By John Parks
Close Your Eyes, a melodic hardcore band from Abilene, Texas, has grown a dedicated, underground fan base having released two EPs and three full-length albums, including their latest, A Line In The Sand. The band and new vocalist Sam Ryder Robinson will be headlining a show here in Rockford Nov. 9 at Millennium Center on Madison Street. Band founder and guitarist Brett Callaway recently sat down to answer a few of my questions about their past and their latest album.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Brett. For those who are just checking out your band, Close Your Eyes, can you start by telling us how you guys arrived at your band name, which evokes a lot of possibilities?
A: It has kind of two meanings, both of which I was thinking about when I named the band. Both have to do with closing your eyes to see reality. The first is the way that pop culture is shoved into our face, and it is not always the best thing for everyone. So, the name is speaking about closing your eyes to that and making your own choices and living your life. The second meaning is that we think that the spiritual world can be just as real as the world we perceive with our eyes, and sometimes we need to close our eyes to what we see in order to truly live. Think Plato’s allegory of the cave-type circumstance.
Q: Your last album, Empty Hands and Heavy Hearts, was both a critical and fan favorite. In your estimation, how many doors did that album open for you in 2011, and how far did your band come with that release?
A: Man, that’s tough. I think the album did well, and we really appreciated that! I think it kept the momentum going that we had with the first album. I’m not sure what doors I can say specifically were opened with the second album. It all just feels like all the hard work we have done for years, and it would be hard to pinpoint one specific cause.
Q: Close Your Eyes has a new vocalist, Sam Ryder Robinson. Can you tell me how you guys found each other and a little about his background prior to joining the band?
A: Well, his background is kinda how we found each other. He was playing guitar for a band named Blessed By A Broken Heart on the “Scream The Prayer” tour a few years ago. Their bus broke down in Houston, where I live. I was on tour at the time, but they ended up staying at my parents’ house for over a week, so he got to know my parents well. When he heard that we were looking for a vocalist, he e-mailed my mom and got in touch with me through her. He sent us an audition, and we loved it, and that was pretty much that.
Q: A live band is only as good as its rhythm section, and Close Your Eyes’ sound relies on a very tight backbeat to go along with the killer rhythm guitar. How much do Sonny Vega (bass) and Jordan Hatfield (drums) bring to the band from a creative and performance standpoint?
A: You are exactly right … a band sounds small without a tight rhythm section. That is the backbone and tonal base of everything. So, that is exactly what they bring from a performance standpoint. We all are always experimenting with parts while we are in the studio … so I guess that is what they bring creatively. Sonny likes to try climbing bass lines in a lot of driving sections, and Jordan has a style he really falls back on, and I think that influences his creativity.
Q: Your new album, Line In The Sand, features blistering hardcore, along with ever-present vocal and guitar melody lines. As an old-school fan, a ton of bands come to my mind as influences for your sound. What specifically inspired you musically as a young kid learning guitar?
A: A whole lot of punk rock! That is mostly what I listened to when I was learning. From hardcore punk to pop punk. Probably my two favorite bands at the time were MxPx and Stretch Armstrong.
Q: The song “Kings of John Payne” is one of my favorites on the album and opens with a great vocal hook. Can you explain how that song came to fruition and how it translates live?
A: Well, we have not played it live yet, but that song actually came from a voice memo I recorded while I was driving one day. It was basically the chorus. We changed one line of it later, but the idea and melody were there. I sent it to Sam, and he wrote verses around it. Then, we came together and worked the whole thing out.
Q: The band has made inroads in traditional rock and hardcore circles as well as the inspirational and Christian formats. I just saw the band Spoken open for Volbeat, who are also making moves in multiple genres. Is it getting easier for bands to follow their hearts and stay true to their beliefs without major concern, and would you be open to pairings with major bands some might consider outside your “format”?
A: We just do what is real to us and what we like. We are very open-minded about that stuff and never stick to a specific format. We would be very open to touring with bands not in our exact genre. I would love to tour with one of the punk-rock bands I grew up listening to or a band like the Foo Fighters. I love that band.
Q: “Trends and Phases” is another great song, a song that is very immediate in nature and one of many on the record with a powerful lyric. What types of things tend to move Close Your Eyes to pick up a pen and write lyrics?
A: That song was written musically by Andrew, and Sam wrote almost all the lyrics. The things that move us really are anything that we feel passionate about or things that have bearing or meaning in our lives. Sam was basically thinking about life choices of careers and how people should feel free to follow their dreams and not feel pressured to go into the traditional “corporate” job.
Q: Thanks again for talking with us, Brett. Last question: So much of your sales and progression has come from relentless touring and putting yourselves out there in front of fans on a yearly, daily and sometimes hourly basis. What have you guys learned from talking with and meeting your fans? What has your main takeaway been?
A: Our biggest takeaway is the impact that our music has had on the lives of some of our fans. We feel so humbled by the way they are able to take our music and make an impact on their lives. The other thing that it will always bring to our minds is that we could not do any of the things we have done without our fans’ support. We appreciate them so much!
From the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue