INTERVIEW: EYES BEHIND THE VEIL
Happy new year all. New me, too, because I’m somehow on time for work today. I’ve turned a new leaf. Well, I was ten minutes late, but that’s fine. I don’t think that constitutes being late, although this is a concept lost to the people that sometimes queue up outside the shop I work at at the advertised opening time of 10am. “I thought you opened at ten,” they pip. More fool you, because I have the key and we open when I get there. But I’m never late. Ten minutes isn’t late.
In any case, today’s interview is late; I’d hoped to get it up before we split for Christmas, but then the Killing Moon Christmas drinks happened and, well, I’ve got priorities, man.
So now, kicking off 2018, we have prolific Portland musician Michael Tenzer, the creative force behind Eyes Behind the Veil (which we featured in the final edition of Demolition Day last month). New EBtV EP Grow is an immersive record of luscious dream-pop and beautiful soundscapes, and final track Garden Jaws was a highlight in the KM office. Nick spoke to Michael to find out more.
KM: How would you describe your new EP Grow?
MT: Grow started as a kind of vague exploration of memory. For some reason, at the time I was writing the material for what would become Grow, I got stuck on this notion of how certain memories tend to loop in your mind, over and over again, sometimes repeating important events, sometimes repeating just inane, superfluous details. Then I thought about how those memory loops tend to fade and change over time, each repeat bringing in a slight nuance that wasn’t there before, until, years later your perception of a memory is completely different from before. The very nature of all of that fascinates me, so I decided to make that my abstract touchstone for the EP. Then I moved across the U.S. from Chicago to Portland, during the recording process. This move injected a second theme for Grow, which was the elusiveness of identity – who and what you’re supposed to be in different times and places in your life. I thought it intersected well with the memory stuff, identity and memory are so closely bound up together after all. Grow ended up being more personal than I thought it would, expressing a catharsis for my life being uprooted and for me having to figure out how I fit in as everything changed around me.
KM: The EP ebbs between song and ambient soundscape. How do you approach the two disciplines, or do you see them as one?
MT: The more direct pop-structured tracks are a big departure from my earlier material. My previous albums, Besides and Empathy, focused more so on abstract ambient soundscapes. Besides was inspired by the lo-fi dream folk of Grouper and Benoit Pioulard, while Empathy pushed into a more ethereal, gothic This Mortal Coil direction. Both featured my vocals and kept a kind of loose but progressive “song” structure to them, but ultimately I wanted them to feel formless, like it was passing through you in every direction. Grow is a different story. Working with such atmospheric music, you tend to get spoiled because you can hide yourself in all those layers. I wanted to be a little more brave in my aesthetic and songwriting choices with Grow. While it’s still swathed in plenty of dreamy business, the EP is actually my most straightforward release to date. It feels more immediate but still super chill and spacey, which is a nice balance to have. And, you know, with the ambient pieces on Grow, I wanted to keep that part of the project alive, it’s important to me to still have that formlessness, at least in part.
KM: Are Eyes Behind the Veil and Michael Tenzer one and the same, or is it just one strand of what you do as a musician? Does recording under the moniker of EBtV push you to produce in a particular style?
MT: Haha, funny you ask that and I was mentioning having issues with identity earlier. Eyes Behind the Veil is one of my solo projects, along with another solo project, Soft Lashes, which is more focused on bright, somewhat danceable chillwave/synth pop/dream pop. Then I have my fuzzy shoegaze band, Lazy Legs, which is an My Bloody Valentine/Ringo Deathstarr/No Joy/Sonic Youth styled rock situation that’s very important to me. Lazy Legs is probably the most popular project I’ve been a part of and it’s probably the most fun project to play in as well. In fact, the whole initial point of starting Eyes Behind the Veil, was to get away from the more direct song-structuring and brash energy of Lazy Legs. I love it to pieces, but ambient has always held a dear place in my heart and I always have had the desire to express that part of myself. It’s only after a few years into EBtV that I’ve come back around to the idea of making the project a more fleshed out “band” kind of thing. But when you take note of my inspirations for Grow, namely Pure X, Beach House, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and Galaxie 500, all of their “band” presences are still extremely intimate and personal, so I took a cue from that.
[…] Ultimately I wanted them to feel formless, like it was passing through you in every direction […]
KM: What have you been listening to lately?
MT: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of this Austin, Texas based band, Soda Lilies, who turn out extremely melted and bent lo-fi shoegaze (I like to call it slackergaze), especially on their latest album, Sleep Reel. I’m also currently digging the newest EP, Dividends, from one of my fav bands, Lubec, which is brashy and crashy post-hardcore mixed with jangle and some seriously gorgeous vocal harmonies. On the dream pop side of things, I’ve been listening to Mini Dresses, a minimalist, lo-fi bedroom pop trio that make effortlessly catchy jams with astonishing consistency. John Maus’ latest album Screen Memories is another making the rounds for me, can’t get enough of that cheeky post-punk/70s synth/horror musical disco of his.
KM: What will 2018 bring for you? Can we expect more from EBtV?
MT: A lot of stuff is in the pipeline for my main squeeze, Lazy Legs: a split with another band, a new EP and even a new album later in the year. We’ll also resume playing live again. Speaking of which, I’m simultaneously starting to move EBtV into a live, full band situation, which presents its own intrigues and challenges. I’m excited to see where it goes, but sooner than later I imagine those songs on Grow will be hitting the tiniest stages in Portland.
Grow is available for free download/pay what you want on Bandcamp. All sales for the EP will go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press, two organisations that are dedicated to defending net neutrality in the U.S..