By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
The Blind Eyes' debut CD is called Modernity. As its snappy name implies, the album is sleek and to-the-point, and full of the trio's shuffling rock tunes — which combine power-pop melodies, punk tenacity and mod-rock precision. "I don't think we really have any exact peers [in town], people who do exactly what we do," says guitarist/vocalist Seth Porter. "But it's also not like we're reinventing the wheel. It's pop songs."
On a recent Tuesday night at Porter's south-side home, the easygoing trio — which also contains drummer Matt Picker and bassist/vocalist Kevin Schneider — sipped on Schlafly beer and traced the tracks of its years.
Kevin Schneider can thank Catholicism for his start in music. He received a guitar and lessons for his first communion. "I don't remember completing the six-week lesson [course]," he says. "I never really learned to play, because it was like, 'Here's an A note. Bing!' It didn't sound like anything to me. It wasn't until I was fifteen, [and] I picked up a guitar magazine that had tablature in it. And it all came together — you don't have to learn all those notes, you just have to learn this chord." Schneider was also a proud member of Youth Catholic Musicians. "Every year we did a summer tour and a winter tour," he says. "Usually the winter tour was to some podunk town in Kentucky or whatever, but the summer tour would be like, for a week — we'd go to Disneyland or New York City or Washington, D.C. I perform on their Christmas album Star of Wonder, which as far as I know is still available."
Schneider's childhood pal Matt Picker did not invoke religion in his musical beginnings. "[Kevin] had an electric guitar, it was a red Yamaha electric guitar, and I was obsessed with it, because he could play 'Iron Man' and stuff like that," he recalls. "And my neighbor up the street, Chad, had an electric guitar that he never used. I traded him two Penthouse magazines for his shitty, three-quarter-sized electric guitar. It had this little five-watt amp. It was like a plastic amp."
Picker and Schneider have been in bands together since high school (Parkway Central High School, more specifically). The name of their first band — Satan's Wastebasket — still elicits riotous laughter from each member of the Blind Eyes. "We tried to play metal, but we weren't very good," Schneider recalls. "So it came out a little more, you know, simple and more chord-based." Hearing the first Ramones album made him realize how much easier it was to write "simpler songs, instead of trying to write songs that Metallica or Iron Maiden wrote." The pair were also part of now-defunct local act El Gordo's Revenge, which opened for national acts such as the Promise Ring and Groovie Ghoulies.
Seth Porter is a secret band geek. Although he received a bass guitar in eighth grade and started playing in bands, Porter's background is in the orchestra. "I played piano up through junior high, and I started viola in the fourth grade, studied it in college," he says. "As for the guitar, that's a relatively new endeavor. But I have many years and dollars worth of formal training." When Picker and Schneider mention El Gordo's Revenge's high-profile opening slots, Porter laughs: "I was probably in orchestra at that point when they were playing with the Donnas."
The band formed soon after the Gentleman Callers went on extended hiatus. Porter, who moved to St. Louis on a whim several years ago, met the Gentleman Callers via a friend of Picker's brother. He joined the garage-soul rockers — who also counted Schneider and Picker as members — as a keyboardist/organist. But after the 'Callers went on hiatus — "It just kind of fizzled out," Porter says of the band — he was tapped to join the childhood pals' new project.
The Blind Eyes strives for simplicity. "When I first was formulating the idea of doing this band, I just wanted to play songs that were fun songs — fun to play, fun to listen to," Schneider says. "I wanted [a] driving, just power-poppy, thing to happen." Accordingly, Modernity was recorded at Firebrand Studios over two weekends; overdubs were minimal, save for some doubled guitar tracks and added harmonies. The Blind Eyes' relatively straightforward music, as well as the trio configuration, keeps things basic. "I'm the sort of guy that if you said that I could have a horn section and a gospel choir and the London Symphony and all that, I'd be like, 'Yes,'" Porter says. "This is about as stripped-down as you can get. The songs have to be good, or else there's nothing to save them. It's not like, 'Well that song's a drag, but he totally shredded.'"
When it comes to the Blind Eyes, four albums are an influence on Picker. Give 'Em Enough Rope by the Clash, Shake the Sheets by Ted Leo, Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy and This Year's Model by Elvis Costello. When the Blind Eyes began, Picker was listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy, and he also feels that Rope is the "most consistent" Clash album. But he saves his rapturous praise for Costello. "This Year's Model is the greatest pop record ever recorded, in my opinion," he says. "Here's this album that's dripping with really great, catchy poppy songs. Every song is fucking phenomenal, and they're totally on point. You can almost feel the energy coming off that album, it's just so good."
The band deftly combines ragged sonics and polished structures. Modernity has the right amount of fuzz and grit on vocals and riffs to make its tunes sound like dusty 45-RPM gems; solid songwriting adds to the timeless mood. "I like it when other people are rough-sounding, but I don't know — that music training kicks in," Porter says. "Plenty of singers I like sing a little off-key. I'm like, 'Wow, that's really cool,' but I can't do it. I have to sing a melody. When we need shouting, I call upon Kevin." In fact, Porter cites Orange Juice's skiffling Scot-pop classic "Falling and Laughing" as an influence. "It's more sophisticated than early punk, but it's still kind of rough around the edges," he says. "It's melodic, but [OJ vocalist Edwyn Collins is] not really a great singer. It has that punk ethos, but the music doesn't sound like the Sex Pistols."