Off the heels of their 2014 release Carvings, Minneapolis’ Warehouse Eyes runs in a dynamic new direction with their 2015 EP, Prisms. I caught up with fronting members Jennie Lawless and Christopher Williams, to discuss Warehouse Eyes’ latest, and dig into the details of the upcoming release.
Like recent Rock the Garden performers Lucius, Lawless and Williams compliment their elegant sounds with eloquent visual style. We met in the early evening, a pleasant hazy sun lowering on the horizon. Lawless looked flawless as usual, a wide brimmed black hat matching her modest black dress, and vintage sunglasses and necklace providing a splash of contrasting elements. Williams, still adjusting to his new short locks and glasses, admits the frames are fake. But the honesty makes it all the more legitimate, as we all try on certain skins from time to time.
However, there’s nothing counterfeit about their characters, the music they make together, or their goals. This Friday, Warehouse Eyes kick off their first outside-the-Midwest tour, which is headed all the way to New York City and back. A marathon of 20 shows between now and the end of August awaits them, a feat that requires a heavy dose of ambition. Yet they are equal to the task, with momentum and motivation in their favor.
Now a full five-piece band, Warehouse Eyes welcomed Matt Vannelli (guitar), Kevin Scott (bass), and Alex Young (drums) to the process this second time around. And working with Lance Conrad at Humans Win! recording studio, it was an ideal experience.
Williams pointed out they had a session looking forward even before the release of Carvings.
“It was pretty fast actually… We were going to do a single with Lance [Conrad], that was our plan, and it sort of very gradually became an EP. We really enjoyed working with Lance, and I think we found the combo to be very fruitful, so we moved fast on that. Actually Lance is the reason that Matt joined the band… and Matt is for me the perfect guitar player. He doesn’t often play guitar-ish parts, he more plays guitar like a synthesizer.”
“I couldn’t have picked a better fit for us,” Lawless interjected. “He makes these funky sounds you wouldn’t even know were guitar.”
“We’re open to evolving naturally in the studio,” Lawless continued, and they didn’t come in with perfected songs just to record the parts. “Lance did a great job of really honing things with us, and challenging some of our decisions on arrangements, forcing us to think outside of the box.”
They both admit, there’s much more possibility when your mind isn’t set first on the budget when recording, although it’s always an important factor. Williams justified their recent process.
“There’s always moments that you want to hit in a specific way, in a song. Maybe that first time in the tune, where you’re like, oh this is what this song sounds like. And then there’s some other moment that’s the climax in the song, and you need to do whatever it takes to make those moments feel the way they’re supposed to. And whether that takes a ton of tweaking, whatever, if you need a new part, you need a new part.”
They did come in with one core concept, however, which became a foundation for all the songs. Lawless disclosed: “something that we were intentional about was making songs that people could actually move to.”
“[At] some point in the last year, we made it a point to dance as often as possible in our living room, like one time a day. It’s kind of become this weird ritual and priority in our lives, Chris and I. So there’s a little bit more playfulness in this album because of that, because you can’t be too serious when you’re dancing.”
Williams agreed, and commented on how being too into the details can detract from the live experience of music.
“It can be really easy to want live music to be the same thing as when you’re listening to something cool on your headphones, but sometimes it’s nice to have things that move you in a different way. That was our intention… to do that without sacrificing some core feeling that we get in our songs.”
Being familiar with ballads, and quite intricately composed tunes, Warehouse Eyes loosens up on Prisms, inviting in a playful nature and incorporating electronic elements with open arms – and good taste. Lawless was specific in their awareness of how sound translates into energy, both recorded and live.
“Already we’re heading in a new direction… working with so many more electronics has made us think more intentionally about dynamics… so in our live setting it’s not just a stagnant, high energy thing.”
A fantastic example of this attentiveness to dynamics and danceablilty takes hold in “I Think I Can Live With It,” accompanied by a music video, the work of director Jimmy Christenson. The starting and ending lines of “run until you’re free” hint at the theme of runaways, and Lawless was intrigued by the direction it took.
“In some ways, this video has changed the meaning behind the lyrics, they’ve become something new for us. We asked a bunch of people we knew if they had any runaway stories from when they were kids, and we got this really beautiful array of responses… [one friend] she’d never actually done it, but always had romanticized running away with a fur coat and big sunglasses…”
“We leapt on that, the idea of getting all glamoured up to run away,” Williams added.
Lawless continued, “We ended up renting a fur coat from an antique shop for one of the little girls, we put a big ol’ hat on her and had her wear sunglasses. She was such a diva, didn’t smile once in the video – it was so perfect.”
What becomes evident after time in conversation with these two is the complimentary composition of their relationship. At times their thoughts flow back and forth so seamlessly, it’s difficult to keep track of who initiated what thread of thought. In the same way that they leapt on the runaway concept for their video, they surely ran with a great idea when they paired up to create music together.
Now they spend a good deal of their time making music, and all the logistics that entails. The theme and title for Prisms came about on one of the less glamorous parts in the life of a musician, as Lawless narrated.
“We were talking through the songs together on the way back from a show out of town, just Chris and I, we were thinking about what we were going to call the album, and we realized that the songs are the prisms, and love is the light, that lets us talk about other things.”
Williams contemplated the darker side of things, and the always present question of, who cares?
“I’m always worried with a song that I’m just not going to care. Cause there’s a lot of songs that I hear where I’m like, yeah it sounds fine but I don’t know why I care about what they’re singing. And so I ask myself, we ask the same question, of our songs a lot… and I think the whole Prisms concept is, a lot of the way we get ourselves to care, is this crossing of love with something else.”
And so as love pervades their relationship, it surely invades their music, acting as the lens through which they see the world. The album art for Prisms was created in the same vein, through a love of design that Lawless harbors. It’s a mixture of graphic design, projection, and photography, and in the end a work of art.
“I’m really proud of it – I’m excited to share the actual CD with people, so they can have it… We’re giving everyone who comes to the show a free copy.”
This enthusiasm in sharing their creation pairs with Warehouse Eyes’ excitement of being part of such a vibrant music scene here in Minneapolis. Williams got a down-to-earth comparison with other cities’ scenes through preparing for their upcoming tour.
“Booking this tour… it was interesting to see these patterns, and the thing I never fully realized about Minneapolis is, despite the size, there are a lot people here who are really trying to do something special.”
Lawless chipped in, “People are pretty ambitious here, they’re serious about their art,” as Williams followed with, “That changes the way you approach everything.”
Local influences such as Low and Halloween, Alaska, as well as much larger acts like Radiohead, Phantogram, and Leonard Cohen, all contribute to the way they hear the world. But most importantly, Warehouse Eyes wants to see the world.
Lawless enthusiastically announced, “We want to GO places, we want to actually be a self-sufficient band essentially, be a full-time touring band. And so we’re basically doing whatever it takes right now to get to that point.”
With a new release ready to drop this week, a national tour ahead of them, and a full length release in mind for early 2016, there is no doubt Warehouse Eyes will be going places. The real question for these runaways is not where, but how far.