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Interview: Nighteyes Chats About her Debut Album, ‘The Way Back Down’

Rachel Trainor, the multi-talented musician from New Zealand and now based in Melbourne, introduces her haunting debut album, ‘The Way Back Down,’ under the moniker Nighteyes. This mesmerising compilation transcends traditional genre boundaries, blending elements of dark rock, folk, and electronica to craft a sonic journey that intricately weaves through both familiar and enigmatic landscapes. Within the album’s ethereal tapestry, Trainor skillfully explores a complex narrative, delving into themes of trauma, love, sorrow, environmental consciousness, connection, and transformation, inviting listeners to immerse themselves in a profound and emotive musical experience. To celebrate the release we caught up with Trainor to find out about the album, inspirations and more!

Congratulations on the release of your debut album, ‘The Way Back Down’. Can you share with us the inspiration behind the title and how it reflects the overarching theme of the album?

Thank you! ‘The Way Back Down’ is part of a line from the lyrics of the last track on the album, ‘Spiral’, and this was the working title of the song before I decided on ‘Spiral’. The line is ‘This is what I’ve found, caught in the way back down’, and for me that represents the deep wisdom we can find when we delve deep into our shadows, the subconscious and the darker parts of our psyche. I find a lot of inspiration in these places, it’s a way for me to work through the difficult parts of my life. The phrase ‘the way back down’ implies that we’ve been here before, it’s something familiar, and I think that represents the cyclical nature of life, it’s ebbs and flows, and perhaps this time on the way down, we’re a little wiser. The way the tracks are ordered reinforces this cyclical journey, relating back to the album theme and title.

‘The Way Back Down’ incorporates elements of dark rock, folk, and electronica. Can you tell us more about how you blended these diverse musical elements to create a cohesive sound for the album?

I knew when I started this project that I wanted to create different moods and sounds, and each song felt like it had a different vibe to it, so I knew it was going to blur some genre boundaries. I’m all about serving the song, so songs like Third Eye and In The Wake have a stripped-back, folk mood, while Lowlight and Plenty have electronica elements such as electronic beats. Plenty also has a heavy element to it, along with Down By The Sea. I think the cohesive sound for the album really comes together because my producer Drew Handcock and I were committed to serving the song and letting each one speak for itself in terms of production, and we managed to achieve a sound for the album that I can now call my own as an artist.

The album takes the listener on a journey from darkness to light. Can you delve deeper into the emotional and thematic journey that listeners can expect to experience when they listen to ‘The Way Back Down’?

The journey through the album is interesting, as it kind of goes from dark to light to dark and back to light again. I wanted the listener to be aware of this journey, so I was very conscious of this when creating the track listing. It’s definitely a cyclical journey, and we go through emotions like love, trauma, sadness, and anxiety, themes like connection and disconnection, environmental issues and helplessness. It reminds me of the Fool’s Journey in the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck, The Fool (card 0) navigates their way through the many challenges of life, ultimately ending in The World card, which signifies reaching spiritual goals and the end of a cycle. Ultimately the end of the album Spiral ends on this gorgeous synth section that my producer Drew wrote, signifying that there’s always hope at the end of the darkness.

You have a background in diverse musical, circus, and cabaret acts. How have these experiences shaped your artistic vision for Nighteyes, and how do they contribute to the unique sound and style we hear in ‘The Way Back Down’?

What’s really great about my circus background is that one of the shows I perform in, The Defiant (contemporary circus with 8 AFAB circus performers and myself performing live music), gave me the opportunity to get going with this project. When we were in development, I was asked by the director (Elena Kirschbaum of Highwire Entertainment) if I had any original songs that would suit the show. I sent her Lowlight, In The Wake and Spiral, and they all made it into the show. So by doing that, I had to start recording to make backing tracks for me to play along with, really working out exactly what I wanted these songs to sound like, because they were at a very basic demo stage at that time. As well as this, I was performing these songs live almost every night for four weeks at Adelaide Fringe in 2022 and 2023, so I was able to finetune the production and writing simply by playing them so often. I think having a diverse background in performing has helped me grow as a musician and it also keeps things interesting!

The album covers themes such as trauma, love, sorrow, environmental consciousness, connection, and transformation. How did you approach weaving these themes together, and what message or experience do you hope listeners will take away from the album?

I wrote these songs over the space of about ten years, some more recent, some very old. So it is wonderful that they work together so well. Some of these songs are inspired by personal experience, others from a dream realm, so in terms of bringing the themes together, I think that’s just what’s been on my mind in the last ten years. I really hope that the listeners can find some of their own experiences in my songs, and bring their own meanings to them, because that’s what makes music so great. I think the themes of the album can be pretty universal so I’m sure that there will be something in there for everyone.

The album offers a transcendent experience rich with emotion and intensity. Can you share some specific moments or tracks in the album that you believe encapsulate this description, and what emotions do they evoke for you as the artist?

There’s a part in My Only One, where the song climaxes with a high vocal line sung over a vocal canon, with the lyrics circling around like an anxiety loop, culminating in the line ‘I can’t breathe’. This is quite an intense moment, and one that I’ve definitely experienced many times throughout my life. It’s quite cathartic to sing this, to put it on the outside rather than the inside and hopefully people can resonate with it. Another great moment is the chorus of Lowlight, it’s so full of hope and connection, every time I sing this line whether it’s with my band or during The Defiant performances, I feel so connected to the other performers. In The Wake has a desolate hopelessness to it that I feel whenever I read the news or hear about another climate disaster, the line ‘look at what we’ve done’ perfectly encapsulates how I feel about it. I could write about many more, but I think that would turn into a novel!

Your impressive multi-instrumental prowess is showcased in the album. Can you describe the creative process of crafting the intricate musical arrangements and layering for this project?

Thank you! Because I didn’t have a band to jam with, I had to demo everything myself and make sure each part and section worked. It was a lot of work, and my producer Drew gave me a lot of  great guidance which I’m grateful for. Then we recorded everything in our home studio, which is another blessing, as we weren’t restricted with time and money. Writing some of the parts was a more intuitive process, just trying out what worked, whereas other parts were planned out when I wrote the song. Spiral is one of these, I wanted the music to reflect the cyclical lyrics, so the verse meter is in 7, the chords in a phrase of three bars while the drums are in a phrase of four bars, which gives it an endless, spiral sort of feel.

As a multi-instrumentalist, how do you balance the technical aspects of playing multiple instruments with the emotional expression and storytelling in your music?

I try to do as much instrumental practice as I can, however, I think I probably could have practised some of the guitar parts more so it didn’t take me so many takes to record! Being a musician can mean so many things to different people, for me it means enjoying time on the instrument and expressing myself creatively through songwriting. There’s always going to be an ebb and flow with each discipline, for instance, I haven’t written much since starting the recording process of this album, but I know I’ll make time for it when this is all done. I’m excited to see whats next!

Can you share any anecdotes or stories from your journey in creating ‘The Way Back Down’ that hold special meaning for you?

One wonderful, weird, and synchronistic thing that happened was when I wrote the song Spiral. I wrote the song one evening with the idea that it could be about thought loops, the dark places we go and can’t get out of when we spiral. I didn’t want it to end on such a dark note though, so I added this uplifting outro with diatonic chords and beautiful harmonies. Then, a couple of weeks later, it was a dark 2020 lockdown night, and I was in the middle of some crazy anxiety thought loops. I felt exactly how I imagined feeling in the song. And then a few hours later, I went outside and saw the most beautiful sunrise. It wasn’t until the next day I realised that I had pretty much lived the experience I was imagining in the song. It made the meaning of the song so much more personal. And wild!

Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for Nighteyes following the release of ‘The Way Back Down’? Are there any future projects or collaborations in the works?

I’ve got a pretty exciting collaboration with my producer Drew Handcock’s electronic project Divine Wave coming up soon so keep an eye out for that. I’m already starting to think about and write for my next release, potentially an EP. I can’t wait to play more gigs with my amazing band and write more music. My main aspiration is just to keep playing and writing music, and the rest can take care of itself.

 With The Way Back Down, Nighteyes not only showcases musical prowess but invites listeners to embark on an otherworldly journey, where the haunting melodies linger, and the profound themes resonate long after the last note fades. It’s available now, everywhere.

Written by John Zebra