Big Eyes Brings Punk-Rock Vibes to Las Rosas

The rockers of Big Eyes.
The rockers of Big Eyes. Photo by Steve Kong
A few years ago, when Kait Eldridge, frontwoman of the pop-punk-infused rock band Big Eyes, was living in Seattle, she came across Martin Bell’s 1984 documentary, Streetwise. The film follows the lives of homeless and runaway kids living on the streets of Seattle. As Eldridge discovered, it was made as a followup to a 1983 Life magazine photo essay by Mary Ellen Mark (Bell’s wife), called “Streets of the Lost.” Mark photographed teens carrying guns and needles, working as prostitutes, and foraging for food in dumpsters.

“It really struck a chord with me,” Eldridge says of seeing the film for the first time.

She wrote a song that tapped into those feelings of existing on the outskirts of society and named it after Mark’s essay.

Streets of the Lost is also the name of Big Eyes’ fourth studio album, which is set to drop this Friday, April 5. The Brooklyn-based band — which consists of Eldridge on lead vocals and guitar; brothers Paul and Jeff Ridenour on guitar/backup vocals and bass, respectively; and Shane Kerton on drums — embarked on a Southern U.S. tour this week. (Kerton joined the group about six months ago, so the drummer you’ll hear on the album is Scott McPherson.)

The documentary might have been the spark that ignited the new album, but the rest of Eldridge’s songs vary in subject, from personal stories to the 1984 film Gremlins to serial killers. (“I’m definitely one of those people that watches a lot of Forensic Files and those kinds of shows,” she says.) She doesn’t write concept albums, instead working on songs over time as ideas come to her. “It usually takes me like two years to write an album,” she says.

The first single of the latest record, “Lucky You,” is a catchy, pop-inflected tune about the frustrations of knowing some people don’t have to worry about money. “Tell me, does it ever get boring feeling fine?” she sings, but it’s a fun kind of rage.

Eldridge is used to being likened to hard-rocking women such as Joan Jett and Suzi Quatro — serious, take-no-prisoners musicians with shag haircuts and rebellious spirits, taking the lead in a man’s world. Jett even lives in Long Beach, New York, Eldridge’s hometown.

But ask Eldridge about her musical influences and you’ll also get a crash course in the world of hard rock, punk, and '70s and '80s power pop, tracing back to the Beach Boys. “I listen to a lot of Blue Öyster Cult and Thin Lizzy and also a lot of Squeeze and XTC and Utopia,” she says. “I’m a huge Todd Rundgren fan.” The name “Big Eyes” comes from a song by Cheap Trick, her favorite band, which she’s loved since middle school. “They’re very poppy, but they’re also very heavy,” she says. Blurring the lines between the hard-edged toughness of punk and the bounce of pop, the guitar riffs of classic rock and the power of an infectious hook, is key to the band’s style.

Eldridge began taking guitar lessons at the age of 12. She loved the Ramones and bands similar in style, such as the Lillingtons, the Queers, and Screeching Weasel. Her earlier songs were heavily influenced by their sound — more basic chords, a fast pace, and catchy hooks. “It was a lot about being alone or lonely or angry — mad-at-the-world kind of stuff,” she says of her lyrics. She played in two other bands — Cheeky and Used Kids — and formed Big Eyes in late 2009 after both groups broke up.

Four albums in, “I definitely feel like it’s gotten a bit more creative,” she says of her songwriting. She’s branched into more complex and “weirder,” Beach Boys-esque chord progressions, playing with the listener’s expectations of where a chord will resolve or putting an upbeat song in a minor key to give it darker undertones.

“As classic as the Beach Boys are, they tend to go places that you might not expect,” she says.

You might say the same about Big Eyes as they continue to evolve. 

Big Eyes. With Flores Robadas and Palomino Blond. 9 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at Las Rosas, 2898 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 786-780-2700; Admission is free.
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Suzannah Friscia is a freelance arts and culture journalist based in Miami. She has contributed to the Wall Street Journal, Dance Magazine, Pointe, and other publications and earned a master's degree from the Columbia School of Journalism.
Contact: Suzannah Friscia