One might assume that the members of indie quintet Eisley are given a hero’s welcome when they return to their suburban hometown of Tyler, Texas between touring. After all, the group (four siblings and their cousin) has toured with the likes of Coldplay and Snow Patrol, earned critical acclaim for their sophomore effort, last year’s “Combinations,” and had a song from the record featured on MTV juggernaut “The Hills” – all while most of them were still in or barely out of their teens.
Well, not so much, according to singer/guitarist Sherri DuPree, who chatted with Blast from a recent tour stop in Hoboken, N.J.
“No one in Tyler gives a crap about Eisley,” DuPree said, laughing. “All the scene kids at Starbucks, they give us evil eyes, because either they hate us or they’re just, I don’t know. I think most of them just detest us. They probably just hate our music or they’re probably bummed out that we’re not, like, Taking Back Sunday or something.”
In spite of Eisley’s growing, devoted fanbase, those “scene kids” at Starbucks aren’t the only ones the group has had difficulty winning over.
The DuPrees (Sherri, 24; pianist/vocalist Stacy, 19; guitarist Chauntelle, 26; and drummer Weston, 21) first gained industry attention after performing a set at a Christian rock festival in Illinois in 2002. They later recruited their cousin Garron, now 18, to fill out the lineup after their original bassist left in search of other pursuits (“He wanted to go to college and do other things. You know, be like a real person and have, like, a real life,” Sherri explains with an audible smile).
After turning down several offers from Christian labels, the band opted to sign with Warner Bros. Records and released their debut “Room Noises” in 2005. Since then, it seems the biggest struggle for Eisley has been to shake off the “Christian rock” label that has been bestowed upon them – a death sentence, some would say, for any act trying to achieve mainstream success.
It’s not inconceivable that the band sometimes gets written off because of their wholesome image and conservative religious upbringing (one article indirectly referred to them as “that freakish Christian family from the Middle of Nowhere, Texas”). But if that’s the case, it’s a shame, since such dismissers don’t know what they’re missing. On “Combinations,” tracks like “Invasion” and “Go Away” leave no room for doubt that Eisley can hold its own with any big-name indie rock band.
Still, it seems that most critics would like to focus on anything but their music. Sherri’s whirlwind romance with Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory provided tabloid fodder last year (the couple met on the road in 2005 and, two years later, were married and divorced in the span of 10 months), as did Chauntelle’s broken engagement with Taking Back Sunday singer Adam Lazzara in January.
But those liaisons – at least, the beginnings of them – provided much of the material for “Combinations,” and for that the band and its fans can be grateful.
“The first album, we were so young, so we didn’t have a lot of life experiences to draw from,” Sherri explained. “Some of those songs I wrote when I was like 17, 18, sort of just starting out, … so a lot of it was fictional and made-up and that’s why there’s just kind of some ridiculous lyrics on there. And then, the new album, we had, you know, been in relationships and just toured a lot. It’s not as fictional, lyrically.”
“(“Room Noises”) was just kind of this mixture of songs,” she went on. “For me, it was hard to see the album as, like, a complete project. The new album, we had a lot of time off and we just wrote like 30 songs and just got to kind of hand-pick the ones that we thought were the best kind of representation of where we are now and where we were then.”
The album’s morose opener “Many Funerals,” a hard-hitting song that references parental deaths and empty caskets, showcases the band members’ growth as songwriters, both individually and collectively. DuPree describes it as a “period piece” that was influenced by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
“It’s kind of a dark song lyrically,” DuPree admits. “I was dating a guy who, at the time, he lost like four people he knew … and it really affected me, just watching how he handled it. So the song lyrically, when someone dies or leaves you, wanting to kind of blame them for it, but you know you can’t. It’s just a natural reaction.”
For the record, the DuPrees’ own parents are very much alive. Their father, Boyd, doubles as manager and routinely blogs from the road on the band’s Web site.
“It’s kind of ridiculous how involved all our family is,” Sherri said. “I couldn’t ask for a more amazing, supportive family … Everyone understands the passion, and kind of the need to fulfill that, you know, desire in your life to play music. They get it.”
The sibling shtick has drawn sometimes endearing, but more often snide, comparisons to the Partridge Family. But according to Sherri, playing music with her brother and sisters started out as merely a hobby and just naturally evolved into something more.
“In the beginning, we all helped each other out … because we were all learning to play our instruments at the same time,” she said. “It was kind of an afterthought, like, â€˜Hey guys, let’s combine our instruments and play these songs that we’re writing together.’ It wasn’t something that was, like, a plan. It just kind of happened.”
But now, she says, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can’t even imagine not being in a band with my family, just â€˜cause it’s all I’ve known,” she went on. “We’ve grown up writing songs together, and we know each other so well that I just don’t know how I would function in a band where the people that were in the band with me weren’t related to me … I mean, I wouldn’t want to.”
Sherri and Stacy handle much of the songwriting duties, and their distinct preferences are nicely represented on “Combinations.” Although Sherri professes an “innate obsession” with indie bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire, her younger sister’s taste skews more toward classic folk.
“When (Stacy) was writing a lot of her songs she was listening to a lot of, like, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and things like that,” Sherri said. “I listen to stuff and she’s like, oh my god, come on, listen to something cool. … We both tease each other for the stuff we listen to.”
The thought of a never-ending family vacation of sorts is a terrifying prospect for many people. But for the DuPrees, teasing is as far as the sibling rivalry goes on the road, Sherri insists.
“We get along great,” she said. “We’re so close that if anyone starts to get weird about something, we’ll just kind of call each other out on it. … Everyone has their bad days, but if anyone’s feeling grouchy, they just will go in their bunk and kind of avoid everybody … The way it is, you are in close quarters, so it’s like everyone kind of understands that if you are in a bitchy mood, you just need to go hide and stay out of the way.”
DuPree quickly dismisses any notion that she and her siblings ever pined for a “normal” adolescence.
“There’s so many great things about being able to tour, I can’t even complain about it,” she said. “You get to see so much of the world and you get all these just amazing experiences and meet all these cool people. It’s like, do I want to sit in high school or do I want to tour with Coldplay? Uh … ” She chuckled at the question, apparently a no-brainer. “So, you know, it’s totally a blessing. It’s amazing and I don’t regret anything … I feel like definitely I didn’t miss out on anything.”
Even without the tepid reception from their neighbors in Tyler, it’s obvious that the members of Eisley are in no danger of letting their egos, never mind unwarranted stereotypes, overshadow their substantial talent.
“We grew up in these small towns where it’s just like, the fact that we get to this is amazing to us,” Sherri says without a trace of phoniness in her voice. “Like, every day when I wake up, I can’t believe I’m on a bus touring and playing music. It’s just ridiculous. It’s such a cool thing that I could never stop being thankful for it long enough to be like, â€˜Oh, wow, I’m awesome.’ Because … I’ll never be that amazing in anyone’s eyes, so it’s just like, what’s the point? There’s no point in being an egomaniac about something that you just love doing.”
May 1 Detroit, Mich. The Shelter
May 2 Chicago, Ill. Park West
May 3 Milwaukee, Wis. The Rave Bar
May 4 Minneapolis, Minn. Fine Line Music Cafe
May 5 Des Moines, Iowa Vaudeville Mews
May 7 Boulder, Colo. Fox Theatre & Cafe
May 8 Salt Lake City, Utah Avalon Theater
May 9 Boise, Idaho Big Easy Concert House
May 10 Portland, Ore. Wonder Ballroom
May 11 Seattle, Wash. Chop Suey
May 13 Sacramento, Calif. The Empire
May 14 San Francisco, Calif. Great American Music Hall
May 15 Los Angeles, Calif. El Rey Theatre
May 16 San Diego, Calif. House of Blues
May 17 Pomona, Calif. Glass House
May 19 Tucson, Ariz. Club Congress
May 21 Corpus Christi, Texas House of Rock
May 22 Dallas, Texas House of Blues
May 23 San Antonio, Texas Scout Bar
May 24 McAllen, Texas Cine El Rey Theatre