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Making Waves with ... SORE EYES - Aug 9, 2010

“We’re never above talking to people about spreading the word about the band. Some bands get off stage and go and hide in their RV. We’re just really social.”

picture For the second edition of ‘Making Waves’, our series focusing on artists forging success independent of label support, we speak to rising Memphis alternative pop rock band Sore Eyes.

Having founded in 2006, the band’s vibrant, passionate and ubiquitous presence on the national touring scene, flanking the likes of Shinedown, Saving Abel and Framing Hanley, and willingness to mingle and spread the word amongst music fans has enabled them to build up a huge underground following.

Vocalist Shi Eubank talks about making valuable connections, such as with their manager Shinedown’s Zach Myers, how sponsorship provides lucrative opportunities for young bands willing to ‘scratch backs’ and why taking your time before signing with a label gives you greater choice and bargaining power.

SoreEyesHow did Sore Eyes first come together?

I’d moved back into Memphis area from Knoxville, Tennessee and there was a band in town called Egypt Central. Their singer [John T. Falls] went around with me and we checked out numbers in a bunch of different bands. Jeremiah [Lipscomb] was somebody I was looking at.

From there it was just a weeding process - you think you have them and eventually that’s not the right person, and then the right person comes along. That’s pretty much how I got Chris [Whitham] and Landon [Fox].

How did you come up with the name ‘Sore Eyes’?

‘Sore Eyes’ was the very first song that me and Jeremiah wrote together.

So you were already writing songs back then?

Me and Jeremiah were writing songs together and we had a ton of material before we even found Chris.

Once the line-up of your band was complete you “hit the road” - is playing as many gigs as possible and getting live chops the first step for any aspiring rock band?

It’s definitely the first step. That’s the one that’s going to show whether you’re going to enter or not - that tells the tale, right there.

Once found your feet as a live act, rather than just go out and play local bars, did you have a plan of what type of gigs you wanted to get?

We knew where we wanted to take ourselves and the avenues it was going to take to get there. We definitely knew we wanted bigger shows, and knew which ones meant something out of town and which ones didn’t, and which venues we were going to be able to make a home in.

You look at people that are bigger than you and take advice from them. We were able to minimise a lot of mistakes by talking to other bands that made the mistakes. We’re just fortunate to have friends in the industry that really cared about what we were doing.

What particular live shows have been really good exposure for you?

Some of the best exposure has been when we go out with the band Framing Hanley because we have the same demographics, our listeners have similar tastes in music. I would say treading the waters they have treaded has been really beneficial to us. That as well as Shinedown, since they finally broke into the Top 40.

What are the important festivals for any young rock band would you say?

Definitely the Warped Tour. We’re going to be shooting for that next year. That’s a big one. Bamboozle is a big one for the younger crowd. Those are two of my favourites anyways.

How did you go about booking your early gigs – did you have an agent or anyone working for you?

We were fortunate enough to get an agent (Tim Corser/Kings of Rock Entertainment) right off the bat, which is the same agent we’re with right now. I mean, we played several small regional shows but those were really like ‘can I just warm up’ shows, tagging along with other bands. To get an agent right off the bat is a huge thing because I think it opened a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities a lot faster for us.

How did you first get in contact with your agent?

Through that band Egypt Central, their drummer [Blake Allison]. They were working with our agent at the time and he was looking at taking on one more band and we rose to the top so to speak.

You’ve toured with Shinedown, Senses Fail, Haste The Day, amongst many others - was there any specific things you learnt from touring with these experienced bands?

I’d say the biggest lesson learnt is just being nice and being humble. If you go into these venues and treat people with respect you get a lot more in return. The bands that walk in in front of new crowds and new club owners with an attitude just doesn’t seem to fare very well. Nobody is above anything.

You got that advice from these established artists?

We saw other bands not being so nice, and we heard their horror stories, so we veered from that path. But we’re just nice guys in general so that advice wasn’t totally necessary.

You’ve had rave reviews about your mighty stage presence – is that something that has come naturally or is the confidence something you’ve developed through performing so many shows?

I really think it’s just us, our charisma ... None of it is choreographed, pre-planned, pre-meditated, it’s all just who we are, and it comes out live on stage.

I think our bass player [Landon Fox] is probably the funniest one to watch. He’s absolutely hilarious. About a month ago, we were playing with Sevendust and we started throwing beach balls off into the crowd, and when one got flung back up on stage our road manager took it and lobbed it off to our bass player. He then grabs his bass like a baseball bat and hits the beach ball back out into the crowd [laughs].

That was the Rockapalooza gig in Jackson. Did that prove to be a successful gig for you?

Yeah, I think so. We’re a lot closer to pop than anything and so playing with [heavy metal band] Sevendust, we were like, “This will be a challenging crowd.” We went in there and did our thing and it seemed like everybody enjoyed it, and I think it really solidified us in that area. We’ve been through there a couple of times, and they’ve been some pretty good shows, but that one definitely put the milestone up there for us.

It’s said that in the space of your first year you’d built up a strong underground following. What things have been influential in achieving that, besides obviously the talents of your band?

I don’t know. You’re just communicating to your crowd - nothing builds a crowd like a crowd, nothing beats word-of-mouth. So we’re never above talking to people about spreading the word about the band. Some bands get off stage and go and hide in their RV. We’re just really social. The biggest thing is communicating to your crowd that you want them to tell everybody about you.

Another thing is that when we sell our CD, we actually tell the crowd to burn it off and give it out to all their friends. Because it’s not about the money, it’s about people hearing the music. 10 dollars here and there is gas money, you know [laughs]. We will give away CDs at points. It just feel like, “Here, take this, burn it off, and give it out to everybody you know.” I think that’s really done a lot for us, ultimately.

Do you communicate much with your fans online?

Oh definitely.

Have any Internet tools been particularly useful in engaging with your fans and attracting new fans?

Everything on the Internet is slowing down. Once upon a time you were able to jump on MySpace, say whatever you have to say, and then x amount of people would show up at your show. It’s just not like that now because they’ve got over-congested.

I think it’s really back down to grassroots promoting. If you don’t go out and shake somebody’s hand and invite him out then I don’t think that they’re interested anymore.

Having a nice, professional looking web presence does at least seem to be essential component in any band’s marketing plans. You have very striking web pages - who designed those?

All of our website stuff is done by Second Chances. The main guy Kyle Segars, he’s just phenomenal. We pay him a fee every month and if we need a couple of new layouts then he’ll do them. They take care of all the flyers and any of our graphic design work - they do it all.

You recorded your first EP in the autumn of 2008 – why was that the right time?

Like I said, we’ve taken advice from people that have been there and done that to help minimise our mistakes, and one of the biggest mistakes some of them made was getting a great CD done, but getting a great CD done by somebody that didn’t have a name. It really didn’t help them as much. So, we waited until we found the right producer and went to Brett [Hestla] (HQ Interview).

Why was Brett the right man?

I really liked what he’d been doing in the past, and I really liked how strong of a vocalist he was. It was really important for me to be in there with somebody that was actually going to care about how the vocals turned out and not be just focused on the music.

Was it you that contacted him?

Yeah. I was in contact with Brett and then he got familiar with the band and we eased our way into it. We decided to go down there and see how four songs would work out in time.

Only four songs?

We did four, and then we ended up going down to record another five songs, which we’re going to release here soon.

How long did the process take?

It was just a couple of weeks to do the four songs. We let him listen to them and go over them with a fine tooth comb and it was good.

How did you fund it?

We’d been saving money, just via shows and selling merch.

We had a really strong underground following in Memphis and some other small regional areas, but the thing was that nobody had ever been able to take something of ours home and listen to. We had T-shirts and all that good stuff, but until the songs were the way we wanted them, we didn’t want anybody to have a copy of it. So, we just saved and saved and …

… Brett made you a friendly price!

Yeah, exactly [laughs].

How did you hook up with manager Zach Myers (guitarist of Shinedown)?

That was awesome. Zach is from the Memphis area, and he had been hearing about us around town and had come out and seen us a couple of times. We never really thought anything of it.

He came up to us after one show and said, “Hey, you mind if I give you a call?” So he calls me and he’s like, “I just wanted to know if you want to do some shows with us.” I said, “Some shows with … The Fairwell?” Because he had another band in Memphis that he fronted called The Fairwell. “No, you want to come out and do some shows with Shinedown?”

So he ended up having his booking agent Gwyther call us and offer us a few shows. So we went to Michigan and played a couple of sold out shows with them. Then he was like, “Well, the reason I brought you out here is that I wanted to see if you’d sink or swim in front of a crowd like this ... and you guys are out here doing the breaststroke.” He then said he’d like to step in and work on the management end with us. My jaws were out there, I was like, “Absolutely. This is a no-brainer!” [laughs]

Zach doesn’t manage any other bands, so why did he decide to venture into management with you?

I don’t know why. I don’t know if he just enjoys us that much or if we look like dollar signs to him. [laughs].

When you sat down with Cursed Management and discussed what steps you should be taking next, what were the key issues?

All their biggest things were keeping us out on the road working that underground base so that when we do the full linked record that we actually have a fan base to deliver that to. They also wanted to make sure that the band was going to be able to stay out on the road and stay together before they sank a lot of time and a lot of energy into us.

The other thing was, of course, writing. That was always from the top: write, write, write ...

Why was Zach so insistent about writing?

He’s like, “That’s your lifeline. We [Shinedown] hated ‘Second Chance’ when we wrote it but it ended up being the one that broke into everything.” There’s a lot of songs that we’re writing that we’ve just been disregarding, because we’ve felt they were too playful or too youthful … we’ve been overruling ourselves. Zach said, “I want to hear everything, not just what you want me to hear.”

So, we went back to the drawing board and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past couple of months, it’s just writing and writing and writing, and we’ve got some really killer stuff, and we’re just trying to decide right now where we’re going to take it to record.

So when in your bio it says that you only decided to go back into the studio after “many long conversations” with Zach, this was about the songs?

We weren’t happy with the songs - like we’re happy with them but not happy with them. We’re always shooting for a song that is going to please us, but more importantly, a song that everybody else is going to enjoy. So we had to put our pride aside and say we hadn’t written that song yet. That’s the target.

In terms of your immediate career targets, are you consciously building up a fanbase, a discography and a buzz around you with the ultimate aim of securing a record deal?

I think everybody wants that record deal [laughs]. I think everybody wants that stability behind him, because nobody wants to fall down by themselves. You feel more secure and more confident when you’re walking around with a group behind you that believes in what you do.

I think Zach wants to take us to a major, but we as a band are not scared of independent labels. It’s so cliché to say, but we’re looking for somebody that is going to focus on us.

Why wait before shopping for a label deal? Do you have a big advantage in terms of getting a good deal if you have the fanbase and the records behind you?

I think so. Number one is the song and I think we’re still working on finding that song. And I think we’re edging ever closer to having that ‘Second Chance’. Waiting definitely gives you opportunity, because in a lifetime you shouldn’t rush through things. You rush through things and it always seems like the things that you rush through are the ones that get discarded first. And so I think taking our time with it is definitely giving us an advantage on who’s going to pick us up.

Was it Zach’s decision to hire a publicist?

We met Shauna [O’Donnell] through a mutual friend of the band. After we’d talked with Shauna for a bit, we brought her in and Zach just fell in love with her. He was like, “Yeah, she’s great! She’s perfect for the band.”

He wasn’t actually looking for a publicist for us at the time for us, because we’re just working on just writing and recording mainly right now. But she sat him down and brought some things to his eyes as well, like, “I’ve got this going on and that going on, and this is what else I could do.” I’m really happy to have her. She’s amazing.

So what are her responsibilities at the moment?

She’s a little bit of everything [laughs]. She’s doing more than just publicist stuff, more than just lining up the dominos for when this Andrew Wade record comes out - speaking around, getting the buzz going, talking to people, getting people ready to review when it comes out - she’s also working on some endorsement stuff, getting some other companies involved with us, other than the ones that we have like Dr Pepper and TATCo.

So how did you get the support of Dr Pepper?

We were in town at a barbecue festival - and in Memphis a barbecue festival is huge, we’re talking about thousands upon thousands of people - and Dr Pepper had a tent down there. I had a friend that got us in the tent and we just ended up having a few drinks with the rep, and he knew about the band, and he was like, “Hey, call me next time you have a show,” and gave me his number.

He came out to our senior release show and he just fell in love with the band. He was like, “I love what you guys are doing. You’re working hard. I’d just love to be a part of it. Give me a call on Monday.” He ended up stepping behind us and working with us, which is really cool.

What’s his name?

His name is Wade Odom.

What kind of arrangement do you have with them?

They take care of us … it’s more than just a product sponsor. They take care of us financially on the road, give us some tour support. They wrapped our trailer in Dr Pepper, which is really cool. You can go on MySpace and look at the pictures.

In return we give out samples Dr Pepper and have a good time with it. Like we’ve done a couple of college camps. We pull into a city, stop by the bottling plant, pick up 30 cases and go out and just hand out Dr Pepper and tell people to come out to the shows.

Would you say sponsors are a substitute for label support?

I would definitely say that. You can have a really good relationship with sponsors. I think a lot of younger bands don’t really understand how sponsorship works.

It’s always a scratching backs situation. In return for the company helping you out what can you do for the company that they probably don’t have enough hands to do for themselves. Fortunately enough, it has worked out where it’s been a lucrative opportunity for us with not having a label behind us.

So, when can we hear your newest music?

I think we’re going to knock out the pre-production stuff and then, because we’re going out touring again soon, we’ll probably go in at the tail end of the year. You’ll probably be able to hear the brand new stuff at the beginning of the year. We’re going to release the stuff we did with Andrew Wade by the beginning of next month.

What kind of distribution have you got with your EP releases?

We’re going to be holding off on any major distribution until he works the record and sees if it’s going to get picked up. We’re doing some light distribution with Hot Topic, and I think we’re just going to stick with that for the moment, because we really enjoy what they do too.

Why have you decided to release EPs rather than albums?

I feel it’s a better choice to go in, knock out a couple of songs, and then you can spread them out to the fans easier. Ultimately, they don’t care about anything other than hearing your music so getting it out to them as fast as possible is our number one responsibility.

Skewby told us recently that when you drive through Memphis you see people with their heads down. Is it a really depressed city?

Oh Skewby is awesome!

Yeah, it really is. It’s kind of down and Memphis people tend to keep to themselves. The economy here is not great but it’s weird that it’s not great in Michigan either but Michigan is really receptive and ready to make a change. So, it’s definitely different coming home and everything not being so uppity.

Are there any promising newcomers in the area you’d like to mention?

Absolutely. There’s a band called Surrender The Fall. They’ve got a Papa Roach/Buckcherry vibe. They’ll blow you away. There’s a band called Parallels, they’re like Underoath, and they’re amazing.

And then there’s a band coming up called Prosevere and they’re recording with Skidd Mills who did Saving Abel, and Saliva’s first record, I think [ed- Prosevere are recording at Skidd’s studio SkiddCo Music but with up and coming producer J.Hall]. So, they’re in the studio right now in town, and they’re pretty amazing too. So, yeah, I think Memphis is definitely popping out some good music.

What advice would you give young artists to create a buzz about their music?

The grassroots is definitely one thing, but the biggest thing that I can say is that it’s who you know not how good you are. That only goes so far, but if you don’t think you know somebody, you’re only like six handshakes away from finding that person you need help from. So, my biggest thing as a young artist was making sure that we talked to and listened to everybody to try to minimise the mistakes that we’ve made.

What’s in store for the remainder of 2010?

Just get the rest of the songs done that we’re working on right now. And try to get them out in circulation as fast as possible, because like I said, it’s all about the fans.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

Photo by Kever Conyers

Next week: Sore Eyes producer Brett Hestla on helping break new bands

Read On ...

* Hip-hop rising star Skewby is the subject of Making Waves
* Sore Eyes producer Brett Hestla on working with new bands
* Rock band Art of Dying on how taking a financial risk changed everything
* Unsigned band The Rassle on getting a song licensed in a video game