Getting to Know TV Eyes

By Malcolm Devereaux
Photo by Piper Ferguson
(First appeared in Filter Magazine,
July/August 2003)

"Just so the record's straight, this whole thing started with the Logan Sanctuary [sic] record. I had done the soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides for Emperor Norton and then they asked me to do a fake soundtrack for a fake 'sequel' to Logan's Run called Logan Sanctuary [sic]. I said 'sure' and then hired Roger [Manning] and he and I became partners on the project. Then we brought in Jason Falkner to sing on some of it. Roger and I were both recording with Air at the time and we were in a hotel in Paris when i got the DAT of the final mixes for Logan's Sanctuary. Roger came to my room and I gave him a copy and when he was leaving, we were like, 'Well, what do we do next? 'Cause that was so fun.' He and Jason also had fun reuniting [since being in Jellyfish together], so it all seemed to make sense. That was in 1999 or 2000, sort of pre the whole new wave, or electroclash, or whatever the hell it is going on now. We thought doing this whole late '70s, early '80s British invasion synth thing was this new, cool idea and of course by the time we did it...[laughs]."

And so goes Brian Reitzell's version of the strange saga of this strange little trio of a supergroup-that somehow sweeps up the ashes of Redd Kross, Jellyfish, session work with Air, backing Beck and scoring films for Sofia Coppola-into this odd trio of synth-electro pop music that re-energizes an entire genre that may or may not have existed before, or at least not in a context exactly like this one. TV Eyes-depending on which of its three members you ask-is either an elaborate side-project intended as a one-off, or it's the antidote to the current trend of electro that's watering down and doing a disservice to a genre of music that's just now garnering the appreciation it deserves.

"It's cycles," offers Manning, one-time member of Jellyfish and the Moog Cookbook, and current prolific producer, re-mixer and off and on member of Air. "You're hanging out with friends, you're checking out each other's record collections and the three of us are always influencing each other as to what we listen to. You're always looking for different stimulus. Whether it's jazz or '70s stuff or it's Gary Numan, or Echo & the Bunnymen or more guitar-based stuff, and you just start getting inspired. Then somebody throws an idea out there and it sounds like a good one and you just run with it."

In late 1999, after writing a batch of songs in that mode (that period of overlap in the early '80s when everything bent inward and became angular, obtuse and synthetic as a reaction to the meandering bombast of the '70s), the members of TV Eyes had to shelve their ambitions until their wildly erratic schedules realigned. Strangely and impossibly, in that small window of three years, what started as just a hoot amongst longtime collaborators and friends, ended up being mightily prescient as bands like Ladytron, Fischerspooner, the Faint and Hot Hot Heat all stormed into the mainstream wearing the pop soundtrack to the Reagan years proudly on their silken sleeves.

"Honestly, at the time we set out to do this record, there wasn't anyone doing Gary Numan, Killing Joke, Gang of Four-now everybody sounds like Gang of Four," says Reitzell. "At the time, it was a void and we thought it would be fun to make that record, primarily just because we wanted to hear it and no one else was doing it."

The band released a 12" vinyl single of their slick and melodic "She's a Study" on Emperor Norton, selling out the first pressing in a matter of days and confirming the current voraciousness for all things pop and electronic. But their forthcoming 10-song debut is more than just a retro rehash, it's an inspired and meticulously crafted pop record made by three musicians that are far too seasoned and gifted to get dizzied by that wavy line between homage and theft. They're songwriters first and these songs are distinctly their own, if their methods to record them aren't entirely "current."

"I've never wanted anyone to get the impression that I'm trying to sound like something that's from that past," says Falkner when asked if "retro" is a dirty word. "To me, that's what retro means. Having said that, everything I've ever done [as a solo artist] has been called Beatlesque or whatever-insert '60s rock band here. I think one of the many reasons that happens is because I am in fact a completely 'retro' recorder-the way I like to record instruments and the way I arrange and perform in the studio is from a bygone era. But as a writer, I think retro is a kind of negative stigma.

"TV Eyes was always meant to be a kind of a one-off side project, but as it turned out, I personally can't make a record that I don't invest a lot into. I really wish I could, because I'd probably be a lot healthier. So, in the studio, we all went nuts. We worked so hard and tried to make it something that's not just an homage to an era. That was really important to me-that it didn't sound like we were just trying to rip off certain things. I wanted it to be original. Hopefully it is. If it's not, then I totally fucked up [laughs]."

"It depends on what you like," offers Manning. "If you were never a fan of that stuff to begin with, then you're going to hate us and you're going to hate all of those other bands that are kind of borrowing from that sound. Ultimately what it comes down to is songwriting. In a lot of ways, these songs could have been arranged in any way we wanted to. They're just really fun, sing-a-long tunes. Any band or group or DJ that survives any of these trends, it's going to be what's at the core of their music that counts."

"Retro can be a dirty word, but it doesn't bother me so much," adds Reitzell, not minding if he contradicts his other band mates. "The problem with Redd Kross was that we were retro, but we were actually sort of ahead of our time and then everybody sort of caught up. I think the same could be said of Jellyfish to some extent. But with this band, it seems like we're not really concerning ourselves with any of that. It could be that we might actually be on time for once."

Many thanks to Jeff Creech for sending me the article.

Falk Speaks