Baltimore psych rock quartet The Flying Eyes formed as teenagers, with singer/guitarist Will Kelly joining the founding trio of guitarist Adam Bufano, bassist Mac Hewitt, and drummer Elias Mays Schutzman. And while they’ve built a local following over the course of three albums, playing clubs in the city as well as their own annual outdoor festival in rural Maryland, Farm Fest, their greatest success has been abroad. Since 2010, the band has flown to Europe to play shows six different times, where it typically plays to much larger crowds than it does at home.
In 2013, the band had perhaps their greatest international adventure, headlining the sold out Synchronicity festival in India. “There were giant posters of us everywhere, it was really weird,” says Schutzman, who figures a band of long-haired white Americans stood out enough that they were treated like celebrities even by people who’d never heard of the band. “Even at the Taj Mahal, there were people asking to take photos of us. It’s like, the Taj Mahal’s right there!”
Hewitt credits the band’s international success to the enduring global appeal of the particular era of American rock they mine for their heavy, psychedelic sound. “I think we’re influenced a lot by ‘60s and ‘70s rock, which is a much rarer thing in the U.S. But there’s a large community in Europe that is kind of part of this ‘70s hard rock revival that we fit into very nicely.” On the band’s first trip to Germany, they shared a festival stage with legends like Hawkwind and Jeff Beck, and have since returned to the country to play the long-running TV series “Rockpalast Crossroads”.
One of the songs The Flying Eyes recorded at Mobtown Studios with producer Mat Leffler-Schulman, “Lay With Me,” was originally the lead cut on both the band’s debut EP, 2008’s Bad Blood, and the 2009 self-titled album that combined tracks from two EPs. Though it was initially written before Kelly joined the band in 2007, both the original and new recordings feature the singer’s deep, bluesy yowl at its most reminiscent of Jim Morrison. While the album cut prominently featured acoustic guitar, and wrapped up in under 6 minutes, the new all-electric recording at Mobtown sprawls past the 8-minute mark, reflecting the way the band has played it onstage in the years since.
“That was the first song we ever wrote, I think,” remembers Schutzman. “I wrote the lyrics. It’s not really from my own perspective but from a different character than myself, someone who’s looking at love as a way to own somebody instead of to give somebody. So it’s kind of a twisted perspective of love, I guess.”
The two songs The Flying Eyes cut for BSides were written years apart, with lyrics penned by different members of the band, but surprisingly contain some common emotional ground. The new song on the flipside, the tender mid-tempo “Farewell,” is also relationship-themed, although Kelly’s lyric comes from a more personal, empathetic place. “I had a roommate who was going through a hard time with somebody, and she was telling me her story,” he explains. “So it deals with a relationship that didn’t work out and saying goodbye to somebody, they did you wrong but you know they meant well.”
The band’s interest in classic guitar rock songwriting also extends to their taste in gear, and their carefully considered sound. “I use a vintage Sun bass amp, and I link it stereo with a combo amp, so I get a really punchy, distorted crunchy sound from that bass amp the way I dial it in,” explains Bufano, who co-produced the band’s first two albums with Schutzman. “And then I get the more kind of clear, crisp sound from the combo amp, and just together, they create my sound.”
Touring America, the band says, is far more difficult than playing shows overseas, particularly for the long drives. “We ended up driving from Portland to Chicago in 48 hours,” says Schutzman. The travel even ended up threatening the band’s precious vintage gear. “The roof of the van was leaking,” he recalls. “Earlier in the tour, we woke up in the morning to discover that all of our equipment was completely soaked in rainwater. All of our stuff survived. I don’t know how.”
In July 2013, The Flying Eyes released their third album Lowlands. They supported the record with a 52 date headlining tour of Europe and closed out the year at Synchronicity. Coming off a brief sabbatical, they will kick off 2014 opening for the seminal neo-psych band Loop in Baltimore on April 18th.
Recorded on February 15, 2014 at Mobtown Studios
Guitar and vocals by Will Kelly
Guitar by Adam Bufano
Bass by Mac Hewitt
Drums by Elias Mays Schutzman
Mixed by Paul Mercer and Mat Leffler-Schulman
Engineered by Sean Mercer and Paul Mercer
Filmed by Joe Austin, Justin Foreman and Nick Hughes
Edited by Nick Hughes
Interview by Aaron Henkin
Written by Al Shipley
Thanks to The Flying Eyes and Tedd Henn