Brainiac. You will think of them when you hear the music of Eat Sugar. Normally, when a band sounds so much like another band, said imitation can be a drawback, if not a reason to simply dismiss the group. In Eat Sugar’s case, this rule does not apply; the Cincinnati, Ohio-based group has now released its debut album, ¡Levántense!. Upon first listen it really shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the masterminds of Brainiac, John Schmersal, produced its wild, intense sounds. What will surprise you, though, is just how natural the band is, especially in the live setting—where the band’s music is meant to be appreciated. No samples, no sequencers—just straight up rock music, performed with only natural enthusiasm and energy.
BIG TAKEOVER:I’ve gotta say it upfront. You guys remind me of Brainiac. A lot. (Band laughs) Considering that, it didn’t surprise me to discover you worked with him. How did you meet up with him?
GREG PONERIS, DRUMMER: (Laughs) We all are really big fans of Brainiac and Enon, and we always wanted to work with him. We didn’t know if it would be possible. We played with Enon when they came through Ohio. Thankfully, he liked us, liked our music and he agreed to do it. We were shocked that he said yes, but happy that we would get to work with him.
JIM REYNOLDS, BASSIST: I’ve always liked John’s songwriting and the way he makes sound, it’s amazing. We just loved getting his ideas and his input. He has a sympathetic ear to what we do, and he helped a lot. He was able to help us flesh the songs out and make them real; he helped us to see how our sound could mature, and to realize many of our ideas and goals for performing and arranging our music.
BTO: What kind of ideas did he give you in the studio? What was the recording process like? Considering the very live, very immediate feel of the music, did you come into the studio with the songs already written, in order to capture it live and quickly?
JIM: Well, to be a little more accurate, the studio was Greg’s garage, and John met up and worked with us there. He brought a handful of really great gear, some really nice toys. But the songs, we brought them in with us when we started recording, they definitely had a shape and form before we sat down and recorded them. Once we started to see how things interacted, it started to change. Some writing was done while we were recording.
GREG: I think it’s great that you catch that, because it’s definitely what we were aiming for. The way john worked with us. We set up and all played live together. He had us set up as a band and had us play live, all together, for one or two takes, with very little initial overdubbing. So we were in a way playing the record live. For us, it was a lot more fun that way. It was also less stressful for us, because the way most bands do it, one person lays down a track, then the others come in and overdub. It was a lot better way for us to work, because we didn’t get distracted about recording a song until it was perfect. With the kind of music we make, that could be a real problem, where you get distracted and wind up not accomplishing anything, and getting really edgy about what the record sounds like.
BTO: Brainiac’s style, they were very much a live band, and to them, the live show was important. Did you start Eat Sugar with the notion of focusing on performance?
GREG: When we first started, I think the live was definitely a priority for us, it was our strength. After recording with John, there are a lot of different things we wanted to try, and he was able to help us accomplish some ideas for our writing and arrangements. There’s so much you can do in the studio, and when you get into the live setting, you can’t do them. I’d say we’re equally strong in those now that we’ve worked with him (laughs). Before that, I’d tell people, “Oh, you need to see us live to really make an accurate judgment of us.” Now, I definitely feel we have a lot to offer as a band, both as a recording act and as a performing act.
BTO: Having said that, are your shows as insane and intense as the music would lead me believe?
GREG: (Laughs) Oh, definitely! If it’s a good night and the audience is having fun and there’s a lot of energy, then we can get out there. (Laughs) Aidan (Bogosian, lead singer) is very much a frontman; he’ll jump on people, climb on anything that’s around, and do the most unpredictable things imaginable. We kind of pride ourselves in that we play everything live. When we play, we don’t use sequencers, samples or anything—everything is performed naturally.
BTO: You guys are signed to Mush Records, a label known for its electronica, hip-hop, and ambient music releases. Do you feel you will be exploring those elements with future records?
GREG: There’s really no intention to do that. We just develop as we go along. If anything that’s developed with our sound it’s become more intricate, but we’re definitely still a pretty traditional rock band.
MIKE MCBRIDE, SYNTH PLAYER: we never know where we’re going, we just let things happen. We don’t try to plan things, we just let things happen naturally.
GREG: For us, we listen to a lot of music and we take inspiration from whatever moves us. If one of us hears something and the rest of us like it, we’ll try to integrate those ideas into our sound—whether it’s fast or slow, more traditionally “rock” or electronic or dance—and we are always growing. We never know exactly where we’re going to go. It’s more exciting that way, don’t you think? It certainly is for us! (Laughs)