EULA’s Alyse Lamb, Carrying the Weight of NYC Rock History

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Photo by Jane Bruce

Wool Sucking, the second album by Brooklyn neo-no-wavers EULA, is named for an acute anxiety that’s also just plain cute. “It’s thought that when kittens are weaned too early they have a kind of nervous anxiety disorder going on, so they suck wool to emulate their moms,” explains the band’s songwriter and front woman, Alyse Lamb. “It’s like a comfort thing, a weirdo compulsion, basically.” Perhaps that’s too gentle an image for a record full of sudden, savage roars? “It was sort of a transition album. You start off as a baby animal and then kind of grow into this lion woman,” she laughs. “I thought it fit.”

Ragged post-punk was not the musical focus of Lamb’s own adolescent in-between years. She was a kid ballet dancer and a grade school orchestra member before receiving university training in composition. Now she’s conducting empty space and cathartic noise, her electric guitar either erupting or threatening to. Her current songwriting process remains “pretty cerebral,” but there’s a physicality to EULA’s songs that creates the sense, or the illusion, at least, of emotive spontaneity. Deep, sharp-edged contributions from bassist Jeff Maleri and drummer Nathan Rose back up the suggestion of sudden violence with real weight. Lamb’s lyrics clearly describe a doomed romance, and she confirms the easy assumption that they were inspired by one that was particularly volatile. “It most often is, isn’t it,” she asks, “love in general?” In full, Wool Sucking has the effect of a vein twitching in the side of some neck.

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To achieve that tension, the band enlisted downtown production legend Martin Bisi, an expert in the subtle difference between sounding totally raw or just a bit bloody. For Lamb, the chance to work with a guy who’s recorded Brian Eno, Fab Five Freddy, Swans, Afrika Bambaata,  and Iggy Pop, to enlist the ear of the man behind the board on a record as towering as Sonic Youth’s EVOL, was a flattering prospect. “Martin, he doesn’t just record anybody who walks off the street, or something,” she says. Still, the collaboration only came after a kind of courtship—demos sent, shows witnessed, intentions gauged. “You don’t know how this person’s going to be,” says Lamb. “You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them and your personalities have got to match up, and they did. So it was a win-win on both accounts.”

EULA drew comparisons to the most celebrated era of New York City rock, even before working with an actual punk architect. Lamb follows in a long line of give-no-fucks front-women spanning from Lydia Lunch to Karen O, and the post-album addition of Kate Mohanty on saxophone gives them a stomach-churning low-end, that brings them even closer to a NO NEW YORK-era band like James Chance and the Contortions. (“She totally just shreds on sax,” says Lamb of Mohanty. “It’s so insane.) The weight of that history is keenly felt. “It’s like if you have really famous parents or really famous ancestors and you have to live up to their legacy,” she says. “I feel like people are almost like, ’Oh shit, we have to keep this going here.’”

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As a year of massive upheaval in Brooklyn’s music scene put that lasting legacy in sudden doubt, Lamb has been an outspoken witness to rents astronomically jacked and venues suddenly shuttered. EULA’s first Brooklyn show was at the long gone Secret Project Robot spot in Williamsburg, their new record’s release show is tonight at Bushwick’s Palisades, a new scene center reflecting that outward sprawl. But despite the continuing, low-level anxiety that she might be displaced, the punk singer and founder of the multi-media collective Famous Swords isn’t looking to leave an arts community in which she’s become a leader. “I dunno, it’s survival of the fittest maybe?” she says. “But if you have it in you that strong, you’re just going to do it. And that’s amazing.”

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