With more than a dozen releases spanning the better half of a decade, Jacksonville-based DIY quartet Opiate Eyes built a substantial catalog of music. Opiate Eyes tunes are complex and sonorous, but more than anything experimentation — with space, ambient noise, and myriad electronic sounds — was a staple of the band’s sound.
After tracking and releasing nearly 70 songs in less than six years, however, Opiate Eyes called it quits, playing its last show in July, fittingly at the “funeral” celebrating the storied, yet short-lived Urban Core music venue Burro Bar.
“Before the Burro show, we were kind of in a sabbatical period, not knowing if we were going to play again,” says the band’s vocalist and lead songwriter, Drew Bond, whose melancholy rasp was one of the other consistent features of the group’s ever-evolving sound.
With longtime bassist and co-conspirator Tom Essex moving away, Bond says Opiate Eyes had been drifting apart, literally and metaphorically, for some time. He says he has no regrets, however, and looks fondly on the band’s body of work.
“I’m happy with what we did,” he says. “We had so much fun together and I think that’s why we were so productive.”
Just a month after Opiate Eyes’ final show, Bond — ever the prolific crafter of song — released his fourth solo album, Sitting in The Falls. Like Bond’s past work, the new album makes use of space to create a distinct sonic atmosphere, feeling sparse at times, even when there’s a lot happening, audibly. Unlike Bond’s past work, however, the ambience of Sitting was created with little more than an acoustic guitar.
“I’ve always opted to include additional instruments or electronic elements,” Bond says of his past musical endeavors. “It just felt like a good time to stray away from that and just strip it all down.”
Bond tracked the new album at Warehouse Studios, plugging his acoustic guitar directly into the recording equipment. The resulting guitar sound is something like a cross between a classical guitar and a harpsichord, adding a baroque backbone to the album’s introspective lyrics.
The 11 tracks on Sitting are full of ruminations on nature, its therapeutic qualities and how the natural world can mimic our romantic ideals.
“There’s a lot of reverence for nature in the songs,” Bond says. “Some of it is a meditation on what nature means to people. Some of it’s just an appreciation for beauty.”
The opening track “Devotion” begins with some nimble yet tasteful fingerpicking, followed by Bond’s voice, softly drawing out the word “Devotion.” Bond seems to be in the midst of a sacred place when he adds “the lost art of devotion.” The qualifying phrase invokes a comparison between the pleasant imagery created by Bond’s instrument and voice and the hustle and bustle of somewhere more in keeping with modern urban/suburban life. “In an ocean of racing minds, the commotion outshines,” Bond laments, echoing the challenge of staying present or mindful, even in the presence of striking beauty.
The album’s title is from a track of the same name, which describes an experience Bond had at a waterfall in western North Carolina. “On the dry leaves, on the cool rocks, on the hidden path,” Bond sings, setting an idyllic scene before repeating. “The most beautiful day in human history.”
Such a hyperbolic phrase would seem sarcastic if included in an Opiate Eyes song. In fact, aside from the stripped-down sound, there’s an earnestness to Bond’s lyrics throughout Sitting that anyone who has listened to Opiate Eyes will recognize as a departure for the songwriter. Bond says that was intentional.
“There’s less irony and cynicism than some of the other stuff I’ve written,” Bond says of the tunes on his new album. “I’ve never made anything in that style. I wanted to try something new. I felt I needed to branch out.”
Bond says that although some of the songs on Sitting were created in a flourish of inspired energy, many had been around for a while.
“I had quite a few stored away, not having anywhere to put them,” he says. As he was writing, he kept revisiting the older tunes and soon realized he was creating a body of work that delved in some of the same themes — mainly meditations on humans’ relationship to the natural world — and that the themes were often treated in the same uncharacteristically solemn way.
“I think I wanted to be kind of vulnerable,” Bond says of the process of developing the songs. “It was a chance to expose my fears. I decided I wasn’t going to dress anything up too much. It sort of is what it is.”