Words: Jim Butler
Sometimes the best things come to those that wait. It’s a sentiment wide-eyed, sonic adventurer John Bryden would certainly recognise – if not necessarily have chosen of course. Aged 37, and having spent the best part of two decades ploughing away in a succession of bands, Bryden could have been forgiven for thinking his shot at musical fame had passed him by.
However, he’d be wrong. For while operating in his previous outfits became a lesson in diplomacy rather than musical innovation, Bryden was beavering away in the background making music shorn of filter and compromise. And the results are staggering. Released under his nom de guerre Eyes of Others, this is the sound of an imaginative artist working at the peak of his powers.
To try and list all Eyes of Others’ musical touchpoints would be a thankless task but nestled playfully – and seductively – in his sonic palette are an abundance of carefree electronics, hypnotic dub, wry folk rock, twitchy psychedelia and buoyant acid techno. In other words, pure musical freedom. If it wasn’t for the fact that Eyes of Others began as a side hustle, you’d be praising the ambition of such a mesmerising pop art collage. But then maybe such creativity and experimentation is the result of approaching the music in a pressure-free environment. Bryden certainly thinks so.
“It's almost like when I stopped trying to find success, it kind of…” he hesitates, not wanting to get ahead of himself. “I’m not saying there’s success, the album’s not even out yet, but it’s been a… I think it’s a slow burn. I’m not in a hurry.”
The release of the self-titled Eyes of Others debut album will soon cause Bryden to reassess his evaluation of success. Marrying the anything-goes, freestyle magpie tendencies of Beck and The Beta Band to the electronic stylings of primetime 80s New Order by way of the spacious moods conjured by King Tubby, its whimsical demeanour is the perfect sonic balm to the utter confusion of the outside world. As is that sense of almost Balearic musical freedom. Such a mindset is fundamental to the music according to Bryden.
“In so much of life you don’t feel free,” he laments. “There’s so many varying constraints and music is the place where you can do what you like. That’s your space for expressing yourself. I suppose I feel a bit emotionally repressed in some ways. In music I can react to the things in life that I find difficult, reincarnate those messy feelings, and create my own world within a world.”
The bewildering qualities of modern life are also neatly – if somewhat inadvertently – captured in the name. His first release under the moniker came in 2017 with the ‘I See You in the Shrubs’ 12-inch (replete with a magical reworking by one Andrew Weatherall) on local Edinburgh label Paradise Palms. Prior to its release he had a few names vying for contention until he eventually hit upon Eyes of Others.
“I’d obviously seen it or read it somewhere,” he recalls. “It just felt right. You can read different things into it. Particularly the way we use online stuff, we’re always judging other people and looking at one another through each other’s eyes and all this stuff.” Not long after he’d created a Facebook page with the name a friend messaged him saying: ‘Oh, Eyes of Others, as in Virginia Woolf?’ It turned out the feted novelist and essayist had penned the lines, ‘The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages’ almost 100 years previously. “I went and Googled it because I couldn’t remember having such a refined thought,” he laughs. “Once I read it, I thought that’s pretty good, I’ll keep that. Maybe I’d read it somewhere. But it wasn’t anything from memory. But the idea that what other people think can hold you back resonated.”
And rather than release this woozy, atmospheric head music under his own name. Bryden liked the freedom adopting a pseudonym gave him.
“My profile, my face is pretty irrelevant in many ways,” he explains. “I feel Eyes of Others gives more opportunity to shapeshift within the music, to become something beyond myself.”
As for the Weatherall remix, that was another act of serendipity. His friend (and now manager) Davie sent the track to the much-missed, erstwhile Lord Sabre for possible inclusion on his NTS radio show, Music’s Not For Everyone. Andrew messaged back saying: ‘Weatherall remix?’
“I was thinking that’s not how it works,” he remembers. “We have to ask him, surely? I couldn’t really believe it. I didn’t think it was going to happen. Other experiences in the music industry made me think everyone was a flake.”
A conversation with Heavenly’s Jeff Barrett soon assuaged him of any fears regarding Weatherall’s sincerity.
“I was speaking to Jeff – he was up here with another one of his artists. I didn’t know him at that point. We were having a drink at this gig and I told him that Andrew had said he was going to do it, but I wasn’t sure. And Jeff just said that if Andrew said he’s going to do it, he’ll do it.”
Weatherall’s no-rules approach appealed during those first Eyes of Others musical explorations.
“I don’t like being pigeonholed,” he explains. “I don’t like artists that just sit still and stick to a formula. One day I want to make dance music and the next I want to write songs on my acoustic guitar. It’s just whatever I’m listening to and that makes me reach out for a particular instrument or sound. Last night I was at a folk gig and that gets me excited. And I like to chuck that against some more dubby or dancefloor, clubby sounds. That’s the challenge – seeing what things you can put against one another.”
The challenge has not only been met on the album, but expectations have been exceeded. Coming in at a brisk 41 minutes, the album reveals its manifold charms immediately, but also does so in a meandering, nuanced and irreverent fashion. Opener ‘Once, Twice, Thrice’ brings together Bryden’s hypnotic voice and an understated but utterly composed Ali-like rhythmical shuffle. The spacious grooves of ‘Safehouse’ recall Adrian Sherwood working his deep hypnotic magic on Primal Scream’s ‘Echo Dek’ dub album. Meanwhile, ‘At Home, I’m A Leader’ takes the dub aesthetics on a more psychedelic, pastoral journey, where folk rock and krautrock combine to stunning effect.
Elsewhere, the fanciful singalong ‘New Hair, New Me’ is the sound of The Lovin’ Spoonful being given a thoroughly unique Scottish makeover; the measured psych-house of ‘Ego Hit’ is Ron Hardy transforming Spaceman 3 live down the Music Box and the elegant, orchestral Baroque pop of ‘Mother Father’ is either the Velvet Underground at their most beatific or Four Tet at his most expansive.
Rounding things off, ‘Come Inside’ could be played by Sean Johnston early doors at A Love From Outer Space. It’s experimental enough to capture the dancers at Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here festival, while hitting all the sweet bucolic notes to enthrall the head nodders at Green Man. The final track is where Eyes of Others goes completely off the hook, mixing a 303 acid squiggle bassline (made on a £100 303 clone) with some delightful melodic underpinnings. It sounds like Hardfloor meeting Talk Talk uptown. Or in the words of today’s youth: a banger.
Upon the release of his ‘Bewitched by the Flames’ EP last year, some wag expertly noted that Eyes of Others was ‘post-pub couldn’t get in the club music’. “I was thinking where’s my spot?” Bryden reflects. “The music is later than a gig but it’s not full-on early morning club fare. It’s the in-between space where I was imagining where my music works.”
But his beguiling tunes are perfect for the music soundtracking the afters too. As the dawn breaks and the sun begins to rise. “Maybe there aren’t enough venues opening at 7am!” he laughs, before quickly adding: “I don’t think it will catch on unfortunately.” Lest anyone starts writing a business proposal. Such joviality and self-deprecating humour are also laced throughout the album. Particular targets are the rise of the wellness industry, relationships and, well, himself. “During lockdown I think a lot of people had these loopy periods and people were talking about taking deep dives into looking after their mental health and stuff. And that became a kind of stress in itself! You know, like, ‘I’ve got to do my meditation.’ All this work that you’ve got to be doing on yourself… it’s a bit taking the piss, but I include myself in that.”
And then there’s the challenges of relationships. A lot of his lyrics, he explains, are grounded in day-to-day stuff, but maybe hinting at larger ideas. He laughs once more. “I feel naff saying that though!” he jokes. “It just comes out. You hope other people can take what they want from it. When I try to talk about my music it’s a bit like trying to remember and interpret a dream. It’s like reaching for something that’s slipping, it’s never quite all there.”
His lyrics then are both surreal and pointed. It’s an intoxicating blend. On ‘Big Companies, Large Tentacles’ he sings ‘I try to love myself/So that I can love you/Then you tell me I belong upon Freud’s chaise-longue’. While on ‘Safehouse’, it’s ‘Logging in for your daily meditation/Have you forgotten your password?/Oh shit.’ It comes as no surprise when he mentions Scottish bard Ivor Cutler as a lyrical inspiration: “Just including that everyday silly stuff.”
And while his lyrics aren’t throwaway, he’s at pains to point out they’re not poetry either. His singing voice often adds another texture – another point of instrumentation.
“I just see the lyrics as another part of it really,” he suggests. “I’m quite happy for people to not listen to them at all. I think you can get an overall feeling from a track.”
Given his backstory – he’s clearly a musical lifer – and the touchpoints outlined, it’s unsurprising that Eyes of Others has found the perfect home at Heavenly, the label that truly believes in musical magic.
“There’s not a lot of business chat,” he smiles. “It’s all about music and songs. The excitement that Jeff has got is infectious. It runs through the whole team.”
You see, sometimes the best things really do come to those that wait.
release on May 19, 2023
via Heavenly Recordings
release on March 27, 2023
via Heavenly Recordings
release on February 28, 2023
via Heavenly Recordings