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We Interviewed EULA’s Alyse Lamb in a Bouncy Castle Made of Boobs

The frontwoman of the noisy Brooklyn trio takes a trip to the Museum of Sex and discusses EULA's recent album 'Wool Sucking.'

by Zach Schonfeld
22 June 2015, 4:39pm


Photos by the author

I’m chucking balls at a Skee Ball machine adorned with moving, gold-plated penises, and Alyse Lamb is telling me about diseased cats. Kittens, actually. Ones that suffer from Wool Sucking, the bizarre disorder that provided the title for Lamb’s latest album with EULA, her three-piece noise rock group from Brooklyn via Connecticut.

“Wool Sucking is a nervous disorder in cats,” Lamb tells me as skee balls thrash and skitter against the board. “When they’re taken away from their moms too soon, they suck wools and emulate their moms, almost. It’s a security thing. It kind of fit my situation, being a little kitten.”

Figuratively, I think she means—uprooting, starting anew after moving to Brooklyn in 2011. But on Wool Sucking, the stark sophomore album from EULA, released earlier this spring, Lamb sings sometimes like a frightened kitten. On “Noose,” for instance, her chorus enters as a high, keening plea as one guitar doubles the melody in a groaning lower register and another drills a detuned loop into your skull. (It sounds a little like a broken rubber band, useless and vibrating all the same.)

Lyrically, Wool Sucking is concerned with often futile searches for stability and trust. “Your Beat” finds Lamb crowing nervously at a would-be lover, “Are you an imposter? / Someone I can’t count on.” “Noose” wonders: “Will you be the one or just another?” Elsewhere, she’s the one frightening the kitties: “Orderly” is all flailing limbs and medical emergencies, while the half-shuffle “I Collapse” brings a bit of twang to its leering taunt of a chorus (“Can you handle nasty weather?”). On the brief but mighty “Meadows,” Lamb twists her voice into a clamorous shriek.

But there are no shrieks right now—just polite museum voices. We’re at the Funland exhibit, an immersive wonderland of carnal delights on the upper levels of the Museum of Sex in Manhattan. “It’s not better than sex, but it’s pretty good,” the New York Daily News enthused last summer. Why here? It’s more interesting than a hotel or a coffee shop, plus EULA has always had a bit of sexual derangement to their music: “I Collapse” almost seems like a come-on (“I collapse into you / Be careful what you do”) before giving way to arson fantasy. Which isn’t really sexy, but neither is Funland—unless a bouncy castle that leaves you out of breath and reminds you of every outdoor birthday party you attended in fourth grade matches your fetish.

The twist is that this castle is PG-13—it’s made of giant inflatable boobs—so we take our shoes off and hop around until our time’s up. All the while, Lamb tells me about how the band settled on renowned producer Martin Bisi to work on Wool Sucking, citing his work with Swans and Sonic Youth and—to my surprise—Whitney Houston, who recorded with Bisi at the age of 19. That 80s underground influence (Thurston more than Houston) crackles throughout Wool Sucking. Bisi knows how to capture—and encourage—intensity on wax. “He’s like an energizer bunny, he’s ridiculous,” Lamb says. “We’re falling asleep, so stressed out and frustrated, and he’s like: ‘Come on, guys. Let’s do this.’ “

Wool Sucking is a short project, but EULA, which is led by Lamb but also features Stephen Reader (drums) and Jeff Maleri (bass), spent the entire summer of 2013 recording it at Bisi’s studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn. (The band's original drummer, Nathan Rose, played on the album but was later replaced by Reader.) The analog mixing took a while, too. At its best, the resulting LP brushes off the tinny, demo-like quality of the band’s 2011 debut Maurice Narcisse. (Also dispensed with: ill-advised electronic experiments like that album’s “Canyon.”) The sound is fuller and mightier.

“I wanted it raw,” Lamb tells me. “One of the things that sold me with working with [Bisi] was the live room. Basically, the drums were in this huge cavernous cement walled basement area. It just sounds killer.” From the cagey dread of “Noose” to the blustery stomp of “Orderly,” it is the closest the band has come to capturing the fevered aggression and dynamic range of its live shows.

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EULA formed out of a slew of demos Lamb recorded while going to music school in New Haven. The singer has a serious background in ballet, with more than ten years of childhood practice, but her focus had settled on music by the time she met Rose and Maleri in Connecticut. The trio began playing “art spaces and house parties,” as the band’s website puts it, in 2007. Relocating to New York in 2011, the same year Maurice Narcisse appeared, EULA became a regular presence in Brooklyn’s punk and indie venues, drawing neither fame nor glory but word-of-mouth recognition for its brusque, tightly wound performances.

Some time before the field trip to Funland, in early March, I trekked through a brutal winter’s final snows to catch the band’s record release gig at Palisades, a newish, refreshingly gritty venue in Bushwick. The house DJ was an unattended Macbook set to some Bandcamp page; the bathroom was a case study in punk squalor, with two Red Stripe bottles where the paper towels should be and stickers on the toilet reading “DISARM NYPD” and “FUCK THIS INDUSTRY.”

The venue was well-suited, in other words, to the neatly measured seediness of EULA’s music. The place was not full but not empty either, and as EULA started bashing out material from Wool Sucking, the chatter subsided—the songs were too tense. Joining the trio onstage was saxophonist Kate Mohanty, who added an extra touch of anarchy to the proceedings. True to its title, “I Collapse” sounded especially unhinged. Clad in a flowing black veil, Lamb sang (and yelped, and grunted) in front of a kaleidoscope screen of colorful, shifting imagery, the work of the multidisciplinary Famous Swords art collective, which Lamb created with her partner Chris Mulligan and which released Wool Sucking as its first LP.

While Wool Sucking made up most of the set list at this show at Palisades, there were scattered highlights from Maurice Narcisse. One of them was “Honor Killer,” which shows off an odd penchant for jittery funk and violent lyrical acuity.

Lamb leaned in for the chorus. It goes: “Shoot me, hang me, kill me!”

At the Museum of Sex, we wind our way through a hall of mirrors known as the “G-Spot Mirror Maze,” and I try scaling a climbing wall called “Grope Mountain,” which requires making use of foot-and-hand-holds designed to resemble fleshy orifices. On a separate floor is an exhibit about animal sex; we examine a statue of pandas fucking and another of deer wrapped in a precarious-seeming threesome.

Lamb narrows in on a photograph that shows a bonobo ape gleefully masturbating in the middle of a dirt road. It stirs a memory from when she was about six years old: “We went to a zoo, and I saw this happening”—she points to the bonobo—“I swear. And I was like, ‘Mom! What is he doing?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t know!’… She didn’t say ‘Masturbating.’ She said something like, ‘He’s pleasuring himself.’ She put it very eloquently.

“I’ll never forget that image,” Lamb adds. These days the singer has less time for the zoo; between band duties she keeps a part-time job as a costume designer in Connecticut, where she returns several times a month from her Bushwick apartment. Once she got to work on the musical production of Stephen King’s nightmarish Carrie. “There was this big deal with the blood scene. We had to do run-throughs. So the costumes got destroyed.”

Reader works at VH1, while Maleri has a job at an adult community in Connecticut. Lamb worked for years at Permanent Records in Greenpoint. “We try to take as much time off as possible to do touring and the band,” Lamb says. “But you have to be somewhat independent and survive.” That’s hard in 2015’s Brooklyn. Outspoken on gentrification, Lamb is still optimistic about the borough’s DIY prospects. “I feel like you find new areas to explore. Like Palisades, Secret Project Robot. And Alphaville just opened on Wilson in Bushwick. There are new places opening up that are really pushing it.”

Lamb already has a batch of new songs written, demos to record. (“I don’t even feel like it’s a chore! Like, I’m so excited to do it, start the whole process over again.”) But the looming end of the Wool Sucking cycle also affords a fleeting moment of reflection in a room filled to the brim with animals fucking.

“Sometimes you just go through with blinders,” the EULA singer tells me. “There are things you have to do and shows you have to play and shows you want to play. And boom-boom-boom, then you look at it from afar and you’re like, ‘Wow, I just did all this. Holy shit.’”

Zach Schonfeld loves bouncy castles. Follow him on Twitter.