Watkins Practices Open-Mindedness on Unbiased Eyes LP

Photo Credit: Justice Slone

For experimental indie duo Watkins, Unbiased Eyes is more than an album title – it’s a way of living. Their 2021 LP explores the depths of love and human existence across ten songs, from the mind-opening invitation of introductory track “Good Problems” to challenging the concept of time in “Beyond the Ambience.”

Vocalist/guitarist Taylor Watkins points to “Sad Happy” as a “huge focal point” of the record, as it encourages listeners to unlearn toxic habits, exemplified in such lyrics as, “Take a broken mind, rewind through all the things you learned/Way back to unbiased eyes/All past boils down to the place we call the now.”

“I’m challenging every listener to break out of that mentality and to experience life for its true self. To reconnect with nature and to see life as the beautiful, chaotic existence that it truly is,” Watkins describes of the song’s message.

“The whole goal of Unbiased Eyes, the album, and the phrase ‘unbiased eyes’ and the message I’m trying to get across is to really see without judgment. I wanted to convey this message of seeing every day with a fresh perspective, to be able to see the beauty in everything for the first time,” Watkins says. “In a lot of these songs, you’ll notice lyrically I try to take on this duality of life and to almost express it in a childlike mentality to help each listener return to the present moment. The theme of shedding all of this imprinted knowledge and these everyday habits that we’ve acquired over the years, and trying to remove yourself from this societal norm and start experiencing life in the now [allows] each listener to find their own pathway to the present moment and to stop worrying about the past or anxiety of the future and to take in what it means to be here and to see with unbiased eyes every second.”  

The duo’s passion for creating a sustainable world and connecting to the universe has been cultivated through years of open-mindedness. Drummer Scott Harris reveals that he’s spent the past few years researching permaculture, which focuses on living off the grid and on the land, incorporating the elements of agriculture, community resilience and more. “A lot is trying to connect people back to the natural world. What we’re always trying to push for is how can you rely on yourself more and get away from the system,” Harris explains of the process.

The pair were introduced in 2011 by a mutual friend as freshman in high school in West Chester, Ohio, quickly realizing they were musical soulmates. “We both saw it as an outlet in our lives that we wanted to chase forever. It was pretty much a guiding passion for both of us,” Watkins says as their mutual love of music. “[We] already had very strong personalities in the sense of individuality and self-awareness and finding your own path or passion in life. So when we met each other, we were already ahead of our times in that way that we were thinking with our universal eye rather than just where we were at that moment in time.”

They spent their days after school jamming in a friend’s basement, taught themselves the ins and outs of recording and producing by creating makeshift studios, and began gigging weekly around town. “Looking back on it, I think it’s funny how we clicked and wanted to really innovate with music and take a little bit of a psychedelic approach to it and wanting the mind-opening route to music,” Harris recalls of their early days. “It was really all great memories.” 

Remaining present and deeply focused on their craft is a natural instinct that the band has carried throughout their decade-long career. “It’s never for the fame, it’s never for the recognition. It’s not even for ourselves. We wanted to mainly focus on spreading self-awareness and to promote a reconnection to the natural world,” Watkins says.

After Harris moved to Nashville in 2015 to pursue a career in audio engineering, the duo continued to hone their craft, meeting in Nashville and Kentucky as they developed their own sound they’ve branded “psychedelic Southern,” in an attempt to open listeners’ minds to the vastness of the world.

“To us, the word [psychedelic] means mind-opening or mind-altering growth. We wanted to take this journey with music to really try to grow ourselves, grow our own minds. Not only ourselves, but to spread what we know, our realizations and give those to others,” Watkins says of their distinct sound. “That’s where we started moving forward as a duo, me and Scott realizing not only can we spread this message lyrically, but we were finding ways sonically with our recording styles to incorporate modern style and try to create new fusions of our favorite music, and trying to find a way to do it new in our own kind of light.”

Growing up, Watkins was an avid fan of Henry David Thoreau, and was inspired by his philosophy that “you can never learn in life until start to put yourself into the unknown. There’s no learning unless you are risking it, unless you are getting yourself just a little bit uncomfortable,” Watkins paraphrases. To that end, Watkins has achieved “unbiased eyes” through travel, immersing himself in different cultures, beginning with a backpacking trip around Europe with friends in college, visiting thirteen countries in the span of a month.

That appetite for travel has only grown, inspiring him to make his dream of living on the road a reality. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Watkins and his partner purchased a van that they turned into a livable home on wheels. After finishing weather proofing and prepping the van during quarantine, they took to the open road, traveling across the country from the Gulf Shores of Florida up through the Midwest before settling in Maine where Watkins lived and worked on a farm.

“The goal in mind during these travels is we’re always looking to build a sense of community everywhere we go. Every time we travel, we’re looking to find people that not only already vibe with the message we’re about, but who can also help us grow that message, and to really show us new sides of growth and progression that we weren’t necessarily even aware of,” Watkins examines. “We really want to use these travels as a reflection on where we see ourselves continuing to build communities in the future. Where do we put ourselves geographically to create these sort of spaces?”

With that mindset, they also migrated out west, venturing through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico before settling down in Idaho’s Teton Valley in a town with a population of 1,000 people. Riding a bike to work and living in a van that was often caught under two feet of snow in the harsh Idaho winter was an eye-opening experience for Watkins, as he intentionally became part of a smaller community with people who have a desire to grow their own food and truly support one another. “Traveling opened up this new sense for me to realize that if I’m receptive to the energy, I can gain a new perspective out of each person I talk to, removing all of those pre-biased intentions and accepting people where they’re at,” Watkins professes. 

All of this ties into how Watkins and Harris walk through the world with “unbiased eyes.” For Harris, that means viewing each situation in life through a positive lens, while Watkins holds himself accountable to live each day with a sense of “self-acceptance,” letting go of judgment, and living in the now not only for himself, but others, in hopes that it inspires listeners to live a fulfilling life.

“Moving forward, we’re going to take all of these incorporated ideas that Unbiased Eyes holds and try to grow off of them, not only within the music, just within ourselves,” Watkins proclaims of the duo’s mission. It’s not really even about the music necessarily for us. “It’s the sense of community and spreading awareness and building and growing together through the music.”

Follow Watkins on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Starbenders Keep Rock Alive (And Weird) With Their Biggest Year Yet

photo by Vegas Giovanni

When considering the Atlanta music scene, few bands encapsulate the weird, ecstatic, constantly-changing energy as well as Starbenders. The halfway home for misunderstood misfits, fringers, and glam punks, Starbenders — made up of Emily Moon on the drums, bassist Aaron Lecesne, guitarist and vocalist Kriss Tokaji, and the fierce lead vocalist and guitarist Kimi Shelter — is a sonic assault from the very first note, and their legions of fans across the globe are ready and willing to prove it. 

In October, the foursome took their show to the other side of the world, touring for the first time in Japan. I caught up with the group upon their return to talk about touring far away lands, rebellion, and rock ’n roll.

AF: You just got back from what looked like an incredible tour in Japan. What was that like? What was the biggest difference from playing and touring in the US?

KT: Japan was incredible. There was so much to see and experience. The culture is so fascinating, and Tokyo is a remarkable city that’s so full of life and prosperity. While playing shows in Japan, we witnessed a certain level of respect and a passion for music that we don’t really see in the States too often. It was a very positive artistic environment. Everyone was at these shows purely for the love of music and the live performance. People were truly engaged, and they were there to see and feel something real and tangible. 

AL: I think in America we can be a little cynical or pretentious about music sometimes. Japan seems to be much more unapologetic in their appreciation for all things music. The enthusiasm there is palpable. There are record stores on every corner, and trucks drive through the streets with images of artists plastered on their sides. Big LED screens advertise new albums everywhere you go. The overall attitude towards music from audiences struck me as very pure and joyful. 

AF: How has ATL and its musical history influenced you? What statement do you want to make with your music about the city, and what do you love most about the Atlanta music scene?

AL: Atlanta is weird, and that’s the best part. That’s not only what I like most about it, but it’s also a statement I stand behind with our music. Keep being weird, Atlanta. I’ll always be proud to call you home. 

AF: What’s been the proudest moment for you guys? The most challenging?

EM: I’d say touring in Japan was both our proudest and most challenging moment. Flying 14 hours across the world to play music to an entirely different culture was both rattling and extremely fulfilling. I think I can speak for all of us when I say it didn’t really hit us until we arrived at the airport the journey we were about to embark on. The language barrier once getting to Japan was what was challenging – I remember a distinct moment during sound check when all we could do is tell the in-house sound guy, “Led Zeppelin! Make it sound like Led Zeppelin!”

KT: Playing in Japan was nothing short of a dream come true. We were able to meet so many wonderful people at these shows, as well as share the stage with some amazing artists. It’s a testament to how universal rock n’ roll is.  Despite thousands of miles existing between us, we feel the same love and passion for loud guitars and drums.  It was an amazing experience. The most challenging thing for us might have been the language barrier, as well as getting used to certain customs and a way of life we were not familiar with. Throughout our time in Tokyo, we were constantly learning and adapting to our surroundings, and that’s what really opened our eyes to Japanese culture.

AF: You’ve released a single and a new EP this year. How has your creative process grown and evolved since your first release in 2016? Is it collaborative, or does one of you tend to come in with an idea and present it to the group?

KS: I often compare our songs to a human body. I build the skeleton and the rest of the band and I work together to attach the muscles and tendons that mobilize the piece into a living and breathing organism. This has been our process since day one.

AF: 21st Century Orphan packs an even heavier punch than Heavy Petting, which was a killer debut album. Did you go in intending to sharpen the edge? Do you ever find it difficult to just let it all go and give in to the music? 

KS: Thank you so much! We move freely through different textures and genres. The moment you start trying to put bumpers on your creativity is the moment you will prevent something really special from coming out. I believe that you should only prune a grown tree – why disassemble the seed? We protect that sentiment as much as we can and that is what allows us to keep people guessing. It’s just the Starbenders sound. 

AL: Letting it all go and giving into the music is pretty much what I live for, so it’s definitely not difficult. Performance is an almost meditative state for me because my mind is never quiet and when we play, it’s liberating. It’s like going into a trance but exhilarating at the same time, and it’s the one drug I’ve never developed a tolerance for. 

AF: In my eyes, Starbenders is a musical representation of rebellion and nonconformity. You’re not afraid to blend genres, take risks, and create something entirely unique. What does that mean to you? How has music allowed you to express yourself freely and without fear, and do you think your fans feel the same way when listening to your music or attending a show?

KS: Music is freedom. I want to convey that freedom to the listener as much as possible. As an artist, we need to accept the vulnerability that comes with creating in a way that makes you strong and not weak. Art and beauty are in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. A compelling and consistent act should be polarizing.  I don’t want people to “sort of” like us. It’s better to be hated or loved. That’s what makes us free.

EM: I can’t really go around hitting people with sticks and honestly that’d be scary for everyone involved so luckily I’m in a rock band that allows me to beat the shit out of drums instead. I should hope when people see us perform they feel the angst and raw power in their bones that’s vibing off of the stage and if they don’t then they can just go back to scrolling through Instagram.

AF: One of my favorite questions to ask musicians is how they feel about being a voice for people who may be silenced, out of fear, insecurity, or even governmental/societal oppression. What role do you think art plays in giving a voice to the silenced?

KS: Through standing strong it might help to inspire someone out there to know they aren’t alone. I often tell people that if I can make it through, they can too. There are more of us than there are of them and WE belong to the misfits. 

AL: Personally, I hesitate to put art on a pedestal as some kind of noble pursuit in and of itself. Like any medium, what matters is how you use it. We put our entire beings into this, and I would hope the things we’re passionate about – equality, love, empathy, tolerance, and compassion – shine through as a positive message. That being said, we’re rebels at heart who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. We’re in the trenches with everyone else, and our job isn’t to speak for anyone so much as it is to raise the flag and beat the drum on the march towards change. If you’re ready to fix bayonets and charge, we’re right there beside you because we ARE you. 

AF: You’ve been heavily involved in various charities since your conception. What kind of awareness do you hope to spread using the Starbenders platform?

KT: Music is a powerful conduit. With all that’s wrong in the world, it’s our responsibility to use the tools we possess to help fight off the evil and the turmoil that exist in our society. We feel there is no stronger voice than rock n’ roll, and it’s necessary for us to use that voice to spread the word about issues we feel strongly about.

KS: Cultivating awareness through social media is a very big part of life now. But people can forget to put their bodies to work for the name of a cause. The physical realm still needs us and boots on the ground can be vital. We don’t work with charities for the brownie points; we do it because we have a calling to do so. 

AF: Who are you listening to, and who would you say had the most influence on you as a band?

KS: I’m all over the place. I grew up playing violin, so I carried the drama of classical music into my repertoire. Phasing from classical music I fell in love with punk, which developed the thunder in my heart. Thunder and drama met the mission when I encountered rock n’ roll. I listen to anything that grabs me… Vivaldi, Miles Davis, New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols, Bowie, Placebo, Dead Kennedys, Stevie Wonder. It’s not a musical act that carries the influence.  It’s thunder, drama and the mission. I’m moved by the storm that wakes me up in the middle of the night.

AL: As a bassist, most recently I’ve been digging in to how [Motown legend] James Jamerson played. He’s just so deft and slick but everything he plays serves the song, and his style defined a whole era. As a fan of music, that new Of Montreal album has me hooked. 

KT: My two biggest musical influences are Led Zeppelin and Prince. Others include Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Stones, Bowie, The Cure, U2, Oasis, Bauhaus, The Clash, and The Damned.  Rock n’ roll was my first true love in music, but I’ve always been fascinated with the other styles, genres, and sounds that the world has to offer. Classical and gypsy jazz are two other styles of music I adore and draw influence from.

EM: Paramore, Faye Webster, The Power Station…definite influence for some of our new recordings, Wolf Alice.

Keep in touch with STARBENDERS via FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, and check back with Audiofemme every other Wednesday for the latest installment of PLAYING ATLANTA.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Car Seat Headrest “Vincent”


The video description for Car Seat Headrest‘s “Vincent” is simply: “Will plays the guitar while a guy has a bad time.” That’s about as concise as anyone could get, but the song is layered with a lot more meaning, imagery and emotion. It looks like Will Toledo, the creator and frontman of Car Seat Headrest, has given detailed explanations of the song’s lyrics online, but in the context of the official video, the words tell a story about how and why one drink can turn into way too many.

Scenes switch between a house party where Toledo performs and the apartment of “Vincent”‘s main character, a guy who looks like he’s been working in an office all day. It’s not clear if the party is something he’s trying to relive, or just in his own head. As the song begins with long, deliberate strums of distorted guitar, he pours himself a drink in his empty house. He looks sad when he’s sober, and Toledo repeats, “Half the time, I want to go home.” Then the booze kicks in, and so does the music: There’s the long, drawn-out static of guitar feedback, restless drums, and the sadly serious vocals of Toledo immersed in it all. Horns swirl around his voice when he chants, “It must be hard to speak in a foreign language/Intoxicado, intoxicado.” The band knows how to pull back and surge ahead at the right moments, and does so frequently, never settling until “Vincent” is over. It’s chaotic and messy, and embodies the video’s character as he loses restraint and gets completely wasted. At one point he unpacks a suitcase that’s filled only with liquor, a clear metaphor about replacing emotional baggage with booze.

Though the video is pretty dark, there are moments of subtle humor, like when the main character drunkenly cuddles a cat or when Toledo refers to playing a guitar as “holding a noise machine.” The video ends with the guy stripping down to his underwear and staggering to Toledo’s microphone as the crowd looks on, disgusted. If this last scene accompanied a different song, it might have comedic potential. But, instead of relieving the tension by making it a laughable moment, “Vincent” reaches for something that’s uncomfortable, but better.

Drink responsibly, kids.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Smoke Season “Bees”


The music video for “Bees” by Smoke Season is as trippy as you can get. The figures of Jason Rosen (formerly of Honor Society) and vocalist Gabrielle Wortman (from TEMP3ST) stand in front of a wall of swirling light, their shadows bending and twisting, their bodies morphing and multiplying. It fits the psychedelic sound of the song, which features the rhythm of heartbeat-like guitar chords, echoing voices and heavy breathing. The bees in question are probably attracted to the honey-like quality of Wortman’s voice, which is sweet and light while she sings a descending melody during the verses, then erupts during the chorus with the slightest bit of twang: “I smell the bees, I smell the bees/you get the honey without the sting.”

Why bees? Well, they’re kind of a metaphor for a tumultuous romance, if you think about it. You may get something sweet from putting up with them, but most likely, you’re just going to get stung.

Check out the video for “Bees” below.


ALBUM REVIEW: Tame Impala “Currents”


“They say people never change, but that’s bullshit/ They do.”

That’s a line from Currents, the latest album by Tame Impala. If you’ve been following their music for the past seven years, you’ll notice immediately that the album is quite a change for the Australian psychedelic rock band led by Kevin Parker. Tame Impala’s debut album, Innerspeaker, was filled with the bluesy guitar riffs of “Half Full Glass Of Wine” and quirky pysch-pop of “Solitude Is Bliss.” The 2012 release Lonerism, which included the heavy, time-shifting rock track “Elephant,” mostly continued this sound. 

But on Currents, little is the same as before. The guitars have been replaced with synths, except for a few lines on “Disciples” and some delay-heavy melodies in “Love/Paranoia.” I cringed when an euphoric, Avicii-like synth melody started halfway through the opening track, but then it turned into a broken-record loop of noise, which melted into a psychedelic jam and finally a funky hook before fading out. That song is titled “Let It Happen,” as if Parker had a feeling this new direction would cause some resistance in listeners (or even have them double-checking their screens to make sure that yes, that is a Tame Impala album they’re streaming.) But go with it – though it sounds strange at first, the album is as good as it is different. I miss the old Tame Impala’s guitar riffs, but Parker proves that his songwriting talents extend beyond rock to soulful ballads and electronic music.  “Elephant” showed us that he has an amazing feeling for rhythm and beats, which makes him a natural when it comes to dance music. You can get anyone to move to something with a good beat, but Parker’s substantial, introspective lyrics will also hold the attention of listeners.

Key tracks are the long lost Tears For Fears single “Moment,” the shimmery pop of “Reality In Motion” and the soul-filled single “Cause I’m A Man.”

There may not be much overlap between Tame Impala’s old fans and the ones he gains from Currents – or, like in my case, someone could like both Innerspeaker and Currents, but for completely different reasons. Before, Kevin Parker wanted us to know he likes being alone. Now, he wants to make you dance. At least he hasn’t gone country.

Currents will be  released July 17th via Interscope. You can check out the new song “Let It Happen” below stream the album via NPR here.

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TRACK OF THE WEEK: The Midnight Hollow “Forward”

Reverb-drenched vocals reminiscent of Morrissey, driven by percussive synth lines, The Midnight Hollow’s single “Forward” off their upcoming EP “For The People Inside” accents the Brooklyn based psychedelic rocker’s ethereal sound. The laid back vocals emerge from frontman Spencer Draeger, who is partnered with Andrew Segreti on drums, backed with the full lineup for live shows Matt Liebowitz on bass, Vahak “V” Janbazian on percussion and Katie Lee Campo on the keys. The track is rounded by solid live drums and percussion rooting the electronic elements, as far too often groups with a similar sound become a bit lost in space. When waking up on a rainy Monday morning, ground your caffeine and nicotine buzz with the lush synth strings of “Forward” to mellow out your post-weekend angst.

Catch The Midnight Hollow in all their glory live at Piano’s on Tuesday, November 18th at 8PM. Word up to The Midnight Hollow for reminding us that the delightful post-punk sound is still alive and well in Brooklyn.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Jeffertitti’s Nile “The Electric Hour”


Jeffertitti’s Nile may be one of the most eccentric bands to come on the Los Angeles scene as of late. They define their music as “transcendental space-punk doo-wop,” three ideas that may seem arbitrary at a glance, but work pretty well together when actualized. Their second full-length album, The Electric Hour, is out April 29th and it takes that definition to a new level. Recorded largely on analog tape, Jeffertitti has described it as a “sense of travel in ten-thousand directions.” This record definitely runs on its psychedelic rock vibes, but sounds more like the soundtrack to an action-packed space opera than Jefferson Airplane or the Beatles. In defining itself by putting emphasis on words that feel more literary, the project challenges the importance of more typical genre or categorization in music.

Titles like “Golden Age,” ”The Day the Sky Fell,” and the mix of sounds rapidly evoke a combination of the urban, industrial, and cosmic, though there’s not much about Jeffertitti’s Nile that is electronic. They instead combine 60s psychedelic vibes with heavy punk influence and ethereality. The “doo-wop” makes entrances in songs like “Blue Spirit Blues,” a Bessie Smith cover that lends its own unique hues to the classic. Though they are not concerned with ambience, there is still a strong sense of atmosphere in the music. The band jumps between rhythm and melody throughout the album, but they are always devoted to the idea of space. Even the titles recall some kind of special movement. “Midnight Siren” could be a ship hurtling through the darkness and a kind of screaming lullaby at the same time. The constant dynamism and fusing of musical elements works really well with something as incredibly complicated and vast as outer space.

Like most psychedelic music this is a very visual album, recalling motion through the held-out guitar notes, the ethereal background vocals. This is given focus with the “space” theme, right down to the colorful album art recalling arbitrary figures positioned in the stars. But the “punk” element is truly surprising – the quick and heavy drums that break out of the psychedelia give the intergalactic effect more human qualities. It opens up the narative of the record into something that not only transcends earth or the typical human mind set, but actively rebels against these things. Jeffertitti is serious about making themselves difficult to pin down. The “transcendent” aura shows itself in tracks like “Stay On” where wind instrument sounds temper the chaotic guitar and drums and the imagination and artistry that obviously went into the tone of the album set it apart from other acts of their ilk. The band doesn’t try very hard to make intriguing structures of rhythms; they rarely need to. If you’re intrigued by the concept, you’ll find the music mosaic enough.

Though this album doesn’t always keep your attention, it demands recognition through its rejection of musical norms. There are moments of delight and moments that take you away from reality. Give The Electric Hour a shot and listen to “Blue Spirit Blues” below: