TINY Eyes is the sobriquet of an upcoming songwriter who…
harks back to those legendary songwriters like John Lennon and Elliott Smith. I ask the man behind the moniker (Joel) and the origins of that nickname. He explains the derivation of his latest single, Falling, and some insight into his eponymous E.P. As the partner of songwriter Martha Bean – someone I have reviewed and admire myself – I ask how her influence and songwriter has impacted on him and whether the two will be collaborating down the tracks.
As it is revealed, Miss Bean is quite a patient and enabling other-half – something that has (pleasantly) surprised the Leicester-based artist. I ask about Leicester and whether there is a thriving music scene; the reason for filming Falling’s video on an iPhone and what the E.P.’s title track – my favourite from the set – is all about.
Hi Joel, how are you? How has your week been?
I feel great – thanks for asking. My week has been absolutely full of days and I have been enjoying those days very much.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Sure. I’m Joel, A.K.A. Tiny Eyes. I’m a singer and producer and I write laid-back, hazy Pop songs on the piano.
Can you tell me the reason behind the moniker ‘Tiny Eyes’? Is there a particular origin and significance?
Apparently, my eyes are somewhat on the small side.
My friends think it’s really hilarious to poke fun at them – so I just went along with the joke, really.
Joel. You were the lead of a big, heavy band for years. Now, as a more ‘mellow’ musician, is it a lot more satisfactory and better life? Do you miss those band days?
I still get the odd time where I long for some howling guitar feedback and screams of existential angst. But I think the new mellow approach suits my voice and my writing style a lot better – and it seems to come much more naturally.
Martha Bean, your partner, is someone instrumental in that transition. I have reviewed her and can attest to her strengths. How important is she to the music and creative process?
Martha’s been essential to getting this record out. Not just because she played a bunch of the instruments on the E.P. (double bass, cello and backing vocals) but also because she’s very patient with my crazy ideas!
For example – and I don’t want to give too much away – but at the moment I’ve made a total mess of the front room of our house and turned it into a craft workshop for the next video. I thought Martha was going to go totally postal when she saw the state of the room but she just laughed. You can’t put a price on that.
Falling is the new single. It has quite a Lennon-esque vibe. Can you tell me the story behind the song and whether artists like John Lennon is an idol of yours?
Falling is a love story based on real emotions and mostly imaginary happenings. I like the widescreen, cinematic feel of the lyrics – I can see the story unfolding in my head whenever I hear it like a film.
And, yes, I love Lennon’s work, especially the mid-to-late Beatles stuff. I guess he’s more of a grandfather reference though – I’ve inherited him mostly through other artists like Elliot Smith, Chris Bell and Tobias Jesso Junior – people who took what he did and pulled it apart and twisted it around a bit.
I am interested in the song’s video. It was shot on an iPhone and comprises two layers superimposed on one another. Was it quite a hard video to put together or was it liberating being unconstrained by technology and crew?
It was surprisingly easy to make. We used the iPhone ‘cause it has a really small lens which fitted perfectly in the ‘rave glasses’ that I’d bought off eBay… at £1.99 a pair they were probably the most expensive part of the video!
To be honest, it never crossed my mind to do the video with a full crew and state-of-the-art cameras etc. In the YouTube era, I think it’s much better to have something that looks home-made and interesting – people connect with that.
If you go for a big shiny production on your video, it’s easy to spend thousands buffing your idea-turd to a fine gloss.
Tiny Eyes is the E.P. Falling is taken from. What are the kinds of themes that compelled its creation? Is there a particular song from the E.P. that is particularly special and important?
I like all the tracks. Today I’m particularly fond of the last track, Fifteen Feet of Snow; but ask me tomorrow and I might pick out a different one. Theme-wise, they vary from love to creativity to hangovers… which is basically my life in a nutshell! But if there’s anything that unifies them it’s the voice – I don’t mean the singing voice, but the narrative one. There’s something consistent in the storytelling – even if the stories, themselves, vary.
The title track is my favourite and seems to mediate/ruminate on the self. I guess being the title song from an eponymous E.P., it must resonate quite hard? What was it like recording that track?
I’m glad you like that one. Although, like my name, you shouldn’t take that song too seriously or read too much into it. As well as my eyes, people often like to mock my shaky hands – I can’t hold them still – so they get a mention in the lyrics, too.
Recording it was a lot of fun. The kick-drum sound is me banging the door of the gas meter cupboard – and there’s some stylophone in there, too. Plus, the final piano ‘chord’ is my all-time favourite – playing all the low notes at once really loudly with the flats of both hands.
It’s the kind of thing I’d get told off for doing when I was younger – and now it’s on my record. My mum will kill me when she hears it!
It seems like you are a narrative songwriter in the vein of Tom Waits, John Lennon and Elliot Smith. Are these the kind of artists you grew up listening to?
Definitely. But, as much as I love those artists’ (mostly) coherent narratives, I love an incoherent one too. Pavement are one of my all-time favourites. You never know where they’re going next – every line is a left turn – but somehow it hangs together beautifully. Fionn Regan is another master of that. It all feels like nonsense, then every so often, he’ll throw in something profound and it catches you off guard.
Being based out of Leicester; is there a big music scene there or is it quite hard getting gigs?
Leicester definitely punches above its weight for live music.
There are some really nice small music venues here; plus, a couple of larger venues and a couple of festivals each year, too. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s too hard to get a gig if you want one.
At the moment, though, I’m concentrating on other stuff – songs, records, videos. Touring and live performances are off the Tiny Eyes radar – at least for the time being.
What do the next few months hold in terms of touring and performances? Any chances there will be any collaborations with Martha down the line?
You never know. I play in Martha’s band anyway (as the keyboard player) so, in a sense, we’ve been collaborating for a while. I’d say it was pretty likely it’ll happen again.
You are quite new to music and still building your social media profiles. How important are the fans you already have and what message would you give to them?
I love you all. Spread the word!
Who are the new/upcoming artists you advise we keep an eye out for this year at all?
My hometown friends, Dayflower, will be releasing a new single soon – so definitely keep an eye out for that. Right now, I’ve been listening to a band called Swimming Tapes who have a real jangly, summery vibe.
I’m hoping Alex Turner (of the Arctic Monkeys) will release some more solo stuff soon – as the songs he did for the Submarine soundtrack were astonishingly good. I know he’s been around for a few years already but I’m loving Fionn Regan’s latest release – the production is just beautiful.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
First of all, I talk a whole lot of waft, so don’t take any of my advice seriously!
With that disclaimer, I was reading a book recently called, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, which says there are only two things an artist has to do: make great art and share it with the world. I think that’s true – in particular, it’s way too easy to get hung up on the nebulous concept of ‘success’. How many brilliant records were never made, or made worse, because the band or artist was too busy trying to be successful?!
If you can honestly tell yourself “I made a really fantastic record” or “I blew people’s minds with some amazing gigs”, then, to me, that’s success. That’s all you need. Everything else is just ego food.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that)
Ok. Well, how about Open Your Eyes by Gold Celeste.
Somehow, they managed to make a beautiful heartfelt record whilst simultaneously plagiarising the riff from Robbie Williams’ Millennium. I think that’s a lesson to us all.
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