When Colin Arnold of the Dallas psychedelic duo Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things admits that his and ex-Fort Worthian Sean French’s band “lends itself to people in a certain state of mind,” he clearly means “people who are stoned.” But to really appreciate the scope and beauty of Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things’ music, listeners need to take his statement another way: Every song is an elegant risk. To best understand, surrender yourself to the journey.
Most of the songs are centered on woozy, Acid Test guitars, backed by distant, minimal percussion, everything traversing mysterious, smoky jungles of sound. The group’s delicate, transcendental tunes don’t try to woo listeners via catchy hooks or standard song structures. Instead, a song such as the ascending, lens-flared, blissed-out “The First Hit’s Free” slowly washes over you, all the different elements fading in and out of focus. Each listen feels like an abstract dream: familiar and new all at once.
The same penchant for exploration in the duo’s songs is what originally brought Arnold and French together. “I’ve always like mood music – no matter what style of music it was,” Arnold said. In 2003, Arnold met fellow musician and early band member Neu Leblanc, and they quickly bonded, often playing together at Leblanc’s Dallas home. Not long after, French left Fort Worth and moved in downstairs from Leblanc. When Arnold found out that French had a huge cache of instruments and was a nerd for obscure music, he and Leblanc were soon regulars at French’s. They were all obsessed with experimental music. “There’s more freedom in it,” Arnold said. “I like to be able to sit on top of something, expand, and always think of somewhere new to go. This music lets me do that.”
The players’ shared passion for experimental music consumed their free time. They recorded their improvised sessions on Arnold’s eight-track cassette recorder as often as possible.
Arnold treasured those laidback, meandering sessions, but the music had to remain a casual hobby. All three musicians had day jobs, and French was already playing pedal steel, bells, banjo, and guitar in Fort Worth’s The Theater Fire. In the meantime, Arnold and Leblanc joined the now defunct psychedelic pop-rock band Pegasus Now. With Brian Smith on guitars, T.J. Prendergast on drums, Arnold on bass and harmonica, and Leblanc on vocals and guitar, the band was together for only about a year and released only one recording, an EP.
During his time with Pegasus Now, Arnold had amassed a large collection of solo music. With the band finished, he desperately wanted to find an outlet for his material. Longing for those carefree days playing for hours at French’s home, he reached out to French, who was eager to collaborate again.
Without Leblanc, who was too involved with other projects to contribute, and rather than look for another member, Arnold and French remained a duo. Their partnership brought a fresh dynamic to the band. Songwriting became an increasingly egalitarian process based on brutal honesty. The two began to write and record at a furious pace. Inspired by diverse genres (psychedelic, surf, doo-wop, ambient, folk, Eastern, tropical) and eccentrics of the ’60s like Scott Walker and iconoclastic producer Joe Meek, the two musos became obsessed with the infinite possibilities of recording techniques and sound manipulation. The results were spooky, psychedelic, and folky enough to soundtrack a Jodorowsky film. By 2008, the group’s first record, Tonsils, Toes And Everyone Knows, was released on Indian Casino Records, a Seattle label with Fort Worth roots (“South by Northwest,” Feb. 11, 2009).
The frenzied songwriting pace didn’t let up. Arnold and French started using the project as an outlet for every esoteric sound that popped into their heads and made live appearances only rarely. Because Indian Casino wasn’t able to release the albums at the pace at which Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things were writing and recording, Arnold and French began self-releasing their music for free via direct downloads on http://eyeswings.com/ and through services like iTunes. In the last two years the band has self-released another three albums.
Thanks in part to the internet and ravenous fans of obscure music, Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things might have to come out of seclusion more often. The duo’s most recent work, 2009’s darkly whimsical Nite Delights, is earning a lot of chat-room praise. Incorporating everything from hazy, crystallized slow dances to hippie campfire vibes to crescendos of fuzzy, Atari-tuned guitars, the record reveals something surprising with each listen. And now with a regular backing band for live gigs — Jeremy Smith on bass, Chad Walls on drums, and Del Perez on keyboards — Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things will play more often than twice a year, Arnold promises.
But Arnold and French aren’t resting on blog praise or on the honor of being asked to support touring artists like Brooklyn noise-poppers Grooms. The duo has already recorded its next album, the kaleidoscopic and cosmic Secret Space, which should be out in about a month — Arnold and French are currently weighing the release’s format options. Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things also are looking into touring the West Coast this summer and have recently expanded their live show, projecting a DVD of interchanging colors during sets, which French swears is “like some weird church revival that kicks you in the face … just total sensory overload.” Believe him. Because if Eyes, Wings And Many Other Things’ future is anything like their past – hold on for one hell of a trip.