There’s a lot of heart in the music of nature airliner. The duo of Laurier (guitar, vocals) and Eiko Tiernan (vocals) are known for their positivity and emotional power, and it’s clear from spending any time with them they’re a solid team, musically and professionally. It was a personal ad in one of Tokyo’s English language magazines that first brought them together, and from a whirlwind romance to a major surgery for Laurier to several years of hitting the stage as a duo, their life together has been full of surprises.
Ahead of their June 16 gig at Sound Gallery Slope and a recording session overseas, we talked to them about the sound of California poppies, the power of positivity, and having a musical “change of heart.”
So the two of you met through an ad in the personals. How did things go when you first met?
Laurier: Our first phone conversation, in a way, was the genesis for nature airliner, because when I first heard Eiko’s speaking voice, my heart stopped. It sounded corny, but the first thing I said was, “your voice sounds like California poppies! Listening to your voice, I can see these California poppies swaying in the wind beside the ocean.”
Eiko: So we decided to meet for one dinner, and we decided to meet the next day as well. And then we decided to meet that weekend. And two weeks after that, he proposed to me.
Laurier: She was over at my house and I think it was after we had breakfast at a nearby place, and she handed me cutlery, and nobody else in my whole life had ever handed me cutlery except for my mom or something.
Eiko: Sounds like he was mistreated for a long time…
Laurier: And then on the way home from the restaurant, she looked at me out of the blue and she says, you know, “sometimes I see a little girl in your eyes, and I love her!” And I hadn’t come out to her as being genderqueer yet, and I almost started crying again, because nobody has done that to me either. Everybody has always had issues with my bisexuality or with my gender issues or whatever – boys and girls had difficulty with it. And the fact that she embraced me completely – I think I proposed to her that night.
Eiko: We got engaged four weeks after we met, then got married four months after, in February 2008. In March, he had open heart surgery.
Laurier: Long story short, I was born with Marfan Syndrome, and I was diagnosed as a teen, and then when I was 27, I decided that I didn’t want to have any more heart checkups. Because I was tired of being stressed all the time, and the more I stressed, the more I had chest pain, and every time I went for a checkup I had more chest pain and I thought fuck this, I didn’t want to know any more. I’m just going to live my life, and just die when I die.
Then, when we got engaged, I told Eiko about my heart condition, and she said, when was your last checkup and I said, “It’s been seven years,” and she said, “you should really get that checked out since we’re getting married.” And when we had the checkup at St. Luke’s International Hospital, they said sometime in the next year, you should have surgery just to make sure that nothing bad happens. At the time I was teaching English part time, and I said, can I wait until the summer break, and they said it should be fine. So I thought I had nothing to worry about, but three months later I had to have emergency heart surgery.
And you said that your musical personality changed after your surgery?
Laurier: Yes, exactly. Apparently – someone sent me an article from a medical journal – the phrase “a change of heart” is a medical phenomenon, according to a lot of cardiologists. A lot of people who have heart surgery go through an emotional change. I was laughing about this with a fellow cardiac patient recently – it was most notable in the recuperation phase after the surgery. The day after I had my heart surgery, I was lying in my hospital bed and trying to watch a DVD of Nirvana and I was crying and sobbing. And Eiko said why are you crying you’re watching one of your favorite bands, and I said Kurt’s dead and I couldn’t deal with the heaviness and the negativity of the music any more. So over the next two years after the surgery I slowly but surely couldn’t scream the songs I used to scream any more.
When I was recuperating from the surgery at home I started writing a stack of acoustic songs that were more gentle and had higher melodies than my usual stuff. And I could have transposed the songs, but at the time I didn’t like doing it. So I asked Eiko if she could try and sing some melodies in our bedroom just to see what it would sound like. And her voice to me was so amazing and I asked her, “baby can we play just one show?” She was kind of against it but she reluctantly agreed.
And Eiko, have you been playing music most of your life?
Eiko: No! My music career for my entire life is, when I was 17, I formed a girls’ rock band in high school. I started the band, but I was kicked out because I was too bossy. So my music career was almost four months long. Then after that, no; I never played guitar, I never sang in front of people.
Where was your first gig?
Laurier: It was at the Dickens. It was a terrible gig. It was June 2010, Thursday.
Eiko: There were only three customers there, and they were strangers. I just remember after the gig, I just told him, “I’m not going to do that any more! This is the last time.”
Laurier: We were offered another gig really quickly at a different venue and there were a lot of people and it was jam packed and the applause kept going, and that was the turning point.
How often were you gigging once things picked up?
Once or twice a week. At the peak of our gigging we were playing 10 shows a month at one point.
Were you getting paid?
Laurier: Oh, yes, we were consistently getting paid, and that’s one of the reasons I put my solo career on hold.
Eiko: We were always either getting paid, or we got free food and drinks, and didn’t have to pay the noruma [a customary fee that bands often have to pay to small venues in Japan].
Have you tended to play more the kind of foreigner-friendly venues, because I know that most “live houses” tend to charge? Why did you not have to pay?
Eiko: We generally bypassed the live houses, and only paid to play once in our career. We try to play more restaurants, hotels, and other venues where we are not expected to pull customers on our own.
What was the gig that you did that was the furthest from Tokyo?
Laurier: It was a charity concert for The Marfan Foundation that took place in Rochester, Minnesota, last year.
What are some of your most memorable shows?
Laurier: For me, it was the Hard Rock Café Guam. Six months after we formed this unit, HRC Guam gave us a two-night engagement in their chapel-shaped room. The acoustics were fantastic, and it was truly wonderful to perform on their stage after having swum with tropical fish (in the ocean) all day. Another one of my favorite shows was the concert we played at the Annual Conference for The Marfan Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota, last year. Being born with Marfan Syndrome, and having bypassed an early death that it almost caused, I have long dreamt of “giving back”, and the way the parents of the children applauded nature airliner during that show was one of my favorite moments of our career so far.
Eiko: I think it was when we played in Korea (at Zandari Festa) in 2015 and 2016. Since Zandari Festa is a SXSW-style festival, they really appreciate the musicians and we were treated really well. When you play at a live house in Tokyo, often the venue is crusty and you’re at odds with the noruma system. However, in Korea, I could have pride in being a musician.
How many albums and singles do you have?
We have one EP and four singles. It’s a relatively small number for the amount of time that we’ve been together, and that’s something that we are looking to improve upon, this year.
And, you are going overseas to record at a currently confidential location at the end of June?
Laurier: Yes, that’s true. That’s also why I’ve been playing so many solo shows around the Tokyo area recently.
Will Eiko be singing at any of these shows?
Eiko: I will only sing at the Friday, June 16 show, at Sound Gallery Slope in Shinagawa. Laurier is going to open with his solo act tiernan, and we will finish up with a pianist, to give people a sample of a full band project that we’ll be launching later on.
What would you say is the big motivating factor behind nature airliner? Why should people come see your gig?
Laurier: We want to empower people, because there is so much negativity in the world these days. Some people will rightly say that we are at the most peaceful point in human history, but it can sometimes seem like the world is getting worse, because there is such a magnifying glass on all the negative things in this world, due to social media and other things. So, we want to bring the power of positivity to people, and the power of positive thought, because as I said, I am living proof of its power. Before my heart surgery, I was a negative asshole and nothing ever worked for me, no matter how hard I tried. But since I had my change of heart, things that once seemed impossible are coming to me with ease.
nature airliner will be playing Sound Gallery Slope on June 16. Visit the event page for more information.
Main Image: nature airliner at Zandari Festa (Photo by Kim WonPyo)