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Clan Destiny

For the Members of Eisley, the Family That Plays Together . . . Well, You Know

YOUNG AMERICANS: The fine, pretty melodies from Chauntelle DuPree (left) and her Eisley bandmates burrow into the brain.

By Michael Alan Goldberg | Posted 4/6/2005

It’s an early Wednesday afternoon and Boyd DuPree is behind the wheel of his passenger van, driving down a highway that snakes across the Florida panhandle. Lounging in the back is his eldest daughter, Chauntelle (23), surrounded by sisters Sherri (21) and Stacy (16), brother Weston (18), and friend Jonathan Wilson (21), all of them staring out the windows, travel-weary, watching the landscape go by in a blur. Mom Kim couldn’t make the trip—she’s back home in tiny Tyler, Texas, looking after two more DuPree kids and Chauntelle’s 4-year-old daughter, Kayla—but she was kind enough to pack up some food for her clan before they departed on their 1,300-mile journey.

They’re not headed to Orlando for a Disney World vacation, however; the youthful quintet makes up the band Eisley, and their destination is Revolution, a club in Fort Lauderdale where, the following night, they’ll launch a 65-date national tour (the longest of their career thus far) as the opening act for pop-punkers New Found Glory.

“Dad does so much work for us that he couldn’t stay home,” says Chauntelle, who, as the least-shy Eisley member, acts as the group’s spokesperson. “He’s road managing and tour managing, and he has to update our web site all the time, just so much stuff. It’s really great, though, because we’re all so close. Our parents are our friends and they’ve been so awesome with this from the very beginning. I don’t know how we’d be able to do it otherwise.”

That familial support system is especially crucial right now, she adds, as the band is feeling a bit apprehensive about what the two-month-plus trek has in store for them. “It’ll be fun, and the guys in New Found Glory are really nice, but I don’t know if their fans are really gonna like us all that much because our music is so different-sounding from theirs,” she muses, punctuating her soft-spoken drawl with a nervous laugh. “We decided it’s a good risk, though, because they’re so popular and it will get us out in front of a lot more people who will hopefully have an open mind, and who might know about us but haven’t actually heard us.”

Indeed, for those who haven’t yet heard the music, exposure to the condensed version of the Eisley story—a bunch of fresh-faced, homeschooled siblings living in the middle of nowhere writing accessible tunes with the enthusiastic endorsement of their parents—may trigger involuntary “MMMBop” seizures. And while we shouldn’t hold their looks against them, several of the photogenic five’s publicity shots could be mistaken for cast photos from a particularly puerile WB teen drama. But listening to Room Noises, the group’s wonderful full-length debut, quickly assures that the Eisley sound is substantive and rich, and that the fine, pretty melodies burrowing into your brain were crafted by musicians confident and skilled far beyond their years.

Most of the album’s 12 tracks are dreamy, multihued, midtempo epics compressed into three-and-a-half-minute pop songs; they often bear a romantic, bittersweet tug, and usually make their moody point without overstaying their welcome. Stacy’s got a strong voice that can soar grandly, and when it locks into Sherri’s, the harmonies are madrigal and magical. The pair’s lyrics lean toward whimsical, escapist fantasies straight out of Narnia, Middle-earth, or Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland: “I followed a rabbit through rows of mermaid-entwined shrubbery/ Oh what marvelous things but they are giving me the creeps,” they sing on “Marvelous Things,” the effect far more enchanting than, as one might surmise from reading those lines in the CD booklet, overly precious.

While the vocals are the main attention-grabber, Eisley’s secret weapon is Chauntelle’s guitar playing. Though her parts rarely jump out of the arrangements, repeated listens bring greater appreciation of her compelling textures, solos, and chord patterns, many of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Radiohead album.

You can probably thank Boyd and Kim DuPree—a drummer and singer, respectively—for helping instill all of those sounds and ideas in their children by playing Rubber Soul, Dark Side of the Moon, and OK Computer around the house during their formative years, and for encouraging their brood to pick up instruments, read books, and explore the nearby countryside rather than veg out in front of the TV. And being schooled at home played a huge role in developing the tight bond the DuPree kids share today.

“We really didn’t have any other friends, so we would kinda all hang out together playing outside like kids do, or playing music,” Chauntelle recalls.

Deciding around 1997 that they wanted to try writing some songs, Chauntelle and Sherri began playing guitar and practicing vocal harmonies in earnest. But when then-8-year-old Stacy approached them with some ideas she had penned, Chauntelle realized that her younger sisters were the ones born to be songwriters.

“They both kinda freaked me out!” she laughs. “I was working so hard at it and it just came to both of them so easy, so I was like, ‘Ehhh, I’m just gonna play the guitar.’”

Within a short time, Stacy was singing and playing keyboards, Sherri was singing and playing guitar, and the three sisters drafted Weston to play drums for the fledgling outfit, which initially dubbed itself Moss Eisley, after the Star Wars spaceport (they eventually dropped the “Moss” out of fear that the name was both too gimmicky and lawsuit-prone). Meanwhile, in early 1998 in Tyler, Boyd and Kim opened BrewTones Coffee Galaxy, a coffeehouse/all-ages music venue.

“That was fun because right around the time we started playing, we were helping our parents run it,” Chauntelle says. “We’d cook the meals for the bands and set up the stage, and my brother would do sound, so we kinda had a taste of what it’s like to be in a band. It was inspiring to see so many different musicians, and you got to learn so many things, like what you did and didn’t like about songwriting or people’s performances.”

Eisley soon made its live debut at BrewTones, and—after recruiting Jonathan, a friend from church, to play bass—began playing regularly around Tyler, and then at clubs in nearby Dallas. After a few years, the buzz surrounding them had grown considerably, and by the beginning of 2003, a batch of songs the band had recorded at home over the previous three years was finally garnering interest from several labels. And then the big break came—those demos found their way into the hands of Coldplay singer Chris Martin, who promptly invited the nationally unknown Eisley to open his band’s arena tour that spring.

“It was definitely cool—we were all like, ‘Oh my god, this is crazy,’” Chauntelle says. “But I can’t honestly say that [the tour] being with Coldplay was a dream come true because we weren’t sitting around, you know, ‘Ohhhh, I love Coldplay!’”

Eisley signed to Reprise and released two EPs—Laughing City and Marvelous Things—in 2003, and soon began working on Room Noises in between tours, including one outing with emo upstarts Brand New (which was especially successful in that, not only did Eisley gain some new fans, but Sherri gained a new boyfriend—she’s currently dating Brand New singer Jesse Lacey).

Despite everything going so well on multiple fronts, making Room Noises was a difficult process that took more than a year to complete; Eisley went through three producers, and while the quintet was recording in Los Angeles the Duprees had a health scare brewing back home in Texas. “Our mom was having heart problems, and there was a time when we thought she was going to die,” Chauntelle says. “And we couldn’t be with her so we were really freaked out. It was a really hard year. But she’s completely fine now and everything’s all good.”

While for most people such an experience might suddenly make one realize what’s truly important in life, it’s evident that the members of Eisley have had that figured out all along. “It’s cool, the little bit of success we’ve had,” Chauntelle says. “We’re really thankful for the opportunity and we hope it keeps going in this direction and that we’ll keep getting fans and be able to last a long time. If it doesn’t work out, it would be sad, but we’d always play music together, whether or not we were doing it in the public eye. If this all ended tomorrow and we were dropped from the label and all we were left with was our instruments and each other, that would be fine. We already have all we need.”

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