Now You Know: Vacant EyesFriday, 28th August 2015
Location: Easthampton, MA
Style: Melodic Funeral/Death-Doom Metal. Definitely full of European-influenced melancholy atmosphere and shimmering musicality.
Personnel: Josh Moran – (guitars, vocals, some cello); Jamie Emerson – (guitars); Alex Smith – (guitars); Tim “Grim” Riley – (bass); Chris Kudukey – (drums); Mark Richardson – (keyboards)
Latest Release: The Dim Light of Introversion, 2014 (Self-Released)
Melodic funeral/death-doom metal doesn’t exactly command the largest following in most recording or live circuits. Patience is mandatory in absorbing arrangements where chords are drawn out to the edge of forever and tempos can often be equally deliberate in their deceleration. Rewards happen though in the comfort of a slow foot tap, unison head banging, or the flood of images that can take place while succumbing to the totality.
Easthampton, MA is home to one such sextet in Vacant Eyes – intent on producing strong arrangements and songwriting that penetrates all facets of being. After witnessing a recent performance of theirs, it was mandatory that we learn more about this band. Handling the questions for this Now You Know feature is guitarist/vocalist Josh Moran – and expect a full-length follow up before year’s end.
Dead Rhetoric: Vacant Eyes originally started as a one man project in 2011 – how did things evolve into a full band, especially the decision to become a six piece with three guitarists?
Josh Moran: Honestly, I had so much trouble finding the more melodic type of doom bands. It’s so hard to find musicians who like metal and like playing that slowly. I can’t tell you how many times, with old bands, that I’ve been told “That’s too slow” or “Do you have anything more upbeat?” Around here, (at the time) there was mostly stoner or sludge doom and even those were slim to none. I made ads on Craigslist and turned up with nothing. I had an early version of “The Cortex” written already and as much as I enjoyed it, just keeping it to myself wasn’t enough. There’s just an energy that this type of music brings on stage that I just couldn’t deprive myself of. I’ve always been a fan of 3-guitar bands. It’s a perfect combination – two leads and one rhythm or three-way harmonies covering 3 octaves. The 7 and 8 string extended range guitars make it just that much more versatile. As far as a keys player, well… They’re always a must if you ask me. I originally started the band with Nick Clark, the guitarist of a black metal band I am also in, In Human Form. He hooked me up with bassist Tim “Grim” Riley, who happened to be my next door neighbor and often jammed with Chris Kadukey, a drummer that happened to be into playing this kind of stuff. When we were ready for a keyboardist, I only had one name in mind – a long- time friend and fantastic musician, Mark Richardson. Guitarists have been tough to keep in this band for some reason. After busy friends and Craigslist musicians that didn’t work out, we went through 4 before we finally had what is now our current lineup.
Dead Rhetoric: The Dim Light of Introversion came out in the fall of last year – how do you feel the songwriting, recording, and performances went? Were there any challenges, obstacles, or surprises that took place concerning this EP?
Moran: The songwriting went quite easily. It’s just been building up from a pile of back burner riffs that were too slow for my other bands. If I needed something, it was usually there. I’m very much into layered writing so I tried something a little different. Often times I would write almost entire song sections without picking up a guitar and write on Guitar Pro. It helps you write out of your own box and allows you to really visualize and test different harmonies. Then you can add your natural accents after. It’s a great tool.
The recording went smoothly. I recorded all of the guitars because we didn’t quite have a solid lineup yet and even the members we did have didn’t know the songs fully. I was just a bit anxious to get the stuff out there. So Tim, Mark and I just went in and whipped the stuff out pretty quickly. We decided on programmed drums for multiple reasons – the biggest being that it cost less.
Our first performance was a blast. We had the utmost support from friends and family. Everyone played well and performed well. We have some great musicians so I wasn’t surprised. We sold 19 EPs at our first show. Personally, I was scared to death. It was kind of my “baby” and also it was my very first time doing vocals for a band. My voice didn’t quite make it all the way through, but I made it. Heh.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you describe Vacant Eyes in a live setting? Do you think your band is a tough sell in certain places due to your funeral doom/ death platform?
Moran: There is a lot to playing live for any band. With us, it’s not about just playing and trying to get people going. By nature, doom doesn’t really have that effect. We like to make it a good show. Full of emotion, and maintaining a dark mood overall. We constantly bicker over prospective set lists because we really try to make it as effective as possible. With 3 guitarists and keyboards, people have said we sound like a wall of sound, which is awesome. I’m kind of a tone nazi so I’m constantly making sure the guitars stay in their mid/high range to allow the bass guitar to rumble underneath and blow people away. We go for a thick, layered, crushing sound and I would like to think we usually accomplish it.
It is very hard to sell due to the genre we fall into. We often times get moved around a lot on a show lineup because promoters seem to be worried that we will kill the flow and aren’t sure where to put us. Like I said earlier, there aren’t many melo-death doom bands around so we will often play with other bands a bit outside our genre. But most times people like to take a break, drink their beer and just listen while indulging in a nice slow headbang.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your lyrical content and outlook? Do you draw from personal experience, loss, sadness, tragedy, or outside sources for inspiration?
Moran: Most of the members are the type that find a beauty in darkness. So it’s something we’re very familiar with and easily flows from our bones. Personally, I did have quite a jump start which affected my writing. Shortly after I started writing the second song, “Indifference”, my father took his own life. Obviously, trying to keep my mind off of things and find a release, I would put on my headphones and write both music and lyrics like a madman. Although… most of the lyrics for the EP had already been written, fueled from growing up as a major introvert and the anger and resentment that it can bring. Our upcoming full length will reference the event with my father much more. Not necessarily focused on sadness or loss but speculating on what happens after you die, inspired by such a devastating event. Memories, what you left behind, and the passage between the grid of life and death.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your opinion on the local and international metal scene? What areas are you happy about and where do you think improvements needs to be made?
Moran: Being from Massachusetts, the local scene is great around here. We have good promoters and wonderful musicians. The only problem that I see is that many bands deem themselves a “local band”. While this is true, they often act like a local band. Making bone-headed decisions or completely relying on a fan base to come to them purely because they are local. For those who want to get drunk and have a good time, this is perfect. They want something heavy to go nuts to. Unfortunately I haven’t seen many of those types of bands stretch very far unless you’re a pioneer of the type. We like to reach out to fans that are like us. People that can relate and hopefully get some solace from our music. That’s why we do it. It’s certainly not for everyone. That’s why we have genres.
You probably could guess that we are much more popular on the international front than domestically. I’d say about 80% of our online CD sales are international. I have actually been to a music festival in Madrid, Spain. It was very much like our underground scene here except it was a bit more my style. Which was to be expected since I’m influenced by Finnish and Swedish death and doom metal.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you want to see Vacant Eyes evolve over the next year or two? Will the full-length album you are putting the finishing touches on expand on the EP and possibly offer up different dynamic/sonic elements?
Moran: Well it seems that we are already evolving a little. We’re all very excited about the full length. It is much more death/doom than funeral doom, unlike our EP. Our new lineup allows for better musicianship and it opens up more options. It has some slightly faster sections, odd time signatures at times and more solos. But for the most part still very, very slow and melodic. The full length will be a new chapter, it won’t touch on the EP really. You can still expect long song track lengths (the first track is over 16 minutes), more in depth guitar harmonies and even a few lines of clean vocals. With this album, we are hoping to possibly get the attention of a label to help us get our music out to the overseas area a little better (CD shipping is almost $10). We would also love to support some larger doom acts when they come around. Make friends with fellow doomsters and build good relationships with other bands and promoters.