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Band of the Week: Department of Eagles

Music Features Department of Eagles
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Band of the Week: Department of Eagles

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Members: Daniel Rossen, Fred Nicolaus
Fun Fact: In Ear Park was recorded in an old church in Brooklyn where Grizzly Bear rehearses. "We just set up there right in front of a giant stained glass window, which is kind of cool," explains Nicolaus. "There's a lot of sounds on the record that come from the church, like the sound of a church organ turning on and off and us stomping around on the stairs and the sound of the pigeons that live in the window. We weren't trying to consciously use the sounds of the space but you just cant help it, this enormous room where the ambient sound is going to get in there whether you want it to or not. So we tried to make something out of it."
Why It's Worth Watching: Despite some random label the press has bestowed upon the band, it's truly beautiful pop music at its best. "Folktronica is definitely a sound label that I’m not 100% behind," Nicolaus says. "I think about it like pop in that we try to write these melodies that are concise and direct and catchy."
For Fans Of: Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Inlets

Fred Nicolaus may have to quit his day job. Although neither of them studied music, Nicolaus and Daniel Rossen formed the Department of Eagles in 2000 after being randomly assigned as roommates at NYU. "Every year that we've done it together it's gotten slightly more serious," Nicolaus says, "to the point where we occasionally refer to ourselves as a band. That was kind of a rule in the beginning, that we weren't a band."

The duo never really meant to make music for the masses. But as luck would have it, a friend from school has a music producing father and by way of happenstance one of their short demos (with cover art via a photocopied image from a textbook) landed in his helpful hands. Although Nicolaus swears they were slightly embarrassed by the disc and never thought it'd go anywhere, they were signed to Isota Records and after tagging themselves as Whitey on the Moon UK, recorded two 7" records before changing their name. They released their full length debut, Cold Noses, under their new moniker in 2003.

Although they had little time to promote the record, it gained a significant following and was lavishly praised by the press. Soon after, Rossen joined the much-hyped Grizzly Bear and collaboration between the two became much more difficult to keep up. But persist they did, as Nicolaus isn't as keen about putting out his stuff alone. He continued to send the busy Rossen music and Rossen held onto some of his more personal songwriting for DOE. This method works for them, as they've always written their own stuff and brought it to the table later. Animal Collective, they are not. "When Daniel and I sit in a room and jam together, it's not exactly inspiring," Nicolaus says. "I think we kind of have to write on our own and then send back and forth."

Five years later, they were able to steal away enough time to record their sophomore disc, In Ear Park, which was dedicated to Rossen's late father and released on 4AD on Oct. 7. Once more they were met with fantastical praise. They performed for the first time on television and recently played their first real show at the Bell House in NYC. "When you’ve been holding onto something for eight years and then you finally play in front of people its cathartic and insane," says Nicolaus. "It wasn’t like a Grizzly Bear show where it was really polished and road tested, it was more ramshackle and 'Hey! Here are a bunch of songs!' but I think it was a really kind of warm and fun night."

And Conan? "It was weird," Nicolaus remembers. "It was very strange because you spend about eight hours there and you're only actually doing something for about two and a half minutes and so the opportunity to really work yourself up and get as nervous as you possibly can is very much there. The whole place is really freezing and so you're holed up backstage feeling like you're in the Arctic. Up until Conan said our name, I was vaguely convinced that it was a mistake and he was just going to say, 'And the Hold Steady is playing!'"

Now, they even have those two shows planned overseas next month, where they are playing without the usual Grizzly Bear backup. Or "Simon and Garkfunkel style," as Nicolaus likes to call it. After that, a new Grizzly Bear album followed by the inevitable touring that puts space between the DOE. Good for Nicolaus, since he has that day job. "Believe I am living the rock and roll lifestyle," he laughs. "Ugh, I may have to quit though, its becoming too much. We'll just have to see what happens with that."


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