Big Eyes’ Kait Eldridge On the Band’s Ever-Evolving Sound and Their New LP, STREETS OF THE LOST

When I first heard Big Eyes‘ debut single in early 2011, I wrote that the band “does the seemingly impossible task of reconciling arena rock with classic punk.” It’s still true, even as Big Eyes gets ready to release their fourth full-length, Streets of the Lost, via Greenway Records. Each album from the now-quartet has seen frontwoman Kaitlin Eldridge expand the band’s sonic palette, and their latest is no different.

Streets of the Lost takes full advantage of Paul Ridenour on guitar, allowing Eldridge’s already robust riffs to double, and the rhythm section of Ridenour’s brother Jeff on bass and Scott McPherson on drums gives the band a new heft. The end result lets Big Eyes’ jangly-yet-powerful take on classic rock to edge ever closer to an amalgam of Joan Jett and Thin Lizzy on cuts like “Nearly Got Away” and “Suddenly Nowhere.”

Big Eyes’ Streets of the Lost is out Friday, April 5, and the band’s tour in support of the album kicks off this Saturday, March 30 at Union Pool in Brooklyn. I spoke with Eldridge by phone about the new album.

I love how big the new album sounds. The band’s always had an arena ready sound, but adding Paul Ridenour has made it even more so. What was the idea behind adding a second guitarist to Big Eyes?

It had been something I had always wanted to do. It’s just that the less people you have, the easier it is to operate. So, Paul – who’s been playing the band with me for over four years, now – he originally, in the band, played bass, but he had always preferred to play the guitar, you know? He’s definitely more of a guitar player, so when the time came where we were like, “OK, we have to get yet another drummer” ,because it’s impossible to keep a drummer, we were just like, “Let’s do two at once and get a new bass player and a new drummer, so Paul can move over to guitar.”

He’s definitely been much happier. He’s always been happy and excited to play in the band, but it definitely breathed a bit more life into the band, because he was way more excited to play the guitar. And, as much as our styles compliment each other, he’s definitely got a different style than I do, and a bunch of his major influences are pretty different than mine, so it adds something new to the band and its sound, because on the other records, I played all the guitars.

There were dual leads and doubled solos and stuff like that, but it was clearly the same person doubling everything, whereas with Paul, you can hear that there’s two different people playing the guitar.

Those two guitar leads have really given Big Eyes this Thin Lizzy feel, and I am digging the ever-loving hell out of it.

Oh, that rules. Thank you.

Was there a plan when you moved Paul from bass to guitar and moved Jeff in on bass? Did the songwriting change?

I’ve always written all of the songs. Everyone definitely adds their own little pieces, here and there, but sometimes, I write all of the guitar parts and all of the bass parts. But, on different songs, Jeff will totally write a bass part that ends up being the vocal line. So, I still write everything, but it’s definitely gotten a lot more collaborative, just because we have more people people playing different parts in the band.

Has it changed how some of the older songs come across live?

Oh, totally. I feel like, every tour, we pick a “new” old song to bring back. It’s cool, because Paul will just add some part that wasn’t there before and it makes it sound so much bigger, or there’ll be parts that I wasn’t ever able to emulate live, being just one person, but having tracked multiple guitars on the record.

The press release for Streets of the Lost talks about the title track as being the soundtrack to a John Carpenter movie, and that intro totally sounds like it came from Escape from New York.

So, the drummer who played on the record is no longer playing with us now, but he played the synth on that song. That was really fun to mess with, because I actually wrote that song in 2013. That’s one song that every incarnation of the band has messed with, but it’s never sounded right until we had that lineup.

I was like, “We’ve got to record this,” and the intro had so much room for something weird, so we were like, “Let’s get weird on this.” It’s definitely spooky and odd-sounding. It was really cool to do something we hadn’t done before.

I hate being the dude who compares a woman in a band to another woman musician, because I feel that’s reductive as hell, but “Nearly Got Away” is such a perfect Joan Jett song; not like you lifted it, but in a way where it’s like, Joan Jett could play this song.

No, I’m a major Joan Jett fan. That’s always the one comparison that I’m more than happy to get, because it’s flattering. She actually lives in my hometown, I grew up in Long Beach, so, I used to see her walking around. People see her at the beach and shit.

Nearly Got Away” is also sharper than most previous Big Eyes songs, in terms of the structure of how the song works. What was the genesis of that track?

I’m trying to remember when I wrote that. That song, I remember messing with, and I feel like this happens with one song on every record, and I was thinking, “This song doesn’t sound like a song I would write.” I remember thinking that song sounded super alternative rock or something. Something super ’90s, like L7 or one of those kind of bands, you know? I remember writing that song and thinking, “This song sounds kinda like Hole.” [laughs]

Sometimes, I’ll just come up with weird little riffs like that, and if I end up thinking too much about it – like, “This doesn’t sound like me” – nothing ends up happening, and I don’t end up using it, but that one, I was definitely messing with. I remember bringing it to practice and Paul and everyone were like, “Oh, let’s keep messing with this one.” Sometimes, I just get too into my head and get worried about things not sounding like Big Eyes, you know?

The band’s sound has always been identifiable because of your songwriting and guitar playing. The band was certainly a garage-y pop punk with some classic rock elements when it started, at least to me, but with Streets of the Lost, I think I’d now just call you all a rock band, because this is a rock ‘n’ roll record.

I totally agree. Even yesterday, I was on Spotify, and making sure that “Lucky You” was up there. I was listening to see the sound quality on Spotify, and then immediately after that, a song from the first album came on, and I was like, “Wow!” It was cool, because in some ways, it still totally sounds like Bug Eyes, but in other ways, I was like, “Wow, I’ve really grown a lot as a songwriter,” and the recording sounds so much better.

My earlier songs – I think they were just simpler. There’s even one song on the second record that I heard the other day, and I was like, “Damn, this kind of sounds like a Marked Men song or something.” The first record, definitely, and certain parts of the second, had more of a pop-punk kind of vibe, because I was listening to stuff like the Marked Men at the time.

Now, I pretty much don’t listen to anything new. I just listen to like, classic rock. [laughs] Granted, there is some cool stuff out now. It’s few and far between, but like, that band the Lemon Twigs? I’m obsessed with them, but as far as it goes, like that band, Pilot who wrote that song, “Magic,” back in the ’70s, or this band, Klaatu, from Canada? Stuff like that, where I’m finding out about these bands from the ’70s that are so up my alley; the production, the songwriting, the drums: everything is just so perfect that it seems silly to waste my time on newer stuff.

You can pre-order Streets of the Lost via Greenway Records’ webstore.

Big Eyes tour dates

Sat Mar 30 – Brooklyn, NY @ Union Pool
Tue Apr 02 – Philadelphia, PA @ Cousin Danny’s
Wed Apr 03 – Richmond, VA @ VSC
Thu Apr 04 – Atlanta, GA @ 529 Bar
Fri Apr 05 – Gainesville, FL @ The Atlantic
Sat Apr 06 – Orlando, FL @ Will’s Pub
Sun Apr 07 – Miami, FL @ Las Rosas
Tue Apr 09 – St. Petersburg, FL @ Lucky You Tattoo
Wed Apr 10 – Tallahassee, FL @ The Bark
Thu Apr 11 – New Orleans, LA @ Banks St Bar
Fri Apr 12 – Houston, TX @ Rudyard’s
Sat Apr 13 – San Antonio, TX @ Ventura
Sun Apr 14 – Austin, TX @ Cheer Up Charlies
Tue Apr 16 – Denton, TX @ Dan’s Silverleaf
Wed Apr 17 – Little Rock, AR @ White Water Tavern
Thu Apr 18 – Nashville, TN @ Drkmttr
Fri Apr 19 – Chattanooga, TN @ Sluggo’s North
Sat Apr 20 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Nightlight

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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