Electro-synth rock band MeteorEYES is making new music and inspiring others in the process.
Whatever you do, don’t say MeteorEYES is making a comeback.
“We’ve been here,” says drummer David Warren Currran. “Like LL Cool J says, ‘Don’t call it a comeback, we’ve been here for years.”
The band did, however, perform its first show in almost three years Nov. 1 at Ringling Underground, and they’ve got more in store now that they’re back practicing every week.
GOOD THINGS DON’T COME TO AN END
MeteorEYES, which Curran describes as “female-fronted, synthesizer-driven rock,” came together in 2008 when he and local musician and music promoter Shannon Fortner decided to make music together. They started playing house shows in 2009, most notably at Fortner’s abode, “Secret Garden,” where their performances turned into popular dance parties that started gaining a local following.
The goal is “to write fun tunes that could grab your heart emotionally,” Fortner says. “And of course to keep the house-party vibe we created.”
The pair cycled through many bandmates over the next couple years, but in 2010, guitarist George Bikos came on as the missing link.
A computer and synthesizer — what they affectionately refer to as their robot bandmate — helped (and continue to) make up for the lack of other instruments. That’s largely why the group was able to write and produce nearly 40 original songs in the past 10 years.
“It’s super tough to keep people who are dedicated and at the same time proficient and professional,” Bikos says. “Finding three people is difficult enough and adding more people to the mix, which we’d like to do, is tough.”
For several years, the band toured the South, East Coast and some Midwestern cities such as Chicago and Madison, Wis. They would pack up Curran’s van and brave everything from traffic to icy roads to bop from gig to gig, acquiring new friends and influences along the way.
In 2016, the band started to drift apart. Fortner was starting a new band, Astralis, and Meteor-EYES took a backseat in everyone’s lives.
But friends and other fans of the band who went to her Astralis shows started telling Fortner they missed the high-energy dance jams of MeteorEYES.
Bikos and Fortner ran into each other one day and started reminiscing about the good times. They missed playing together, and it wasn’t long after that they realized they had to get the band back together. So they did.
JUST LIKE OLD TIMES
“Since we’ve come back together we’re all just best friends making really awesome music,” Fortner says. “I missed MeteorEYES because it was such a strong connection and we work really well together. It’s like a family when you’re in a band.”
Now, every week, they meet at Baysound Studios for band practice. Bikos owns the local recording studio, which was originally Telstar Studios, where acts including Gov’t Mule, The Black Crowes and The Allman Brothers Band recorded.
Its old-school feel — complete with mandala tapestries and Persian-style rugs — is quickly modernized when the fog machine is switched on and the multicolored light show begins. The practice feels more like a performance than a casual rehearsal.
“We’re not that cool, but the lights are cool, so we look less … not cool when the lights are on,” Bikos says with a laugh.
For Fortner, it’s not necessarily a serious evening of honing their craft. It’s about having fun with some of her favorite people.
“Getting to play with really great musicians is my goal right now,” she says. “I just want to play really fun shows with really brilliant musicians that I adore and have a lot of respect for.”
Curran is happy to be playing with the same people he started with a decade ago — particularly because many bands can’t say they’ve done the same — and he’s impressed with their commitment to coming together.
“As adults we’re dang busy doing our different things,” he says. “If we didn’t make a point to come together to do something productive and artful there are a million other things we could do — like raising kids or building homes.”
MeteorEYES is rebuilding its website and will soon have music on Spotify and iTunes. The group will also be recording a Live @Baysound Studios video with one of its new songs.
For now, the band is working on new music, a process that usually starts with Bikos creating a riff that he sends a video of to the other bandmates. Next, the three work together to write a/b part, then a bridge — “or a classic extended epic chorus, which is a signature move of MeteorEYES,” Fortner says.
She says it’s evident when listening that the band works as a team. Layers of different influences can be heard, giving every song an interesting mix of sounds that complement each other.
“It’s nice to finally meet some musical soul mates that the writing process feels so natural with,” Fortner says.
The newer songs particularly show their influences, Fortner says, which range from Bikos’ prominently industrial band background (some of which he toured with around the world), to Curran’s punk and hardcore band roots that can be heard in the “fun, epic choruses” she says for which they’re known. Fortner describes her vocals and lyrics as heartfelt and adventure-driven, telling a story of everything from struggles with love to adventures with friends. Her vocal influences are Bjork, The Knife, Portishead and some jazz undertones.
BEYOND THE MUSIC
For the members of MeteorEYES, being a local band is about more than playing music. It’s about keeping a waning Sarasota music scene alive.
“We’re in a lull,” Fortner says of the scene. “There’s a bunch of cover bands and not very many originals, so I’m waiting for that next cycle of bands to emerge ... Our adventure now is to inspire others and help make sure we are doing everything we can to hold the space for more original music in town.”
One way to do that, she says, is to encourage new bands to get creative with venues. It’s been a long-standing problem that Sarasota doesn’t have enough spots for bands to play shows, the bandmates agree, but MeteorEYES has a history of creating pop-up venues at various restaurants and homes that helped them gain a fan base.
Fortner hopes seeing MeteorEYES play shows will encourage other bands that are hiding in the shadows, only braving open mic nights because they have yet to develop relationships with venue owners to get their own gigs. She’d like to start playing shows with bands in this position to help them get their footing.
“We are also advocates of a sustainable music scene that gets paid for our talent,” Fortner says. “It’s like the musician guidebook, we have to support each other. I think the individual contributions we play in the community definitely play a role in how we connect with the community.”
Curran agrees, adding that they can play the role of makeshift mentors for new bands who need a little push to create their own space for themselves.
The bandmates are also helping the music scene outside of their work with MeteorEYES. Bikos offers local artists the unique opportunity of learning and recording in a professional environment at Baysound Studio, and Fortner brings new acts to town through Harvey Milk Festival, Ringling Underground and her music promotion business Moxie Productions SRQ. She also started a monthly Original Showcase at The Gator Club every second Wednesday.
Bikos says there used to be more original bands in Sarasota, but they sort of crushed the scene by trying to be the biggest act in the area. Many of them also turned to covers to get more attention and then would throw in originals, and fewer solely original bands are left.
“There used to be people who played music to play music, not because they wanted to become famous or whatever,” he says. “Music used to be something that people did because they liked it and they thought it was cool and they wanted to show it to people. I hope we get back to that, the point where people are showing stuff to each other without judgment because everyone’s not good right away.”
His advice? Let the people around you know you’re making music — don’t be shy about it.
“We don’t have a lot of venues, so people forget that music gets made in Sarasota,” he says. “When you make music in a vacuum it has a weird feel to it. But when you realize other people are making music too, it’s more collaborative, even if the things you’re doing are different.”