Obviously we write a lot about Richmond’s thriving and vibrant music scene here at RVA Magazine, but it’s easy to forget that Virginia has a good amount of music scenes spread throughout the state, al
Obviously we write a lot about Richmond’s thriving and vibrant music scene here at RVA Magazine, but it’s easy to forget that Virginia has a good amount of music scenes spread throughout the state, all completely unique in their own right. To the west of our city in Roanoke lies one of the state’s best music scenes, but also one of the state’s most talked about bands in the music world today: Eternal Summers.
Since 2009, the trio has steadily raised their stock from album to album by establishing a clear and evolving identity of providing lush and edgy dreamscapes that are distinct and memorable on each record. Their 2014 album, The Drop Beneath won critics over with its polished production and the clear growth the band had shown from their previous works. On their newest album, Gold And Stone, they tinker with the formula again to find any ways to be better within the same identity, even if their contemporaries have their sights set on attempting every genre under the sun. The risks are still there for Eternal Summers, especially on their newest record, but they’re natural risks that follow a clear, progressive vision that has served them well in the past five years.
Singer Nicole Yum has clearly become used to the attention her band garners by now, but she stills maintains plenty of down-to-earth, small town charm when talking to her. She hammers down hard work and stability as keys to the band’s success and is quick to lavish praise on others whether it be bands she grew up idolizing, her own bandmates, or just a new band popping up in their neck of the woods. It’s this small-town mentality that seems ultimately to be the recipe for Eternal Summers’ success and one that should easily keep them a significant presence in the music world for years to come.
There was pretty quick turnaround from The Drop Beneath to Gold And Stone.
Yeah, I think a lot of people were really shocked by that. Basically, The Drop Beneath was ready to be put out as early as Spring of 2013, but we weren’t sure if Kanine was going to sign us again or what label was going to put it out, so it was a year long wait on that album. We had more time to work on this album so it kind of seems like they’re back to back, but we were just0 sitting on an album in 2013 waiting for it come out year round. We did do a lot of writing for Gold And Stone in the latter part of 2014 not to discredit that. We knew that we had gotten into Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX last November and we all wanted to go back to Austin to record and we were already going to be there for this one show. We just thought, “what if we really worked our butts off, got a lot of songs together, did this show, and then stayed there to record the next album?” We definitely still had a quick deadline on this one, but there were just a few songs that were kind of in the back pocket from the waiting period of The Drop Beneath.
You guys have consistently improved over the years. Do you think there’s a specific reason for it?
I think we definitely take it for granted that we all live in the same town and we practice a lot. Not that we play the same stuff over and over again, we do a lot of improv and jamming together so I think that helps. Also, we’ve been on the road a lot so I think that forces you to make commitments to be on stage rather than being at home bumbling around. I think that pushed us a lot to improve. When Daniel and I started the band, Daniel had never played drums in a band before and I just knew a handful of chords. Approaching each record, we’ve always viewed it as a challenge to ourselves to do something that is a little bit difficult for us and see what happens. Maybe it will sound good, maybe we will get it on the first take, or maybe it will be the 20th, but I think we’ve always felt like we want to push ourselves and improve. The band started so nonchalant with two people that weren’t super good at their instruments, we just wanted to use our limitations to our benefit. Then after a while, we got rid of the limitations and actually got better at our instruments.
Even though you shed those limitations, do you think you still tend to write or approach songs the same way?
Yeah, I do. I think even for this album, there was a focus on writing the songs kind of the way our first albums were written, which was coming up with vocal melodies on their own apart from any other instrument. Even though some of the arrangements on this albums are a little bit slicker and there’s a little bit more going on, I think the approach was to go back to some pop music that’s easier to digest in the way that it’s all about melodies. That wasn’t the case for every song on the album, but certainly a handful were written that way.
With regards to your music, your voice and the instrumentation are both very distinct, yet compliment each other perfectly. Do you find yourself writing songs in a way that your voice matches the music or vice versa?
I guess I’d never thought about either one fitting the other. I feel like the music and the way I sing is kind of just what it is. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about it recently, especially as a female vocalist. Unfortunately, I feel a lot of female vocalists who are very revered, a large portion of them have a stylized voice sometimes. Maybe they put on a lot of vibrato or like put on a certain style to make it match their music or how they think it should go; either cute or really rock and roll. But for me, I’ve always been inspired by female vocalist who’ve sounded really natural, like that there’s actual voice. I love Stereolab because of that and Eleanor Friedberger from The Fiery Furnaces. Just very natural. I feel pretty much on every album, that’s just the way I sing and that’s always been important to me. I’m not going try to do something I can’t do or that feels wrong or emote something that might sound good, but isn’t genuine. I think with the music as well, there’s never any pre-planning of “this is the style we’re going for” or “I’m inspired by this band and that band, let’s make this song sound like that.” It’s always been a little guitar idea here and or a little vocal idea here. I trust both of my bandmates so much. I’ve never told them what to play or how to play so whatever concept they come up with, it just happens that way. It just creates itself.
Were there any bands though that you were inspired by in process of writing and recording Gold And Stone?
Kind of all over the place, but the band I was really paying attention to was Blur and their whole catalogue. That’s a band I liked when I was in high school, but I feel like I really respect them now because they tried a lot of different things, all within the Brit-pop format. I was really interested in the early Radiohead albums like Pablo Honey and The Bends as far as guitar tones. But we were also listening to …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and I think that peeked its way into the album. Also Danzig and my drummer really loves Ryan Adams and we listened to his new album a lot. Kind of all over the place, I mean, I always like to think about the music that I was thinking about in high school and how my natural instincts were to go back to that. Early Smashing Pumpkins is something I always feel very inspired by and New Order too. It’s a lot and most of it is tour listening when we’re in the van, but Blur and those two Radiohead albums were big in mind as to how I wanted the songs to sound and even the production to sound.
A lot of those bands you mentioned, they have a clear-cut vision and image of themselves as an act. Do you think there’s a clear-cut one for Eternal Summers?
No, but somebody recently said they thought we were a moody band. I think what they meant was that within songs, there were peaks and valley that were very distinct. I think to me, my favorite music in general are songs that go somewhere, emotionally hit a peak, or show a depth of emotion so I think we are kind of a moody band in that regard. I do hate that word though because it reminds me of describing a teenager, but I think it’s actually accurate. I do love a lot of different bands and specifically a lot of bands that are really chill and hang out there with kind of a colder sound. We’re not emo by any means though, but I think we have a deep emotional variety. I think every album we’ve done has sounded pretty different though. We’re the same band, but it’s a different palate every time.
So we obviously spend a lot of time in Richmond talking about our music scene, but what’s Roanoke’s music scene like?
It’s definitely small. It’s had its peaks and valleys. Right now, I would say it’s a good handful of different indie bands and stuff that are pretty consistently playing out. I haven’t heard of a lot of new bands starting, but then again, I’m not at every show. We have one record store at The Bazaar where a lot of shows happen and that’s been really nice and definitely a hub for new groups to start playing, but it’s really small overall. What I do like about is that Roanoke is very unpretentious so you can start whatever type of band and people will give it a shot without saying it’s weird that you’re in a glam bluegrass band, you know what I mean? I do really appreciate that about the scene here. People have an open mind about what bands are trying to do. It’s small, but very creatively broad as far as all the bands I would recommend people to see. It’s a pretty broad spectrum.
Do you ever see yourself leaving Roanoke or Virginia?
I don’t think so at all. I think we’ve met a lot of bands from a lot of different cities and I do see the benefit of living in a bigger city like New York or LA where there’s more media attention and more clubs to play. For us, we’ve always felt we have a lot of advantages that a lot of people don’t. We’re the same lineup we’ve always been and bands bigger than us have different people coming in and out or leaving. We have cheap rent and our practice space is pretty cheap too. Our label has even said that bands that aren’t from big cities are better at touring because they’re not leaving an expensive rent or a job that they really need to survive behind so that’s been to our benefit as well. We’ve been able to go on tour without having to worry about how we’re going to pay rent. Also, we see a lot of distraction with some of our really best friends in music who live in New York. We’ll find out the reason why a certain band hasn’t put out an album is because so-and-so is DJing at a club every week or is starting their own tape label. That’s cool and not to say that people can’t get distracted in Roanoke, but I think there’s more of that going on in big cities so we’ve had the lack of city life as a benefit to us because we’ve been able to focus on the band and writing our music. I love Roanoke. I just don’t see myself leaving there or Virginia in general.