A Look Behind El Paso’s Shoegaze Powerhouse, EEP

At a glance EEP is not your typical shoegaze-type band. Their promo photos are more substance over style. There aren’t band shirts and ripped jeans and dyed hair. This team is seasoned, and they’re perhaps past the prime of making any sort of industry break (at least in the traditional sense). But this maturity manifests in some critical ways, from their intricate songwriting, fast-paced delivery, and full ownership of the creative process.

EEP have recently released their second LP, Winter Skin, to the world. They quickly prove the shoegaze label is insufficient at describing the full breadth of their sound but rather that the label gives at least some idea of what to expect. Undeniably, there is some amorphous ambience and wall-of-sound ethereality at play. But everything is far from washed out. The rhythm section is dialed in, brandishing tight grooves. There’s a song sung entirely in Spanish. Vocals coalesce into some sort of sonic cloud. There are hints of alt rock, Brit rock, drone, and even folk. There’s auxiliary percussion beyond the standard kit. “Shoegaze” doesn’t cover everything at play here by any stretch.

Admittedly, I’m not a deep fan of shoegaze—that’s not to say I don’t enjoy bands who employ this approach, but I certainly can’t pinpoint any specific forerunner of the genre that they’re carrying the torch from. With that said, I’m drawn more to the ways they subvert expectations of the genre. Yes, there’s distortion and delay. There’s a fair share of droning lyrical delivery. But beyond some of the production nuance, there’s a skeleton of prog rock, post rock, Latin, and more. The drumming is one of the most diversifying factors, especially notable with the hip-hop-flavored intro on “No Inbetween.” And there’s a commercial sheen here, with the songs being catchy and bright, even in lieu of some of the crunchier, more intense moments. All this said, Winter Skin is not a templated album by any stretch—EEP manage to honor the traditions of the genre yet build upon it with a wealth of other elements for a result that is ornamented and intricate.

We had a chance to talk with the band a bit about the album, their creative process, the importance of community, and what it’s like running a label and studio.

Tuned Up: You recently put out Winter Skin, your second LP. What sorts of things did you bring in, musically and lyrically, that are separate from what you showed on Death of a Very Good Machine?

Serge: On Winter Skin, I feel we collaborated more than on Death of a Very Good Machine. Not to say that there wasn’t collaboration on DOAVGM, but I feel that it took place more often on this record. Somebody would bring in a demo, and we’d spend a day or two in the studio just fleshing them out, bouncing ideas off one another and following our instincts, taking them from this rigid skeleton to a breathing thing full of twists and turns. 

One thing that I wanted to do with this record was contribute a song, and I got to do that with “Time Crunch,” which was one of the last songs we tackled. The band was really accommodating with me on that song, seeing as it took me forever to present them with the demo, and we were able to just squeeze it in near the end of the tracking phase. I’m happy I was able to meet that personal goal on this record.

Your style of music leans heavily on gear. Are there any surprises on the pedalboards or any specific brands you’re drawn to?

Serge: Between Death of a Very Good Machine and Winter Skin, I invested heavily in my recording and performance setup. As part of that I transitioned from a tube amp to a modeler. I use a GT-1000, which is Boss’ flagship guitar effects processor, and every now and then I do wacky things with an Eventide H9 to take me into guitar synth territory. I really like the portability and the predictability of my new setup. 

My tube amp is all of 80 pounds, and I’ve had it fail on me on tour and before important shows. The tone is great, but reliability is more important for me. Most of my performances on this record were through the new equipment because I wanted to learn how to use it, and some was also done directly to the computer using some of Ross’ plugins. I really don’t miss schlepping the tube amp to and from sessions. 

So far, you’re averaging an album a year. That’s a very fast pace for a new band, and it doesn’t feel like you’re cutting any corners. Is there anything specific that has played into this expeditious nature?

Sebastian: I think the pace of writing has kept its momentum because of the nature of the band. Rosie is a prolific writer, she’s always working on new song ideas. Ross is an amazingly fast audio worker. Whether it’s on Pro Tools or his samplers, he can cut up a melody or shape up the atmosphere of a song so quick! I know technology has helped on my end as half of my parts had to be recorded remotely. The times I could record at the studio, it felt extra special. When I was remote, I really pushed myself to honor all of the hard work the rest of the band was doing.

Rosie: When we first got together, it was a novel idea where we would say, “Ok, we have this studio session today” and it’s kind of stream of consciousness and more than likely we’re going to use all the ideas that anybody puts down for their parts. A cool thing happens when we go into the studio and say, “Ok I’m going to put down my part and then I’m not going to have to think about it anymore.” There is a tremendous amount of freedom in that because we all love and trust Ross as our producer, and Ross and I do the mixing together, and I think the rest of the band knows our sensibilities. So, everyone is able to play their part, release it, and then basically it’s an exercise in improvisation, which is really exciting. 

Ross: Because we have an iterative process, and being very studio-based, we don’t have a lot of the traditional requirements in order to be able to make a record, in that we don’t have to rehearse as a band for six weeks to get the record perfect. We’re not recording live, so that makes the songs much easier to get down—it’s very quick and to the point. We don’t spend weeks in the rehearsal studio working out parts together or having to rehearse the song as a band. We’re all experienced musicians and all very proficient at our instruments, so there’s not a real steep learning curve on parts. There’s no parts to learn, we’re writing them as we go, and everyone’s technical skills are so high that we really are able to move quickly when we’re in the studio.

Let’s talk a bit about the community. It seems to be an integral part of the whole process. Bandcamp is an important tool for many small or independent artists, and it’s one you’re making good use of. Could you speak more into how you’re leveraging that platform? Some artists are using it as a replacement for Patreon. Do you/would you offer a subscription service of sorts? Have you had any notable interactions with fans?

Rosie: Building community has been our first priority since 2019, before we ever released anything. Our partner in Hogar Records and our unofficial EEP manager is my husband, Justin Oser. He began to reach out to people on social media about a year before our first album was going to be released. He wanted to find out how people felt about shoegaze and geek out on the different shoegaze bands we all like. Justin also let people know about our process. Very early on, he put up videos of us doing some preliminary work on the album, and he put videos up of our tracking. As a result we’ve had what we call our EEPiverse, which is people who are our friends who support our band and have enjoyed seeing our process every step of the way. It’s just been a really organic process.

Ross: A lot of those friends we have made through the process and through social media outreach are not just people we already knew. It’s been really neat between social media and then Bandcamp that we’ve been able to make direct and strong connections to fans. So, it’s not just putting it out on Spotify and hoping that some playlist picks us up and a bunch of nameless numbers pop up saying, “Oh, you had 50 people listen today” and you never know who they are or where they are beyond a city. You don’t know why they’re listening or how they found you. Bandcamp is such a direct connection and you can communicate directly with them and you can see, for example, that Mark from San Francisco bought the album today and he said this is what he liked about it. Or Patricia from New York asked this question about how we got the guitar tone and we can speak to that on our social media or directly to her. We know we have this number of people that at least will take a serious look at anything we put out and are paying attention and care.

Justin: Bandcamp has been so important in building EEP’s fan base and it’s a much more direct way for fans to support artists. Instead of streams leading to a fraction of a penny each that go back to artists, a fan can buy a digital or physical album for $10 or $20 and know that a lot of that money will go to support the artists themselves. We also use the feature where a fan can pay more than the suggested price and we’ve had fans pay $30, $50, or even $75 for an album because they feel that strongly about the music and about supporting the band. That’s wonderful and each of those purchases can help to support the band more than thousands of streams can.

As far as offering a subscription service, Bandcamp does have that option and we may explore that in the future. From what we’ve heard, that can work best for bands that have been around for some time and have a deep catalog where they can offer extras (like demos and unreleased songs) to fans for the subscription. So I do think we’ll look into that in the future.

As far as fan interactions, we’ve had a lot of great interactions, from fans asking about how a particular sound was made on a song to letting us know how much the music has meant to them to spreading the word about EEP to their friends on social media and Bandcamp. We’re so thankful for the amazing fans that have supported EEP—they have helped to build a following for the music just as much as any promotional campaign or media coverage has done. 

You truly embody the DIY ethos, from having your own studio to running a label. Were these ideas taking shape prior to EEP in its current iteration? What are your goals for the studio and label? What has been the biggest hurdle to taking on projects of this scale?

Ross: When I was a young teenager and I was learning to write music and make records, I started to learn about the idea that people put out their own records. I found on the internet that there was a thing called An Introductory Mechanic’s Guide to Putting Out Records, Cassettes, and CDs written by two women, Kristin Thomson and Jenny Toomey, from a label called Simple Machines. It was a very step-by-step introductory guide to how you put together a record, find a pressing plant, distribution, all that. It was an almost radicalizing event for me because before that I had of course heard about making a demo, sending it out to labels, and waiting for the call from a label in order to make your record. That’s fraught with the idea of what’s marketable and what’s a label going to want to hear as opposed to just writing the music you want to make and making the records you love. And learning that there was this path that didn’t require anyone’s approval, input, or curation, that you could just make the records that you want to make, and you could put them out there and find your audience yourself was so important.

Rosie: I think with EEP that Brainville is a perfect fit because of Ross’ all-hands-on-deck, DIY, let’s-try-new-things attitude. I was very encouraged in working with him and seeing how much he supported innovation and doing things a little bit differently. And EEP definitely has had to do things differently. As for myself, I brought in demos to Ross and we originally had intended to do just one single together, but the process was really just so enjoyable and invigorating that we continued and brought in some musicians that we love from our local scene to join EEP. 

I think that limitations sometimes were really good because I’m a caregiver for my elderly mother, so my time is very limited. It became very clear that in any kind of album project that was going to need some extensive time, we realized that the slow-roasted approach was the best for us. We would get together 2 to 3 days a month for studio days. It’s an iterative production process where one of us would bring in a demo or a basic structure for a song or sometimes just a riff and we would all basically just add our ideas, and kind of like throwing a lot of paint onto the canvas, we’d experiment and there was no idea that we wouldn’t explore. 

Ross: I think overall the goal for both the studio and the label is to continue to make our own records and put them out to people that want to hear them. In addition, one of the goals of the studio has always been to be accessible and affordable and empower other musicians to make the albums they want to make exactly they way they want to make them. To help them make the best version of their songs that they can record in the most exciting and creative way. 

The label is becoming a kind of extension of that as our long-term goal is to build a small stable of artists and to help them have access to recording in the studio and to help them get their music out to the world. That means getting their music to the people that are going to be excited about it, to the people that are going to buy their albums, that are going to follow their careers, and are going to enjoy and love all the songs and bring that music into their lives.

Rosie: It’s been really gratifying within the label to have experimented with our own records to find the best practices and we’re looking forward to being able to help other artists with that. Pretty soon we’re going to be signing to the label a new band that’s our first non-EEP member artist. It’s really nice to know that we can help to promote their music and do things like invest in radio campaigns and pursue licensing for TV and movies with their projects. We’ve learned those kind of business aspects, and it will be exciting to lead them through doing their publishing and their promotion in such a way that they’re setting up streams of income for themselves that are going to go well beyond just the immediate future. 

As far as hurdles, I think that we really haven’t experienced many major hurdles in bringing albums to light, in putting them on the market, primarily because we plan, and we execute a process, with lots of time. We do definitely have our schedule and that has helped us be able to budget and to be able to provide everything that’s needed when it’s needed on all the projects.

What’s the El Paso scene like? Are there any local acts you’ve connected with?

Serge: The El Paso scene is very supportive. There are no real big acts here, and there is no big music industry here, so it feels like everyone is just doing it because they have to, because they have something impelling them to, which is for the best, I think. There are a good number of bands and artists here that I connect with on a regular basis because my friend and I run a DIY venue in town. I don’t want to feel like I’m leaving anybody out. Every band to me is important, because they all schlep their equipment out on weeknights to play to 20 or 30 people for little to no pay. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

What’s next?

Rosie: Even though we just released a record, we’re going to be starting the next record really soon. By being in a kind of constant production mode, it’s exciting to us, and it always gives us something to help inspire our solo work and other projects that we’re working on. Because we do about two studio days a month, usually within 4 or 5 months we can finish tracking on an album. So that’s really nice to just have that cycle of production. It’s worked for us so far.

Be sure to follow EEP on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp.

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