The brightly hued fish were immense, flitting through the water as if pushed by vibrations from the trumpets’ blaring clarion call and the kettle drums’ earth-shaking beats, Jay Garrigan remembers. He was a toddler at the time, sitting beside his father in the family study, immersed in the transformative power of music, long before he could even talk.
“[The study] was a little nook with a huge fish tank filled with oscars,” Garrigan says, referencing a South American fish also known as a cichlid. “To a toddler, an oscar is a huge animal. [My father] would blast this reel to reel [tape of] the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack.”
The tactile, almost hallucinogenic sensation of blasting trumpets, pounding drums and darting fish had a lasting effect on Garrigan.
“It [was] this incredible sensation … at a very young age, the equivalent of a Flaming Lips show when you’re a toddler,” Garrigan says. “[I thought], ‘Oh my god, I have to keep chasing this. I have to keep creating this feeling.’”
So Garrigan went into music, becoming an inventive guitarist, inspired songwriter and self-described catalyst for indie pop-rock trio The Eyebrows, Garrigan’s musical band of brothers.
The Eyebrows’ latest single “Say Yeah!” may not be the culmination of Garrigan’s pursuit of his formative musical feelings, but it’s certainly a bread crumb on his trail toward rock ‘n’ roll transcendence. The new track’s video premiered today, Feb. 8, and can be seen below.
Underpinned by Shawn Lynch’s thundering drums and Darrin Gray’s ricocheting bass, Garrigan’s chugging rhythm guitar is slashed by a chiming, uplifting riff that traces its bloodline through Big Star’s “In the Street” and Free’s “All Right Now,” to rock ‘n’ roll’s wellspring in unadulterated nonjudgmental joy. Garrigan’s full-throated vocal is a call to action, urging the listener to shed inhibitions and embrace exhilaration.
“You say Yeah when you wanna lose all control/ So come my friends let’s find some trouble/ Whoo hoo hoo/ Say yeah!/ Say yeah!/ Scream yeah!”
“My initial thoughts were it’s just a dumb rock song,” says Garrigan, assessing his own songwriting. “But there are some songs that just want to make you feel good.”
Finding a musical path
Garrigan was an Army brat. His family moved around a lot, and he sometimes struggled to fit in as a new kid at school. Although he learned to read music and play piano at an early age, he didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 16.
“I played trumpet in school band and … I wasn’t very good,” Garrigan recalls.
On the other hand, trumpet taught him valuable songwriting skills, including the use of point-counterpoint and harmonies. When he turned to guitar, Garrigan continued to hone his songwriting chops.
“A lot of musicians work at their precision and articulation. I was more interested in [playing guitar] as a sandbox,” says Garrigan, who saw the instrument as an evolution, a way of collecting tools to help write songs.
After graduating from Westover High School near Fort Liberty, Garrigan attended UNC Charlotte. Following a peripatetic Army upbringing, Garrigan wanted to live in a big city.
“I wanted to live somewhere for a couple of years and see what it’s like to have friends over time,” Garrigan says. “So, I did it — [but] I didn’t leave.”
Garrigan got involved in the Queen City music scene, where he soon appeared to put himself on a fast track to music industry success. At age 23 he joined a band called Second Skin. There, he was surrounded by top-flight talent, including Fetchin Bones alumni Clay Richardson on drums and Danna Pentes on bass.
Richardson had graduated from the Berklee School of Music and Pentes had learned violin as a kid via the Suzuki method. The dynamic Deanna Campbell fronted the group, which changed its name to Violet Strange. The group recorded with legendary producer Ed Stasium (The Ramones, Living Colour) after landing a deal with RCA Records.
“It was a small deal, but a deal nonetheless,” Garrigan says. “For whatever reason, [RCA] decided not to release the work we did. If you measure success in terms of music business success, that band did more than any band I’ve ever been in and may ever be in.”
In the meantime, Garrigan had earned a Masters degree in English and started teaching at Central Piedmont Community College and West Charlotte High School to make ends meet. He remained active in the Charlotte music scene, playing with beloved local band Laburnum.
“I was at a point where … I really wanted to get my own rock band together,” Garrigan says, “instead of joining someone else’s band.”
The result was alt-rock group Poprocket. At that point, Garrigan became aware of Shawn Lynch, who was then playing drums with proto-Americana outfit Lou Ford.
“We admired each other,” Garrigan recalls. “[Lou Ford] had this cool blend of roots music coupled with a real rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section. There was raunchiness to it.”
Then, Garrigan heard that Lynch was no longer in Lou Ford. Spying him crossing the street in Plaza Midwood one day, Garrigan told his bandmates that Lynch would soon become a member of Poprocket.
In the process of making that prophecy come to fruition, Garrigan did more than acquire a drummer who appreciated Garrigan’s prolific songwriting; he formed his most enduring and meaningful musical partnership to date.
“At one point, Shawn looked at me and said, ‘Jay, I’m your drummer for life,” Garrigan remembers. “I said, ‘Holy shit, Are you sure?’”
The friends and colleagues are now approaching 24 years together, Garrigan says, though there have been holes in that timeline. Lynch left Charlotte to play music in Virginia, Poprocket disbanded on good terms, and Garrigan signed a deal with Spectra Records for an ill-fated band called Garrigan. After that career misstep, Garrigan struggled with intense pain from botched Lasik surgery.
“I became really uncreative and wasn’t playing music,” Garrigan says.
In the meantime, Lynch had joined muscular Charlotte rock band Temperance League. He and that band’s frontman Bruce Hazel invited Garrigan to play bass. Garrigan subsequently moved over to keyboards before he and Lynch ultimately left the band.
In 2014, Garrigan launched the concept of The Eyebrows. The idea was for Garrigan and Lynch to play with people completely unlike them in order to shake up any kind of musical complacency. After a few years, Garrigan and Lynch came full circle and embraced bassist Darrin Gray, a musician with similar tastes and background to them.
“The Eyebrows ended up, not as an experiment in exploring different styles of band members,” Garrigan says. “[Instead], we ended with someone who’s a bit more like us.”
In 2018, The Eyebrows released their debut album, Volume, recorded at Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville with legendary producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Let’s Active). The version of the band on this album did not yet contain Gray.
Volume collects 10 punchy and emotional tunes that recall the wiry grooves of Nick Lowe and Athens, Georgia’s Pylon. Some of the tunes were written up to 10 years before, Garrigan says, a few before The Eyebrows launched, and others after the group had come together.
“It’s a ‘throw everything that I have up against the wall and see what’s good’ [record],” Garrigan says.
The band’s second album, Fight/Flight, again recorded by Mitch Easter at Fidelitorium, followed in 2021.
‘[Fight/Flight] is more of a personal album about my issue with panic,” says Garrigan, who has struggled openly with bipolar disorder.
Dealing with darker subjects, it’s a more thematically consistent collection than its predecessor.
“Volume was a collection of the best songs I had written in the last 10 years. Fight/Flight was, ‘What am I going through right now?’” Garrigan says.
Unfortunately, the band’s second album was released just when COVID caused a nationwide shutdown. Less commercially successful than Volume, Fight/Flight remains the band’s sidelined masterwork.
The creative process
In contrast, the Eyebrows third and latest album, Double Take, can be seen as a culmination of Garrigan’s formative feelings and obsessions. It’s a concept album where one set of songs is played, tracked and mixed in two vastly different ways.
Double Take is a two-headed Janus-like rock monster with five polished studio tracks recorded and mixed by Easter at Fidelitorium. Those five tracks from Side One are then repeated on Side Two, only this time the songs are played mostly live on the floor by the band at The Eyebrows’ practice space, produced and mixed by Garrigan.
“How it came together is we [were] all under a time crunch,” Garrigan says. “Mitch had so many days [and] he agreed to work with us.”
The Fidelitorium session yielded four tunes previously demoed by Garrigan in his home studio, plus an additional track that was composed in the studio.
Easter told Garrigan that The Eyebrows are equally adept live as they are in the studio. So, Easter and The Eyebrows planned to reschedule another session where they would rerecord more immediate and raw versions of the previous material to 4-track tape with Easter, but the scheduling didn’t work out, so Garrigan re-recorded and mixed raw and immediate versions of the Side One songs at his home studio and band practice space.
“[The songs] all are done in an entirely different manner from how we did them on Side One,” Garrigan says. Side One boasts a song called “Open Mic Tuesday” that rides a jangly Velvet Underground-by-way-of-Brian Eno riff before transforming into a punk-rock Ramones/Misfits groove. The same song’s rendition on Side Two, retitled “”Open Mic Tuesday II,” sounds like Lou Ford played it — rough-hewn, raw-boned Americana.
“There’s a thing we do live [on Side Two] that’s totally improvised,” Garrigan says. “It’s a guitar jam that sounds like something that maybe Bauhaus or Love and Rockets would play.”
Garrigan, who hopes to branch out into recording and mixing material for other artists, feels his work on the album’s Side Two will show people what he can do with production techniques used by masters like Stasium and Easter, refusing to fall back on an over-reliance on computer and software settings.
The single “Say Yeah!” drops Feb. 9 to coincide with The Eyebrows’ live gig at Tommy’s Pub. Accompanying the single’s release is the premiere of the “Say Yeah!” video on Feb. 8 (above). It depicts the band playing in Garrigan’s backyard.
Shot by Garrigan’s wife, photographer Jenn Chapman, the video pays tribute to Garrigan’s grandfather, who filmed every family milestone with a battery of cameras before he passed away. Chapman emulates the look and texture of those old family movies, giving the video a shaky, blurry, oversaturated super-8 look. It’s a psychedelic mien that complements the tune’s adrenalized adolescent rush.
Garrigan says the “Say Yeah!” single is the more polished, Side One version of the tune from the album, but it’s still engagingly ferocious.
“If I go back to that initial sensation of hearing 2001: A Space Odyssey and oscars floating, how do I capture that kind of sensation in a rock song?” Garrigan says. “And why do people run around screaming, ‘Yeah!’ anyway?”
To its credit, the song doesn’t attempt to answer Garrigan’s queries. Instead “Say Yeah!” celebrates the joy of being in the moment.
“Take my hand you know what I have to say/ I hope you dance your broken heart away…”
Garrigan says he improvised the third verse of “Say Yeah!” on the fly at Fidelitorium Recordings, and that he saw Lynch and Easter “having a high-five moment” after hearing the vocal:
“You say Yeah ‘cause you’re from outer space/ Spread your wings and save the human race…”
Garrigan explains that the words refer to a key inspiration for the song, the feelings stirred in him from seeing the animated 1981 Heavy Metal film — and hearing Sammy Hagar’s stomping glam metal rendition of the movie’s title tune — when he was 11 years old. That unbridled spirit carries over into the song, which boasts a wailing guitar solo complete with the kind of hammer ons and pull-offs performed by Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley.
“Musically [‘Say Yeah!’ is] a bit of a caveman rock song,” says Garrigan. “It [has a] positive feeling that’s almost unhinged.”
Still, the tune has a holistic, pulled-from-the-ether quality, Garrigan says.
“Some songs I hear in my head, and sometimes I’m just playing — and by playing I mean playing music like I’m playing in the sandbox,” he says. “It comes from everywhere, like everything I’ve listened to in my life, but it also comes from nowhere.
“Then, after you create it, you feel disconnected from it.”
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