A few years back, Tommy Eisner was a bowl-haired alt-folkie strumming wintry ballads in Brooklyn and palling around with Moldy Peaches crooner Adam Green. The Tommy Eisner who performs around town next week—at the Cake Shop and Santos Party House, both December 10, and at Don Pedro in Brooklyn, the following night—may be unrecognizable to anyone who remembers him. Reflecting the influence of his new home, Los Angeles—albeit that city circa 1969—Eisner now has enough facial hair and paisley-guru duds to resemble an extra in a Charles Manson biopic.
Then there’s the music he’s making as half of Golden Animals, the band he started with drummer and girlfriend Linda Beecroft. Their alluringly retro debut, Free Your Mind and Win a Pony—lauded by everyone from pop-crushing Blender to oddities-adoring Mojo—would never be mistaken for the multilayered art-pop of Brooklynites like TV on the Radio or the skewed postmodern rock of the Hold Steady and the Walkmen. With its woozy psychedelic blues, nods to John Fogerty and Jim Morrison, and references to “the open sky,” the album conjures bucolic jam-band pastures, not city stoops.
Eisner’s transformation could be read simply as one musician’s oddball musical journey. But he didn’t just reject the city; in a truly unusual turn, he also turned his back on the flourishing Williamsburg arts community. “We didn’t feel connected to that scene,” says Eisner. “We weren’t thinking about fitting in there, and that’s probably why we didn’t fit in.”
Eisner, who grew up on Nirvana and Beck while a youngster in Baltimore, had never heard of Williamsburg until he moved there six years ago, at the age of 19. He found a basement apartment and started scrounging up gigs at local dive bars. But the romanticism soon wore off. The machinery at the dry cleaner’s above his apartment started heaving early in the morning, and he was making less than peanuts. When asked to recall the most he earned playing music, he laughs: “Oh, man. Two free-drink tickets?”
Eisner’s freak-rock transformation began in 2005, when he met Beecroft, a Swedish catwalk model who’d honed her percussion skills playing drums in a punk band. The two formed Golden Animals, but despite a blues obsession and a two-person setup reminiscent of the White Stripes, they still didn’t feel a part of the local scene. Their first EP, 2006’s garage-rocky Electric Moonlight Garden, was recorded at a studio next door to the one used, coincidentally, by TV on the Radio—though, in typically disconnected fashion, they never once ran into the band. “After a while,” says Beecroft, 27, “we realized we never wanted to leave the house. We just wanted to play our music.”
Early last year, when one of Beecroft’s modeling jobs took the couple to Los Angeles, they decided the West Coast would be more amenable to their oldfangled music and look. “After we got a MySpace page,” says Eisner, “a lot of people getting in touch were from Southern California.” Following one last-gasp show in Williamsburg—only two dozen people showed up—they packed up their van in April 2007. The couple wound up house-sitting for Gordon Kennedy, who had penned a history of the roots of hippie culture. His isolated desert home was the perfect petri dish for their new children-of-the-sixties sound.
Much like Golden Animals’ attire, Free Your Mind and Win a Pony can be contrived, and one wonders whether Eisner will someday be embarrassed by this phase in his career. But the album resides in its own deranged universe, and he sounds utterly sincere when he says of their relocation, “Our attitude changed because of our environment … We were ready for something like this.” As for his return to the city that spurned him, he has few expectations: “We have no idea who’ll show up.” At the very least, he and Beecroft are guaranteed to be paid this time. And that, he says, “is a real evolution.”