By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
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It isn't quite dark yet outside Deep Ellum's Club Clearview when a Chevrolet Suburban pulls into the parking lot. The doors open to reveal a vehicle crammed with musical equipment and Eisley, a family band comprising members of the DuPree family and their neighborhood friend, bassist Jonathan Wilson. They've just made the drive from Tyler, and the band, their parents, and several friends hop out one by one to stretch their legs.
The two boys in the band, drummer Weston DuPree and Wilson, grab the heaviest piece of equipment—the Fender Rhodes electric piano—and walk it into Clearview, where the band will play one of their first Dallas shows to date. And it's a big one: The Dallas music elite has arrived. Most of the Polyphonic Spree's members are in attendance, and despite a few false starts in what turned out to be a one of Eisley's sloppiest sets, Tim DeLaughter and company seem charmed.
And, hell, everyone is. These kids just ooze sweetness and innocence. And their music does too: Dreamy guitar tones set the foundation for impressive vocal harmonies that weave in and out of joyful-yet-melancholy pop songs. Named originally Mos Eisley as an homage to the Star Wars planet, it's not surprising that the band's songbook thematically focuses on fairy-tale subject matter. But this isn't kid stuff: It's a mature sound that this band is producing, and one that seems destined for success.
Better yet, the band's career is just beginning.
That scene took place nearly 10 years ago, but even today everyone still seems to think of Eisley's members as kids. Reluctantly, though, they've all grown up over the years. And they have the battle scars to prove it.
"When I think about those days, I think about them with a lot of sentiment," says the now 22-year-old Stacy DuPree-King, the recently wed piano-playing youngest member of Eisley, who was at the front end of her adolescence back then. "I really grew up in Deep Ellum. In clubs."
It was the time spent in those clubs that helped the members of Eisley quickly carve out a name for themselves in Dallas. Thanks to friends in bands like Midlake and Seven Channels (who later became The Vanished), the shows got bigger, and the buzz surrounding the band grew legs of its own. It wasn't long until the bands that once brought Eisley under their wing were pining for opening slots on their shows.
During that time, the Cornerstone Festival, a Christian music festival in Illinois, put Eisley on its new band showcase. Among the several hundred people who showed up in front of the stage for that performance was Michael Barber, a lawyer who orchestrated a bidding war among several of the major labels for the band's services. Eventually, Barber landed the band a management deal with Nettwerk Management (home to Coldplay) and a record deal with Warner Bros. and Reprise Records. The record deal was huge—complete with a signing bonus around $1 million.
It was hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind surrounding the band. With a seemingly endless supply of money and a crack team of business-jargon-spewing industry hotshots on their side, it felt like Eisley had already made it. But reality set in quickly, and the band began to feel the weight of the label's demands on their shoulders—a burden that would only get heavier for years to come.
The people at Warner Bros. were quick to throw their weight around, and the DuPrees, being an agreeable and naive family, soon felt that their career in music was out of their own control. The label and the band's management spent the band's money recklessly, shopping them around from producer to producer to try to find the right fit. Eventually, the band settled on producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck), who recorded the band's first LP, 2005's Room Noises.
But when the sales for Room Noises disappointed—despite prime opening touring slots for the likes of Coldplay, New Found Glory and Taking Back Sunday—the band's interaction with its business handlers started becoming especially tense. Suddenly, there was even more pressure to write hit singles. There was more pressure to tour, too. And, given the family dynamic of the outfit, there was pressure, too, for the band to make enough money to support its family.
Everyone in the band felt it, but none more than DuPree-King, who spent much of her adolescence on the road.
"I went through a lot of insecurity as a teenager being in a band and being in the music industry," she says. "After a while, it started to take its toll on me. I started to close up more and more and more and more—until I was like a zombie, like a hermit."
The pressure was also too much to bear for Wilson, who left the band in 2005, and was replaced by Garrin DuPree, another Tyler-dwelling cousin of the family's. And it wasn't long before the band realized that the record deal with Warner Brothers wasn't all it was cracked up to be.