Eyes Adrift: Few have heard of group, but members hail from Nirvana, Meat Puppets, Sublime

When the members of Eyes Adrift step onstage Monday, they´ll be in a room that barely holds as many bodies as the plush tour bus idling outside.

Separately, these men sold millions of records. Krist Novoselic pummeled bass in Nirvana, which sent grunge music into the commercial stratosphere. Curt Kirkwood sang and played guitar in the Meat Puppets, which influenced countless indie-rockers. Bud Gaugh manned drums in Sublime, which mixed reggae, ska and punk into a palatable radio recipe.

But mention Eyes Adrift to the average music fan: You´ll be met with a blank stare.

Sure, these men helped mold the musical clay of the 1990s. But can they harness lightning again? And does anyone -- including the band members -- really care?

"There´s no pressure," Kirkwood says, phoning from a tour stop in Chicago. "We´ve all been through situations where people said, ´Wow, trendsetting, oh boy, whatever.´ We´ve all had our dreams come true and seen them shattered. On goes the life, so they say."

Eyes Adrift materialized in 2001, a coincidental collision of three post-grunge warriors floating through space: "I have no idea how this happened," Kirkwood admits.

Novoselic, who´s known Kirkwood for about a decade, saw him performing solo in Seattle in 2001. He approached the middle-aged ex-Meat Puppet about jamming. Days later, as Kirkwood was driving home to Austin, Texas, he got a phone call from Gaugh, who hadn´t met Kirkwood, but had heard about him through friends. He wanted to jam, too.

The three men got together and bashed instruments. Something clicked. Yet none of them fully comprehended the haunting effect that the past would have on this band.

"It´s stupid that we didn´t think that this is going to be seen as a ´supergroup,´ " Kirkwood admits. "... It seemed like a dream group more than a supergroup. To me, it was like a dream come true."

It didn´t take long for the trio to realize that Eyes Adrift was more than a side project. They recorded an album and released it on SpinArt Records, an independent label. Then they organized a club tour, which they are paying for themselves. Thanks to the ´90s, none of them is strapped for cash.

Eyes Adrift has committed to touring through 2003. After all, what else are they going to do?

"There is nowhere to go back to," Kirkwood, 43, explains. "It doesn´t work that way. That´s what you find out. Once you´ve been to the top of the mountain, that´s it. That one´s done. You just go on and find another one."

This expedition rivals Mount Everest. Popular music magazine Blender awarded Eyes Adrift´s self-titled debut just two stars and complained that it "sounds like any one of the hundreds of guitar-seriousness bands that arose in the wake of (Nirvana´s ) ´Nevermind.´ "

That criticism is true. It´s also understandable, based on the group´s roots. Kirkwood sings most songs and sketches hollowed-out guitar webs -- the same kind that made him popular with country-loving punks. In some ways, "Eyes Adrift" feels like the sequel to the Meat Puppets´ weighty "Monsters" album.

"Every time I play with these guys, I just have to smile to myself, because it´s just so much fun," Kirkwood says. "The music takes care of itself."

Anyone hoping to revive the flannel era will be disappointed. Eyes Adrift´s concerts have contained no musical references to the band members´ past lives. The trio sees no reason to open their scrapbooks: "The association never hurt the Meat Puppets, for instance, with Nirvana," Kirkwood claims, "but it never helped (either)."

Not to point fingers at the holy, but that sounds a little like denial.

Nirvana´s late frontman, Kurt Cobain, supercharged the Meat Puppets´ career in 1993 when he invited the band to perform on "MTV Unplugged." The packaging of the Meat Puppet´s biggest-selling album, 1994´s "Too High To Die," contained a sticker with this Cobain quote: "The Meat Puppets gave me a completely different attitude toward music -- I owe so much to them."

The Nirvana legacy continues to affect Novoselic, too. His follow-up band, Sweet 75, got a sour reception from grunge fans, but he´s still a celebrity because of Nirvana. The recently released, last-known Nirvana song, "You Know You´re Right," currently tops modern-rock radio charts.

But Eyes Adrift won´t be playing a cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." That much seems certain. And so far, fans have been OK with that, Kirkwood says -- even if clubs are sometimes less than full.

"In a lot of ways, I think we wanted to start again from the ground up," he says. "We felt like we had nothing to prove."