"Hey, are you guys here to see the band?"
"We are the band."
That's how my night starts at The Horned Hand when five young guys drift up to the bar looking confused. Apparently, they are Animal Eyes. And, apparently, they are playing a show later.
These guys are inconspicuous, to say the least. Probably because they are all barely 21-years-old and were born and raised in Homer, Alaska.They don't look like the types who would rock the roof off a venue but somehow, in a town of about 5,000, they developed a unique brand of worldly folk rock that's turning heads in Oregon.
"Pretty much no bands come there. I didn't see one big show in Alaska," explains Tyler Langham, one of two guitarists and one of three vocalists.
Without a lot of live music, the band was left to discover their own style. They will be bringing their passionate and unpretentious indie rock-and-roll to a second show at Silver Moon Brewing on Friday.
"We want people to know that music is still real," says accordionist (yes, they have an accordion) Sam Tenhoff. "There are still people that do it because they love it."
Before they could legally drink, the band packed up their Subaru and headed for the vast metropolis of Portland to pursue their musical dreams. They still seem excited about the prospect of not having to drive 75 miles to hit the next town.
"It's insane," remarks bassist Colin McArthurn with a smile. "We live like 14 blocks away from where Modest Mouse practices."
Animal Eyes recorded and released their first album, unsigned, in November. The title sums up their experience. They truly wereFound in the Forest. As for the content, they write what they know. "Leaves", "Ponds," and "Goat Chasing" are all tracks from their first album that mixes guitar, verging on math rock with jumpy drum beats and the consistent moan of the accordion. Their lyrics and aesthetic are inspired by growing up in the trees, the mountains and the wilderness of Alaska.
"My parents owned a music store, so we kind of got hooked up," says drummer Haven Matthews. And the diversity of their influences comes through in their music. The songs are a composite of funk, indie, hardcore, world and blues along with a poetic lyricism and vocals that range from eerily haunting to scathing shouts.
How do these regular small town dudes, talking about how their stomachs hurt from eating microwave gas station burritos, turn The Horned Hand into a crazy funky dance party?
Something amazing happens.The boys start to play.
As they set up, they happen to be one microphone stand short so they tie the mic to a stray ladder using a bandana and call it even.A shiny accordion emerges from an obscurely shaped hard case and that's when people start to pay attention.
Each member has several roles, giving Animal Eyes a multilayered sound and energy normally reserved for much larger and more experienced acts.
"We have three songwriters," says Langham. This accounts for the range of their music. Throughout the show, Langham proceeds to sing back up, and lead vocals, and play the guitar, and the trumpet, and the drums.
The show and the music build intensity fast and by the end there is dancing, and beer flying, a leather face mask, and cover songs where Tenhoff, a certified skinny white kid, is howling like Tom Waits. No question about it, these guys rocked the shit out of the Horned Hand.
The boys have talent, and their ideas about music seem pretty straightforward.
"We try to impart a celebration of life," says McArthurn. "We are here putting it all out there, and putting good energy out there. I hope people walk away feeling like they really experienced something."
Who are these hippie kids and where did they come from? How in the hell did they get so good on these obscure instruments in Christ-knows-where Alaska all before their 25th birthdays? Don't count them out just because they look like they changed a flat tire earlier (they did) or because only one of them has a moustache.
They are Animal Eyes, from Homer, Alaska and SURPRISE they rock.
9pm Friday, January 27
Silver Moon Brewing Co., 24 NW Greenwood Ave.
$5, 21 and over.
(photo credit: Katherine Caldera)