The musical stimulus of EULA‘s Alyse Lamb–from her kinky guitar figures to her soul-bearing, sometimes sordid, lyrical inventions–functions alternately between body and mind, the physical and the cerebral. On stage she exhibits poise and power, striking tall, angular movements with her electric guitar, which protrudes from her torso like a weapon of mass destruction. But most EULA tracks, be it the deranged hysterics of “I Collapse” or the gorgeous gloom of “Hollow Cave,” are conceived by the Brooklyn based songwriter in the isolation of her bedroom, alone with her thoughts.
At 13, inspired by PJ Harvey‘s music video for “Man Size,” Lamb discovered the electric guitar, and since 2009 she’s released a sporadic slew of EPs and singles, each more complicated and fraught than the last. Her first full-length effort from 2011, Maurice Narcisse, is amorphous and chameleonic, cartwheeling through a curious spectrum of moods and soundscapes that seem firmly situated to the moment in time they were conceived. But the abrasive, skull-splitting integrity of Wool Sucking feels aged and utterly timeless.
EULA‘s sophomore album concentrates the tenacious energies of its predecessor to construct ten emotionally debilitating songs about the ruinous tumult that often accompanies human relationships. Bolstered by a penchant for off-kilter chord progressions and a brooding, nearly malevolent, undercurrent of atmospheric darkness, Wool Sucking is twitchy, troubled and delightfully cacophonous. On March 3, Alyse Lamb self-released the record on Famous Swords, the label and art collective she founded with her partner Chris Mulligan. In anticipation of the release, I spoke with Lamb about her music.
Indie Current: Let’s start off with your background in music before you started the EULA project.
Alyse Lamb: Well, I grew up around music. I was a dancer, that’s how I first got an introduction to music, with dance when I was little and all growing up through school I took clarinet and piano and saxophone and then I hooked up with my baby guitar at 12 or 13 and it kind of stuck ever since, because, I don’t know, I felt like I could be really physical with it. I kind of fit me. It just fit like a glove. So I wrote a lot of my own songs in high school and I made little demos in my bedroom and I just wrote songs all the time, about everything really. It made me feel really good.
IC: When exactly was EULA conceived as a band? Did it start off just with you or was it always a four-piece group?
AL: It started with my demos and I got to college and I wanted to play live. I was really big on that. I passed them around at school. It was nice that it was a small school and there was a smallish music program, so I was able to meet a lot of really great musicians and people that I could click with. [EULA] was eventually a four-piece and I was playing guitar and there was another guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. We did some of my demos and we kind of wrote some things as a group a little bit and played some shows on campus and in neighboring venues, parties, houses and it eventually became a three-piece with me on guitar, Jeff Maleri on bass and Nathan Rose on drums.
As a trio it got really stripped down. When there’s less instruments you have to learn to fill up the sound in a way that’s not too much but fills whatever spectrum and mood you’re trying to convey. So I really honed in on my sonic skills and writing to have a fleshed-out sound. The guitar I purchased and the amp I got and the pedals I purchased really contributed to this expanse of sound that I wanted to come across. Our writing as a three-piece was different. It was just the three of us and it was a lot of my own demos and a little bit of writing in between the three of us. And then just a couple of months ago, our drummer switched out and Stephen Reader is now on drums and we have Kate Mohanty playing saxophone with us for this tour.
IC: How did you get linked up with Kate?
AL: My other band, Parlor Walls, we played a show at this… I forget the name of the event but it was like a Bushwick artist’s meet and greet: people who book shows in the Bushwick area to people who are artists and musicians. It was like Q&A almost about what it’s like to play shows and throw shows in this community. And I met Kate there. She was one of the performers and she just blew me away. It was her solo, just ripping it on sax. It was so great. It was chaotic and really dissonant and fast. That’s what I love, so I was like, oh shit, she could be such a great addition to the sound I’m trying to go for with this record.
IC: How long have you been working on this new record?
AL: You know, it’s funny because four years ago, when I first moved from Connecticut to Brooklyn, it was a big transition for me…The entire album just poured out of me. Whenever I go through something either chaotic or really heavy, I’m just this conduit and it just pours. I wrote these ten songs over the course of maybe six months. I recorded all the demos and was quite happy with them. There was quite a range of emotions on there and it’s always the next step of, okay who do we record with? What budget do we have? It’s hard when you’re doing it all yourself. So we got some money together and were able to work with Martin Bisi, and he recorded the album with us, which was a really amazing experience. He’s worked with some of my favorite artists and I felt like he could help me convey the mood I was going for on the album. That was a year and a half ago, that we finished recording. We were sitting on the album a little bit. I was a little nervous what to do with it. It just hits you when you’re sitting on something you love and are happy with and you just want to scream it from the hills like, this is my album, you know? I wanted to get this out of me, so I decided to just release it. You can do it yourself nowadays. It’s not easy. It’s hard work, but you can do it.
IC: Aside from working on music and touring, what have you doing or working on in between the two records?
AL: I do a lot of design work. I do costume design. I get jobs in Connecticut a lot, so I’m kind of shuffling back and forth a lot, even now, design jobs. I started an art collective, Famous Swords. Me and my partner run it in Brooklyn. We do a lot of design and he does a lot of the video work and we both do flyers and book shows and we do t-shirts and I do a lot of leotards. There’s a lot of art-related things that I immerse myself in. I can’t not create. I’m always creating or thinking of what I’m going to do next. I’m almost ADD with it like, I have so many ideas but I can’t focus on one sometimes.
IC: How do you think you generally go about starting a song? Once you know you have an idea for a song, do you start on your guitar or do you start with lyrics and melody or does it vary from song to song?
AL: Yeah, I think it definitely varies. When I write a short piece I look at it and I say it out loud and I think of these little melodies that go with it and I look at the mood of it and what I’m trying to say and how I feel and then I put music it too it that supports it and kind of magnifies the feeling and the mood with the music part. That’s one way that happens most often for me. But the other way is when I’m just kind of fucking around on my guitar with my amp in the practice space really loud and I’ll just go crazy. If I do like what I’m playing, I’ll build a song around that. And that’s more of a physical way to do it, which, you know, living in New York in a small apartment you don’t have much time to be loud and physical. So you have to hope that when you booked practice that week that it’ll come out, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s very tough. You can’t be that free with it. So I think that’s why Wool Sucking is such a good cerebral album, because all of it was written in my apartment, very quiet, in my head space.
IC: In what way, if any, did writing the songs for Wool Sucking represent a sort of catharsis for you?
AL: Well, there’s the cerebral side of it, where it’s very wordy and it’s a lot of bulk in the lyrics and the mood. It’s a very moody record. But there’s also some songs that…probably more of the exciting songs like, when I’m feeling excited or thrilled or exuberant like on “Orderly,” it’s a very physical song. I forget how that one came about. I think that was more of a live setting writing with that. It was very crashy and loud and dissonant and big. And the same thing with “Aplomb,” that one as well. But it varies totally on the mood and what I was going for on each song.
IC: Are there any lyrics on Wool Sucking specifically that might have a personal significance for whether it’s vaguely autobiographical or completely fictional?
AL: It’s funny because with some bands and some musicians, lyrics are an afterthought sometimes or they kind of fit in…not gibberish words, but words that kind of sonically work. But for me, I guess maybe because I’m just as much a writer as I am a musician, all the words on paper, they really, super matter to me. There’s always a meaning behind it, whether it’s specifically what I’m feeling or whatI know someone else is feeling. So when I sing, I think maybe that’s why it comes off as so expressive, because the words have so much weight and they’re so weighty to me, so when I’m singing them I’m like, all over it, and I have to just get it out, live or on a recording or what have you.
Every song I could dissect and be like, okay yep that’s what that means. There’s this song that we haven’t really played live yet that we are going to be playing live on our release show Thursday. It’s “The Destroyer.” And it’s sort of like a swelling ballad and it’s basically about someone falling out of love with someone else. That’s always a really sad, sad thing because you can’t really help when it happens and it just happens. It’s like, yeah you can promise to love someone and always be there but if you just fall out of love, it’s devastating on both parties. That one specifically, I don’t know, I was always kind of scared to play that one live because it holds a really special meaning to me and it’s a pretty slow, expansive song and I’m always kind of reluctant to play those live. But we’re just gonna go with it. Fuck it.
IC: I’m very inclined toward the music you create but it’s usually the last songs of the record that really linger and sit with me afterwards. I wanted to ask you about that. In making Maurice Narcisse and Wool Sucking, did you always have the thought of making “Hollow Cave” and “Monument” the last songs on each of those respective records?
A: Yeah, I did actually. It’s funny that you say that. I think “Monument,” that was the first song I wrote as a part of Wool Sucking and it holds a really weighty, special meaning for me personally and I thought, even though chronologically it happened first, but I felt like just the mood and sweetness of it, it deserved to be wrapped up at the end and go last. Same with “Hollow Cave.” It was one of the first songs I wrote on Maurice Narcisse. It was really personal and weighty to me but I thought it just deserved to go last for some reason and an ending know. So for sure, both of them were intended to be the closer of each album.
IC: I find that those songs represent a certain kind of tension between everything else that precedes it and the songs by themselves. In my personal experience of listening to record, it feels like you’re hinting at a more striped down and simple side of the music. Do you think you’d ever put out a release of songs only like those kinds of songs?
AL: Yeah… I don’t know. I ask myself that all the time. To be completely honest, right now, I have at least ten songs that are kind of in the vein of those last two. And I question myself, I ask myself like, what if you just put these out as Alyse Lamb or something? Or why don’t you do the production on all of these songs and put it out as you. And I could do that. And I don’t know if I’m going to do that. It’s kind of open-ended right now. But going back to your question, I write the demos myself and I try to put some drums to it little basslines here or there, and if the song calls for it to be really minimal and striped down then that’s how it is. But if I foresee more intricate basslines… I mean, I’m not a bassist. I could probably get by doing it, but Jeff Moleri is a bassist. He really adds so much texture and warmth to the songs when it calls for it. So I would most certainly have him contribute what he can on bass. And drums, for instance “Orderly.” I can also get by on drums but I can’t do these intricate drum beats that are called for on specific songs.
IC: Who would you consider to be some of your greatest musical influences.
AL: Oh, Jesus. Do you have like three hours for me to answer that question? I feel like when I’m asked this question my brain goes into compartmentalization mode where I think about my age and what my influence was at that time because I don’t have two influences or even three or four. Growing up I listened to what my parents and my brother and my sister listened to, and they were huge influences to me. Psychedelic rock of the 60s or 70s folk and my brother listened to a lot of rap and hip-hop, which I totally loved the physicality of that. My sister listened to a lot of dance music in the 80s and 90s.
IC: What’s your favorite record right now?
AL: The Weaves EP by Weaves, Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas by Various Artists, and the Nao Wave Compilation by Various Artists.
IC: If you had to choose one song to introduce a new listener to EULA, what would it be?
AL: If it were off the new album, I would maybe say “Noose” or “Orderly,” just because those are two extremes that show what our range is mood-wise, because, I don’t know, I think a lot of people have this dichotomy of being really physical and being really cerebral with things and I think those two songs are opposite sides of the spectrum, for me anyways.
IC: Could you talk about the absence of electronic textures on this record and what you realized from recording Narcisse which might have influenced that decision?
AL: The first record was a little playful and a little lighter. I feel like those songs are pretty straightforward in regards to them being…not pop songs, but they’re pretty pop in my opinion. What I’ve been exposed to and what I’ve come to find, new inspiration… I went away from that pop element. I didn’t make it a specific move, I just got drawn away from, you know, verse-chorus-verse or a pop melody sensibility. I feel like that record contains that, which is totally fine and I’m happy with it, because it was a byproduct of how we were feeling at that time. But this one came from more of a singular place. It came from my process of leaving somewhere and coming to a whole new place and going through all these life changes, pretty much transforming from like a little baby animal into this big beast, I felt like. (laughs) When you move to a new place, you’re very lonely and you don’t have any friends and you’re like what the fuck am I doing? Why did I leave? But you dig in. You have to. And you just dig in and you become strong. You eventually will. I kind of wanted to add that progression to the album with added textures and different sounds and more mood.
IC: What has been your best experience performing live?
AL: I’m really big on doing fundraising shows. I think they’re really important as an artist and musician to put a lot of your effort toward bettering humanity and just bettering what you can and doing what you can with the passions that you have. We do a lot of fundraising shows and those are all really special to me. One really fun one was Hurricane Sandy. When Hurricane Sandy hit in New York we had a show booked at Death By Audio and it was like a Halloween cover show, really low-key and fun. Then this fucking devastation happens and it puts everything into perspective. And you’re like, I don’t even feel like playing. I want to go help these people. So what we did was, we turned into a benefit and fundraiser for the families that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy and it fucking sold out. I couldn’t believe that. It made me feel really wonderful about what I do.
Featured photo by Maciek Jasik