Saturday, July 16, 2011

Artist Profile: Miles Atkins of Eyes Like Oceans

It’s 2:30 in Dolores Park and Miles Atkins is waiting for me by the tennis courts. The fifteen-year-old Eyes Like Oceans mastermind is sipping on a Slurpee, facing away from the mass of sunbathing hippies strewn across the park. This dark figure, sitting erect with a blank expression on his face, is an odd sight among the masses of shiny, smiling thirtysomethings lying on their jackets and blankets. A pair of earbuds lead from his head to his pocket, snaking and winding across a T-shirt emblazoned with the band name THE WONDER YEARS and the caption: “I’m not a self-help book, I’m just a fucked up kid.”

Atkins, 15, has been connected to the Bay Area music scene since he was eleven or twelve, when he saw a “friend of a friend” of his parents’ perform at the Complex. That friend of a friend, as it turned out, was Henry Rosenthal, a.k.a. Hank Rank, of seminal West Coast punk band Crime (and father of Lou Lou and George from Lou Lou & the Guitarfish). Atkins socialized with the acts who had performed along with Rosenthal and rapidly began to make connections on the music scene, befriending numerous well-known musicians.

Atkins truly established his presence as a an omnipresent figure on the Bay Area music scene in 2010, when he started the Raindrop Residence music blog with Loni Lonzo. Raindrop Residence chiefly served as a source of updates about shows and new releases by bands, and it was active mainly during the second half of 2010. It was heavily promoted by many of the bands it featured, many of whom were highly successful or became so during the time Raindrop Residence reported on them. The blog developed a good-sized following until Atkins and Lonzo parted ways in early 2011. While Lonzo focused on her photography, Atkins began to focus more on the Secret Show, a music project he began in November 2010 with producer Izzy Cordova after attending the Paul Green School of Rock music program.

“I didn’t want to play other people’s music anymore,” Atkins says between sips of his neon-red Slurpee. Indeed, Atkins has somewhat of a bias against cover songs, and though he has covered songs himself live, he does not see the merit in doing a direct cover. “If I cover a song, I’ll make it my own,” he says. “I’ll cover a song that would have a different meaning coming from a fifteen-year-old artist rather than a much older artist.”

This sentiment is part of Atkins’ musical philosophy. He has always been attracted to music that sounds like it comes directly from the singer’s psyche and sounds like it was actually made by a human being with human emotions. What exactly this means is a bit sketchy, but Atkins gives examples such as Weezer’s Pinkerton, Saves The Day’s Stay What You Are, and Say Anything... Is A Real Boy. “It’s a terrible record,” he acknowledges regarding Pinkerton. “The instruments aren’t in tune, and Rivers Cuomo is singing off-key for most of it. When I first heard it, I thought, ‘This is terrible! What is this shit?’ But I listened to it again a few years later and thought, ‘This is such an honest and emotional record.’”

The music Atkins wrote for the Secret Show project reflects this sentiment, as do the songs he is currently writing for Eyes Like Oceans. Almost every song is based on an actual event in Atkins’ life (“except I shift it to make it sound like nothing’s my fault,” Atkins jokes). As a result of Atkins’ tell-all attitude, his music is often pegged as “emo,” a tag he neither rejects nor propagates. “It’s sort of a blessing and a curse,” he says. “Most of the bands I like are considered ‘emo,” but at the same time there are a lot of people who won’t listen to my music just because people call it emo.”

Emo or not, Atkins has developed a considerable following, mainly in San Jose, based on his music and often uncomfortable live shows. Secret Show performances were often harrowing--barely moving or stopping to drink water, Atkins would gaze viciously at the crowd and ensure every word was pressed into the audience members’ brains. His often disturbing lyrics caused the Secret Show to be banned from a number of venues in the Bay Area. “People say my music is disrespectful towards women,” he says. “It’s actually just disrespectful towards certain women, but people think if I talk about one woman in a negative way, I’m insulting all women.”

The first Eyes Like Oceans EP, June, will be released later this month. Atkins is also in talks with Kylle Reece of Wake Up, Dolly about a potential collaboration. “It’s going to be called ‘Eight Bitches In A Bitch Boat,’” Atkins says, apparently quite serious. “It’s not going to help much with the misconception that I hate women, though.”

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