To say that Eleni Vlachos and Rob Gilbride, a husband-and-wife duo out of Durham, North Carolina, are thick-skinned isn't all that far-fetched. For one, their DIY-approach to music and self-proclaimed "misfit pop" warrants the mindset, but their latest side project, #Comments, a film where the couple acts out harsh online comments written about things that are near and dear to their heart, seals the deal.
The couple — Vlachos who plays drums, bouzouki, guitar and keyboards, and Gilbride who plays guitar and drums in addition to providing vocals — is currently touring as a band with a stop at Double Door Inn on May 18. They plan to launch a separate tour exclusively for the film in the near future. This will be their second film endeavor; the first was a documentary about the benefits of living a vegan lifestyle, called Seeing Through the Fence. It screened at around 100 schools, colleges and universities, as the pair toured across the U.S. in a Volkswagon Westfalia camper, playing shows as Beloved Binge on the side at other venues along the way.
In #Comments, a 35-minute-long flick, the couple plays the parts of aggressive commenters over the course of three acts. When they tour with that film, they plan to cushion the flick between two other bands' sets.
"Through humor and laughing at ourselves, we can improve and change conversations so that we're not so mean to each other. Online people can leave really rude comments and it can be disheartening to see that," says Vlachos. "That's what inspired me to do this project. I thought if we actually talked to each other like that and show how silly it is, wouldn't that be funny?" She also plans to let audience members read the comments from these real-life characters aloud at future shows.
Vlachos believes that this interactive component, like other interactive components that the band uses, adds a stronger element of connectivity between performer and audience.
"We do try to create a connection to the audience instead of ignoring them," says Vlachos. "They become a part of the show rather than just observers."
Having toured both in the states and across the pond, Vlachos has seen how connections are made through these types of interactions. On the duo's last tour of Europe, she asked folks from audiences to draw and write about certain subjects — usually connected with goals and happiness. Then later, she collected the drawings and shared them on stage. In Brno, Czech Republic, she remembers meeting some of the friendliest people, but she also remembers collecting a piece of paper from a member of the crowd that read: "Please don't bomb us, U.S.A."
"I was hurt by that so I had somebody translate a message that we're here to connect with you, we represent that part of the U.S. and people loved it," says Vlachos. "The people were inviting us to become citizens of there country. They said we need your music because it cheers us up, so it was really nice and heartening to still connect with people even though we had a language barrier."
During the band's latest European tour, they spent extra time in Athens, Greece, where Binge, a Greek-American whose family came to the U.S. back in the 1960s, has family. While there, they recorded their fifth album, Never, The End, which incorporated Greek instruments like the bouzouki on select songs. When the band performs in Charlotte —along with Washington DC-based composer/guitarist Jon Camp and local act Avian Law — they will play songs from the album, set for an exclusive digital release on May 26 at Pinhook in Durham.
At the Durham show, the band will be handing out 35 vintage Garfield bookmarks with download codes for the album written on the back. The bookmarks, part of Vlachos' childhood collection, are just one of many items that the couple is shedding in preparation for a move to New York City.
"That sort of goes along with the theme of the album and the nature of the passage of time and structuring your life in a way that takes advantage of what you have," says Vlachos.
Since they're no strangers to packing light — they backpacked across Europe for their last tour — and have done extensive cross-country travel in a small van over the years, downsizing shouldn't be a problem. But the couple's upcoming move to NYC, a city where Vlachos says they've played some of their worst shows to date, does require a good purge of material belongings.
For her, part of that process has come through reusing items — specifically, those she connects to as an individual — as a way to connect with her current artistic output. "It's almost more beautiful to share them [the bookmarks] with people because it's like instead of kind of hoarding something you've created a joy for other people," says Vlachos. "It multiplies the effect that you would get by keeping them to yourself. I think that's true of anything when you talk about connecting the community and being able to share your music."
"My husband was joking because we couldn't sell our vacuum so he was like, 'We should just put download codes on our vacuum,' but we didn't," she chuckles.
Never, The End is a follow-up to the band's 2012 release, Pockets, which was largely inspired by the death of Vlachos' father and filled with reflections on the feelings of grief and loss that come with loosing a parent. But the band's upcoming release, Never, The End, is another story. It revolves around living life to the fullest.
"I like to ask people questions: 'What are your essential ingredients for a happy life? and 'Are you doing those things?," says Vlachos who was interested in pursuing creative endeavors at a young age — she loved using her tape recorder and constructing guitar-like devices with Kleenex boxes and rubber bands.
For Vlachos, an artistic pathway, specifically via music, film and outreach (side note: she was recognized as "Humane Hero of the Year" by The Humane League of Charlotte during its gala back in January), was fitting.
"With this one [the album, Never, The End], it's sort of a reminder that you are in control of your life to a large extent and you can choose how you're going to live in it.