When he’s faced with the question, “What does your band sound like?,” Richard Flom usually says “eclectic” or “weird.” But he’ll be the first to tell you that’s not the whole story. As guitarist, singer and general noisemaker in the band National Eye, Flom and his four mates, including Jeff Love, who temps in the same office where Flom works, put together layered rock music that’s textural, playful and immensely listenable.
And to think it all began with the discovery of a tape machine. Using this simple recorder, Flom and his friends were inspired by their love of sound to try their hand at music. Their debut album, “The Meter Glows,” released last month on Feel Records, is a testament to this, as listeners experience in each song an element of musical surprise.
These musical surprises, or, as Flom said, the “wrench in the works,” come in the form of noises usually reserved for 1950s sci-fi flicks or Atari video games. National Eye blend those sounds with the songs to great effect and still manage to pull off the most difficult of feats: first-rate rock music.
Q. How is the band different now than when you began playing together?
A. It went from the weird recording thing that was totally nonprofessional and we didn’t care how it sounded, to being a normal rock band for a couple years. …We never felt that it was music that was as exciting as it could have been. So now, we kind of went back and are doing stuff that’s weird and exciting and strange and it may not be that exciting to everybody, but to us it is. It reflects more what we’re like, not what we listen to, but what we’re like as people.
Q. You said that you were pretty serious from the get-go. Were you a serious musician on your own?
A. (quickly) No, no. I don’t have a real firm grasp of musical mechanics. Some of the other guys do in the band … Some of the other guys are more in tune with theory and harmony and things like that and how all that works, which is good. It’s a good mix.
Q. How do you usually write songs?
A. Well, there’s two kinds of strains to that. There’s the kind where somebody starts or a couple people start with the basis of a recording and maybe lay down something that sounds like a guitar part or a drum beat and then build from there. That really goes through a lot of different mutations before it gets to where it actually happens. A lot of stuff that’s on the record was weird loops or just little guitar parts that just ended up getting kind of blown up into real songs, and the other way--the more normal, rock band way-- is somebody has a song and says, ‘well it goes like this and then you guys get real loud here.’
Q. Even though you said your band’s music reflects who you are, not necessarily what you listen to, is there music that has influenced you?
A. Like most guys who are in bands and sort of music-obsessive type guys, I get a lot of stuff. … The reason I say that there isn’t a whole lot of connection between what we listen to and what the band sounds like is only because it would be an untenable kind of mix because there’s just a lot. There’s too many different things there. And so what it comes down to more is what informs the individual guy, what he was listening to that week. I know it’s evasive to say that because it would just be nice if I could say, ‘We love The Beatles,’ and it’s true, we all do love The Beatles, but I don’t think that comes through a lot. …
I really like Harry Nilsson. I like Pere Ubu. But that’s just me. Nobody else in the band really likes either of those guys.
Q. Do you feel like there aren’t enough surprises in modern music?
A. Absolutely. There’s a line though. There’s something to be said for taking a formula and sticking with it, if it works. That’s okay. It’s really fun to listen to stuff, even if it’s 35 years old, that you can hear that they’re excited because they’re doing something sort of strange. …
We, National Eye, prefer to just kind of keep it unexpected. You’ll notice that none of the songs sound remotely similar to one another and that’s kind of a bad thing, in terms of marketing and getting people to like the record but …there’s Beatles records that are like that too, or Stones even, not that we’re them.
Q. How did you come up with your name?
A. I had a song called that and we needed a name. … So now we can’t play that song, because it’s kind of silly.
Q. It could be your anthem, though.
A. It could. I was thinking of not calling [the song] “National Eye” anymore, but calling it, like, “Band Theme,” or something like that or “Theme for the Great Band That You’re Listening To.” But we’ll see.
National Eye will be playing a CD release show at the Khyber, 56 S. Second St., Saturday, Dec. 13, at 9 p.m. Admission is $8. For more information, visit their web site, www.nationaleye.com.
Originally published on December 11, 2003