East Lansing alternative rock band Cross Eyed Strangers released a full-length album, “Mr. Conman” on Jan. 28, with a celebratory concert at The Fledge in Lansing. 18-year-old East Lansing High School student and singer/songwriter of the group, Wes Millhouse, spoke with ELi about the band’s history and their new music.
Cross Eyed Strangers began when Millhouse was a freshman, and the lineup has changed over the years due to members graduating and moving on. Today’s lineup still consists solely of ELHS students.
“In the original band and also the recording band, I played guitar, keys, and sang lead vocals,” Millhouse said. “In the new band, I still play guitar and sing lead vocals. Nick Langford plays the bass, keys, and sings backup vocals. Ty Morrison plays guitar and keys. Alex Arnold plays the drums, and Rowen Blesing plays guitar.”
Just as the lineup has changed, so too, has the sound, according to Millhouse.
“Songwriting-wise, when our first LP, ‘Darker,’ was released, we played music that built more and generally had lower energy. Now, especially apparent at the shows, the energy is much higher, almost all the way through,” he said. “The songs sound more mature and thoughtful than they used to as well. Also, the production of our music now is at a much higher quality. The songs on the new album sound like they’ve had a mask removed from them in comparison to ‘Darker.’”
Inspiration for “Mr. Conman” came from life lessons of growing up, Millhouse said.
“This album drew heavily from realizations I came to as I’ve grown up and learned more about my surroundings,” he said. “Most of the inspiration came from the realization that we don’t need to conform to every bit of society, and in order to be satisfied, we must also be satisfied with our perception of reality.”
“The message is to take control of your own brain and change your perception until you’re as happy as your circumstances will allow,” Millhouse said of the new record.
The phrase ‘get a new pair of eyes,’ is repeatedly used throughout the album, which is named after the personification of society’s misleading, tunnel-vision outlook on life. “If there was an antagonist to the album and what it represents, that character is Mr. Conman,” Millhouse said.
The band records and produces their own records.
As is all of Cross Eyed Strangers’ former work, “Mr. Conman” is a DIY record, made in Millhouse’s basement over about 8 months. Almost all of the record was written during a two-week quarantine.
“This really allowed me to zero-in on what I wanted the album to be about, with no external distractions,” Millhouse said. “I found it very peaceful and rewarding.”
“We take pride in being the entirety of what you hear when you listen to our music, from playing to production,” he said. “Unlike in a professional studio, there was no time limit for us during the creation process. That’s why we were able to record and produce the album over such a long period of time.”
It’s no surprise that Millhouse wants to study audio engineering in his future, given that he enjoys the DIY side of producing his own records. Listening for instrument clarity, experimenting with trial and error, and making countless miniscule adjustments to the record’s sound all make for an opportunity for this student to improve his skills.
“I am hoping to work in a recording studio after college,” he said. “I also plan on continuing Cross Eyed Strangers once I get to college, and will likely create a third version of the band to continue down the path I have already paved for myself.”