All in the Family
By Michael Henningsen
MARCH 15, 1999: Nearly four years ago, The Eyeliners (then Psychodrama) emerged from their Albuquerque garage armed with a handful of straight-forward pop-punk gems and a single, collective desire: to have a good time. But early on, it wasn't exactly easy for an all-female punk trio to compete in a local scene dominated by all or mostly male bands. The environment they stepped into was rife with standard-fare stereotyping and some who were too quick to jump to conclusions that The Eyeliners were nothing more than a novelty band looking to grab a piece of the action based on gender rather than on talent, drive and the ability to put their money where their mouths were. And though it's taken four years, a lot of hard work and admirable determination to break free from the pigeonholing and to finally be taken seriously even among the most staunch skeptics, it was easy to see almost from the first time they took to a local stage that there was more to The Eyeliners than a pretty face.
There were the songs. Three-chord wonders delivered deftly and backed with the same passion that has propelled other local bands like Scared of Chaka, The Drags, Hazeldine and a scarce ration of others onto the national scene. There was also a degree of perseverance at work that is unique to bands for whom nothing matters but the reason they began playing together in the first place.
Again: to have a good time.
And good times have been plentiful for The Eyeliners. The three sisters--Laura (drums, vocals), Gel (guitar, vocals) and Lisa (bass)--have consistently met each new challenge with aplomb, striving not for greatness, but instead moving forward with a humble curiosity that's proved as endearing as it has a solid formula for success. Over the course of 48 months, The Eyeliners have managed five releases, a record deal with one of the longest-standing and foremost indie labels in the country, more than 20 tours, a New Mexico Arts Alliance Bravo Award for Music Excellence (the first ever Bravo Award presented to a group or artist outside the classical or jazz genres), product endorsements and widespread national recognition.
Beginning in April, the trio will embark on a five-week U.S. tour supporting the Groovie Ghoulies. Yet, despite success and, in some cases, better reception in other cities, worldwide distribution of their records and almost universal critical acclaim, The Eyeliners have remained true to their school, so to speak, and respectful of their roots as a band like any other. Their rare humility has allowed them to remain on an even keel throughout what have occasionally been tumultuous times and, from a local perspective, what has been a volatile scene at best.
They're not the first, and they're certainly not alone. But The Eyeliners, like their aforementioned citymates, are, if nothing else, models for DIY success. And while all three are college educated, the lessons that have brought them to their current comfortable heights are the ones they've had to teach themselves.
Lisa, Laura and Gel recently sat scattered about their living room, fresh off a weekend mini-tour of Southern California and two hours of watching Monica Lewinsky embarrass herself on national television, to discuss their past, their achievements so far, their future and their take on the strengths, weaknesses and potential of the local scene.
Lisa: Starting from Psychodrama, I think it was February of '95.
Gel: We became The Eyeliners in July of '96.
Lisa and Laura in unison: There were too many Psychodramas.
Lisa: Plus, it's not a very good name.
Gel: (laughing) It's a horrible name.
Laura: We can't remember. (laughs) We all think we did.
Gel: We went to Los Angeles just for one show, I think in November of '95.
Lisa: It sounds ridiculous to go for one show, but it was worth it. It made it a lot easier for us to go back the next time, which was in May of '96. That's when we found out about all the other Psychodramas, so we at least got that out of it.
Lisa and Laura in unison: Gel books them all.
Gel: Except for the upcoming tour in April (with the Groovie Ghoulies), so I get a break (laughs).
Lisa: Well, if you count all the little spurts--long weekends, four or five dates here and there--then I'd guess probably more than 20.
Gel: We've done the full U.S. tour once before, so (the upcoming tour) will be our second.
Lisa: We tour a lot, but we're lazy about how we do it (laughs). We always budget plenty of days off so we don't get completely wiped out.
Laura: On [the upcoming tour] we only have one day off in over five weeks, so it's going to be a little harder. It'll be a lot of fun, though.
Gel: Sympathy for the Record Industry distributes through Mordam in the states and somewhat in Europe.
Lisa: Some foreign countries get distribution from other companies, too, so the records are available pretty much worldwide.
Laura: Between 7,000 and 8,000.
Laura: Last we heard, it was about 15,000.
Laura: It's not recorded yet, but it's soon to be.
Gel: We're going to try to record in June, after the tour.
Lisa: (laughing) After a couple weeks of sleep. This tour is kind of an interruption, so when we record depends on how quickly we can put the finishing touches on everything.
Lisa: Yeah, we feel loyalty to them. They've been fantastic about getting our records out quickly.
Laura: A friend of mine kept saying, "Send 'em your stuff," and at first, I was like, "You're crazy," you know? (laughs). But I just got a package together, threw in a note on one of our postcards, threw in a CD and a copy of our video and sent it to Paiste. And then right away, a guy called back and offered an endorsement deal.
Lisa: It was funny the way it happened, because [Laura] put it off for like four months and finally one day decided to send it off.
Laura: (laughing) I was like, "What the hell, my cymbals are broken ..."
Laura: They'll be in the March/April issue of Drum, the March/April issue of Stix, which is exclusive to Germany, the March/April issue of Drum & Percussion in Europe and in May and June issues of Rocker Girl, Modern Drummer and Drum, Etc.
Laura: I think the most important thing is to stay excited about what you're doing because that drives you. It makes you want to keep doing more and more and see what's out there. You've also got to be willing to work really hard.
Lisa: You can't expect too much right away, you know? You've got to take what you can get, and when you go back, you'll get better.
Gel: Just like when we went to L.A. that first time, for that one show just because we were excited we even had a show ...
Laura: It was exciting to play somewhere else.
Gel: But it opened a lot of other doors for us.
Lisa: (laughing) By most standards, it was such a crummy show and didn't really make sense, but we met a lot of people and made some connections.
Lisa: I think it's best for new bands to assume that no one out there knows about them and that they have to be told. That's where the promotion starts--by contacting local press and 'zines and whatever it takes to get the word out.
Lisa: You know, the funny thing is that when we started out--and you might remember seeing all the listings--we played three or four nights a week. We played wherever they'd have us. At the same time, we held full-time day jobs ...
Laura: We had to be at work at 7 a.m. ...
Lisa: I mean, we were playing to nobody. It would just be us and some band who didn't even show up, and we'd still play to just about nobody. In some ways, I think a lot of the bands who play now have it a little easier than we did when we were starting out. I find it funny that people think we didn't pay our dues. Just because we left to try our luck in other places doesn't mean we turned our backs or skipped some step.
Laura: Also, even though we haven't been doing it for that long, the time we've put in has been very concentrated and we've really worked hard the whole time. The people who say that we're a novelty or that we lucked out weren't there when we were starting out and couldn't get shows because we're girls. We had to fight that stigma at the beginning and had to prove ourselves even more.
Gel: A lot of people still have the attitude that, "Oh, girls can't play," so I think we had to work harder because of that to prove that we could play.
Lisa: But we were pretty rough around the edges when we started (laughs) ...
Gel: I think our name is starting to get out there and the fact that we can play (laughs), so I don't notice it too much anymore.
Lisa: Yeah, not so much anymore, but for a while it did feel like quite an uphill battle. It also depends so much on the crowds.
Lisa: Right now it seems to be at kind of a low point.
Gel: Yeah, compared to some scenes you go into where it's really supportive. In some other places--even some tiny little towns--people are really excited about their scene.
Lisa: I don't really know what makes other scenes tick, but it seems like Albuquerque takes a lot for granted or something. It's hard to reach people here. There's something about Albuquerque being so isolated, too. And there's not really any good radio support. If there was an indie rock station, where people could tune in and hear new music at any time, it would rub off more. Where are people going to hear about a scene and hear the music that's out there other than on the radio? Albuquerque doesn't have that.
Lisa: I think it would help if there was more of a controlled all-ages scene. It's the younger crowds that have the most enthusiasm. Another thing that contributes, I think, is that to go to bar shows you've got to have money, to have money you've got to work and to work you've got to get up early, and most of the bars' shows in Albuquerque start really late, so what are people supposed to do? I think that might keep some people from going out.
Laura: There are some really good bands here.
Gel: And there have been some good places to play--the Launchpad's still going strong, and Spotlights does all-ages stuff.
Laura: And there are also some people who are really supportive and who try to make things happen, even though it doesn't always work.
Gel: Well, after the new record comes out, we'll tour to support it and then hopefully go to Europe. http://www.theeyeliners.com/
Laura: What it's really been about for us is just everyone helping each other. I think that's been the key.
"Broke My Heart" 7-inch
"Do the Zombie" 7-inch
"Rock and Roll Baby" 7-inch
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