In a booth at the back of Cup and Saucer Cafe on Northeast Killingsworth Street, John Moen and Chris Slusarenko are reminiscing about the good old days—specifically, the days when Slusarenko and his bandmates used to beat the crap out of each other onstage.
"Moustache was completely about terrifying audiences," says Slusarenko, poking at his basil pesto scramble. He's talking about his short-lived hardcore punk band from the early 2000s, featuring Quasi's Sam Coomes, Sean Croghan of Crackerbash and Slusarenko's brother, Nate, whose music channeled Black Flag at its most aggressive. "It would make you angry to play it," he says. "I'd kick Sean in the back, he'd fall down, then he'd tackle Sam and I'd jump on top of that. Then it became kind of real, and we'd get mad: I'd destroy my brother's drum set, Sean's got a mic wrapped around his neck…"
"Chris would come off stage and look at me and his eyes had swirls in them," Moen adds. "It was like unlocking some box you're not supposed to."
That band, which Slusarenko regards as a stopgap between more serious projects, is worlds removed from the pretty, paisley-print pop he and Moen now make together in Eyelids. But it's still in there somewhere, along with bits of every other band the five members—which includes guitarist Jonathan Drews, bassist Jim Talstra and drummer Paulie Pulvirenti—have ever played in. At some point in the life of an itinerant musician, even those footnotes become a kind of genetic material, passed on to each successive project. The cover of Eyelids' new 7-inch provides a sloppily sketched map of the group's genome: It omits the biggest names—Slusarenko played guitar in Guided By Voices, and Moen is still in the Decemberists—but even in abbreviated form, their genealogy spans the last three decades of Pacific Northwest indie rock. Collectively, the band's history includes stints with Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus, Damien Jurado and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, as well as regional legends like the Fastbacks, Dharma Bums and the Minus 5. Those are some damn good genes.
For Moen and Slusarenko, Eyelids is the kind of band they've always wanted to be in. Shame it took until their mid-40s to happen.
"At first, it was a little bittersweet, like, man, if I was 23, imagine the possibilities," Slusarenko says. "But this wouldn't have happened at that age."
That's because, at that age, Moen and Slusarenko were too busy sewing their rock 'n' roll oats, the former with revered college-rockers the Dharma Bums, the latter with grunge-era also-rans Sprinkler. It's hard to imagine either of them having the patience for Eyelids' interwoven guitars, sweet melodies and relaxed tempos back then. It's not because they weren't mature enough. In fact, Moen says the sound of Eyelids is drawn from the music they listened to then: L.A.'s retro-psychedelic scene of the '80s, the iconic New Zealand label Flying Nun. It's just that, in those days, bands tended to fall apart so quickly, there was no time for that kind of intimate craftsmanship: You had to make an immediate, visceral impression—by, say, igniting a brawl in the middle of a set—before things inevitably collapsed.
"We're doing Eyelids in a way that, if we had done it then, it would've imploded," Slusarenko says. "There are so many different parts going into a song to make it levitate."
It's only with the stability of adulthood that Eyelids became possible. Although the full-length is still in production, their debut single, "Seagulls Into Submission," showcases that aforementioned levitating quality, with sparkling guitars and aching harmonies that have already earned the band comparisons to power-pop touchstones like Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Maybe it's too late for the group to become more than a hobby—after all, Moen has upcoming records from both the Decemberists and Black Prairie to worry about—but as far as its principal members are concerned, after all these years and all these bands, they're just now hitting their stride.
"We're going to be the musical Benjamin Buttons," Slusarenko says. "Our hair's going to start looking better as the years go on. We'll sound better. Then, eventually, we'll just be five babies in a crib with these giant instruments around us, making the best music.â
SEE IT: Eyelids plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with 1939 Ensemble and the Verner Pantons, on Friday, Feb. 7. 9 pm. $10. 21+.