At the gritty Paradise Rock Club a five year-old girl in a concert t-shirt scampers from backstage, her grandmother or aunt in hot pursuit. Pencil boxes and markers are strewn across the backstage area rather than beer cans, and a peculiar number of skinny, wide-eyed towheads abound. Boyd DuPree, manager of tonight’s band and father to four-fifths of its members, meticulously tapes posters to the stage as he directs the road crew.
While a typical night at a rock club involves rowdy anthems of rebellion and Pabst Blue Ribbon, an Eisley concert is a wholesome family operation. Like the band’s mesmerizing tales of mythical creatures and innocent love, the DuPrees’ approach to their burgeoning musical career is simple yet remarkably different. It brings the band- four siblings and one cousin, ages 15 to 24- and much of their large family on the road.
“Oh, that’s not even half of them,” assured co-vocalist and guitarist Sherri, 22, her voice faint from a cold.
Her little sister Christie plays in the back of the tiny, poorly lit dressing room as the band huddles around the catering spread. It’s a disappointing array of the usual cold cuts and veggies; what the band really wants are Starbucks lattes and anything with high sugar content. On the couch, sleepy-eyed co-vocalist and keyboardist Stacy, 17, chats on the phone with her mother, who is back home in Tyler, Texas, taking care of Collin (the youngest DuPree sibling). The DuPrees are soft-spoken and polite, artsy and creative without a hint of pretension. Their Southern charm is infectious, and they don’t deny their devout Christian beliefs or strong family values to appear more hip. (“We don’t try to be something that we’re not,” explained guitarist Chauntelle, 24.) They’re exquisitely pleasant, like a real-life Partridge Family, without the gaudy costumes and cranky manager.
“I think they are more genuine than anything,” said Jimmy Richards, friend of the DuPrees and drummer for Brighten. “They’re one of the best bands I’ve ever seen and I’m honored to be opening for them.”
Their musical abilities developed naturally- Boyd DuPree is a drummer and his wife sings. The couple (who do not perform with Eisley) owned a small music venue in Tyler, creating an environment that would inspire the four eldest DuPree children to pick up instruments and begin writing songs.
“We loved playing music together. The first show we played was at a church,” said Chauntelle. “Then we were being asked to play. It was like, ‘I guess we should think of a band name. People think we’re a band.’”
They named the band Eisley, after the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. Since the 2003 release of its Laughing City EP, Eisley has landed several high profile tours and earned a diverse and loyal cult following. Critics praise the band’s distinctive sound, a mélange of musical influences as diverse as Radiohead and the Judds blended with Sherri and Stacy’s dreamlike lyrical tales of fantasy and youth. Despite the presence of characters like Mr. Pine and the Sea King, Eisley’s music is surprisingly mature- its songs won’t be confused with “Puff the Magic Dragon” and other kiddie fare. The band members stress that their songs are not the musical equivalent of a Disney movie.
“We don’t have any songs about fairies!” said Sherri, laughing.
While they draw the line at fairies, the music does incorporate the DuPrees’ love for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. It is an imaginative result of a cable-less household.On the road for over a year in support of Room Noises, Eisley has shared the stage with artists as diverse as Hot Hot Heat, Coldplay, and New Found Glory. Strangely, Eisley has been embraced by the emo/punk scene, a phenomenon that puzzles even the band members themselves.
“Most of our fans are bands,” explained Sherri. “All those bands are fans that asked us on tour because they liked us. We end up with bands we don’t really sound anything like.”
While they have gotten used to being the odd ones out on the bill, awkward onstage moments are still plentiful. A recent incident on tour with emo rockers Taking Back Sunday in Australia still has the DuPrees laughing. After drummer Weston, 19, broke his drum set, the band had a new one shipped out immediately. What was delivered was not what they ordered … but, much to cousin and bassist Garron’s amusement, it was too late.
“So they brought the drum set to the venue … and it was a bright pink, sparkle drum set,” said Garron, 15. “We were playing with The Getaway Plan, a hardcore band, and then it goes to a girl-fronted softer band with pink sparkle drums.” The crowd was confused, to say the least. But the discomfort served as a proper initiation for new member Garron, who replaced longtime DuPree friend Jon Wilson last year.
“It’s funny because some of our fans are really into fashion and being real cool,” said Chauntelle. “We’re the biggest dorks. We play David Hasselhoff before we go out- we love it. We like to have fun and be stupid.”
Their definition of fun isn’t a result of family supervision, they say- they’re just more interested in good, clean fun than becoming a hard-partying cliché.
“We usually party it up at our hotels with the other bands,” said Weston. “We eat Pop Tarts, drink Capri Sun … that’s what I’m talking about,” added Garron.
Touring with their friends in the power pop trio Brighten on the “Final Noises” tour has made the fun-loving band even more vivacious than usual. “Weston and I shaved our heads,” said Richards. “We go to movies and play with our airsoft guns. We dance a lot during each others’ sets and ‘raise the roof’ to each other to see how many times we can do it before we laugh.”
The DuPrees claim to never tire of each other, and are even a bit offended by the idea of it. For them, family and friends are virtually interchangeable. “I think it’s because we haven’t really gotten to that place in our lives yet. We’re all pretty young and we live in the same house,” said Stacy. “So we’re kind of dependent on each other.”
Things are changing soon in the DuPree household. Sherri’s upcoming nuptials to New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert will make her the first of the siblings to move out of the house.
“[Our relationship] might change,” Stacy continued, a bit of uncertainty in her voice. “But I don’t think it will.” And while the family dynamic may change, the quirky qualities that make Eisley unique will not. The DuPrees have already begun work on their next album, which Sherri promises will be “more defined and more reality based” and “not as girly.” They’ve already completed one track- a love song about aliens.
Later that night, the band kicks into the ethereal “Marvelous Things” and all eyes and ears fixate on the band. Images of old Sci-Fi posters flash on a computer screen behind Stacy, who glances down shyly at her keyboards while belting out high notes. Sherri comes alive, cracking jokes and singing without a hint of sickness in her voice. Chauntelle sings along and leans into the crowd; Weston and Garron exchange smiles. And, on the floor, Boyd runs around taking photos of his children and nephew, beaming proudly like it’s their first show.It’s far from an ordinary rock show, but talented kin of Eisley wouldn’t have it any other way.
Eisley’s Room Noises is available through Reprise.