Kait Eldridge leads Big Eyes, a pitch-perfect blend of alt-punk and power pop on the more aggressively played, but not inhospitable end of the spectrum. Imagine if Sleater-Kinney were somewhat more into Cheap Trick than riot grrrl and yet lost none of the emotional relevance but had twice-as-big guitar heroics. The band’s back in Brooklyn after a few years out west and reunited with tastemaking East Coast punk and indie label Don Giovanni. The label, known for key releases from national bands Kingston has come to know well and love wisely the last few years such as Waxahatchee, Laura Stevenson and especially Screaming Females, is on a particularly sweet roll right now with the release of seminal L.A. feminist punk Alice Bag’s absolutely essential new solo album and the newest stereo blaster from Big Eyes. Entitled Stake My Claim, Eldridge and crew’s newest is one of those albums that could make you forego needing to listen to a lot of others. People just don’t make rock albums (and especially pop albums) that you could keep returning to without burning out on the material like this as much anymore.
“The kind of place I’m at now, this album is way more cohesive,” Kait says, after telling me how she whittled the record down to the 10 most essential new tracks. “It’s definitely a full-length. A lot of times a friend’s band will put out a record and there are 16 songs on it. Unless it is some classic like Creedence Clearwater Revival, I feel like people don’t have the attention spans to give you that much of their time.”
Whatever her reasons, the album is satisfying but leaves you wanting more. You can hear some of the new material and judge for yourself when Big Eyes graces BSP Kingston at the end of the month (Aug. 30, to be precise). There are no advance tickets and it is a very reasonable $7 door; indie bands Real Things and Palávér round out what is sure to be an awesome concert night.
“By the time I was moving back here Don Giovanni had been expanding a lot and not just releasing stuff from New York and New Jersey,” Eldridge said. Big Eyes had released their debut with DG years ago — “I think we were so excited and didn’t want the packages of albums to get stolen so we picked up the boxes and literally drove to the first show of tour,” Kait recalls — but their second album was through another label when the band was temporarily out west for a stretch. “Returning back here, it just seemed like a really good fit again and the right decision for the band,” Kait adds. “I’m 28 now. I think I met Joe [the label head] when I was 17. We had a good budget and took our time.”
Fiery and sophisticated
There is a sense of confidence fused to a punk rock heart about Eldridge. Her above-average chops are also really appealing as a music fan. The band stays within the boundaries of four on the floor, melodic indie punk and rock ’n’ roll, but the arrangements and some of the licks are really fiery and sophisticated without moving into a more technically snobby genre like prog or shred. Make no mistake, however: They very much rock. The band have previously done some big tours, including coming through our area once with mighty Against Me!, but Stake My Claim finds the band set to do just what the title says. It’s exciting to see a group that is right in that sweet spot where they are already great but potentially about to get a lot bigger due to talent and a growing public awareness. I tell Kait I feel like they captured lightning in a bottle this time.
“We didn’t use any glockenspiel or anything crazy but we did add some auxiliary percussion like tambourine and cowbell,” Kait says. “I think some of that added to the live feel. We did everything piece by piece, so I’m glad to hear you say that because it was important to me to still have it come across that way.”
I ask Eldridge, who is not particularly boastful and comes off as confident but down to Earth, about when she started playing and how long it took to get her considerable skills. Some of that kind of raw talent you can’t learn and is instinct, but a lot comes from effort.
“I started playing the guitar at 12. I was in seventh grade. I started playing in bands at 14. At 19 I started touring. I have been doing Big Eyes since I was 22. So at this point I’ve been playing guitar for half my life. When you are a teenager you have energy and enthusiasm, but then later you have more focus. I used to practice three hours a day through all seventh and eighth grade, so I started at a good time and eventually was years ahead of some people with my playing.”
So, while it is never too late to embrace your inner rocker it helps to have encouragement and the self-awareness to know that if you keep trying hard, you are probably only going to get better. There are a lot of people who want to make their mark without earning it, so it’s awesome to hear a band led by someone who deserves everything good she has coming her way.