THE EARLY YEARS (THE EYES)
The Eyes were initially formed in 1984 when Richard Fortus (guitar), Greg Miller (drums) and Steve Hanock (bass) began writing and rehearsing instrumental jazz fusion in Rich's basement. They would play music by bands like the Dixie Dregs and Jeff Beck however, the trio quickly realized that they would struggle to secure venues playing this type of music. They knew they would need a singer to break into the St.Louis music scene.
"We eventually decided that if we were ever to get a gig, we would need to play songs that people would want to listen to, not just the songs we used as a vehicle for masturbating with our instruments. This meant adding a singer," recalls Rich.
Richard studied guitar and violin at the School of Visual and Performing Arts in St.Louis. It was there that he met Michael Schaerer who was studying theatre and vocal performance. Soon Michael was brought on board and they immediately started writing original material. It was in these early years that the Eyes crafted their sound; something fresh on the heals of the "post-modern" movement and sounding strikingly Brittish with lush guitars and haunting vocals. They played out heavily at Reflections and Animal House honing their skills and developing fans.
The Eyes (circa 1985) Greg Miller, Michael Schaerer, Steve Hanock, Richard Fortus
The band was progressing, but success was a slow process. Greg briefly left and was replaced by Barry Kinder, but he eventually returned shortly before Steve Hanock departed the band. He would later go on to play with another St. Louis favorite, The Stranded Lads, as would Barry. Then in 1988, Rich auditioned for a local band called the Newsboys, but instead of joining them, he walked away with their bass player, Dan Angenend. This completed the lineup and the Eyes again continued writing and playing out nearly every weekend.
Their success came early primarily at the Factory and Kennedy's as well as other venues. The joined The Stranded Lads and the Unconscious as one of St.Louis' biggest local bands. They managed to quickly buidt a large, loyal following and released an independent cassette titled "Freedom In A Cage." It was recorded by Dave Probst who was also their sound and lighting tech. He helped to create the atmosphere of whirling smoke and lights that further defined the experience of an Eyes show.
The Eyes (circa 1989) Greg Miller, Rich Fortus, Michael Schaerer, Dan Angenend
The success of the Eyes wasn't only local. They regularly played out around the Midwest, and as isolated as the St.Louis music scene appeared, their reputation escaped. Soon record labels were taking notice and flying into town to attend shows so they could see the Eyes for themselves. In 1990 Atlantic sent them to Eleven Eleven Studios in Nashville, TN to record four demo tracks looking for an immediate hit. They recorded "Flow My Tears," "The Fog," "My Addiction," and "One Of A Kind." While labels continued to express interest, The Eyes re-released "Freedom In A Cage" on cd adding two of the Atlantic demos as bonus tracks.
Eventually Atlantic did indeed sign The Eyes to a contract and in October of 1990, the guys headed to Los Angeles to record their debut at Sand Castle Studios with Simon Rogers. Rogers was well known for his work with Peter Murphy and The Fall, but in retrospect, might not have been the best choice for the record. Though they returned home happy with the experience and eager to see the album released, ultimately the band wasn't happy with the way each member's performances were recorded individually stating that there was no vibe or energy present in the finished product. It simply didn't translate the raw emotion and power that made their live show so popular. Also of concern, Rogers also took the masters back to England to the legendary Abby Road studios for mastering without input from the band. They didn't hear the final cuts until near the end of the year and after a long delay "Straight To Goodbye" was finally released in September of 1991 after one last hurdle. Due to legal issues, the band was forced to change its name. There was another band called "The Eyes" on Curb Records at the time which meant they couldn't keep the name their fans had followed for the past seven years. After a long debate and various proposed names including "The Living," and "The Fog," one name emerged... Pale Divine.