If anyone ever gets around to writing a history of Pacific Northwest popular music, a little town on Kachemak Bay will get critics wondering, “What the heck is in the Homer water?”
From a generation of millennials who grew up here in the mid-2010s has emerged a handful of bands and musicians who have become stalwarts in the Seattle and Portland indie rock scene. Andrew Vait of Eternal Fair has been flying the mariner flag in Seattle, and now Animal Eyes has become prominent in Portland — about as hip as you can get on the Left Coast.
The all-Alaskan, mostly-Homerite band tours Alaska starting at 9 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Down East Saloon, with gigs in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Talkeetna, member Tyler Figley’s hometown. When the band returns to Portland, it opens Sept. 27 at Project Pabst for Menomena, an event that closes the circle on the band’s creative roots.
Menomena, a popular early 2000s Portland group, shook up the then-teenage musicians when they first heard their music.
“That was definitely the one that hooked us and changed our whole aspect of what kind of music we were into,” said Tyler Langham, who sings and plays guitar for Animal Eyes.
Born and raised in Talkeetna, Langham grew up there with Figley. At age 12, Langham moved to Homer, where he met Sam Tenhoff, Haven Multz-Matthews and Colin McArthur. Mutlz-Matthews was part of Casualties To The Cause, or CTTC, which made their mark and were named 2007 Youth Artists of the Year by the Homer Council on the Arts. Langham and Tenhoff jammed with Multz-Matthews.
McArthur was the first to move to Portland, when he went to Portland State University to major in English. Langham, Multz-Matthews and Tenhoff followed.
“Portland was one of those places we heard about. It put it on our brain like it was this heavenly spot for the music scene,” Langham said. “Sam moved down, and we said, ‘We should start a band.’”
Most of them hadn’t gone to Portland with the intention of starting a band, but in 2011 when they heard that Figley wanted to travel the world, they asked him to come to Portland to be in their band.
“We were all close enough in high school. We knew that we were in the area and said, ‘Hey, let’s start hanging out and playing in music,’” Langham said.
Animal Eyes got its name after Multz-Matthews criticized the band’s first name, Monkey Puzzle, the name of a tree and also a butterfly. Multz-Matthews said the name sounded too much like a children’s book — which it actually is, “Monkey Puzzle,” by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Multz-Matthews gave them his “dog look,” Langham described it.
“He just gave us the animal eyes,” he said.
Langham puts Animal Eyes’ music under the umbrella of “indie rock,” a very wide umbrella.
“It’s a little hard to describe. It’s not exactly a genre of music,” he said. “Let’s not focus too much on getting signed and making radio.”
Animal Eyes has made one full-length album, “Found in the Forest,” 2011, and a four-song extended play album, “Ursus.” Their songs have strong hooks with danceable guitar riffs, like “Bender” and “Cold Coast Line,” both on “Ursus.”
The guys also can write lyrics, with lines like “I’ve let go, of feelings I’ve held on to since I could hold. / And still, my sea legs, my free legs will hold,” from “Cold Coast Line.”
But just like trippy 1960s psychedelic music that flips time signatures, their music can take a sudden turn. You can dance to their music, but you also can put on headphones and explore a cosmic audio landscape. Animal Eyes has even experimented with old school tools, like vintage guitar pedals found on eBay.
“Playing spacious, syncopated progressive rock, the band shifts gears so often within a single track it takes stamina just to keep up,” Mark Stock of the Willamette Weekly described them.
Right now Animal Eyes is working on a third album they hope to have done by the end of the year, an album self-produced in a home studio. Tenhoff, Langham and Figley share a house together. They put in six to eight hours a day recording solo and then get together to combine tracks.
“Basically, each one of our bedrooms is a studio,” Langham said. “It’s a new thing for us, but it’s been really fun and gratifying … Totally in-house, all the creative freedom we could want.”
Animal Eyes does about four gigs a month, and has played with fellow Homer musician Andrew Vait in Seattle and another Pacific Northwest band with Alaska roots, Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles.
While busy, “It’s not paying the rent quite yet,” Langham said. “It’s a slow progression, really slow and steady.”
Most gigs are 40-minute sets, but in Alaska Animal Eyes plays longer sets of three hours. They have done an Alaska tour the past three summers.
“It’s fun for us,” Langham said “We can play all the songs we’ve ever written before.”
On side projects, Animal Eyes has brought in other Homer talent. The Dean Brothers did a video of “Bender,” filmed in Homer and the Columbia Gorge. For a photo shoot, tattoo artist Sarah Frary of A Muse Ink painted the band members’ chest with animal faces, and Homer and Portland photographer Joshua Veldstra did the photography on a Kachemak Bay beach.
“We went out into the head of the bay and it got weird,” Langham said.
Langham said Animal Eyes looks forward to the Down East show.
“The Homer shows have been the most fun shows we’ve ever played as a band. It’s amazing to come home,” he said. “So much love coming from the community — it gives you more determination and hope and energy to keep doing it.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
9 p.m. Sept. 18, Down East Saloon; free
9 p.m. Sept. 19, Tap Root, Anchorage; $5
9 p.m. Sept. 20, The Marlin, Fairbanks; $15
9 p.m. Sept. 21, Fairview Inn, Talkeetna; free
Listen and buy music:
Tyler Langham: drums, strings, vocals
Sam Tenhoff: accordion, drums, vocals
Tyler Figley: guitar, vocals
Haven Multz Matthews: drums
Colin McArthur: bass, vocals
Music video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9saRChsQpA