Chad Pratt took a drive through the snow up north, listening to the vocal track that his bandmate, Alex Hughes, had just completed. The Ann Arbor-based multi-instrumentalist is up north on vacation, but he’s eager to listen to the newest contribution from Hughes, which was sent over as a sonic telegram. “I’m listening to this rough MP3 from an email, in my car, and it did feel like receiving a letter from him. Listening to the lyrics, I realized that this is kinda like what’s going on with Alex right now.” Both Pratt and Hughes are the primary members of a burgeoning synth-pop band called Same Eyes. Their debut album, Parties to End, premieres this week — available via bandcamp, with a limited 100-run of colored vinyl up for grabs.
Much of this album was created at a distance over the course of 2019. Hughes is still finishing up college at Denison University, down in the middle of Ohio and east of Columbus. The majority of this album was created in a back-and-forth volley over email, with a good portion of the lyrics being penned while Hughes was studying abroad in Germany. Pratt is several years older than Hughes and could be considered a bit of a fixture around the local music scene, having past tenures with Morsel and Midwest Product — and most recently in the experimental electronic band Hydropark with songwriter Fred Thomas. Even if Hughes weren’t out of state, they would have still worked in a somewhat isolated and steadily-building manner.
“There is something to the format of a band being together in a basement, figuring out how to be creative as a unit,” said Pratt. But, that can also invite undue pressures. Their format, Pratt said, wound up nurturing the creative process. “Here’s this part of the song. Listen to it. Check it out. Let something come to you….” Pratt would develop some chords, some pad sounds (i.e., leading sonic elements) for the synth parts and a rhythmic pattern. Then, quite often, his close friend, multi-instrumentalist/producer (& Ghostly artist) Michael Dykehouse, would stop by to listen and add in a few parts of his own. That concoction would then be sent to Hughes and he’d conjure a vocal melody, write the lyrics, and even solidify the arrangements.
“I can send him something that’s already in good working order,” Pratt said, “and (Hughes) will send me vocals the next day. Or, I can just send bits and pieces. But he’s the narrator — he’s guiding the ship, in my opinion. (Dykehouse) and I can come up with little parts, but it’s not a song until (Hughes) is finished. (Hughes) makes sense of it all.”
Along with those aforementioned bands from across the last 20 years, Pratt has also been a gigging DJ around the scene for a while. In fact, it was vinyl that spurred the bond between these two. Back in 2018, Pratt was actually inside the home of Hughes’ parents applying the trade of his day-job (painting houses), and he inevitably caught a glimpse of the college kid’s bedroom posters. Once they chatted and established so many shared influences, they started hanging out and spinning vinyl records — just talking about music. Hughes tipped Pratt to a Chicago-based synth duo called Grapetooth — a propulsive, aerodynamic blend of synths, minimal guitars, and snappy-spurty beats. It lit up something inside of Pratt and made him turn to Hughes and say: “…we could try something like THIS!”
Hughes, meanwhile, grew up in Ann Arbor, but is currently over in Grainville, OH. He’s been playing music for half of his life and was energized by the music programming at the local nonprofit community center, the Neutral Zone. Basically, he’s been in bands since middle school — but the music he made was in the garage-rock and punk-realms. “In the year or so before (Same Eyes), I started getting into synthesizers,” Hughes said. “This is a different sound and a different vocal style for me. But, it’s funny: I’ve been in a lot of garage/punk bands. But my favorite music has really always been 80’s new-wave, post-punk, and synth-pop. I’ve always wanted to be in a band like that, but never really knew the people or had the gear. It’s less so that I’m figuring out how to work in a new style, but more so finally being able to apply all the things I’ve learned from listening to all of those bands, and apply my own take on it.”
“And I’ve been in a lot of projects, but this is the first time, as a drummer, where I’ve really been able to take on more control,” said Pratt. “And so I’ve come to the realization that I really love synth-pop and 80’s new wave, and that I really just wanna make music that can soundtrack John Hughes’ films all the time. We used to joke about that in Midwest Product. But with this project, Alex is in control, I’m in control, Dykehouse is in control — and we’re all able to collaborate and make this music that we want to make. Sometimes our friends have been surprised at how accessible and poppy and upbeat and fun it sounds. But it’s about coming to terms with the music I actually love. And, especially during these darker times, this is exactly why I make this kind of music — I want an escape. I don’t wanna go into the depths — we all know the depths. I’ve never really been into bummer music.”
The album was mixed by Be Hussey, out in Los Angeles. It was then sent to Third Man Records for mastering (by Detroit-based producer Warren Defever). But we really should mention Ann Arbor-area singer/songwriter Fred Thomas as well. Says Pratt: “…Fred’s a dear friend. We worked together in Hydropark, (with Chuck Sipperly and Jason Lymangrover). And Fred was kind of like our Rick Rubin — offering guidance. I’ve learned a lot from him in terms of how to craft a pop song. He could come in and just untangle something for us. He produced a number of the tracks and also wrote a few parts for songs where we felt we had nowhere else we could take it — he would guide it.”
Fred Thomas also created the cover art that you’ll see when you visit Same Eyes’ bandcamp! A limited run of colored vinyl copies can also be ordered from their website.
Meanwhile, Hughes said that quarantine has definitely not slowed them down — they’ve already finished enough tracks for two more records after Parties to End. They’re also evolving the sound from pure synth-pop and bringing in more indie-rock inclined elements (i.e. some guitar). The duo recently assembled a full live band with potential to play live shows — but for now, they’ll continue creating at a distance; sharing sonic telegrams and building beautiful synth-pop suites.