In the “RatG” down a quiet Gig Harbor street, posters celebrate I for Eye’s accomplishments, and the band plans for new ones.
Their practice space, “RatG” for “roof above the garage,” isn’t the only thing that elevates I for Eye above other teenage garage bands. The young musicians, three sophomores from Gig Harbor High School and a friend from Tacoma, were semifinalists in this year’s Sound Off! competition at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, one of the most prominent underage battles of the bands in the Northwest.
While I for Eye didn’t advance past the semis, which took place at EMP last Saturday, they’ve come far in the few years since guitar player Drew Ryan, bassist Alec Bukata and drummer Cole Rau met in a pottery class at Goodman Middle School. Ryan and Rau soon started to play music together, and they haven’t stopped since.
“It just never gets old, playing with him,” Ryan said of his bandmate.
Bukata joined the band later, and then, as they looked for a vocalist, the trio found Kierah Taylor through a mutual voice coach. I for Eye was formed, and the band quickly began to play live shows, facilitated by their participation in the Puget Sound Music for Youth Association.
They played at the Puyallup Fair several times, and they also booked gigs in Bremerton, Tacoma and Port Orchard, plus one show at Seattle’s El Corazon, posters for which line the band’s practice space above Rau’s garage.
The shows helped the band gel and gain valuable experience playing in front of live audiences.
“That helped my stage presence a little bit, or a lot,” said Taylor, who, at 18, is two years older than her bandmates. “And when I first joined, I thought, ‘I am playing with children.’ But now I don’t regret joining at all.”
Each member brought their own musical taste to the group, Bukata said, and that helped formed the band’s sound.
“We get our inspiration from a lot of different places,” he said, adding that Taylor often draws comparisons to Hayley Williams, the lead singer of the pop punk band Paramore, while the band’s instrumentals draw inspiration from independent acts like Cold War Kids and Two Door Cinema Club. (watch I for Eye perform their original song "Hot Shot" below)
I for Eye also has melded into a tight circle of teenage Gig Harbor bands, and Ryan said the group’s local shows draw a reliable following of friends and admirers.
“Here, everybody knows everybody,” Ryan said of his hometown. “It’s easy to get word around to people who want to hear music. If you tell somebody, they’ll tell their friends, and then everybody hears about it.”
Some friends include members of the small but successful local teenage music scene, including members of the past two bands to win Sound Off!, Us on Roofs and Nude Pop, many of whom are from Gig Harbor.
Last year, I for Eye ventured to Seattle to watch Nude Pop play at EMP.
“We thought, ‘This is awesome. Let’s do this next year,’ ” Bukata said.
More than 130 bands entered this year’s competition, and I for Eye was one of only 12 chosen to perform. The opportunity to play before a large crowd, at a venue like EMP, made the band both thrilled and nervous.
“It’s a great way to get our band some exposure,” Rau said.
“It’s a feeling where you’re so excited but also want to throw up,” Taylor added.
I for Eye won’t take home the top prize from Sound Off! this year – the finals will be held Saturday in EMP’s Sky Church performance hall – but the band has some big plans for the future. A show with Nude Pop in Ellensburg might be a possibility, and the band hopes to do its own tour of different venues around the state sometime soon.
Bukata said he’s already heard from more people about booking possibilities. He said the recognition that’s come with the band’s increased profile has been one of the most exciting things for a group that still has three members a few years away from graduation.
“I can be pretty self-conscious about my music,” Bukata said. “I don’t always like listening to it after playing. But when we have people come up to us and say they like it – that’s pretty cool.”