Homeschooled in their hometown of Tyler, Texas ("Rose Capital of the Nation"), siblings Chauntelle, Sherri, Stacy and Weston DuPree led a relatively sheltered existence before their band Eisley began drawing major-label attention. From a record-industry perspective, the four siblings and their cousin Garron DuPree must have looked like Bambi from the other side of a laser scope.
"They wanted us to tour with Hilary Duff, and write with these people that write songs for pop stars," says Stacy DuPree with audible disdain, from her sister Chauntelle's house, where the band is recording new tracks.
The youngest of the four siblings, Stacy was all of 8 years old when the band first formed in 1997. Six years later, their first EP, Laughing City, was released by Warner Bros.
"We were just kids messing around and playing shows in Dallas," she recalls. "Warner Brothers found out about us and instantly wanted to sign us. We were hesitant, but at the same time, we were young and kind of naïve. We didn't really know what that would mean, how that would change our lives, and definitely take away a lot of creative power."
Though the band received a lot of promotion at first, and scored an opening slot on Coldplay's American tour around the time of 2005's debut LP Room Noises, they started getting lost in the shuffle. Pressured to create a hit for their full-length follow-up, 2007's Combinations, they watched as the finished album languished for nine months before getting released.
The album found Eisley venturing further into dreamy, harmony-laced originals that at times approached the chamber-pop elegance of the Decemberists. But labels then were more interested in finding polished skin-deep confections, à la the Fray.
After being shuffled from Reprise to Sire, the band halfheartedly worked on its third full-length. According to bandmembers, an A&R rep advised them as a friend that they'd be better off leaving the label. With part of the album finished, they began a protracted tug-of-war with the label in order to finally escape with their music.
"Some of us took it harder than others," says Stacy. "I personally saw it coming, and I was going to be OK with it. I never put that much trust in the people that we worked with there, just from a musical standpoint. They didn't get what we were doing, and so it was fine by me. But I think for Sherri, in particular, she's had to rebuild her confidence as a songwriter, and kind of went through a dry spell."
To make matters worse, Sherri got divorced, and Chauntelle's engagement fell apart. The tight-knit DuPrees responded by channeling their experiences into songs like "Sad," "Watch It Die," and "Better Love" for their long-awaited third album, The Valley. As the title suggests, it's a chronicle of a low point in time.
"We're pretty connected as a family," says Stacy, who's now 22. "When one of us is going through something, you can't just turn a blind eye, nor can you keep it from affecting you deeply."
Things are much better now, both personally and professionally, with a new four-song EP — composed equally of new tracks and holdovers from The Valley sessions — nearing completion.
"We're feeling really blessed, and I'm hearing it in the tracks, too," says Stacy. "I'm excited because it doesn't feel rushed. It's like this EP is a big sigh of relief."