Set the Controls
by Kevin J. Elliott

For nearly a decade now, the new wave of Columbus of heavy metal has soldiered on in various permutations. From the cinematic sprawl of Deadsea to the freaky psychedelics of Pretty Weapons and on to the visceral thrash of Teeth of the Hydra, this small cadre of like-minded hesh-bags has collaborated on some of the genre’s most over-looked records released during the span. Notoriety be damned, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when you’re hawking your amp to purchase Desiderata on eBay at inflated rates. This is stuff that will eventually catch up with the rest of world, perhaps when it catches a whiff of EYE’s Center of the Sun for the first time. While EYE originally released the album via Bandcamp, it was recently issued on deep purple vinyl by Kemado Records. Center of the Sun feels like the next giant step in the evolution of modern metal. Aided by Deadsea’s Adam Smith, who contributes soundtrack-worthy atmosphere, guitarist Matt Auxier, bassist Matt Bailey and drummer Brandon Smith put forth a punishing barrage that travels a course touching on all the hallmarks of heaviness without sounding rote or revisionist. By piecing together elements of hard fusion, bedrock metal, and ’60s and ’70s psychedelics, fantasy and sci-fi myth, they’ve concocted a telling document of where these Columbus musicians have been, how they’ve rightfully defined their community, and exactly where they’re headed. I had the pleasure of speaking with Auxier about how this monolithic recording came to be and what lies in the group’s future.

Before EYE, both Brandon and you were in Pretty Weapons and Matt was in Teeth of the Hydra. So when you formed EYE, did you see this as a continuation of what those two bands were doing or was it conceived as something completely different?

Matt Auxier: It was more about wiping the slate clean. You never can deny or not use some of the accomplishments you’ve had in other bands, but this is kind of a different direction from that stuff.

Did you envision EYE as a bigger, better machine? I feel as if there are these landmarks in the evolution of Columbus metal, and this album sounds and feels like the current pinnacle.

MA: I don’t want to deny that idea, but we don’t really have big egos. We never thought it out that way. We had known Matt forever and had talked about it for at least a year before we jammed. We knew we should eventually get together. Once we made it happen, it was a perfect fit. We didn’t really consider what it would be like when we made it happen. It just clicked.

Being in bands before this, do you consider this record the best work you’ve ever done?

MA: I do. As you get older and more experienced as a musician, you want to feel like you are growing in some way. I definitely feel that way with this band, and I’m sure we all feel that way. We’re all at the pinnacle of our lives and we’re really proud of this record.

When you first started mapping out Center of the Sun, did you already have intentions of including Adam Smith (of Deadsea) and know exactly where you wanted him to embellish the recordings or did that come after the songs were written?

MA: We absolutely considered him from the beginning. We kind of just let him do his thing because we trust him. Smitty is always going to be tasteful and do it right. We were stoked about having him contribute as much as he could.

So is he a member of the band now?

MA: He is a member of the band at this point I’m happy to say.

Columbus has such a rich community of like-minded musicians playing in this realm. What do you think it is about Columbus that contributes to that camaraderie and collaboration?

MA: It’s just a good town with a niche for art. I’ve been to New York and San Francisco and all of those rad places, and I feel Columbus is on par with that. It just never gets as recognized. We’re trying to put us on the map a little bit.

I’m always curious how bands similar to you guys compose. For instance, the title track is 20 minutes and in four parts. Are these written as separate pieces and then stitched together or did you write it and intend for it to be one long piece?

MA: We didn’t intend for it to be one piece. A lot of it evolved out of us jamming. As we started to write the songs, we had the intention of putting it on vinyl. We had this huge section for the first side, which is “Center of the Sun,” and the other songs fit well together. It’s a total collaboration between all of us. That’s how it all comes together.

I have the same curiosity for how you practice and perform these longer pieces. Having seen you guys live several times, I’m amazed at the level of precision when it comes to playing technically, but you also veer off into a number of improvisational movements. I suppose it’s being tight as a band versus becoming unhinged and doubly psychedelic. Is that a tough balance to maintain?

MA: Live and recording are two different animals. In the studio, you want to use as much production as you can, and live, we want it to be a different thing every night. When we practice, we’re really writing and jamming at the same time. We’ve been playing these songs for a while now and I think we’ve got them down pretty well. Once that happens, we tend to psych it out a bit because it’s fun for us. You have to definitely know the songs so you don’t ruin it if you decide to do something like that.

I hate to pigeonhole you that much as a metal band because there are so many more elements going in this record. So besides metal records, what has been the biggest influence on your writing and in the making of Center of the Sun?

MA: I can never point to one band. Obviously there’s King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Hawkwind as influences. Those bands are undeniable. We all just love rock & roll. We’ve all been hesh-bags since we were 18 or 19 years old, but it’s all there. You can point to a lot of things, The Beatles, the Stones.

There’s also a very cinematic feel to the title track. Do you have anything in mind for what might visually accompany the record?

MA: We’ve always planned on having visuals, but it’s always hard to make that stuff happen. People are busy or you need the equipment to do it with. Eventually we plan on adding visuals, especially live. Anthony Yankovic, who did the cover, he can’t do anything wrong. He has stuff we can use and we definitely have plans to do that.

Often times records like Center of the Sun sound like huge definitive, summit conquering statements, and it’s hard to imagine what will come next. Do you have any ideas of how the next record will be different?

MA: I’d say it’s not going to veer too much, but we’ve got several acoustic songs which we haven’t recorded yet and a lot of things that highlight vocals that we need to record. We just all like so many different kinds of music that eventually there might even be some country on there. It’s going to change slowly, but nothing drastic.