Tyler growled. ‘Breathing down my fucking neck. It’s not going to make any of it better.’
Joel shook his head. ‘I didn’t mean-’
‘I just want to get on with it. The more time I spend moping about, the less we have for the album, and who knows.’ He couldn’t make himself say ‘who knows how much time I have left’, but it hung in the air between them anyway.
‘Don’t be such a twat,’ said Joel.
Joel rolled his glass between his palms, looking off into the distance for a few minutes. ‘Wren said you’d been at the hospital.’
Tyler’s eye twitched. ‘Did he, now.’
‘He cares about you, dude. Really. He just wants to help.’
Tyler laughed. ‘I know. It’s ridiculous.’
‘How much have you told him?’
‘How much have you?’
Joel ducked his head. ‘It wasn’t fair to keep him totally in the dark. And I know you were going to the hospital on your own.’
Tyler stared at the table. He rolled his empty glass between his palms. ‘He shouldn’t have to deal with this.’
‘I think he has to, if you want to keep him around.’
Tyler glared at Joel. ‘Why? I’m not it, it’s not me. Can’t I just leave it at the hospital and carry on with my life?’
Joel’s eyes flickered over Tyler. He knew his clothes were hanging off him, that his hat was pulled too low over his eyes, that he had huge circles around his eyes and his lips were cracked. He wanted to grab Joel and shake him, but he there was no way to do it without showing how little force was left in his grip.
‘Don’t tell me to stop, Joel. I won’t. I can’t.’
‘Stop what? Being with Wren?’
Tyler shook his head. ‘You know what I mean.’
Joel sighed. ‘I wouldn’t ask that. I don’t get it, but I know you.’
Tyler stared at the table. ‘Thanks.’
They both stared into the middle distance for a while. The bar was crowded with chatter and laughter. Healthy people, talking and smiling over tables. How many others would be dead by the end of the year? It happened all the time. People had heart attacks, strokes, stepped into the road at the wring moment, or let go of the railings of the bridge, falling like a sack of bones into the swirling, inky depths of the river below. Tyler could not be the only one.
‘I’m guessing your appointment today wasn’t good,’ said Joel.
Tyler looked at the ground, smiling. ‘No.’
‘You should call Wren, dude. He’s worried.’
Tyler stiffened. He closed his eyes. ‘Why?’
‘Because you’re,’ but Joel never said what Tyler was. Instead he closed his mouth and took a deep breath. It whistled through his nostrils.
‘I’ll call him,’ said Tyler. ‘I’ll call him when I get home.’
‘Is there anything I…?’
‘You know there’s not.’
‘Okay, fuck this,’ said Joel, slapping his hand on the table. Tyler raised his eyebrow.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Let’s get wasted,’ said Joel.
A laugh burst out of Tyler so abruptly he almost fell off his chair.
Joel was grinning crookedly. He went to the bar and returned with lines of shots. Tyler got drunk fast, not used to his lighter frame, and Joel seemed to think that was hilarious. The alcohol loosened Tyler’ joints and fought back against the pain in his spine. At around eight, he remembered he was supposed to take his pills an hour before. He fumbled around for them in his bag under the glaring white lights of the men’s room. He held all five of them in his palm.
The door burst open, and Joel stumbled in. ‘You’ve been ages, dude,’ said Joel.
Tyler put all the pills in his mouth at once and thrust his head under the tap, trying to gulp water to swallow them back with. Tyler’s stomach twisted, and he fought against the urge to throw up everything he’d just ingested.
The lights in the bathroom were the same as the ones in the hospital. They beat down on him hard. They leeched the remaining colour from his skin. His reflection looked like a ghost. He pulled the hat from his head, staring at the shiny chalky skin of his scalp. He was going to die, looking like that. The shadows around his eyes were huge. He already looked like a corpse.
‘I need some air,’ he said. Joel nodded. He held the door open whilst Tyler stormed through. On the street, he doubled over, taking big, long, panic breaths. Joel stood a few feet away.
‘Too much to drink?’
Tyler shook his head. He’d felt swimming before but now he was as sober as if he’d not had a drop. ‘I just need to get out.’
Joel nodded. He sat down on the steps of a closed shop. The Christmas markets were still going. Tyler could hear the hiss of deep fat fryers and the tinkle of live music. The air was cold and beautiful. The trees glittered with fairy lights, some of them soft white, others multi-coloured. Their wires were only visible in parts that reflected the street lamps, linking them to the rooftops of the shops that lined the streets.
Way above them, the stars shimmered in the clear night sky. A crescent moon kissed a pale silver glow to the snowy sidewalks and the frost creeping its way over the hoods of the few cars parked at the edges of the street. Tyler’ shaking hands glowed too, just as white in the moonlight.
‘Feeling any better?’ Joel asked.
Tyler laughed. ‘No. Not really.’
Joel nodded, as though he understood. He didn’t. He got to his feet and stood next to Tyler again.
Tyler stared up at the stars. ‘It’s such a huge, random thing, the universe,’ he said.
‘I want it to mean something.’
Tyler turned, looked Joel right in the eye. ‘All of it.’
Joel nodded and looked up at the sky. ‘It does mean something.’
Joel shrugged. ‘I don’t fucking know, do I? But it means something. You mean a lot to me. That means something.’
Tyler wasn’t convinced. He put his hat back on. It was warm from being scrunched up in his hand. ‘Thanks for tonight, Joel.’
Joel shrugged again. ‘No problem.’
‘You make me feel normal.’
Joel snorted. ‘What? Because I’m such a delusional fuck up?’
Tyler rolled his eyes. ‘You know what, never mind.’
Joel grinned triumphantly. ‘Anytime, dude.’
Tyler shook his head. ‘I know.’
MUSIC REVIEWS BY MUSIC NERDS
‘SELF-TITLED’: INFINITE EYES’ FIRST AND FINAL ALBUM IS A MESSY MASTERPIECE OF RECONSTRUCTION
Joel Dawkins and Laura Plath talk the new album, losing their frontman, and the difficulties of working from the sheet-music of a visionary who has long since left the room.
There are two ways of understanding ‘Self-Titled’. The first is as a genre-bending, ambitious first outing for a band propelled to stardom by forces beyond themselves. The album opens with ghostly, multi-layered synth sounds and the voice of lead-singer, Tyler Brundle, cutting across in a shockingly visceral, croaky voice. ‘All Those Hollywoods’ is a bold way for any band to start an album; the lilting, near-clashing tones are of the like most bands would bury in the final tracks but set the perfect tone for what to expect from everything that follows. I listened to it for the first time in the glorified barn where Infinite Eyes’ living members have been cloistered for weeks polishing years-old recordings into something they can be proud of.
‘The hardest thing is trying get past thinking about what Tyler would have wanted,’ says Laura Plath, the drummer-turned-jack-of-all-trades who is most responsible for the album’s final sound. This is the other way to understand this album; the remains of an artist whose voice cannot be fully heard, who wrote most of the tracks near-exclusively but whose opinion on their final turnout can never been known. ‘He left a lot of notes, not just the ones online, but in his notebooks where he was working through the lyrics. He was always too ambitious about our sound, and now we’ve got the funding to actually realise the sort of scope he was going for we can only guess at what he actually wanted,’ Plath says with a shrug. She pours a glass of wine for herself, without offering one for me.
I ask her what she meant about getting past what he wanted if he was so clear about his vision. ‘That’s the thing, really,’ she says. She looks bored and chews her nails between sips of her drink. ‘His notes aren’t necessarily helpful without having him in the room to translate. There’re all sorts of bits where he’ll just write ‘drums?’ or ‘pretty eerie synth’ and stuff like that. Trying to do the whole thing like a paint-by-numbers would be pointless.’
Where did that leave the project? ‘It was a mess, really. We spent a good couple of months making lists of everything we knew about where he was going, but we had to think really seriously about what was useable. You’ve got to remember in the time since he died, me and Joel have been playing music and growing as musicians. Tyler’s not been able to do that. It’s like a time-capsule in a lot of ways. We had to find a way to turn what we had into an album that would still be relevant now.’
It seems to me that Plath’s anxiety about the album not being relevant is unfounded. Infinite Eyes represents something crucial about the current zeitgeist, and it was not Plath’s work with Token Rocket Girls, the band she had been touring Europe with when Infinite Eyes began to dominate the charts in September last year, that captured the hearts and minds of so many. In her over-sized sweatshirt layered with silver chains and crucifixes of various sizes and fancies, Plath is painfully trendy. Despite her insouciance, she has flourished in the limelight thrust upon her by the recent spark in public interest.
From the back of the barn, which smells of new paint and is filled with at least half a dozen industrial-size space-heaters, Joel Dawkins stumbles towards us. He’s wearing a satin dressing gown monogrammed with the initials RP over a pair of jeans and t-shirt promoting a sale at B&Q. He brings with him a smell of marijuana so strong I’m momentarily transported to the dingy greenhouse where I wasted a lot of my teenage years. He eyes me with either suspicion or confusion, it’s hard to tell which, and flops down next to Plath on the battered couch. Wordlessly, Plath pours him some of her wine, again neglecting to offer any to me.
‘I thought we’d finished,’ says Dawkins, to which Plath rolls her eyes. Dawkins fumbles in his various pockets for a while until he produces a packet of cigarettes. I introduce myself to him and we shake hands after he lights up. Plath is visibly annoyed by his presence, shifting away from him on the couch and draining the rest of her glass of wine in one as Dawkins mumbles about how bad his sleeping pattern has got since they started editing the album. ‘We’ve been sleeping here and everything. Place is fucking freezing at night,’ he explains.
It’s been a sharp turn-around from the album’s announcement to its release next Wednesday. ‘Well, we had the vocals and all the lead guitar down, and technically a lot of the bass and drums were fine. It was just a case of polishing it up, making decisions about the overall piece, you know,’ Plath explains. ‘That’s what I mean about moving away from what Tyler would have wanted so we could try and make something coherent.’
‘We did try to honour him though,’ Dawkins says, nodding profusely. Having spent the last hour or so sitting with Plath listening to clips of all the album’s tracks, coherent is not something I would call it. I tell Plath this and she laughs.
‘Well, we didn’t want to get married to any sort of genre. Infinite Eyes was never about that. I’ve never been about that,’ she explains, hand on her heart. ‘What I mean by ‘coherent’ is there was a lot of trimming that had to be done. A lot of times we had a few takes of a particular track and we’d have to go through them and sort of Frankenstein a final cut, you know.’
Isn’t that commonplace in modern music, I ask them? It’s Dawkins who replies. ‘Probably, but I didn’t want to hand all of Tyler’s stuff over to some producer to shop and split it up. He was never a perfect singer, you know, and we could have maybe put together a cut that was just all of the best takes, like, the ones where his breath didn’t catch or where he held the final note a bit longer, but we’d have lost all the stuff that made him such a great lead, you know? It was always about the emotion.’
Why not take a raw recording? This was evidently a difficult question for me to pose as Dawkins curls around his knees and shifts his weight on the couch. Plath pats him sympathetically on the elbow.
‘What a lot of people don’t realise is just how bad things had already got by the time we were recording this stuff. Sometimes Tyler was coming to the studio right from the hospital. He was barely getting through each track.’ Plath has clearly explained this several times over.
Brundle sounds like an impressively dedicated guy. ‘He was an idiot,’ Plath explains. ‘There was no stopping him once he’d made his mind up about something. I’ll say that for Tyler. He was a stubborn bastard.’
Plath and Dawkins fondly remember several occasions where Brundle’s head-strong nature had landed them in trouble, not least how he convinced both of them to drop out of their music degrees in order to pursue a career with the band full-time. ‘Looking back, it was totally bat-shit of us to listen to him, but he could really sell his ideas. He’d have loved all this stuff. Talking to the press every day would have suited him down to the ground,’ says Plath.
Dawkins paints a somewhat softer image of his bandmate. ‘He was a pretty emotional dude, that’s why you wanted to pay attention. Everything he ever did, he felt it much harder than the rest of us.’
Just a scroll down from any Infinite Eyes song on YouTube will reveal that their swathes of new fans seem to agree with Dawkins. The comment sections are filled with praise of Brundle’s writing alongside delicate dissections of his words and bold declarations of his importance in their lives. I ask Plath and Dawkins if it’s strange to have so much emphasis placed on a band member who has been dead for more than half a decade. They answer at once, both with wordless sounds and a glance at one another.
‘He was always the face of the band,’ says Plath. ‘He still is now. I wouldn’t begrudge him that.’
After a brief tour of the barn, during which we lose Dawkins to a comfortable-looking pile of beanbags, Plath shows me concept art for a tour they’ve got in the works. There are scribblings of writing that seem to have been torn out of Brundle’s notebooks taped over large drawings of an arena stage. Their sights are clearly set high. I enquire if we’ll be hearing more details about when they’re going to get on the road any time soon. ‘Obviously it’s all under wraps at the moment, but I can tell you that it’s going to be pretty spectacular.’
In all, meeting Infinite Eyes was a surreal experience, and not one I’m going to forget in a hurry. Brundle’s absence hangs over every aspect of their production, not just in his music, but in the memories he’s left with his bandmates. As for his popularity with fans, it seems that absence truly does make the heart go fonder. Whether he will propel his old team into lasting success once the last of his recordings have been used is left to tell, but I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on Plath and Dawkins in the future. If nothing else, their new album is a testament to their excellent producing skills and (perhaps brash) ability to seize any opportunity that comes their way.