Easter Island: The Best of What’s Next

Music Features Easter Island
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Hometown: Athens, Ga.
Band members: Ethan Payne, Asher Payne, Nathan Thompson, Ryan Monahan, Patrick Ferguson
Album: Frightened
For fans of: Explosions in the Sky, My Bloody Valentine, Sigur Ros

People make music for all kinds of reasons—to win over girls, to stave off boredom, to try to get famous. But the best, most rewarding music is made by those who feel they have no choice but to make it. From Bon Iver’s grief-stricken For Emma, Forever Ago to Fiona Apple’s weird and wonderful new release, there are many great albums that testify to the quality of music made by those who have the sense they simply must write it. Athens, Ga., post-rock quintet Easter Island fits somewhere in this canon.

“You see something, and there’s a gap,” singer/guitarist Ethan Payne says over a decadently olive oil-soaked arugula salad at Athens eatery The National. “There’s a gap that you’re not really getting—just make it. Just create it. That’s at the heart of what we do. We write music and play music that we would want to listen to anyway.”

Even with that philosophy, Easter Island have managed to surprise themselves by making in Frightened, their debut LP, a record so lovely and viscerally emotional.

“There was a time when we [had just finished] the record. It was probably 11 or 12 at night and we got into a really small car,” guitarist Nathan Thompson says. “We crammed in there, and we drove around the Loop [a state route that forms a beltway around Athens]. And it was just silent. It gave us goosebumps. Our music gave me goosebumps. That’s all that matters.”

Well, maybe not all that matters. In the weeks since Frightened’s release in July, ebullient praise has been pouring in for the sometimes shoegazing, sometimes soaring collection of songs. And while the boys of Easter Island haven’t let reviewers’ repeated assertion that Frightened could launch them into Next Big Thing territory go to their heads, they’re working to get out and pass those goosebumps along.

“This record is a responsibility,” drummer Patrick Ferguson says. “We made this record, and it ended up being better than we ever imagined it would be. So now we have to do something with it, you know? […] We’ve created an opportunity but also a huge responsibility for ourselves.”

Fall will see Easter Island sweeping up and down the East Coast before heading west to Texas and Louisiana. It will be hard work, as seasoned touring musician Ferguson already knows (“It’s gonna be difficult. Sleeping on floors. Sleeping on couches. Gambling and losing and sleeping in the house that smells like cat shit,” he chuckles.) But Ethan sees it as an opportunity to discern whether the acclaim they’ve received at home and in print will correlate with moving experiences for audiences who’ve never heard their music.

“I’m really, really excited to look out and see people that I’ve never met, who haven’t heard our music before, and trying to read their faces and see what they think,” he says. “I’m going to be so excited about trying to put myself in the shoes of everybody who comes to see shows this fall and try to read how they’re receiving it and if they like it.”

Ethan’s brother, singer/keyboardist Asher Payne, has a different perk in mind. “I’m just so excited about the fact that we have a van now!” he says with a grin.

Regardless of where it comes from, that excitement has translated into a frenzy of writing, so much so that, as Ferguson says, “If we keep this up, by the end of the year, we’ll have another record.”

Though they remain gracious, humble and focused on making music for their own enjoyment, there’s a palpable sense of promise and possibility that forms a sort of aura around the members of Easter Island. If the sea of unknown faces at their shows this fall stares back blankly and goes home unmoved, there are wives, jobs and old friends waiting for the fivesome to return to. For now, they don’t seem preoccupied with what the next move will be, but as bassist Ryan Monahan says, “I think we’re all preparing for big things.”