Gazing past generic boundaries | Eyes to Argus

Ahead of an upcoming gig at Rumours, Teodor Reljic speaks to the eclectic band Eyes to Argus, whose sound is a deliberate affront to any stale-and-staid definition of genres, though they’d be the first to tell you that all they’re doing is a little bit of jamming... 

Eyes of Argus
Eyes of Argus

What were some of the main ideas behind setting up Eyes to Argus? How did all of you get together, and what were your collective musical goals at that time? Was it even collective?

The earliest beginnings of Eyes to Argus can be traced way back to 2013, when Ben, Sam, and Bob began jamming together with the intention of exploring and creating spacey and ambient sounds, though we were never content to put stylistic boundaries to the project. Other bands and commitments got in the way of it developing into something more serious, but in late 2015 the opportunity to give the project more focus arose. We soon asked Kris to join as our drummer and he locked everything into a newfound sense of groove that gave new direction to the sounds we had been toying with, and this is really when Eyes to Argus became its own entity. With a complete line-up, we began to refine our musical approach and identity, and took to the stage for the first time in February 2016.

How did you develop over time, especially given the eclectic mix of influences that characterises your sound?

From a stylistic point of view, we’re not sure that we can notice any radical shifts. We’ve always been somewhat boundary-free in the sense that we don’t shy away from introducing overlapping elements in the music, flowing from mellow, dreamy soundscapes to other noisier, more aggressive passages and so on. There’s a difference between boundary-free and directionless, though, and if anything has changed as we learnt how to function as a unit, it’s our approach to keeping our influences in check. The pitfall with an eclectic approach is that it becomes easy to try and force personal influences into the songs. We soon became aware of that trap and as our songwriting developed, we decided that any sounds and influences that make their way into the songs should only do so because we had something to say with them. 

You’ve said that you prioritise mood and atmosphere over fitting into any musical genre. How does this play out for you in practice, when writing the songs and performing them? And is resisting genre labels something you do deliberately and if so, why?

We’ll be the first people to admit that just like with most other bands, the songs tend to start out with the very common, ‘Hey man, check out this cool riff’ – but we definitely believe that, in our case at least, the more we contextualise the music in terms of what it evokes to us, the stronger the songwriting will be as a result. 

So we do write with mood in mind, but we wouldn’t say we actively resist genres either. That’s a futile exercise, in the sense that if you act like you’re creating in a vacuum you’re going to end up writing contrived music. Sounding unique is a near-impossible aim, sounding like yourself is not. 

We’ve got absolutely no problem claiming that you’ll hear shades of post-rock, ambient, shoegaze, metal, jazz, prog, and possibly more in our songs. So it’s really just the fact that when we write, we don’t really think about what our musical points of reference are going to be. We let them seep in naturally, working their way around words or stories that we’d want to talk about. We’re not fans of the boxed-in feeling that comes with writing with genres in mind. Those sounds should be used as springboards for building your own identity, as vehicles for the subject matter and context of the songs at hand. 

What kind of niche do you hope to establish within the Maltese musical scene?

We don’t really feel that we’re trying to establish any niche. We’re not exactly innovative in our approach, there are already lots of other local bands that are actively doing their own thing stylistically very well, and we love and respect them for it. If people want to associate us with any niche, they’re welcome to do so, but really all we want is to write and experiment with sounds we love.

On that note, what do you make of the local music scene? What would you change about it?

The more time passes, the more it feels like musical activity in Malta is becoming increasingly open-minded (barring certain obvious circles). So many great bands are popping up, and so many organisers are really doing a service to musicians and fans alike by allowing a variety of styles, approaches and quality acts to free flow and co-exist, year after year. If there is a ‘scene’ to talk about, then it’s in a really exciting place right now.

You still find certain cliques who treat genres like institutions, or scenes as something you need to swear allegiance to. That’s when the idea of a scene in itself starts being dangerous and restrictive. The argument that a scene won’t grow if people don’t support it, doesn’t really hold. Somewhere along the way we might have lost the idea that bands are ultimately, apart from being conveyors of personal thematic and sonic intentions, entertainers. You’re not obliged to humour them time and money. We go to tons of gigs – because we want to. Obligation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

Although the idea of support can still be really beautiful, with reason. It’s easy to snub bands because they’re not your thing, or because they have aspects to work on. The great thing about having a community of sorts is that it should make it easier to initiate discourse. Let’s knock people and bands off pedestals, but let’s not leave them in the dirt either. We want a communicative space where people aren’t afraid to give constructive feedback, and for individual identities and creative voices to flourish within and around such dispositions.

What’s next for you?

2017 is very busy for Eyes to Argus, and we couldn’t be happier about it. We’re currently working on our debut album, which should be released later on this year. We can’t give away too many details for now, although we’re itching to. We will say that it’s being produced by Brodu keyboardist Samuel Attard, and he is doing a tremendous job. More on this soon.

We’ve also got some gigs lined up. Our first one for the year is happening on March 24th at Rumors in Pieta. We’re playing with The PlaKard Project, an absolutely brilliant and fun bunch of people. XFM’s Steven Meli will be on deck before and after sets, playing a selection of tunes that embody the sounds of both bands playing on the night. Join us for a fun time… if you want to!

For more information on Eyes to Argus, check them out on Facebook: EyestoArgus