On a warm April evening, the three members of Eisenhower Field Day are spread around a patio discussing their history as a band and their new album, Tyrants and Spies. The bandmates talk with an ease that comes with 13 years of friendship. Conversations jump from roller derby nicknames to what people think their band sounds like, a litany that includes Nada Surf and the Weakerthans, groups they’ve never heard of. At one point guitarist Noah Butler compliments his wife, bassist Holly Butler, on her ability to figure out any musical instrument. “Holly has a very technical mind. She has the ability to pick up any instrument …” he begins.
“… and instantly become very mediocre,” she finishes.
In time they begin discussing the album’s artwork. The cover features a new painting by local artist Kyle Ragsdale while the interior booklet is filled with photos from a fake spy movie featuring the band.
“It just kind of developed organically,” drummer Phil Kitchel says of the pictures. “I’m kind of glad it’s there because we don’t have a whole lot of personality otherwise. So it kind of makes people think we have some.”
But they have plenty of personality. What’s missing is that rock ’n’ roll swagger. They’re just everyday people with full-time jobs who may not realize how great a rock album they’re about to unleash on Indianapolis.
Eisenhower Field Day’s roots date back to 1995, a time when the three members were finishing up high school and performing alongside Noah Butler’s uncle in a band called Turnip Blood, whose lone highlight was a show at the Coon Hunters Club in Anderson. “We played and then there was a raid,” Holly Butler remembers. Shortly after, the band split. Kitchel left for New York while the Butlers, who were attending Ball State, transferred to Indiana University.
Eventually, circumstances allowed the Butlers and Kitchel to reunite in Indianapolis. “I said, ‘Now that we’ve had a few years under our belts let’s get back together and play music,” explains Noah Butler, adding he had no expectations for the reunion.
Eisenhower Field Day began playing shows and recording songs, though it would take some time to gain the confidence necessary to release an album. “We got to the point where we said, this is silly. Let’s take these recordings and print up a legitimate CD,” Noah Butler says. In 2003, they released the EP Our Time in the Colonies followed by 2006’s Let’s Not Tell Lies. “Unfortunately, those recordings on the first album were dated from where we were progressing as a band,” he continues. “But I didn’t want to let them just disappear. Consequently, we don’t play a whole lot from that album and I kind of cringe when I listen to it. Lord have mercy.”
So what is the Eisenhower Field Day sound? If anything, it can be more easily compared to a whole era than to any particular band, something you might have heard on the radio or MTV’s Alternative Nation in the early to mid ’90s. And that’s part of the joy of Tyrants and Spies. Eisenhower Field Day manages to capture the rock energy of that era, beginning with the blazing guitars of “Williams Dam,” a story about a female looking for reclamation in the decay of the dam’s remains.
There’s a dichotomy between exuberant rock and angsty, introspective lyrics throughout the album, as well as a bit of politically-minded content. The aggressive “Sunshine Patriot” features a miasma of fear-mongering and social malaise.
On “Brave Daughters,” Holly Butler takes center stage with powerful lead vocals on a song about anti-intellectualism, singing, “We are sage and wise beyond our fathers. We are not liked.” She is a force throughout the album. Her backing harmonies and dueling vocals with her husband lift Tyrants and Spies from being merely good to great.
Despite the personal and political pessimism that pervades many songs, Eisenhower Field Day has indeed made an upbeat album. In every guitar chord, every drumbeat, every vocal there is hope. It’s a record of three friends doing what they love, what they’ve been working towards for 13 years. And that’s something to swagger about.
WHAT: Eisenhower Field Day CD release show with Hey Hey Melodica, Kory Quinn and the Comrades, Win with Willard
WHERE: Melody Inn, 3826 N. Illinois St.
WHEN: Friday, May 2, 9:30 p.m., $7 (including CD), 21+
In-store at Luna Music, 5202 N. College Ave., May 2, 6 p.m., free, all-ages