It’s standing room only this night at a St. Boniface lounge, drinks clutched against chests and raised to red lips, bodies in black jackets pressing curiously towards the band on the stage.
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This is about when the singer of the band steps up to the microphone, jostles his bass, and grins. “We are You Know I Know, and this is our first show,” he says, and pauses for just a beat. “Seventeen years in the making, or so.”
Seventeen years, and he’s only just turning 30 years old.
Seventeen years and they’re now picking back up on a story that’s already partly been told: you know the one. It’s about three St. Vital brothers who grew up, rocked out, got a big fat record deal, opened for The Who and then watched it all skid to a stop.
Not, in the intervening couple of years, that Winnipeg music heads forgot. “Hey,” the question echoed, from Pyramid to Zoo, uttered between friends and fans and flooding up their old Facebook wall too. “Whatever happened to Inward Eye?”
Well the boys are back now, and they have a new name and new songs and sort of a new sound, and you best believe there’s gonna be a party. It’s time. “I kind of feel bad for our fans,” Dave Erickson says, hunched over the bar at Le Garage, where he works sometimes. “We totally did kind of peace out. And I feel like we need to make up for that a bit.”
At 29, Erickson is the oldest of the brothers, and tonight he is buzzing. It’s a Saturday in early January, and it’s the first time the trio has played out under their new name, You Know I Know. They swiped the moniker from one of their older songs, a wicked raw rocker that always sent fists pumping along. After a few years hibernating at home in Winnipeg, it was just time for a change.
Besides, they never really dug the Inward Eye name. They were just teens when they picked the phrase out of an old William Wordsworth poem, because they needed a band name to put on a poster; it stuck around.
“We’ve kind of all grown up now,” Erickson says. “This is the adult version of Dave, Kyle and Anders.”
Here’s a flashback for you, a dim photograph of a night many years ago at the Zoo, when these three lanky dudes climbed up on stage. There were maybe 100 people in the room, maybe less, they were there to see another show. But then the first riff slammed down, and the bass drum thumped out, and all those wandering eyes turned back to the stage.
“Who are these kids?” one observer asked, the drummer from one of Winnipeg’s more luminous local bands. “These kids can play.”
It was one of Inward Eye’s first shows, and they really were barely more than kids back then: bar owners turned a blind eye to the fact that Anders, who flew over his drums like Animal, was barely 16 years old. Like most young bands, they wore their influences on their sleeve. A lot of The Who, a lot of The Jam, a lot of old rock that jumped four beats on the floor and sang with a sneer.
Still, this much was clear: the kids could play, and they could write. Not songs to be parsed and picked apart for meaning, but songs to throttle the night, they just rocked. So it was only a matter of time before that buzz caught on.
A few years later, 2006: they signed a big ol’ deal with music-industry legend Clive Davis, joining his J Records crew. This is the rock’n’roll definition of a dream come true. “The most cool feeling,” Dave says, “was when we were just playing small shows in Winnipeg one day, then we’re getting flown to New York the next and holy shit, there’s a chance this could actually happen.”
That was the high point, no doubt.
Somehow, though, it didn’t quite work out. At first, the deal opened huge doors — a gig at Lollapalooza, a spot on Warped Tour — but the band struggled in the studio, aching to crank out the hit songs the masters of the music industry craved. Anders was only 18, Kyle 20 and Dave 23; they started working with veteran big-rock songwriters, trying to shape their sound to fit. “It was like, ‘what do you know? You’re just a kid,’” Kyle recalls.
Still, all that work came to fruition in 2009, when they released their debut full-length, Throwing Bricks Instead of Kisses. The album sounded sharp, it had energy, it was the right balance of polished and dirty. They got loads of press across Canada and the U.S., but the response from their local fans was an uncomfortable shuffle: yeah, the album sounded good, but something wasn’t sitting right. It just didn’t sound like Inward Eye.
Even the Ericksons knew it, at the time, and it gnawed at them as they hit the road. Then there was a string of underwhelming shows, and right before Christmas, a thief in Philadelphia stole all their gear. Yeah, it was time to go home. “It was like, ‘okay. We have no gear, our record stinks in our opinion,’” Dave says. “Shit, we got to rethink things.’”
Back in Winnipeg, the brothers cleaned house. They fired their management, their A&R representative, everyone. In the intervening years, they did a few gigs here and there: a rocking spot at the Vancouver Olympics’ closing ceremonies, a set at the NHL kick-off at The Forks in 2011. Other than that, they mostly kept away from the stage.
“We weren’t ready,” Dave says. “We weren’t mature enough. The basic bottom line is we weren’t writing good enough songs.”
Maybe, or maybe not. Maybe, in a way, they were just too good to be tamed.
The songs — the new ones — sure sound good enough on that Saturday at Le Garage, as the Ericksons slash out one raging riff after another. The audience ripples on each raging hook, their cheers getting louder and lustier as the liquor sets in; Dave smirks as he addresses the tight circle of their turned-up eyes. “We’re back now,” he tells ’em.
Usually, after bands go through the wringer, they break up and stay bitter.
The Ericksons might have ended up the same, but they’re brothers and that doesn’t go away. Another key factor: they met a like-minded musical soldier, took a deep breath, and remembered they could still play. “What saved us was that we met Bobby Desjarlais,” Dave says. “He comes in, and he’s an honest songwriter… That’s what kept us together as a group. It kept things from getting stagnant and stale. It inspired us.”
The collaboration with Desjarlais was twofold. First, the quartet launched a cover band called Cash Grab and started gigging at Le Garage, jamming out whatever felt right at the time: sometimes classic rock and Iggy Pop, sometimes Arcade Fire and MGMT. When that wasn’t in session, they fleshed out songs with Desjarlais on their original project, Attica Riots.
Along the way, Dave says, the passion came back. The Ericksons started writing songs, and pushed themselves to try things a little new: whereas Inward Eye’s vocals were largely Dave’s domain, Anders and Kyle take a more prominent singing role in You Know I Know. (Anders has turned his hands to making the band’s vicious-looking music videos, too.)
The business side also fell back into place: after cleaning house in 2010, the Ericksons hooked up with a new manager, a “young, hungry” American guy named Justin Archangel. They quietly tried a bit of recording in Nashville and Vancouver before crossing paths with Los Angeles producer Jimmy Messer; at a session in Venice Beach, he coaxed them to just lay it flat out on the floor.
The result is a new record, one that’s almost ready to go. It sounds more like the band this time, Dave pledges: not a lot of audio tricks or artifice, just a raw reminder that the Ericksons still plan to be that killer on the radio.
Now, all they have to do is perfect the tunes for the stage. It started that night at Le Garage that they made their debut as You Know I Know, slashing out songs in front of an intensely curious crowd. This Friday, Jan. 18, they’re going to give it another whirl.
What happens after that, time will tell, but so the stories goes and is still unfolding: this is how the Erickson brothers grew up, almost got big, and learned to trust the guts of rock’n’roll.
“We just want to get our chops back, and remind people that we’re still here, we’re still around,” Dave says. “I missed playing original music with my brothers. Now, it’s ready. The songs are there.”
You Know I Know — the band formerly known as Inward Eye — is playing a free show at Le Garage on Friday night with Attica Riots, featuring the Ericksons along with songwriter Bobby Desjarlais. Two sets of original tunes, then a cover jam.
Melissa Martin is entertainment editor at Spectator Tribune. Find her @doubleemmartin or email email@example.com.