ABOVE: GREY GERSTEN, AKA ETERNAL LIPS
Ever imagined a band? Grey Gersten did, and decided to call it ETERNAL LIPS. As an outsider to pop music, musician and artist Grey Gersten brought his experience in experimental rock to new territories—really tracking the process of making pop music. Gersten’s style in particular sounds exactly like a dream—something he just imagined.
To complement his foray into pop, Gersten recently unveiled “Custom Melodies”—a custom “Song Factory” located at Mmuseumm in Tribeca, where he created individual tracks for those who scheduled appointments. The melodies were a unique musical and artistic experience in Gersten’s experiment.
Gersten’s known for working with John Zorn, Michael Hurley, and TV on the Radio, and he brought his experiences with them into this project. ETERNAL LIPS’ self-titled EP came out back in February featuring vocals from Sharon Van Etten and TV On The Radio‘s Kyp Malone—creating a new space for Gersten’s brand of pop music.
We’re excited to premiere ETERNAL LIPS’ video for “Dance,” which follows a neon-painted woman in a bodysuit traveling throughout New York City and dancing along the way while flashes of neon lights and ravers simultaneously pop up on screen. The video for the track brings ETERNAL LIPS full circle as an experiment of pop music proportions. We also spoke with Grey Gersten about creating his fantasy band and making songs for strangers.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did this project start for you?
GREY GERSTEN: This project started with me creating ETERNAL LIPS. I’ve worked mostly with experimental musicians like John Zorn, Michael Hurley, and TV on The Radio. I’ve avoided pop music for a long time because I thought it was all about consumerism, but recently I realized that it was about dreams and fantasy. That was really appealing to me, but I didn’t feel like I could personally explore pop music. So, I created an imaginary band called ETERNAL LIPS to see what happens when an outsider plays with the language and fantasy of pop music.
KAPLAN: What do you mean by “imaginary?”
GERSTEN: The beauty of an imaginary band is that it isn’t designed to represent a singular reality. There’s no scene that it grows out of, no genre that it’s associated with and there’s no identity that it embodies. It’s whatever you imagine it to be, and that’s endless and always changing. Other acts come out of a city and are a part of a music scene—like Nirvana was a part of the Seattle music scene, they were a grunge band and had a whole look to them. There’s a whole formed identity. The whole idea for me of an imaginary band is declaring right away that it’s not trying to represent a singular reality and that the work that it does will change dramatically throughout the years. I’m wary in general of concept projects because I feel like they’re pretentious and exclude people, but I just wanted to be real with people about how this came about. ETERNAL LIPS, in January, we put out the first single. It didn’t exist before. It was me having this dream, being an outsider and honestly engaging pop music. It was me making this record in a vacuum. It wasn’t like ETERNAL LIPS was touring for years and is associated with people. You know what I mean? I know it’s bizarre for people, but that’s to me what it really is. It’s not just a moniker. There are a lot of bands that have monikers, and that’s cool, but for me it’s a fully formed entity.
KAPLAN: That’s really unique. Can you tell me a little bit about the event where you made custom songs for attendees last week?
GERSTEN: So, basically, ETERNAL LIPS is my fantasy of an imaginary band. I felt liberated by that idea of an imaginary band and the work that came out of that. I wanted to invite others to participate in that. “Custom Melodies” is an interactive song factory where your imaginary band is realized. As a musician and as an artist, I’m interested in broadening the audience’s interaction with music and sound. I love records and live shows, but there are other ways for people to experience music. With Custom Melodies, visitors became a part of the songwriting process. That’s a place that most audiences haven’t been before. When a song is being born, it’s like having a lucid dream, and performing that song later after that initial birth is like trying to explain a dream you had to a stranger. So, I wanted to invite audiences to become a part of that, because I had such a positive experience trying to create my own imaginary band, I thought, why wouldn’t I create a space for people to come do that?
KAPLAN: That’s really interesting. Did you have particular questions that you asked people when they came up to you?
GERSTEN: It was a very bureaucratic environment: you would make an appointment; you would arrive at your appointment and check in with a receptionist. You would have a form to fill out on a clipboard with a pen attached to it. You have to fill out all of these things about who you are—it says, “Check yes or no to the following: Have you ever fallen in love? Have you ever forgotten who you were? Have you ever been saved by someone else?” There’s a True or False section. There’s a section with short answers where we ask people to talk about their dreams and when they last got goose bumps, and their best advice. Then they’re brought into the song factory, which looks like an MTA-style subway booth. There’s a glass division between us with a little hole in it. There’s a counter. I’m back there with a table of instruments that they’ve likely never seen before. It just looks very alien to them. Then I talk with them about who they are and I’m listening for a lyric, story, or feeling. I try to embody that in a song. Then I record their voice into a computer and I’m able to remix them into a song. It’s like they’re singing in the song that they’re actively performing. It’s all happening in real-time. There aren’t any loops. It’s completely handmade for the person. Being able to embody different perspectives and personas is a fundamental aspect of songwriting.
ETERNAL LIPS’ SELF-TITLED EP IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HIS BANDCAMP.