EEP is the newly formed shoegaze band from El Paso, Texas. Big Sonic Heaven contributor BSH spoke to all five band members – Rosie Varela, Ross Ingram, Sebastian Estrada, Serge Carrasco, and Lawrence Brown III – following the release of their debut album “Death of a Very Good Machine.” Rosie is the lead singer and plays guitar and writes songs. Ross plays guitar and keyboards and handles most of the band’s production. Sebastian plays bass and serves as “resonant music theory advisor.” Serge plays guitar and Lawrence plays drums. They talk about how that band came together, the collaboration among band members, releasing a debut album during COVID and the El Paso music scene.

The transcript of this conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Big Sonic Heaven (BSH): Rosie, this is brand new for you. How did this come together?

Rosie Varela: I had worked with Ross on a couple of projects, just one-off singles kind of thing. In December of 2018, I decided to write my husband a song that was shoegaze. We love shoegaze, and he especially loves shoegaze. I did it in Spanish. He heard it, and he says, “wow, you really need to talk to Ross about this. You really need to go and pitch this to him.” So, I went to Ross, and the whole idea was to do a single. Then, I brought in some more songs that were shoegazey. We worked on those and then eventually we thought, “okay, we’ll do an EP.” But then, we started writing songs in the studio. This was new for me because I’ve never been in actual original bands. I’d always been in cover bands, and I’d always written a lot of music, but I’d never been brave enough to put it out there.

BSH: What’s your music background? How long have you been in cover bands?

Rosie: Wow, since about ’91, ‘92. For quite a while, I was always a backup girl, kind of a doowop girl. And maybe played whatever they needed, bass or keyboards or whatever.

BSH: Ross, how do you know Rosie?

Ross Ingram: I think we became friends on the internet in an El Paso recording music community. Then, she brought a couple projects, and she helped a few artists in town get the funding and logistics together to get some singles and some EPs recorded. She brought them through my studio and, working on those, we discovered we had a really good rapport. We had a lot in common, and we worked really well together. We had started doing it ourselves, and then with Sebastian, who also is in EEP. He plays bass. The three of us started doing a studio project for fun. We’d come in on a Friday morning and, starting from scratch, build some sort of song or audio music thing. It wasn’t always a fully structured song. It was kind of a no rules, experiment, mess around thing. It was a lot of fun. That’s what kind of cemented the idea that maybe we should collaborate more and do some more stuff.

BSH: Lawrence, how did you get into the mix here?

Lawrence Brown III: I’ve known Rosie and Ross a very long time just through that inner circle of El Paso. It’s a small scene, a very, very small scene. It’s really easy to run into the same people. Sebastian and I are childhood friends. We swam on the same swim team together during summertime, so we’d see each other for three months straight every single day — mornings and evenings — mornings for swim practice and evenings for swim meets. He’s like family. And then Ross, I had heard about Ross getting Brainville (a studio in El Paso) together right at the outset of the studio, and then I eventually met him at a mixer at another studio here in town called Star City studios. With Ross, I’d really been wanting to work with him for a long time because I had heard that he was such the consummate engineer. I was excited about just dropping into Brainville and seeing what’s happening.

BSH: Serge, we heard the connection with everybody else, so tell us, how did you get into the band and meet everybody?

Serge Carrasco: I think most of us had played separately. And we were all kind of solo artists, but running in a lot of the same shows. We would have shows together, play on a lot of the same bills, sometimes with different bands. But a lot of the times, it was just kind of acoustic nights. We just kind of ended up running into each other a lot. And one of these times, there was a show at Rosie’s house. I didn’t know her at the time, but she invited me to perform that night. I had a good time there. After that, she friended me on Facebook, and then we kind of kept in touch here and there. She invited me to play on some of the songs that she was working on, and it kind of blossomed into the record that we have now.

BSH: Rosie, back to you. What was the song that you had written for your husband?

Rosie: It was called “Hogar,” which means homes.

BSH: That’s the first track on the album. What was his reaction when he heard the finished piece?

Rosie: First of all, he said, “how come you haven’t been writing shoegaze music before? You seem to be like a natural fit for writing shoegaze.” I was like, “really?” I got a lot of positive response to it and to the energy behind it, so it was nice.

BSH: How did you come to write a shoegaze song?  Why that genre versus something else?

Rosie: I knew it’s my husband’s favorite, first of all. There were certain elements I wanted to write. I grew up on Blondie and Talking Heads and that kind of thing. He and I have a generational difference. He’s 12 years younger than me. I was thinking of the shoegaze that I love the most, which is, the old wave – Cocteau Twins and Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine and Lush. I was really writing the basis of the song based on Blondie’s energy to be honest with you. I was like, “I’m gonna just play around with these textures.” It was the first time I had really bought pedals and just played with pedals and took a lot more risks in the sound profile of the guitar. And that was a lot of fun. I got hooked.

BSH: I go to you Ross. Rosie came to you with the song, but then there was some inspiration to do more than that. Tell me what happened.

Ross: We worked on a couple of other projects including some of her original things. When she played that song, I told her it sounded like the most Rosie Varela song I’d ever heard. Rosie wrote this song as authentic and heartfelt and honest in a really inspiring way. So, we jumped right into it. Because that came together so well, she said, “Well, I’ve got these other demos.” And we listened to them, and they were all just as exciting, so we decided to work on them. It was her finding a voice that worked really well, and then the rest of us kind of falling into place and continue to work. Once we started making those, for each song we all kind of contribute something – a line here and there. There were some days we wrote songs from scratch, and we ended up with a record that’s much more of a collaborative process. Rosie’s still steering the ship, but everybody is definitely bringing a lot to the table and helping shape everything.

BSH: Were you ever in the studio together or was all this kind of done virtually putting the songs together?

Ross: A lot of it was done in person, the majority, because this is all pre-pandemic, so we’re able to work together and everyone’s in town. There were days when it was just Rosie and I, and then other days it might just be the two of us plus whoever came in. Sebastian would come in and do a guitar part. He’s also a partner in the studio (Brainville) and an excellent engineer, so he would come by sometimes and help out. There would be days where we brought Lawrence in for drums. Sometimes, there were five of us sitting in a room working together. And there are a lot of days where it was two or three of us, whoever was available. At the beginning, it was about once a month and then more frequently after that. The total timeline was a little bit over a year.

Rosie: It was a lot of fun. When we did studio days when all of us were there, I really feel like we were kids in a candy store.

Sebastian Estrada: Piggybacking on that, I was usually coming off work, my day job. Normally, you kind of get really tired. You aren’t doing things that are related to your art or is feeding your soul. But, you end up coming into the studio, and you’re with your friends or with people that you care about, and you end up making this fun music. It’s something that is like therapy in a sense for me. I’m sure that the rest of the band can attest to some of that in their own personal life as well.

Ross: Absolutely. One of the really exciting things about this record and this band, in general, was that it always felt very open. We’re a shoegaze band, but it wasn’t like there’s any sort of constraints on what I knew I was going to put down on the songs. It was all very much, “we need a guitar part here, Serge go for it.” And, he would just lay down something. There wasn’t any kind of twisting trying to fit any specific genre, goal or sound. It was just all very open ended and experimental, and everybody really put their imprint. One of the really fun things about that is the songs would shift and change and take on a life in the process. We’d have the basic guitars and Lawrence would come in and put down drums, and he’d do some crazy little subdivision or something to change the feel in a really cool way. So then, we’d have to kind of piggyback on that, or Sebastian’s baseline would make us look at the chords in new ways. It was just really an exciting, in a candy store way, to work – that sort of wide-eyed, open minded, anything can happen discovery kind of process, which was really exciting and fun. It’s not that common in the studio.

BSH: Serge, how were you involved in the creative process? I assume you had some background in music and brought some thought to it.

Serge: Oh yeah, totally. Like Ross was saying, it felt like being in a candy store. It struck us and inspired us. Thankfully, Rosie didn’t really have much more than skeletons of the songs. It was like, “just listen to it. See if it could speak to you, and if something doesn’t fit you then just go ahead and leave it open and let somebody else take over. If you hear something, then that’s the direction that the song’s going to go.” There was a lot of craziness involved in the studio. I was going to lay down an acoustic guitar part, but the song didn’t call for it. So, instead of playing the acoustic guitar in a traditional, finger-picked away, I took an ebow to the guitar and added a new texture that I would never have done. Because I have a studio with all those tools, it enables you to do crazy stuff like that.

Lawrence: Serge is really great. He has a background in writing. I’m not sure exactly what his major was in college, but I know it had to do with writing. And so, he’s really great at not doing things that are very verbose. He thinks way more in this poetry vibe, which really, totally lends itself to the kind of psychedelic element that the band has. Serge is one of those guys in terms of the writing. And Rosie, the great thing with Rosie is that her sound, if you listen to the record, is really timeless. When she sings, you’re not really sure where to put it. It could be this era or that era. It’s very ageless. There are some very modern songs I’m playing on that sound like drum and bass, and Ross has some wizardry to put on that. And then there’s songs that I’m playing stuff that could have been laid down in the 60s or 70s or whatever. So, as a drummer, it’s great to just go in and be able to do my thing. There’s a lot of freedom involved.

BSH: Rosie, before we started you told me that, because of COVID, maybe you’ve had some greater success with this record than maybe you otherwise could have. Tell me about that. How is the record doing?

Rosie: It was really interesting. We had finished mixing it in early March, and Ross and I sent it out to be mastered. At the time, we had a full tour scheduled in July. We were really basing our marketing strategy on this tour. We’re pressing this record to vinyl, so we were also doing the planning for CDs, vinyl all that stuff. And when COVID hit, what happened was really interesting. I want to say about two years ago, I started friending a lot of people in the shoegaze scene and helping to promote their stuff and just making those relationships. When all this went down, I was telling people, “we’re gonna release this record, and I think we’re still gonna do it in July, but I’m not sure how we’re going to do it.” I reached out to a few people, and I just asked for advice like, “what would you do?” Someone who was really helpful to us is Deborah Sexton, who actually has a show on DKFM, which is a wonderful shoegaze station. She helped us arrange for a premiere on a really popular show and that was such a thrill to us. We started noticing that a lot of friends came up to me and said, “send me the record. I know somebody who will write a review for you or who will maybe play it on their station.” My husband jumped on board as our PR person. He was sending out our one sheet and our bios and the record to whoever would listen to it. It was hundreds of emails and other people would tell other people about the record. We had really good coverage, really thoughtful interviews like this one, and people that we didn’t expect to even notice this little band from El Paso, Texas. I didn’t realize one of my friends worked for KEXP, Owen Murphy, and he was like “yeah, send me the record.” That opened up an interview with KEXP. They were kind enough to put us in the “Song of the Day” podcast. It has been like this with stations and magazines all over the world in different countries. When I think about it, I think “well, maybe if we had gone just on tour, maybe none of this would have happened.” Maybe it would have been really different. The love and support we’ve gotten has been just so amazing.

Ross: Not having to concentrate on the tour really freed up a lot of bandwidth for everybody as far as trying to reach out to these disparate places and really follow up on all those contacts and connections. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that there are a lot of people who really wanted and needed some new art and some new music in their life.

Sebastian: I think all the context surrounding how the music is created kind of adds to that positivity as well. I think we’re all starving for a little bit of humanity and love, and I think that’s kind of apparent throughout the album.

Ross: Something kind of immersive as well. I like to think our album is a fairly full sonic experience. It’s not just a leanback listen. It’s something you want to dig into with headphones and hear all the little details because there’s a lot of them.

BSH: Question for Lawrence. If I may, I understand in reading a little bit of your background that you’re actually blind.

Lawrence: Yes sir. I’ve been blind since birth.

BSH: How did you learn to play drums?

Lawrence:  It’s interesting because of my first Braille transcriber. Her daughter was in the UTEP (University of Texas El Paso) drumline at the time that she was taking on the task of transcribing all my Braille stuff. At that point, my parents had already purchased me some drums. It’s foggy now. I was four or five. She noticed. She knew that I liked to play drums, so she thought, “I’ll give him lessons.” That was my experience. Texas is really great at training. Their music programs in high schools are quite good for the nation in my opinion. I went through the marching band, and the concert band, and I did all-region jazz, By the time I did all-regions in youth jazz ensembles, at that point you’re kind of dealing with the local guys that are doing that sort of thing. They say, “hey kid, show up and play for a few bucks or whatever it is” It’s like, “oh man, I’m 16. I can make money doing this? This ain’t no garage band thing” It’s all fun. It was weird because I really got pigeon-holed for a really long time from the time I was in middle school. I always wanted to do just plain old rock and roll. But it was always like, “oh, you’re a little bit too jazzy,” or “you’re a little bit too R&B.” When I got through most of my college, I spent a lot of time ripping down those barriers, so that I wouldn’t be boxed in like that.

BSH: Sebastian, question for you. When you think about El Paso, I would never think of shoegaze. Tell me a little bit about the El Paso music scene. Are you unique for El Paso or is it an up and coming region for this style of music?

Sebastian: I would venture to say, if we’re not the only shoegaze project that is active, then we are one of a handful of shoegaze projects in El Paso. Rock is in our veins and in the city for sure. There’s a long history of rock and roll in the city. Turning up your amp really loud, getting some distortion and playing six strings and a bass is not foreign to El Paso. It’s definitely a different tinge. It’s definitely not a shoegaze town. There’s a lot of post rock and instrumental rock. A lot of kids have an appreciation for instrumental music and sections of music being just mood pieces and atmosphere instead of just a quick pop tune. I think they’re appreciative of the music, if not novices or barely getting their feet wet to what we’re doing.

Ross: They’re getting shoegazy ideas in their music. They may not be a shoegaze band, but they’re electronic with some shoegaze electronic pop kind of thing. Indie rock with shoegaze influence. Think of Sleepspent, for example, has some pretty shoegazey elements, but there’s no way I would call them a shoegaze band. Most rock bands you’re talking about definitely have some of that, and other stuff is kind of on the map but not necessarily 100% straight up shoegaze or whatever you want to call it.

BSH: Rosie, what’s next? where do you go from here?

Rosie: During the time the record was being mastered, and now it’s being pressed, I’ve already written like 18 demos. I went to see Ross last week, and we go through my demos. We picked out four to start work on, and Ross has some songs that converge really nicely with some of the demos that I had. We’re doing this interesting arrangement right now. Once we get it all arranged, we’ll start bringing the guys in and we’ll do our thing.

Sebastian: I was looking through my Google calendars, and I saw EEP on the Brainville calendar. My heart just melted. We’re gonna start doing the thing again!

Lawrence: Studio time!

BSH: Hopefully, this time it will take you less than 15 months.

Rosie: Yeah, let’s hope. It’s gonna be fun. We’ll start all over again. We’re hoping on this record that everyone contributes and really flesh out the sound of who we are. And it’s such an honor and pleasure to work with these guys. It’s like a dream come true.

BSH: Last Question. Where does the name EEP come from?

Ross: Rosie and I had a really good session one day, and I was driving home and listening to the band Folk Implosion.  We had been talking about band names. I was thinking about band names that came from lyrics and things like that. And the song that happened be on was called “E.Z.L.A.” I tried to figure out a way to turn that into El Paso and came up with E.Z.E.P. which somehow became E.E.P. But, I liked it more as a sound, as a word, not as an abbreviation. So, EEP as a sound sounded kind of like a fun band name. I mentioned it to Rosie, and she loved it. As we mentioned it each person, everybody kind of got behind it. It’s a name without a real meaning.

BSH: So, the EP stands for El Paso.

Ross: In a way, yeah, I guess.

BSH: That’s a great story.

Sebastian: We’re all here trying to have fun with it.

Rosie: I kept telling everybody, “it’s a low stakes project guys. No stakes. No one’s gonna hear it. Let’s just make the record we want to hear.” That’s always how it’s been. Let’s make the record we wanted to hear in 1994. So, it’s just been a fun, fun progression. Thank you for allowing us into your life and hearing our story.

BSH: I thank all of you for joining, and I wish you all the success. Please keep us posted when you have some new music.

Sebastian: Please stay safe out there.

 

“Death of a Very Good Machine” is available now at eepshoegaze.bandcamp.com as a digital album, 180 gram white vinyl, or CD. The album is also available for listening on all streaming services

Rick Bourgoise
Big Sonic Heaven Radio Contributing Writer

Big Sonic Heaven is a 24/7 Internet radio station dedicated to the ethereal sounds of shoegaze, dream pop, post-punk, trip-hop, etc. Listen to the artists featured on the blog and discover more by downloading the app for iPhone and Android or listen at bigsonicheaven.com.