Anybody’s first impression on hearing Joseph Lyons, also known as Eaves, might reasonably be how old he sounds. He even has a song titled ‘As Old As The Grave’, which could be a rational description of a voice that sounds like it has been simmered in oak vats since time began.
Lyons is a singer-songwriter on the crest of huge success. In the space of a year, he has signed a management deal, released his first album, and headed out on his own headlining tour.
‘I am not too fond of my name to be honest,’ he says about using a musical pseudonym. ‘When I started out, I posted some material on YouTube under the name of Injun Joe, the character from the Tom Sawyer stories. Then I decided on a change, so I took those songs down, and put my more recent stuff up with the name Eaves. I read the word in the Three Strangers story by Thomas Hardy. In the book, it referred to “rain dripping down from the eaves…” and I just loved the sound of the word, and how it seemed very English, so I adopted it.’
The next thing that strikes you is the wisdom in his words – dark yet unusually spirited tales of love, death, hope and alcoholism which have brought audiences to an attentive silence at gigs, festivals and on tour with the likes of Slow Club and Nick Mulvey, whose gigs he commuted to on a National Express coach, “carrying my guitar bag on the bus!”
Lyons got the musical bug early. His mother was a classical pianist and his father was a Led Zeppelin and Neil Young fan. His father would sing his favourite songs to a young Joe, not always with the positive impact he hoped for: ‘He’s not a musician and he sang really badly,’ Eaves recalls with a smile. ‘I used to think, “Why would I want to listen to songs that sound as bad as that?” Eventually, of course, I discovered them independently, and it dawned on me that these were the songs that my dad used to sing. My mum gave me piano lessons and I used to love picking out tunes with her. Of course, when I got into my teens, it wasn’t cool to be a pianist, so I dropped it. Oddly enough, my first band offered me a place as a keyboard player, but I decided to play guitar instead. I got a cheap guitar and learned some chords, and then the singer dropped out, so I took over vocals as well, and that felt far more natural for me.’
Heavenly Recordings’ exciting new signing could be the North’s answer to Nick Drake, if the singer-songwriter-pianist wasn’t such an amiable and chatty 23-year old, who listens to prog metal bands such as Opeth and Mastodon, as well as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell (who describes Eaves’ music as having “this weird psych singer-songwriter sound”, with lyrics that display thoughts and wisdom far beyond his years).
‘It took me a long time to figure out,’ Eaves says of his vocal range. ‘I used to listen to Led Zeppelin, and I would learn the songs, and then tune them down on my guitar to a vocal range I could reach – not many people can get to Robert Plant’s top notes! I learned where the top of my vocal range was, and where the bottom was, and how I felt comfortable. The emotional range came later when I first started to record myself singing. Listening to my voice everyday, I learned how to get past the parts of the sound of my voice that I hated, and to dig into what I wanted to get over to the listener. I learned that you can visualise the expression on a singer’s face from the way they phrase words, and the feeling they put in. Now that I have done some live work, I have learned to get that feeling across; both the feeling built into the song I have written, and also the way I want to perform it to a live audience. Initially, my emotional input, or output, was quite weak, because my vocal technique wasn’t strong, and I lacked the confidence that comes with experience. Now I have learned how to perform properly and consistently, and I can focus on getting that right in a live setting.’
‘I have always adored Bob Dylan, especially The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. When I heard it, it just blew me away. I realised after a while though, that the impact of the song comes in as much the way you sing it as the story you are telling. I think lyrics have to be honest, you need to be convincing, to believe what you are singing. I think you can tell from a mile off which songs are written because they will hopefully make some money, and which songs are actually expressing something. I’ve found that getting the driving hard songs over with the band I am with is easier, but I am having to learn how to keep the softer side in as well, to give the evening some light and shade. It’s the craft of performance, you learn by doing. I think a lot of it comes from my background,’ he muses. ‘I grew up in Bolton in a family of seven. No family is perfect, but it wasn’t the most comfortable environment. A lot of my imagery comes from that working class upbringing and the things that were happening as I was growing up.’
After learning to play piano in his childhood and switching to guitar in his teens, Lyons initially dabbled with his friend’s prog rock band, before a place at the Leeds College of Music offered him the opportunity to pursue more serious musical ambitions. It was while he was a student that he was presented with a life-changing decision. After recording a song called ‘Little Rock’, which managed to deliver the sound he’d always wanted, he started putting songs online and was receiving substantial interest.
Listeners of Eaves’ debut record, What Green Feels Like, will relish the complexity of his guitar parts, which are the result of his eclectic influences: ‘I have always loved prog rock, and I always wanted to be the guitarist in a band like Yes or Mastodon. I love the excellence of their playing, the way they put their guitar sounds together, the gaps they leave, the gaps they fill, and the sort of soundscape in my recordings comes from that influence.’
Speaking of guitars, Eaves currently plays a C.F. Martin & Co. 00-15M. ‘I bought it when I signed my management deal. They told me that the guitar I had was not good enough, and I didn’t argue with them! I have always loved Martins and have always wanted one. I can fingerpick, and I get good chordal sounds out of it as well. My only minor gripe is that I can’t get the chordal sustain in the studio that I could maybe get with a bigger bodied guitar. I love my Martin. It’s the only valuable and precious thing I have ever owned in my life. I do like Takamine guitars, too, and I know some people don’t. It’s a love-hate thing, which I find hard to understand because I love them. The guitarist in my band, Dan, and I grew up together and used to play around at his house. His stepfather had a really nice Takamine and he told us that whoever got a deal first could have the guitar. I kept telling Dan it had better not be him, because he hated the guitar! I loved it, and I got my deal, and his stepfather kept his word, so I have the Takamine now.’
Still in his early 20s and based in Leeds (having grown up on the other side of the Pennines) and having released his debut EP, As Old As The Grave, to much acclaim in November last year, Eaves is now releasing his debut album What Green Feels Like. Beautifully wistful, emotionally powerful and lyrically astute, Eaves’ debut album is tinged with a world-weary wisdom that belies his age. His delicate and haunting songs have an ageless quality that touch on his upbringing, dreams and death, and especially the desire to get from where he was to where he wants to be. Taking the album out on the road, Eaves is considerate of how to present the songs in a live setting.
‘There is quite a lot of layered guitar in the first album, so I need to work out how best to present those. Plus, some of them are quite long, and I want to make sure that the flow of the evening is constant, no big pauses, because I am always mindful of the time – that comes from playing support slots, where time is restricted. I am planning a different approach to the way the second album is played – maybe scale down to six or seven instruments, not the twenty or so we used on the first one, but that is all in progress, nothing decided just yet. I love the challenge of writing, the need to structure things and make them fit; I really enjoy working on that side of my craft.’
‘Everything has happened so fast for me. Getting a deal and an album out has only taken a year, and now I have my first big tour as well, so I haven’t had a chance to really plan or think about what comes next. I love writing music, I do it every day, and I am so lucky to be able to do it. People always say there is a lot of money in music, but believe me, it’s not a profession you enter with the idea of making a fortune! There are many people who are just about making a living from music, but masses more than the few who really do well. But it is about doing what is important, and I’d rather make my music and take what comes, than do a day job and not be happy. I could probably have a job that makes more money, but which doesn’t have the freedom that I have. The freedom is important, I am never going to give that up. In 10 years’ time, I’d like to have my own house in the middle of nowhere, a studio full of instruments, and for things not to be as intense as they are at the moment. I like green, countryside, creeks and rivers; a bed, a sink and a studio,’ he laughs. ‘I’m not asking for much.’
Eaves’ debut album What Green Feels Like is out now. Eaves tours Europe throughout May.