In the near future, a 200-foot-tall machine called The Mantis rises to power. The Mantis has eighteen individual computerized eyes and rules like a bad queen. She's quickly ill tempered and eats the court entertainers when they displease her—musicians rarely leave her royal domed listening chamber. When Seattle foursome Irene Barber, Jamie Aaron, Samantha Wood, and Andy King are summoned to perform for The Mantis, they are unafraid. They set up in a sliver of moonlight spilling through the window and play their song "Mares"—the peculiar sonic beauty leaves The Mantis riveted and rapt. She eats no one. She loves it, and she appoints them her court band. Eighteen Individual Eyes, as they are known, are a band of balance and counterbalance. Their dual guitars drive indie-sutured progressions through onyx-coated chutes. Songs are hypnotic and full yet also full of sparseness. Live, they're completely in their element and the compositions have no ceiling. Vocalist Barber casts a glossed and pleading vibrato over the clean melodic runs and distorted panels of Aaron's Fender Jaguar reissue. The bass and drums of Wood and King batter and plant a well-ordered pulse. This past March, they released a glistening full-length called Unnovae Nights produced by Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon, Minus the Bear, Blood Brothers). Aaron and Barber answered 18 questions. No one was eaten.
1. Where does your name come from? A 200-foot tall computer monster with eighteen eyes? Called The Mantis?
Irene Barber: The summer we were coming up with a band name was the same summer I decided to read The Bell Jar. Eighteen Individual Eyes is a misquote from The Bell Jar. The text is, "I walked in and found nine pairs of eyes fixed on me. Nine! Eighteen separate eyes." I liked "Eighteen separate eyes" as a complete sentence. But when I relayed it to the band I said, "Eighteen Individual Eyes." Sorry, no Mantis.
2. Plath is nice and all, but what about compound eyes, commonly found in arthropods and insects? Hundreds or thousands of tiny lens-capped optical units called ommatidia. Or there's the mantis shrimp, which possesses detailed hyperspectral color vision and is reported to have the world's most complex color vision system.
Jamie Aaron: Who are you?
IB: Can we steal this information to put in our press kit?
3. How and when did you know you were going to play your particular instrument?
IB: When I would pretend to play guitar on this blow-up guitar I won at the fair in third grade. I also attached a flashlight to the top of a broomstick as my pretend mic. The full vox/guitar experience.
JA: I picked up the guitar when I was 10 because the violin was a pain in the ass to carry to school every day. And because I wanted to be like Wynonna Judd.
4. What is your song "Octogirl" about? You know Octomom does porn now?
IB: Octogirl is part girl, part deadly octopus. Can you imagine falling in love with that? Octomom does porn? Link, please.
5. What is an unnovae night?
IB: A night filled with stars collapsing into nothing. No explosions or bangs. No supernova. Just sudden disappearance.
6. How was working with Matt on the album? What was the hardest part about recording?
JA: Matt was delightful. He is focused, efficient, very smart and demanding in the best ways. The hardest part was a [pause]... personnel change the morning we started our session. Andy stepped in, learned all the songs superhumanly fast, and was so undeniably rad that we had to keep him for ourselves. I think that's called one door closing, another door opening.
7. What is a unique talent that you have?
IB: Blinking in photographs.
8. Do you like shrimp? Not mantis shrimp. Just regular shrimp.
IB: Yes. Especially wrapped in bacon.
9. What is your favorite song of all time?
JA: "Birds of Fire" by Mahavishnu Orchestra.
IB: Oh man, really? Okay, fine: "Ashes to Ashes" by Bowie.
10. What is the first music you ever purchased in your life?
IB: The first CD I bought on my own was Pulp's This Is Hardcore. In fact, the song "This Is Hardcore" would've been a good answer to the previous question. And yes, I bought it based off of the cover, but it did kick off my admiration for all things Pulp. I would like to make music like this one day.
JA: New Kids on the Block, Hangin' Tough.
11. Pick up whatever book you're reading right now, open it to a random page, and write me a sentence from that page.
JA: "We tend to think that if we desire something, it is probably something we ought not to want or have. But think about it: without desire we would never get up in the morning."
IB: "I can see Karen is trying to share the spotlight with Ken, who prefers not to speak unless he's got something worthy to add." Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. Who knew that I, a 29-year-old dyke, would share the same thoughts on love and sex as an old, straight sex-therapist dude?
12. What's something fucked up that's happened to you at a show?
JA: You mean besides shit—actual excrement—on the stage? Nothing else, really.
IB: I got shocked by a mic so badly I went to the dentist to make sure my left front tooth was still alive.
13. What's something fucked up that's happened to you involving mayonnaise?
JA: Any time there is mayonnaise on my sandwich, I fall into a RAGE.
IB: Mayonnaise has never given me trouble.
14. What is your song "Gargoyle Situation" about?
JA: "Gargoyle Situation" is about first starting to date a person, then discovering they have a closet full of small pewter gargoyles.
15. What sparks the thought to write a song? What's your process?
JA: Irene or I bring in pretty much fully formed song ideas. I tend to be inspired by writing a type of song I want to hear us play but that we don't yet have. I like a band that has some range to their sound. We don't do much "jamming" around here, but we work the songs out as a group, to all of our liking.
IB: Riffs and/or melodies always come to me on the bus or while I'm walking home from work. I hum it into my phone, and if I still like it days later, I write lyrics/parts around it. We just finished a song where I don't play guitar, I only sing. I really enjoyed listening to the other three and writing lyrics on the spot; it just forced me to really listen. I'd like to sit around and do more of that—listening.
16. Cat Power is playing at Showbox Sodo the night after you all play. What do you think of Cat Power?
IB: Cat Power is, of course, incredible. I've heard stories of the half-set shows, but my only "live" experience with her was watching her Austin City Limits performance on TV. It was great. Could have been the interesting camera angles and my access to snacks, though. She pumps out the sweet albums—that's all I care about.
JA: Let's talk about METZ instead. They are playing on November 2 but at Barboza. Sad for me because I really enjoy their brand of rock 'n' roll, but we are playing with them in San Diego on the 8th. I expect that show to be deafening and life-affirming.
17. What's next for y'all? New album in the works? Tour? Give me the scoop.
JA: This Sunset show kicks off our West Coast tour with Mr. Gnome. Then probably some recording early next year. The new songs are piling up fast.
18. If you were a dessert, what would you be?
IB: I discovered that I love pudding last weekend at the Southcenter Zoopa. I mixed pumpkin-spice pudding with chocolate pudding and then topped it with whipped cream. Damn, I really connected with that dessert [laughs]. So I guess I'd be some make-it-yourself dessert at the end of a salad and pasta buffet.
JA: I would be brownies.