When an artist as monumental as Prince passes away, he leaves a gaping hole in the landscape of popular music that is not easily filled. As we reach the four-year anniversary of the artist's passing, his influence is still as present as ever.
Houston’s downtown venue Lucille’s holds a yearly tribute to Prince and Antonio Eyez is a natural fit for the event. Eyez was the main attraction for this year's online event and he did Prince good, as he always does, in addition to performing some of his powerful original songs.
He will also be performing an online concert at R&R studios on Thursday, April 30 at 9 p.m., as part of a socially distant concert series that the studio has been putting out. The studio is the ideal setting to keep artists at safe distances while providing quality sound and streaming capabilities on multiple platforms.
Eyez is accustomed to the Prince comparisons and was even tapped by Morris Hayes himself, Prince’s longtime keyboardist and musical director. Eyez reached out to Hayes in the simplest way, through Facebook, and didn’t really expect to gain any traction from their interactions.
When Hayes held an event for his World Symphony for Peace organization here in Houston, he asked Antonio Eyez to participate. “More than anything, he was just surprised I think,” says Eyez of the impression he made on Hayes that night.
“It was like, ‘We get a lot of people who do Prince, but not make it their own’, he was surprised and intrigued by that. It was really cool to experience him as a musician and an artist himself,” says Eyez.
Hayes even recently gave a shout out to Eyez while discussing his work and friendship with Prince via Facebook on the anniversary of the singers death.
Eyez was raised in a musical family here in Houston and has played guitar from a young age. His mother, father and grandfather surrounded him with music and were active in gospel quartet groups. Eyez describes it as, “It’s kind of like if you hear D'angelo mixed with some church, you're going to get quartet,” he chuckles.
The multi-instrumentalist and singer embodies the future and breaks down prefabricated rules of genres and gender. Anyone who caught his electrifying set at this year's BowiElvis Fest can testify that he is one part Jimi Hendrix, another part Prince and a perfect fit for Bowie but mostly, he’s just himself.
Even at an event as diverse as BowieElvis, Eyez stood out musically and visually with his performance. He donned a fishnet mask, large gold earrings and blew the roof off of the small and packed Big Top lounge that night.
"To be honest, I just want to be able to have a clear message of truth and bringing back real musicianship. I really want to bring that truth to musicianship and artistry back to the stage and also being in fashion, having to look like what you sound like," says Eyez of his approach to performing live.
“It’s all in there you know,” says Eyez of his influences. “I think that comes from a lot of studying for sure. I studied D'angelo, Prince, George Clinton, Sly Stone, a whole bunch of other people. I try to get a good combination of all of those elements and make it my own.”
Eyez has had the opportunity to work as a touring band member for many artists, including CJ Chenier, son of the King of Zydeco Clifton Chenier. When asked what lessons he has taken from being a backing member to fronting his own band, Eyez says wisely, “the importance of the longevity of the music as opposed to just getting in, getting a buck and leaving.”
This year Eyez released his solo album, The Second Coming on his own record label, Spacewar Music. The Second Coming sonically is a funky trip to outer space with Eyez maintaining both feet grounded lyrically, tapping into basic human emotions and the common experience of mankind.
Songs like “Transhuman” show off Eyez vocal abilities and his unique knack for being understated yet powerful.
“It's pretty rough right now for a lot of people,” says Eyez. “That’s why we wanted to write songs like “Transhuman,” because there's all kinds of people on this world that are looking for something and ultimately they're looking for themselves and where they fit in this world. I think that's something that needs to be spoken about at this particular time.”
The Second Coming is rooted in funk but has strong elements of rock sprinkled throughout the album. "Aquarius Rage" takes Eyez down a darker road, with its heavy bass lines sounding off as a warning to the listener of the impending rage they are about the experience.
Eyez admits that people in his personal life often mistake the angry track to be directed at them, but in reality it was his response to being told repeatedly that his music didn't fit neatly enough into any category to be played on the radio stations he approached.
"Right now things are changing in the way where the old system is not going to be the same once things get back to normal because people are finding different ways to get heard and there's not going to be a need for the old radio formula," says Eyez.
Eyez recorded the album in the most futuristic yet simplest way possible, on his iPhone. He described how he used accessible technology to achieve the interplanetary sounds he was seeking, without stepping into a studio.
The artist has been hustling in the way Houston is known for, putting out new songs and videos during this time in quarantine. Though he, like all artists, had his gigs canceled due to COVID-19, he's not letting that stop him from putting out content any way he can.
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“The good thing about right now is that people are listening and they are able to use platforms to push it and get people more interested.”
For his online concert at R&R Studios, Eyez assures he will have “all the bells and whistles” and will take advantage of the space he is being provided with to help Houston get out of its collective funk with some good funk, seeing this as an opportunity to reach new audiences.