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The Sonic Odyssey of EYE’s Vision And Ageless Light

Few bands of the 21st century captured the global attention of heavy space rock enthusiasts quite like Columbus’ EYE. When recording sessions began for their album Vision And Ageless Light, EYE had firmly established their reputation for creating mesmerizing soundscapes with their intricate compositions and mind-blowing live shows. 2016’s Vision And Ageless Light is a testament to the unique niche EYE’s creative vision carved in the realm of heavy psych and progressive rock.


The Laser's Edge – LE1077LP

2016

Front cover of EYE's Vision And Ageless Light

The genesis of EYE can be traced back to 2010 with the original trio of Brandon Smith on drums and vocals, Matt Auxier on guitar and vocals (both previously in The Pretty Weapons and Super Silver) and Matt Bailey (Teeth Of The Hydra) on bass. When sessions for Vision And Ageless Light began, Lisa Bella Donna was handling synthesizers, organ and some guitar. Shortly after sessions began at John Fintel’s Relay Recording in January 2014, Matt Bailey, who had moved to Cincinnati, was replaced by Michael Sliclen (Tank Destroyer) on bass. Auxier would also leave the band by the time Vision And Ageless Light was released, but now we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Sliclen, a longtime friend of mine, recently took the time to chat with me about the band’s history and the creative process behind Vision And Ageless Light. I’ve edited the conversation for concision and clarity.


Quiet One: So, how did your involvement in EYE come about?


Michael Sliclen: My prior band Tank Destroyer used to play gigs with them. So yeah, this would have been 2010, 2011ish. (Matt Bailey) moved down to Cincinnati, had a kid, and was having difficulty coming up to rehearse and, you know, they kind of decided that they wanted somebody in town. But, Bailey left, that would have been 10 years ago when I started playing in EYE. They had already actually begun recording Vision And Ageless Light. Originally it was supposed to be a double record.


QO: Okay.


MS: And only the long track, “As Sure As The Sun,” was going to be on the double record. We had another song called “No Gods No Masters” that was also a side-length track. And then we had two longer tracks, one called “Beboo,” that we did at the Mug and Brush session. And then, “Free” was another track that ended up on the (Relay Sessions) comp. But yeah, when I joined, the deadline came up and so I didn't end up on that comp, even though I was in the band. But I did record bass parts for (“Free”), they were supposed to be on the double record.

Show poster for 4/25/14 - Ace Of Cups w/ Red Feathers, Church Of Starry Wisdom Mike Sliclen’s first show

And then, yeah, we just got busy. When I joined I had to learn the double record. And then the two other records that we had, and then, like a bunch of other songs that hadn't been recorded, at least at that point. “Searching” was one of them that ended up on Vision And Ageless Light.


QO: So, how did the invite happen? I mean, did you try out or did Lisa just know you and ask?


MS: You know, they knew me from Tank Destroyer. They knew what kind of player I was. And I got along with them. I mean, I would go and see them and somehow always end up hanging out with them. So, it was just that we had a lot in common. And, yeah, actually Lisa called me. She was out in LA, doing NAMM for EarthQuaker. She was doing demos for them. And I guess that weekend they decided to make it official, that they were going to hire me on. So, yeah, Lisa gave me a call and I was like, all right, you know, let's do this. And actually, my first rehearsal with them was on my birthday. I didn't tell them that. I was like Happy Birthday to me, I'm gonna jam, you know. (laughs) Yeah, we started jamming and that was it.

Sliclen, Finley, Smith, Bella Donna - Photo courtesy of EYE
Sliclen, Finley, Smith, Bella Donna - Photo courtesy of EYE

About three or four months before I joined EYE they played at Ace of Cups on a bill where they were support for a headliner and when they were finished, I immediately went out to their patio to get some air and hang while bands changed over and when I got out there some guy stopped me and was like, “Hey good show man!” and I was like what? Oh no, I didn’t play tonight man sorry. And I kept walking because I did play a lot in the heavy rock scene and so I figured maybe he was just remembering me from some other show. But he looked totally confused and the complete cognitive dissonance I could see on his face that my response just did not conform to reality as he knew it. And then after I joined I always wondered if that guy either time traveled or he then came to a show and saw me on stage and so now probably thinks I’m a wanna-be rockstar jerk that blew him off.


QO: Do you remember the first gig you did with EYE?


MS: Yeah, that was Ace Of Cups in May of that year. I don't remember who opened. But it was nerve-wracking. It was probably one of the few times I've been on stage and actually been nervous. [ed: The show was on April 25, 2014 w/ Red Feathers and Church Of Starry Wisdom]


QO: So, is that 2014?


MS: I think it was 2014. And they had actually already started on (Vision And Ageless Light), like I said, when I joined. The Mellotron that starts the record, Lisa recorded that on a bonafide honest to God real Mellotron that Jamie, the founder of EarthQuaker, had bought off of Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO).


QO: Oh really?


Back cover of Vision And Ageless Light LP

MS: Yeah, so that's Mark Mothersbaugh’s Mellotron.


QO: That's a good tidbit. Yeah.


MS: Yeah, yeah. You know, every time I listen to that record I always think it's not just any Mellotron. It was Mothersbaugh’s. (laughs) I've been a DEVO fan since I was 10. 


EYE's evolution from their early projects to the creation of Vision And Ageless Light reflects a continuous exploration of sonic boundaries. Sliclen shed light on the band's collaborative process, highlighting the integral roles of Brandon Smith and Lisa Bella Donna in shaping the band's sound, and also discussed Auxier’s decision to leave the band. Guitarist Jon Finley replaced Auxier in January 2016.


MS: Right before Matt left that winter (of 2015-16), we got an offer from some German label. And they wanted to put out a single side record where it would be just a handful of tracks and then on the second side would be an etching. And that's kind of how Vision And Ageless Light became the record it is, because the A side of that was supposed to be that German label's release, you know, “Dweller Of The Twilight Void,” and “Searching.”


And then “Dweller Of The Twilight Void” was the song that Lisa and Brandon had cobbled out together one afternoon, just hanging out. So Lisa layered it with some synths. And I think she might have even re-recorded the guitars. And then I recorded the bass at home and then sent it to her and we patched it together.

Gig poster for 7/19/14 - The Union, Athens w/ Envelope, The D-Rays

Kill The Slavemaster,” the first real song on there, was originally a song from EYE’s early days. But it wasn't finished. And they had the riff and some of the words, but not really an arrangement or anything like that. And so, that's basically really my only contribution on that record is helping them arrange that song. You know, song ideas for that. Otherwise, everything else was written by Brandon and Lisa.


QO: You're talking about “Kill The Slavemaster?”


MS: Yeah, yeah, “Kill The Slavemaster” was the only one, if we were splitting things up by who wrote what, that would be the only one I would have a writing credit on. And, the original double record, the fourth side was supposed to be an improvised piece called “The Old Forest” that I tried to put some double bass on, just because it was very ambient.


And we just kept gigging and whatnot. Laser's Edge had been hitting us up about Second Sight LPs and CDs. And that was a label that I have been buying stuff off of since like 2000, 2001. Ken Golden, he's the label founder. I had gone to NEARfest, the North East Art Rock Festival, and Laser's Edge was one of the bigger labels that promoted that festival. They started out as a reissue label. And the first band he signed to reissue was, I don't know if you ever heard of The Load


QO: Oh yeah.


MS: So Ken knew me, he knew what stuff I was into. I don't remember how he figured out I was in (EYE). I don't know, might have been through social media or something like that. He emailed me and said, “Hey, you guys got another record, what's going on?” And I told him, “We have a single record and a double record that we're trying to finish up.” And he was like, “All right, well, I'll do the single record.” You know, see how that goes. And so, he signed us to that and got that made.


QO: So that was kind of your connection, it sounds like, from the way you’re describing it.


MS: A little bit yeah, I think it helped that I already had a relationship with them, you know. And he had got on well with Lisa because they're both really big into jazz. And particularly ECM stuff which I'm a fan of, but I don't know it the way they know it. (laughs)


QO: So, Laser’s Edge agrees to do the single album. Now, at that point, “As Sure As The Sun,” have you recorded that already? 


MS: Yeah, yeah, that was already recorded. That was part of the original double album.


QO: Okay.


MS: Um, so it was really supposed to be a double album and then the German label came in and they're like, no, we want to do a single record. So we compile these shorter songs. And then when Laser’s Edge approached us, I think at that point we had decided that “As Sure As The Sun” would be on the single record and not on the double album. And we were going to put “The Old Forest,” the instrumental improvised track, as one of the sides for the double album.

EYE poster - 7/26/14 - MOTR Pub, Cincinnati w/ Temple

QO: Yeah.


MS: We went into the conversation saying we have a single record and a double record ready. The double record was like 95% finished. The only thing that needed to be done with Vision And Ageless Light was that it needed to be mixed. It was completed recording-wise. And so yeah, we were like, okay, let's get this done.


Vision And Ageless Light CD

Vision And Ageless Light showcases EYE’s musical exploration and experimentation through the band’s evocative compositions. Sliclen's insights offer a glimpse into the album's inception and recording process and provide revelations about the shelved double album.


MS: We recorded it down at Relay downtown with Jon Fintel. That’s who did all the drum tracks for “As Sure As The Sun.” And all the bass and guitar tracks, except for “Dweller Of The Twilight Void.” Those guitars were recorded at Lisa's place. And then I recorded the bass at home on that. Jon Finley and I went down and did an evening where he just did guitars and I did bass, and we knocked that all out. That and the double record all in one session. Because at that point we knew the songs like the back of our hands. We’d been playing all of them except for “As Sure As The Sun.” And then, somewhere in there, the mixing of Vision And Ageless Light happened. So that just shelved the double record until Vision And Ageless Light was done. And so yeah, subsequently that double record is still sitting at Lisa's place on a shelf. Mostly finished, except for these little odds and ends. Otherwise, it was finished. Everything was done. Vocals were done.


QO: Yeah, that's a shame. So Backroads Recording is what Lisa called her home studio?


MS: Yeah, yeah.


QO: So, the first side, which was originally going to be the EP, what was the order that they were done, just roughly? Was “As Sure As The Sun" recorded before the shorter stuff or after?


MS: Before. Yeah, that was during the double-record sessions. And then I think last was probably a toss-up between “Searching” and “Dweller Of The Twilight Void.” So yeah, “Searching,” was a song that (Lisa) brought to us after I learned everything, she approached the band with that song.

EYE gig flyer - 9/27/14 - Spacebar w/ Alcon

While Vision And Ageless Light ended up being EYE’s swan song, it received accolades and critical acclaim at the time of its release. There lingers a sense of unfinished business. After the album’s release, the band wasn’t able to tour as much as they would’ve liked in support. With Sliclen's revelations about the band's slow dissolution after Vision And Ageless Light, you can’t help but consider the possibilities had EYE continued to create and evolve.


QO: I'll tell you, the reviews are pretty much overwhelmingly positive. And because this ended up being the last album, at least to date, there's definitely people who would have liked more.


MS: Oh yeah. No, we played a prog day down in North Carolina. That was a nice little feather on our cap. Yeah, we played all over. Before I joined, they had been getting invites to go play over in Europe. The Freak Valley Festival is a big psych rock festival in Germany, and they had been bugging us to come over there. You know, without a dedicated manager, one person telling us where we had to be when we had to be, it was a little like herding cats.


QO: So the Europe thing never happened?


MS: No, unfortunately, it never did. Got real close though once. (laughs)


QO: Is there a gig that stands out in your memory as your favorite?


MS: Um, there are a bunch of them. I mean, the last gig we did, was awesome. That was the Monolith On The Mesa festival.


QO: Okay, yeah.


MS: Yeah, that was a huge thing and they flew us out. They put us up and fed us and we had a great live show. They put us on a co-headlining slot even though that scene didn't know us, we're not really in the stoner rock scene. But that's really what those bands were. And everyone was confused by us, you know. They were like, “Who are these guys, why are they going on right before the headliners?” But the guys that organized the festival loved us and they had been bugging us actually for years to come out to New Mexico. And finally, they decided to put on this festival and we were one of the first bands they asked. But yeah, unfortunately, Dano Sanchez passed away. I don't know if he had COVID, but it was over the COVID time. So yeah, that festival is not coming back. Dano was a really good dude. And so yeah, that was a really excellent gig.


QO: What happened after that? You said that was your last gig.


MS: Yeah, we knew that Lisa was not happy with us; she had already quit the band at one point about six or eight months earlier, but we were able to talk her out of leaving. We had a gig at The Newport and I could just tell she was over it. I think she and Brandon weren't communicating anymore. And, part of it was about the direction, part of it was just their lives. Brandon has two kids, you know. And the second, his son, was born right after Vision And Ageless Light came out. So there was a lot of promotion - touring and stuff, playing out - we could have done. We kind of had to be picky about our gigs because he had a newborn and couldn't be away for very long. So, that definitely pumped the brakes on it. So going into 2019, it just got to a point where when we’d get together, we had to make a choice, whether or not we needed to rehearse for a gig or try to write new material. And writing new material was slow going. And Lisa wasn't showing up. She also was raising a kid and she had studio session work that she had to hustle for. And then she moved down to Athens, and that put an hour on to her commute, you know. And it just wasn't feasible for her. Shortly after that, she started doing work for Moog. And so she just kind of had bigger fish to fry.


QO: Yeah.


MS: And we tried to keep going as a three-piece. The band started as a three-piece, so we were confident that we could do it. And we did play a couple of gigs, actually. There was a festival we played in Pittsburgh that Lisa couldn't make it to. I don't remember why. We just went and did that as a three piece and we felt confident. People enjoyed it. You could tell that some people were a little disappointed that there weren't any keyboards. But like I said, Brandon was kind of keen to get back to the heavy rock, you know, the heavy psych stuff. And so, over 2019 it just got to a point where we were like, okay we need to stop gigging. And so we said, all right, Monolith On The Mesa, it's a big gig. We're gonna have to fly out of town to go do this. And so let's just make that our last gig for the year, and the rest of the year, let's take it easy. Let's write some new material to get a new record going. And at that point, Brandon and I knew that the double album wasn't going to get done. We were like, okay, it's not coming out, it's not going to get done. We were looking forward to the future. We were like, well, maybe we'll re-record those songs at a later date.


And so Monolith On The Mesa came and went. We tried to get going and later that fall of 2019 (Lisa) decided she was done and she quit. And then 2020 came in, and Jon we knew was having a baby. He was opening a new pizzeria. And this all happened, like, literally a week or two right before the pandemic. Right before the whole shutdown and everything. Brandon broke his leg. His ankle snapped right in half as he was getting out of his work van. And so, yeah, it was a good like six or eight months before he was able to even drum again. What he said was, “Oh, well I'll just write the songs. I have to lay in bed all day, I can't do anything.” And he kind of came to the realization that without either Matt or Lisa, it just wasn't going to be EYE. It just wasn't going to be the same. But then he started jamming with Matt Auxier again in Abyssal Rift. And then they asked me to join that, so, you know, that's cool.

EYE gig flyer - 3/28/15 - Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern, Cleveland w/ Kitschy and Radio People

QO: (Lisa’s) pretty much doing electronic stuff now?


MS: Yeah, that's what she gets paid to do, demos for various synth companies and stuff like that. And then she cranks out a record or two a year of her own stuff. She's the kind of person who really doesn't need a band. She can play drums. She originally was a drummer. And, you know, definitely is an excellent guitar player and can get by on the bass.


QO: What's your main gig these days? 


MS: Well, yeah, mostly playing in Abyssal Rift with Brandon and Matt. We're trying to get gigs lined up. We have a festival we're playing in Indianapolis in May. And then we're playing, I think, a Chicago show. And St. Louis or Minneapolis we're playing in June. And those are our only gigs right now. Matt wrote the Abyssal Rift record with a hired drummer. And now we're working on a new record that's going to be, you know, us. It's going to sound more like a band than the first one. And so that's kind of our focus right now.


Vision And Ageless Light is a testament to EYE's musicianship and artistic depth. The album's tracks reveal the band's boundless creativity and unwavering dedication to their craft. From its inception to its realization in the studio, this album reflects the passion and creativity that defined EYE's musical identity. And, who knows, whether the double album eventually gets released, or a new incarnation begins creating again, we can only hope that we’ll hear from EYE again. In the meantime, EYE fans should check out the band member's current projects: Lisa Bella Donna and Abyssal Rift.

Back cover of Japanese Vision And Ageless Light CD

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Vision And Ageless Light Side One label
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