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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Empty Yard Experiment kick off UK tour

As the UAE's most ambitious rock band embark on a UK tour, we check in with EYE
EYE features Kaveh Kashani on bass, Josh Saldanha on drums, Bojan Preradovic on lead vocals and guitar, Gorgin Asadi on keyboards and Mehdi Gorjestani on lead guitar. Jeff Topping for The National. Jeff Topping For The National
EYE features Kaveh Kashani on bass, Josh Saldanha on drums, Bojan Preradovic on lead vocals and guitar, Gorgin Asadi on keyboards and Mehdi Gorjestani on lead guitar. Jeff Topping for The National. Jeff Topping For The National

In April 2013, Empty Yard Experiment took to the du Arena stage to warm up for Metallica – arguably the biggest performance platform any rock band from the Middle East has ever enjoyed. For a UAE heavy metal act, it simply doesn’t get bigger than supporting the best-selling metal band in the world.

The quintet, known as EYE for short, built on this success sonically with the launch of their epic second album Kallisti earlier this year, which easily ranks among the most assured releases to emerge from the UAE.

But post-Metallica, the band knew that to reach a larger live audience, they had to look outside the Emirates.

Last week, EYE kicked off a 10-date United Kingdom tour in Bristol – the quintet’s first international shows, aside from two festival gigs in Beirut.

“It’s interesting to see how people outside the region respond to what we’re doing – whether it’s really as inventive and original as we’ve been told,” says frontman Bojan Preradovic.

The tour is a huge accomplishment for a UAE band. While many groups from the country have gigged in Europe and Asia, few have enjoyed such an extended road trip abroad: EYE’s 13-day itinerary will take the group all the way north to Glasgow before wrapping in London on December 22.

“It’s really good for the band, but it’s something that should have happened far sooner,” says Preradovic. “Living in the region, the difficulty is you don’t really have the resources to do something like this.

“You can be the permanent support band in the UAE, but you can’t just stay here – at the end of the day what are you working towards? This is not going to morph into an amazing scene overnight. What we’re doing won’t bear fruit for 10 or 15 years.”

Thanks in part to glowing album reviews by enthusiasts in the popular Metal Hammer and Prog magazines, the band have already picked up fans across the globe, with curious listeners sending messages of supportto them all across from Britain to Brazil.

As to whether their “exotic” Middle Eastern origins add to their appeal abroad, “with audiences, yes; with labels, no”, says Preradovic flatly. “You have no idea how many times we’ve been called Kuwaiti or Saudi – people have no idea what this region is about.”

A freelance copywriter with a background in TV and newspaper journalism, Bojan is the lone Serbian alongside three Iranians and an Indian. The 32-year-old frontman confesses that the flip side of the band’s cross-cultural make-up is that securing the necessary paperwork to play abroad is far from simple.

EYE’s distinct international template began back in 2006, when guitarist Mehdi Gorjestani, bassist Kaveh Kashani and keyboardist Gorgin Asadi began writing long, complicated prog-influenced post-rock compositions. After gigging instrumentally for several years, accompanied by the dramatic swirling visuals for which they are known, in 2010 Preradovic was recruited on lead vocals and electric guitar.

The singer is a big grunge fan – he’s wearing an Alice in Chains T-shirt when we meet – and his arrival saw the band evolve a more song-focused approach, some of the band’s greater sonic excesses curbed without losing any of their restless invention (track lengths on Kallisti verge from two-minute sound snippets to nine-minute epics). After some typical line-up changes, Josh Saldanha took the drum stool last year to complete the current line-up.

While this tour puts the band’s sights firmly beyond the UAE, EYE’s collective heart remains firmly rooted in the local scene. The band recently hosted the second of their Desert Experiment Sessions, which brought together more than a dozen artists from across the region.

“I’m trying to stay here,” confesses Preradovic, when asked about the band’s future. “If you talk to a lot of guys on the scene they just say ‘forget it – I want to get out’. But me and the rest of the guys in the band are trying to make people believe you can make something here. I hope we can make something of it – there’s a good vibe right now. But the UAE is a transient place – people leave.”

• Find out more about EYE at www.emptyyardexperiment.com

rgarratt@thenational.ae