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Transmitting something, somehow 

The Eskimos' never-ending tour of change

Toronto-born Drew Sinclair and Atlantan David Weiglein formed the Eskimos in the mid-'90s on a simple yet universal premise. "We just wanted to have a rock and roll band," says vocalist and rhythm guitarist Sinclair.

In the musically fertile town of Athens, their short-term goal was easily accomplished.

Friends since their early teens, Sinclair and Weiglein initially joined forces informally with drummer Jason Eschelman and bassist Mark Lawrence to record a slew of tunes on a 4-track. Yet, unlike a lot of their peers at the time, the band never tried to be another R.E.M. or Widespread Panic clone.

"We were writing songs as they came, without even thinking of a certain style," says guitarist Weiglein of the Eskimos' unscripted style, a hard-to-pigeonhole swirl of electric '60s folk, hooky late-'70s pop and experimental psychedelic blues.

By 1999, the band had a considerable stockpile of material from which to choose. Most Eskimos gigs from that period were wildly varied with few, if any, songs or arrangements repeated from show to show.

In typical Athens fashion, being categorically vague served the band well. Their hybrid whiplash of rootsy Americana and classic early-'70s rock earned them a ton of positive press from across the U.S., an army of dedicated fans and considerable label interest.

After a brief bidding war, Brilliante Records, a Chicago indie formed last year by Aware Records retail honcho Ed Menacho, won the rights to repackage the Eskimos' Something Must Be Transmitted Somehow CD. Originally issued by Athens' Tell Me Later Records last summer, the disc is scheduled for national release Jan. 28.

"We grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Neil Young," says Weiglein. "Those guys always got shit for changing the way they did things, but I don't see how you can continue to do the same thing over and over."

Indeed, the Eskimos' music buffet offers a variety of choices. Their first album, Let It Come Down, released June 2001, was a rootsy, Dylanesque collection highlighted by Sinclair's heartfelt lyrics and snarling troubadour delivery. In stark contrast, ...Somehow presents a prismatic landscape of '70s and '80s rock textures, with terse layers of Anglo-American-tinged vocals.

"On the new album, the more abstract sounds allow more abstract lyrics, because that's where I was then," says Sinclair. "It was recorded three months after our first one, which was full of personal and deadly honest stuff. Some of those early songs were essentially open letters."

For Sinclair and Weiglein, the new album had to keep their interest. "The last thing I wanted to do was more personal songs for us to endure," says Sinclair.

"So instead of relying on the lyrical drive of the songs as before," says Weiglein, "we thought we'd really lean on the music itself to propel the album and see where it goes."

While they are weary of the numerous Dylan comparisons, the latter's restless nature shadows the Eskimos' career moves. "I always look at things in steps," says Sinclair. "When I reach each one, I'm never quite satisfied to stay at that level. So then it's on to the next one."

In turn, the Eskimos' career is an outgrowth of Sinclair's work ethic. After recording rough demos on an ancient machine, the band slowly collected enough equipment to fill a small garage space. Drummer Eshelman now runs Sonic Research Facility, a fully realized home studio.

As 2003 begins, the Eskimos continue to evolve and grow. Bassist Lawrence has left the band to focus on songwriting for Athens trio the Yarbles. Andy Pope -- ironically enough, also of the Yarbles -- has replaced him, and Casper and the Cookies' Paul Walker recently signed on as the Eskimos' touring keyboardist.

Since change is inevitable, the Eskimos embrace it.

"Athens has influenced us because it's constantly changing," says Sinclair. "So, musically, I think we'll just keep moving on too, somehow trying to find some new ways of doing things."

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