Rapid Eye Movement
Eyeless In Gaza are a sight for sore ears says Johnny Waller
Eyeless are a cracked mirror, reflecting a million teardrops. Eyeless are a ripped-up photo of an old lover. Eyeless are your conscience and your heart clashing. Eyeless are Martyn and Pete. An interview with Eyeless might be a painful, exacting, nerve tacking, exhausting (physically and emotionally) experience. Whether Martyn, Pete and I could survive such […]heart surgery together is doubtful […].
Pete plays keyboards, percussion and bass as well as providing backing vocals. This much is obvious; anything else is personal conjecture and subjective introspection … of the musician, the journalist and reader.
As I type this, I’m listening to the Eyeless Lp ‘Caught in Flux’ and I’m virtually overwhelmed by the sheer sensual and frighteningly beautiful despair of songs/music like ‘Sixth Sense’, ‘See Red’ and ‘Every Which Way’ … I feel hopelessly inadequate in attempting to convey their shattering emotions. I feel a deep sadness like a shroud.
We sat in a pub, Pete and I. We talked of life, of love, of good old rock ‘n’ roll and of this awesome creation called Eyeless In Gaza. Pete’s warm Midlands burr matches his eager, affable nature and he’s more than helpful in explaining why things are as they are. Things like … .
Why don’t you play many gigs?
“We’ve come to the conclusion now that playing a lot of live dates together just makes you mercenary in your attitude towards it – you just get complacent … you’re going through the motions.
When I go on stage, I want to be able to put some emotion into what I do – and, to put that across effectively, I’ve got to feel it. In other words, the more you do it, the more you go through the same thing, playing the same set night after night, you become like … you just churn it out.
You can’t feel it every time if you’re doing it x days a week.”
But aren’t there advantages, like getting more proficient?
“No – in our case, it’s worked in the exact opposite way, and rather than being more proficient, it’s inhabited me. There are certain notes I have to play, and I know what they are … but after so many dates, they become just notes, they don’t mean anything, it’s just ABCDEF and G.”
Things like … have you thought of expanding beyond a duo?
“We thought about it in the beginning, yeah, but we like it the way it is at the moment, because it’s that much easier to communicate the ideas – and if one of us doesn’t like it, well that’s it … it’s thrown out!”
How different are you and Martyn as people?
“I think we’re very different. Very different in our attitudes. Martyn’s a bit of a funny bugger, he’s very set in his ideas of what he wants, whereas I’m a bit more easy-going.”
So what attracted you to each other?
“Well, we were introduced by a local band – they were a bass and keyboard duo [Bron Area] who were doing something a bit different … and I thought they were great! I wanted to join them, Martyn did as well! But neither of us could fit in, because those two were so strong, so they said ‘Why don’t you two get together then?’, so we did, and just sort of clicked from there – it was a great feeling!”
Do you see each other socially?
“Well, we’re always doing something that’s to do with Eyeless, whether it’s working out new material or playing or in the studio, so we see each other about three nights a week. But I you can see too much of each other, where you get fed up, you know – I like it when I want to see Martyn, y’know … ‘Oh, let’s go round and see Martyn, it’ll be great!’ – that’s what I want it to be, leaving no gaps in between.”
Things like … improvisation on stage.
“On the last few dates we’ve done, there hasn’t been any, which I think is a bad thing – but there’s no time, no time to do anything like that. That’s one of the reasons we don’t want to do extended tours.
I suppose the argument in favour of touring is to reach more and more people … that’s the idea of it, isn’t it? To play to people live, for people to come and consume your music?”
Is that why you personally do it?
“Yeah, I want people to come and listen to the music and make of it what they want. But we definitely are steering clear of using a lot of tapes on stage, because with only two of us, there’s no point in us doing that, because it’d be false.
There’s no need to throw lots of things in, overdubs and the like, because I don’t think it needs it.”
Things like … being in a group not becoming a job.
“I don’t want Eyeless to become my job – that would be awful! Then it would be just a financial thing, whereas I’ve kept on my job, because I want to buy a house.
And I think it’s a nice contrast as well – when I’m at work, I come home and it’s really great to play music. It’s also a lot of trouble, time-wise, to do that, but then there’s so much more to fight for!”
Is there anything else in your life that’s as important as Eyeless?
“To tell you the truth, at the moment there isn’t and that’s one of the things I’m worried about (laughs). At one time, I was more involved with local things – I haven’t got anything else at the moment and I think that’s a bad thing. I’d like to get more involved with community things, like before, but I haven’t got the time now.”
Things like … remember when punk erupted?
“I wasn’t playing then – I used to like reggae and jazz and funk, and I started to play guitar, but I was just playing the same old musical clichés, and I thought ‘This isn’t me’, so I just threw the guitar over a wall and left it for a year.
Then I saved some money and bought a synth. I didn’t know how to use it or anything – it was like a challenge, like starting fresh again, which was half the beauty of it – just doing something on the spur of the moment … and it sort of paid off!”
But when Pete Becker says “paid off”, he doesn’t mean that he earns a lot of money from Eyeless, or has become wildly famous, or whatever other trappings might normally be associated with a successful group.
Eyeless, though, worry more about something like honesty, which Pete defines as “just feeling right about it all, it means not going on stage with the attitude that it’s just another gig.”
Musically, Eyeless are astoundingly prolific (also prolifically astounding!), releasing two brilliant albums within six months of each other, licensing various music for overseas markets, but never really making a concerted assault on mass-consciousness through the medium of the pop single – a feat achieved by Orchestral Manoeuvres and similarly within Eyeless’ melodic reach.
When I ask Martyn Bates, the intense, cautious, introspective bug-eyed singer/lyricist/guitarist/keyboardist, what he do if Eyeless ever had a hit single, I’m totally unprepared for his answer.
In fact, both Martyn and I are totally unprepared for the whole interview. He because of his painful shyness and integrity and I because, as I questioned him, I felt as though I were probing where I had no more right. Certainly, the most arduous and frustrating interview I’ve ever conducted.
So, what if he had a hit?
“Phew, I dunno, I’d cry.
I feel you can be sucked into things and become a dead-head, can become half-asleep … but I want to feel things, I want to be able to enjoy things, know things for myself – I don’t want to have to feel things through mass-idea … ugh, it’s so hard to explain” (long long pause).
“I think a hit would really change things – I’ve been thinking about stopping to do singles, because of the potential of what they could do to what we’ve got. Errr, it’s really hard to explain to you without sounding precocious and affected. I don’t want it to come over like that, but I’m trying to explain why we do things the way we do.”
If it’s so hard, why do interviews?
“Why? Because I want enough people to know about us to hear our music to enable me to keep making records, I want to keep doing it, to have an outlet for this thing in me that I feel so strongly about and that’s why I’m sitting here talking to you really.”
Do you ever worry that your words – especially lyrics – are being “lost” or misunderstood?
“No, because the way I set the lyrics up is so that people can read what they want into them, fit them to their own lives. I don’t like to make things too obvious. Loads of people say ‘Your lyrics doesn’t mean anything’ – but they do, they mean loads of things, it’s there.”
Is it meant to be an interreaction with the audience?
“Definitely, definitely. That’s why I do it that way, I leave it wide open to personal interpretation, if you like, and it’s down to us just being a two-piece – we just get up there and do it with what we’ve got, we don’t use tapes.
People don’t know what to make of us half the time – and there’s the desire to be different as well, I’ve got to admit that. We don’t want to sound like all the others, so that’s another reason we work as a duo.”
Does it drain you being on stage?
“Yeah, I feel shattered when we come off … being on stage is such an unreal situation – you’re on edge, a real bag of nerves, the only way to do it is to chuck yourself into the violence of it, which is what we do.
I’d like to play different places, maybe a cathedral … I’m just interested, we like to do different things, we used to improvise on stage, but it never quite felt right, cos you have to be in a certain mood, quite relaxed, but when we’re on stage we seem to put out in quite a violent way.”
What emotion do you feel on stage?
“It’s a mixture of things really – I feel thrown into things, whatever emotion that is! I feel really ambivalent about the audience reaction, mostly I’m not even aware of them! I just want to play my music and have people listen to it. It’s like therapy for me.”
Are you always in control off yourself?
“Well, I do lose myself sometimes. I throw myself into it, that’s the only way to look at it.”
Is there an element of risk?
“No, no, no … I’m not going to say ‘Oh sure, anything could happen’ or anything stupid!”
I’m not trying to put words into your mouth, honest!
“Well, I’m wary, but … no, there’s nothing like that, though I do lose myself in the music – but there’s no danger of my brain coming out of my ear! Try another question,” he snaps in weary impatience; with me, with himself, with the interview situation which he clearly finds distressing and distasteful.
Is performing something you feel driven to do?
“It depends what you mean by performing. Performing to me is just putting over your songs, it’s nothing to do with theatrics, that’s completely contrary to what I want to do.
To me, it’s got to be something really special, it’s got to come from yourself, not because you’ve got a long nose or a ridiculous outfit … I think that’s rubbish!
But anyway, we’re not driven to anything, we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to. But within me, to make music, yeah definitely – feel it’s something I have to do or else I’d be really unhappy.”
Did you used to be unhappy before you made music?
“Definitely … right up till Eyeless started – I don’t know, it’s like the start of levelling out. I’ve always been fed up a lot really; then I met Pete and few other people who helped me open up by myself and make music – I’ve been in groups before where all my energy has been channelled in the wrong direction, and this is the first time I’ve had the chance to express myself properly.”
What do you do outside of music?
“Well, I work at a hospital, I’m a hospital porter – and I really like the job. Most of the time I work with the rehabilitation centre, heart patients, old people and … how is all this supposed to fit in? Sorry, I’ve lost my thread, what was the question again?”
Well, I just wondered what you do outside of Eyeless and how important Eyeless is to you!
“Oh, it’s vital! But I wouldn’t like it to be all and end-all – the music biz is like a bubble, and it’s not what I want from life. I dunno … it’s hard for me to sit here and say these things to you … .
All the songs are really personal, and they’re a focus for me to stop being depressed, it’s like an outlet of release.”
And if that stopped tomorrow?
“That’s a crazy question, it’s like hypothetical … the only way it would happen was if Pete and I felt it was wrong to go on.”
Would it matter if people stopped listening?
“I don’t think people will ever stop listening – that’s not meant to be arrogant, I just think there’s enough people to listen whatever you do.”
Drained by my incessant questioning, tainted by contact with the rock industry, Martyn Bates departed for the safe confines of Eyeless In Gaza to make more music, that brilliant evocative, emotional music.
This month, Eyeless In Gaza released a new album unashamedly called ‘Drumming the Beating Heart’, and enough people will listen.