Dinosaur Eyelids is a hard-rock outfit formed in New Brunswick in 2009. They lived two blocks from the Court Tavern and made it their performance hub and practice space, catching the tail end of Bobby Albert’s ownership of the club. This year Dinosaur Eyelids released the full length album “The Last Beard,” recorded live at the Court Tavern in 2016. Music reporter Bennett Kelly spoke with singer and guitarist Evan Staats by phone in June.

Bennett Kelly: Starting out, when and where was your first New Brunswick performance?

Evan Staats: Yes, let me bring up the exact date. I know I have it here somewhere. But we formed about 2009, and we started playing live in June of that year. And it was a really early show. It was at the Court Tavern. That was where we mostly played in town. And the first time, I’ll find a date in a second, but they made us play upstairs the first time. Which sometimes they would do, I think, when it was your first time. And then shortly thereafter, we went to a show, got to play a show downstairs, and we played there probably two dozen times, all said and done. We actually used to live right at the corner of Paterson and George, so we were only like two blocks away. It made it kind of a home base for us.

BK: Did you all live together?

ES: At one point. My brother Scott was in the band then, and he was the bass player. I’m the singer, rhythm guitar player, and Pat [McKnight], who’s the lead player, we were all living together. And Dan [Fishtein], who was our drummer at one point lived a few blocks away. But, yeah, the three of us all lived in that apartment for a while.

BK: I think that building, is that one of those nice old buildings with all the nice fixtures and moldings on the side?

ES: Yeah, on the corner. I think it’s still Beauty Plus and we were kind of behind that. The guy who owns Beauty Plus owns that. But, yeah, it does have some of that old building character to it.

BK: This year, a couple of months ago, you released “Live at the Court Tavern” from 2016. Did you plan then to make this an album? Or why did it come about in 2023?

ES: Yeah basically, every now and then people would have something set up at the venue and say, Would you want us to record your album? And usually we’d say Yes, because what do you have to lose? A lot of the time, and I remember our second show we ever played was at the Saint [in Asbury Park]. They did a live recording of that one and we used that before we had our first album as a while, just to pass around. 

So over the years we got live recordings, and usually it’s like very loud drums and very loud vocals and the guitars are low in the mix. And this one came back and it was just, really surprisingly good sound quality. So we kind of had it for years and always really liked it. At one point, thought maybe we’d do a live album of a compilation of a bunch of different shows. 

The quality was so much higher on this one that when we tried to make a compilation with other ones, it really stood out how much better the sound was here. And we kind of always thought we’d do something with it. And then I think when Covid kind of slowed everything down, then we kind of started to seriously look back on this recording again and thought, maybe we really should do something with it.

And as we did, we’re like, Yeah, this is definitely the one to do. But when the guy did it, he had taken out all the crowd noise, so it didn’t even sound like a live album much. You could hear some screaming during the songs itself, but because it was edited out at the end of each song, there was no clapping or talking in between. So we were kind of bummed about that because it didn’t really feel like a live album. 

And then I think Pat had had someone film that show, and he found that footage and we were able to- Mark, who’s our bass player now, has produced a lot of our albums, was able to take that audio and then edit it back in. And he was able to make it match completely. And some of the most fun stuff of the album is the go-between, back and forth between the crowd. And it really made it feel like a live album again. So once we had that, we decided it was time to release it.

BK: I like all the crowd jiving. That is part of an essential live sound. How would you rate your crowd jiving that night? Was that typical? Was that a good crowd for that?

ES: [Laughs] I think so. Funny about the Court Tavern is it is a really intimate place, and we had a lot of friends there that night. Which often we did, especially in those days, our friends are very loyal and we had a lot of, and we made some new friends because of the scene who had come to the shows. So at that time at a place like Court Tavern, I think that was probably pretty typical, but maybe especially good that night.

“The Last Beard,” recorded live at the Court Tavern in 2016 and released this year

BK: And the theme throughout it is that it was your brother’s last show. I think you guys said it was your 86th show and your 22nd there and you were calling it “The Last Beard.”

ES: Yeah, just some stupid weird joke, like “The Last Waltz” for The Band. Scott had a prominent beard at the time, so it was just The Last Beard. It really makes no sense. It was a weird in-joke. “The Last Waltz” is kind of the most classic, last-planned, last show in our minds.

BK: And the only real post production element was just the in-between the song stuff? There was no extra tracking or anything? Because it’s very clean and sharp.

ES: Mark, I think did do some very minimal stuff. But it was pretty much good to go. The hardest part certainly was editing it so we could get all that in-between, crowd stuff back in there.

BK: And then that was 2016. So yeah, you had the full lengths in 2017 and 2020 and now this one. So what’s the status of the band right now in 2023? Are you supporting this with any shows, performances?

ES: We’re kind of just getting back into it after a big gap. We never broke up or anything like that. It just was kind of Covid weirdness and all that kind of stuff. And now we’re getting back to playing, practicing together regularly, which has been really fun. We have a show October 28 at John & Peter’s in New Hope. And we’ll see if we book some more before then. But right now we definitely have that one. And when we get together, we are working on new songs again. So hopefully before too long we’ll put out another album too.

BK: You guys have a pretty funny social media presence. It’s been fun to observe some of that.

ES: Sure. Yeah. That’s all, Pat, really. Patrick.

“Sticker Famous” in 2020

BK: Here’s a question about “Sticker Famous.” So that album was 2020. I’ve seen your stickers all over the state. On stop signs in New Brunswick. There’s one on a traffic light on Route 1, Princeton. Then on utility poles in quaint little Hopewell. And even on the beer/tip pitcher at John & Peter’s in New Hope. 

ES: [Laughs] Yeah.

BK: So the question is, what do you have to say for yourselves for these countless acts of violence? Shouldn’t you apologize to the government for what you’re doing?

ES: [Laughs] Yeah, we don’t know how to apologize enough for it. Yeah, it was kind of a fun thing where first we put up stickers and then we give away stickers for free at shows, and then I’m sure other people put some up. The whole joke of “Sticker Famous” was that people would be like, Oh, Dinosaur Eyelids, I’ve heard of you guys. I’m like, Oh yeah, you’ve seen us before? No, I’ve never seen you or anything, but I’ve definitely seen your stickers around. So it was kind of like joking if we had any fame whatsoever, it was just from people seeing our stickers all around town. Honestly, it kind of just became a funny thing.

BK: I honestly suspect that that’s how I came across you guys. Cause I would see the stickers everywhere and finally had to learn a little bit more. And then, Oh, big New Brunswick act. 

ES: It would even be funny. People would Google it and on Facebook be like, Saw Dinosaur Eyelid stickers, wonder what the hell that meant. Googled it. Checked out a couple of tunes. I guess it actually did weirdly work, at least occasionally, for someone to check out the music.

BK: I was almost going to reach out and do just an article just about your sticker philosophy. How do you go around and place them in so many places? You’ve got a stack of 100 and wherever you stop or keep them in your car, or anything like that?

ES: Yeah, I guess probably. I think again Patrick, I think was the main force behind that one. But I don’t know if it was just. There was a couple of times where we would just, like, in the town we live, would put up a bunch, I remember. But otherwise, I don’t know if it was, there was never, at least I that know, a concerted effort to make a trail of them somewhere. I don’t know if maybe Pat or other people were in their car and on their way to somewhere was like, Yeah, this is a good place for them.

BK: Okay, yeah, that makes sense. So it wasn’t a concerted effort to just blast the state with stickers and they all lead back to your album.

ES: Yeah we didn’t get together. I think maybe like one time very early on, we did the town we grew up in, there’s a small town called Montgomery. And I remember one time in our cars putting up a bunch there one day, like in probably 2009 or something.

BK: Because the one on Route 1 in Princeton you would have to get out of your car and it’s a pretty busy little intersection there, or quite an intersection. So that one at least took some effort.

ES: Yeah, that one took some effort. I’m not sure who did that one.

BK: You’ve got a lot of local song names, and two on the live album. One of which is “Basilone Bridge,” which is a turnpike bridge that connects New Brunswick and Edison. So I’m curious if there’s a backstory there. And Basilone is named for a very decorated World War II veteran.

ES: Yeah, John Basilone. That is Pat’s song. He wrote that one. Even though I sing it, I’m not positive 100% exactly what it is, but I know he’s definitely fascinated with John Basilone as a person. I’m sure that was part of the inspiration for why he was into it. And Pat does love landmarks like that, old kind of landmarks. They even do I think a Memorial Day parade in Somerville every year in his name. So he’s kind of a cool local figure. But I could be honest, I’m not 100% sure exactly what the meaning behind it is for him.

BK: And then there’s a song on it called “Neshanic,” and that’s a town that’s where I consider West Jersey country. So a couple of name places there.

ES: Yeah. There’s also, Neshanic Junction, which is kind of a little spot, too. Pat lived there for a little while. That was our practice spot, on Zion Road. So that was kind of a cool spot, important to us for a little while. And there was a bar there called Croc’s and the Neshanic Inn where we used to go to and hang out. It kind of has an older feel, like it does feel more like… I think so much of this area is just so rapidly developed and really changed that that area is kind of cool for feeling what it used to feel like several decades ago.

BK: Yeah. I get my hair cut in Hopewell. I think we have the same barber. Do you go to Leo?

ES: I actually know where Leo is. Recently my wife has started cutting my hair, but I know Leo.

BK: I was getting my hair cut there recently. And you have a Dinosaur Eyelids flyer there, too, on his little whiteboard.

ES: Okay. It could be my brother that goes.

BK: Leo’s a punk rocker. We talk about John & Peter’s and Ween a lot when I’m getting my haircut.

ES: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, just talking about the venues, one thing I really appreciate you writing about all that is almost all the places we used to play, like, don’t exist anymore. Which is why it’s so cool that John & Peter’s is still going strong and basically does music every single night. Which is pretty cool. I mean, that’s so rare.

BK: And they’re celebrating 50 years this year and last year.

ES: It’s pretty amazing.

BK: They’re going strong. And then we mentioned Marc Lanzoff, the doorman, the legendary Court Tavern doorman.

ES: Who passed away, I heard, shortly after you wrote that article.

BK: Right, in February. Rest in peace. And I got to talk to him last summer. And I was thinking about your timeline, because he worked there until it changed owners. So you got to meet him, I think, probably would have been ‘09 to about 2011. He would have worked the door for you.

ES: Yeah, that’s about right. And that’s when we were playing all the time there. Really like I said, the way that you wrote about him being famous, that’s how we knew him. I know he was super loyal and that’s why bands did get paid. But also you were allowed to bring two or three people on the guest list, and giving him that guest list was like a nightmare every single time [laughs]. Any interaction with him was very troublesome. So it was really cool and funny to hear his perspective on it and all these things. I would never have guessed that he would have been in a goofy parody band who did like, Bob Dylan singing about gefilte fish.

BK: Yeah [laughs], thank you. And did you play in any basements and show houses at the time? Because I think it was kicking up right around when you started too.

ES: To be honest, not as many as I would have liked to have, because whenever we did, it was super fun. A lot of the bands by that point were quite a bit younger than us, but they were great shows and the great turnouts, and the kids were so into it. I wish we had gotten more into that kind of. I feel like when that was getting big again was kind of when we weren’t living directly in New Brunswick as much anymore. It’s kind of a hard scene to penetrate because everything’s like codes and every venue has a name. They don’t give the addresses because they don’t want the cops busting it. And the shows are all done by, like, ten. I went to a lot, too, just as a fan, but I wish we had done more of that. We did do a couple. But it was an awesome scene.

BK: Were you tight with any bands at the time, like Screaming Females or any other prominent ones?

ES: They were a little before us. I think they were kind of already getting bigger by the time we were mostly just starting. So I did see, I saw Marissa [Paternoster]’s other band Noun play at the Court Tavern, and I saw Screaming Females, a few times in Boyd Park. They did some outdoor shows there that were great. We’ve emailed them a couple of times back and forth. We don’t have any real friendship with them, but we’re definitely big fans of theirs. 

We were friends with a band called The Clydes. There’s a lot of bands we were really friendly with, but there wasn’t like, I don’t know… I feel like, to be honest, we were a huge, like we loved the New Brunswick scene. And we were playing the Court Tavern all the time, and there was kind of a scene there, but we never felt like 100%… There weren’t like a bunch of bands that we were great friends with. I wish we had had that, honestly. Even though we always had a great time, got along with a lot of bands, and played with them a lot, and everything was always friendly. We weren’t super tight, it wasn’t like a handful of us that were super tight in that way.

I wish that had been the case. But there were a lot of cool bands like The Clydes that we were friendly with, who we played with. They actually just reached out to us to play a show in Highland Park. We unfortunately weren’t able to do it, but they’ve always been really cool to us.

BK: Would that have been at Pino’s?

ES: Pino’s, yeah.

BK: Have you played there yet?

ES: We haven’t, actually. Now that they told us about it, we’re going to try to book something there. Maybe another time with them. We just unfortunately had a conflict for the day they had already booked.

BK: Where else did Dinosaur Eyelids get around to in that whole decade?

ES: We used to play Championships in Trenton a lot, which also is shut down. We played the Saint a number of times, in Asbury Park. We also used to do some shows in New York City. We used to play this place called Fontana’s a bunch, played a place called the Lit Lounge there. We even did a few shows at the Stone Pony on these, like, kind of bull— Sunday showcase things. We played the Old Bay in New Brunswick before. New York, we did Arlene’s Grocery and Don Hill’s. Trying to think. In Philly, too, we used to play this place called the Fire a bunch of times, that was a cool bar. And towards the 2010, 11 and 12 era, we played this place called North Star Bar in Philly a lot too. That was really good to us, actually. And just randomly, Buddies Tavern in Sayreville. We played there a bunch of times with, Lazlo of Blow Up Radio. He set up a bunch of shows there and always would invite us to play, which was cool. We played a couple of places at the Jersey Shore, played Asbury Lanes before that changed hands. But John & Peter’s, Championships, and Court Tavern are probably our three biggest ones over the years. 

There actually is on our website a list of all our shows that we’ve done. And I did find the date, just in case you do want to for the first time we played Court Tavern was July 8, 2009.

BK: Nice, okay. 7-8-09. 

ES: Yeah.

BK: I’m on your website. You’ve got an FAQ, of just one question, which is, “What does your name mean?” And the answer is, “If you close your eyes to reality, you hasten your own extinction.” That’s pretty deep.

ES: [Laughs] It is. If I’m not mistaken, that was come up with after the name. It was like, that’s a good answer for everybody. But I think there is truth to that, for sure.

BK: Yeah, it definitely makes sense. And then do you ever get confused for Dinosaur Jr.?

ES: I don’t think it’s ever happened. I’m definitely a fan of theirs. Especially their second and third records, but I don’t think anyone’s ever confused us.

BK: Yeah. Dinosaur Stampede. Or maybe T. Rex.

ES: Sure. Yeah. We could do a whole Dinosaur. We could open for them. We can do a Dinosaur tour thing.

BK: If any promoters are reading this, there’s your next million dollar idea.

ES: [Laughs] Yeah and bring Mark Bolan back from the dead.

BK: I had a couple interviews, or one this morning, where if it’s with a guy who played in the former scene, when we get rolling, the interview can just kind of go on indefinitely. I talk to younger bands and it’s more concise, I get through my questions quicker. But we’ve also gotten a bit silly.

ES: [Laughs] Yeah. Yeah I’m looking forward to hearing more about the days before we got there, because that’s always fun. It’s fun to hear all those stories and of all the bands that played. I love all that stuff with the old venues. There’s a great book about the Trenton City Gardens, the book all about that, where it was almost like the Please Kill Me book, where it was all spoken word. It was just a million great stories in that. 

BK: Yeah, I’ve got that too. No Slam Dancing.

ES: Yes. And I’m sorry we kind of, just missed a lot. We always joked that right when we started as a band is right when the music industry fell apart. Well in a way that’s kind of good, too, I guess. That really didn’t affect the scene itself. I just wonder if people, I don’t know. Do you think less people are going to live shows now, though? It kind of feels that way with all these places closing.

BK: Yeah, it could be, as far as clubs, there’s definitely a whole lot fewer than there were even three years ago. 

ES: And obviously Covid didn’t help, but I feel like it was already kind of trending that way anyway. Where if you go to a lot of bars now, it’s just like a DJ or something instead of live music.

BK: It was interesting what you said about how the scene, not that you have to be friends with every band, but how you felt like you weren’t part of the community. Or not that you weren’t a part of it, either. But the way it seems it was, especially in the 90s, was that there were just dozens and dozens and dozens of bands in New Brunswick, and any night of the week you could find live music, whether it was the Court Tavern, the bigger places, the Melody Bar, or just any pub like the Budapest or the Plum Street Pub. So as far as a community, it seems there was so much more of that, especially back then and then the 2000’s a little bit less. And now, I still think it’s strong, but it’s all in the basements.

ES: Yeah. And that scene is really great.

BK: Yeah, it’s great. But I’m myself kind of aged out of it. I can’t be at a college party anymore.

ES: That’s kind of what I was trying to say. I think we felt the reason we weren’t a bigger part of that is when it was really starting to take off again. We were already kind of like at least ten plus years older than all those guys playing the shows. So it was kind of weird. Even though I thought it was so cool. Kind of maybe a scene for a younger crowd.

BK: Yeah and it’s good that, especially if you’re college-aged and in a band, any weekend now, you can go to a basement show and it’s going to be rock music or really noisy stuff, or hardcore. And it’s very colorful, bands are vibrant and that’s all very strong, but it’s definitely a different atmosphere than it was back in the true heyday of the scene of the 80s, 90s.

ES: Yeah. And again, like you said there was community, but we weren’t all super close friends in that same way. And I don’t know if that maybe it might have been our fault, maybe we weren’t as social as we could have been or something. Because everyone was really cool, everyone was super nice and really enjoyed all the bands we played with and got to know. But it just wasn’t like we were super close friends with a handful of ‘em or anything, which would have been great.

BK: And so now in 2023, you’ve got this album, you’ve got maybe some shows coming up and maybe even some studio work as well?

ES: Yeah, we’ve just sort of started seriously playing again, and we’ve got a handful of songs we’re working on. So it probably would be a little while until we get back in the studio, but we’re definitely in the early stages of getting ready for that.

BK: Nice. That was your brother’s last show, so would he ever make a triumphant return as the bassist?

ES: We still have our band text message group or whatever when we plan practices, and Scott’s still on. And sometimes he’ll even come and hang out and play on a song or two with us for the night, have a couple of beers or whatever. To be honest, the thing he most disliked about being in the band was the live show. He always saw a lot of pressure about that. But I don’t think it would be out of the question that he’d come and play on a song at a live show sometime, or maybe guest on a record. I don’t think he’ll ever be a full-time member, but he’s sort of still like an honorary member in a way anyway. He came to a band practice a couple of months ago and played and stuff, so it’s all still super friendly.

BK: And I noticed he does glass-blowing as a business, right?

ES: Yeah.

BK: If he were on this call, my question would have been, Does he ever do any music-related projects? Could he make a guitar or something out of glass?

ES: That’s interesting. I’m sure he could. He has certain things that he makes all the time that are kind of the most popular things. But often people do approach him and say, Could you make this for me? And usually he does figure out a way to do it. Of course, the only thing with that is it’s going to cost more because he’s going to have to try it a few times and make some mistakes and do it. But it’s really been cool to watch him develop because he’s getting really, really good at it. And I would imagine that for sure, even though he hasn’t done much of that, that he could certainly figure out a way to do music-related stuff. He’s kind of trying new stuff all the time.

BK: You know what would be a cool thing for a Court Tavern show, if he made a guitar and he put inputs and strings on it and stuff, and then at the end of the show, just smash it and glass goes everywhere.

ES: Shatters everywhere. That would be very cool, for sure.

BK: I feel like if that were to happen anywhere, it would be in the Court Tavern basement. 

ES: For sure. Yeah, we had a lot of great times there. We even used to actually practice at the Court Tavern, too, in the upstairs Court for a while. So we spent a lot of time there. It was a real bummer when it closed down.

BK: When you say closed down, do you mean when Bobby Albert had to sell it, or subsequently?

ES: Well, kind of both, I guess. Because it’s just been, Bobby was the end of the Court era as it was, and then we didn’t know what was going to happen. And then when the guy bought it and he did open it back up, and to be honest, at first I was optimistic that maybe this could still work. Because he just did like the bare minimum to clean it up a little bit. I thought he was going to change everything on the inside and he really didn’t. He kind of kept it pretty much the same. It still had kind of the dive bar, rock club feel, but it had been cleaned up a little bit, which it did need. And they were booking music at first. So first I’m like, Oh, man, this could really work. 

But I just think the thing is, like, Bobby, despite anything else with him, he did have a lot of passion for that music scene. And I don’t think this new guy really did. When it didn’t make money right off the bat, he was like, Okay, it’s not worth it for me to put the time into it. That’s what it looked like from afar at least. But at first I was optimistic that it could still be a venue that could keep going.

BK: Yeah, that all tracks with what I’ve learned about the ownership trouble since it switched over.

ES: That’s what it felt like, and from what I heard from people who know more than me. At first it seemed like it could still be a cool place, but it didn’t last too long. But we played there, I don’t know how many times, but definitely a few times after it reopened.

Return to the main music recap here, or skip to another interview: The Cynz – Cliff and Ivy – Pillowinde – Gary Kaplan/RGD – Eric Harrison – Tula Vera – San Tropez – Super Jack

BK: And then fortunately, it’s kind of strange, I’ve seen it reported twice this year that it’s been demolished. And fortunately it’s not been demolished, it’s still sitting there.

ES: I was out there recently, actually and saw it.

BK: Yeah. They even put a new roof on it. So I don’t think the building is going anywhere at the moment, but I don’t know what it’s going to ever end up containing. So we’ll just have to see. I don’t think that guy is going to tell me because I wrote a pretty interesting article about it all a couple of years ago.

ES: I think I read that one. I believe I did.

BK: Yeah, people had some opinions about it, that maybe it was a little mean, but that’s rock and roll.

ES: [Laughs] Yeah. What can you do.

Dinosaur Eyelids released “The Last Beard (Live at the Court Tavern, New Brunswick)” in March 2023. For more Dinosaur Eyelids, find their music on all the streaming services and follow their funny social media accounts. 

Music Reporter at New Brunswick Today | bkelly@nb.today | Website

Bennett Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. He is a two-time winner of the Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage award from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, for his features on the New Brunswick music scene in 2021 and 2022.

Bennett Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. He is a two-time winner of the Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage award from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, for his features on the New Brunswick music scene in 2021 and 2022.