Nate Eiesland knows indie-rock buzz isn’t sustainable.
It’s been four years since he founded ON AN ON alongside Alissa Ricci and Ryne Estwing. In that time, the electro-pop wunderkinds have released two nationally recognized albums, toured the world, and taken stages at Bonnaroo and Governor’s Ball. Sting’s daughter even opened during their last national tour. Now they’re pitching all those artifacts of success into the void and going on an indefinite hiatus.
“There’s such new life there,” Eiesland says ahead of his band’s show Wednesday at the Turf Club. “It’s just all exciting horizons.”
In June, Eiesland posted a lengthy missive on ON AN ON’s Facebook declaring their next month of shows their last for an indeterminate time.
“We don’t wanna say that we’re ending,” says Eiesland, who is vague and hopeful about the prospect of ON AN ON ever playing live again. “All three of us are still here as people, and that’s what the fans are connected to, not the brand. That’s what I’m moving on from. The branding aspect of everything.”
ON AN ON were born in a void, and so it makes sense that they’re returning into one. After their former band, Scattered Trees, disbanded in 2012, Eiesland, Ricci, and Estwing used the resultant vacuum to forge one of the buzziest Twin Cities albums of the past five years — ON AN ON’s 2013 debut, Give In. Their dreamy lead single “Ghosts,” which currently sits at just under 4 million Spotify plays, led the way for what was to be a breakout career. But, as Eiseland discovered over the ensuing album releases, that buzz doesn’t nourish.
“Someone else will come and be the next buzz band,” he says. “Getting big and huge should be a byproduct of great work. If it’s not, you’re just occupying a role, and you’re gonna fall from the focus, and someone else will occupy that role.”
The anxiety he’s referring to is inherent in the mechanistic churn of the album cycle. While the band was touring their 2015 follow-up, And the Wave Has Two Sides, they found themselves caught in the unsatisfying motions of the hype machine. And the Wave Has Two Sides fell well short of Give In’s critical adulation, and it left the trio spent. ON AN ON had devoted and negotiated so much to build up the album, but they realized that, even if it’d been a triumphant comeback, it wasn’t the way they wanted to continue making records.
“A lot of those things that created the anxiety are things that are connected to, ‘How do I make sure this sells?’” Eiesland says. “All of a sudden, it’s a ghost in the room. I’m just realizing all the things that I love about making music are the same as they always were, and I can have all those things without needing to depend on an industry that, even at its peak, isn’t very healthy for human beings.”
Even the most idealistic musicians recognize that stark reality. You can be a bedroom artist all you want, but odds are you’ll have to compromise yourself to the brink of fraud if you ever want a Pitchfork review. And even that won’t guarantee you’ll be remembered. The more ON AN ON thought about it, the more it made sense to buck the order and return to the placid unpredictability of the past.
“I’ve been writing songs and leading bands since I was 13 years old,” Eiesland says. “I see now, in the amount of life experience I have, that I can get all that I love out of it and release myself from the things that produce anxiety in a lifestyle like that.”
He knows that people might think he’s crazy for folding a brand that’s already proven successful, especially when most musicians never even get to the halfway point of what ON AN ON has achieved. He’s not trying to convince them otherwise.
“There are a lot of people who are like, ‘What are you doing?!’ and that’s fine with me,” Eiesland says. “Instead of changing the game, I’d rather just close the box and put the game away.”
Ricci will pursue her visual art, and Estwing will be investing time into his melodic solo project, Louis, and his electronica passions into MLMO. Eiesland’s ambitions are, fittingly, a little more open-ended.
For the last two years, he’s been relentlessly documenting every part of his songwriting process. It started off as a way to retain spontaneous moments, but it transformed into something more immersive once he started chatting with the recording as if it were an onlooker in the room. He calls the project COMO — named after the Minneapolis neighborhood but also the Spanish word meaning “what” or “how.”
“When you listen to that, you are actively in that room,” Eiesland says of COMO. “Even though my voice is pre-recorded, I carved out room for you in that moment back then. It’s happening in more than one moment in time. And the songs that have come out of it have been the best songs I’ve ever written.”
What COMO will develop into remains to be seen, but for now, it’s a way for Eiesland to circumvent the music industry and connect more directly with the people who bolstered ON AN ON to whatever modicum of fame they’re now leaving behind. If you’re the type of person who isn’t comfortable with that kind of creative uncertainty, you’re probably not an ON AN ON fan.
ON AN ON
With: Margaret, Val Son
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed., July 27
Where: Turf Club
Tickets: $12-$14; more info here