Interview: The Bright Light Social Hour discuss their new record, socio-political issues and “Future South”

Interview by Eman El Saied

Austin, Texas based Psychedelic rock band, The Bright Light Social Hour has been critically acclaimed after the release of their debut self-titled album, winning 6 awards at SXSW 2011 Austin Music Awards, Band of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. After taking five years to drop their latest album, Space is Still The Place, The Bright Light Social Hour discuss the new record, socio-political issues, the younger generation and the artistic development of their new record. After what seems like the least vague conversations, Jack O’Brien on bass guitar and vocals, Curtis Roush on guitar and vocals, Edward Braillif on synthesizers and guitar, and Joseph Mirasole on drums gave us a peek in to their heads after conceptualizing this brand new record.

How did things start off for you guys?
Jack: Curtis sent out an campus wide email at this university we were at, South Western University. He was looking to make music that was really intriguing to me. We worked a few people, I was studying abroad in Madrid for a while…it was essentially a really slow start. But we found Joe on craigslist!
Curtis: He was 17 years old, in his High School drum line.
Jack: We knew Edward from working together in a music shop with Joe. It was really slow, so they spent some time learning how to DJ together, and they would DJ a lot too.

So your first album sounds nothing like your second album. A lot of blogs have been recognizing that as well. When did you decide to go for a change?
Curtis: Jack and I were in grad school, and we saw that album (self-titled, 2010) as a way to break free from the anxieties and pressures from being in school. Having a released that record as a band, we’d play a live show as a band once a month.  It was kind of like “the big party of the month”… There was this sense of joyous, party rock vibe. Most of the things we wrote really reflected that in our writing and performance. When we started taking it on tour, we performed that record for a few years and we realized that we aren’t those people every night or anymore. It constantly started to feel less authentic.

Fair enough, so what were you thinking with Space is Still The Place?
Curtis: I guess with the first album there were these “pockets of escape” that we were going for, however this time around we were trying to express the things that we mutually love. We are all really wide students of music. We love rock music, as much as we love hip-hop music, R&B. Just a lot of diverse set of influences. We have fun with teasing things out, putting things together that you normally won’t find together, together. Wanting to say something more meaningful about ourselves and to the folks listening in about things that we think about. Like, politics, the future, and people struggling in their lives. There was set of themes that we were instantly trying to talk about and not just “partying on the weekend”.
Jack: A lot of those perspectives, too have always been there, but were always in the background. We had this attitude: “things are hard, but let’s forget about it and enjoy the moment.” Whereas now, if you embrace the struggle around us it makes living and being a little more meaningful. It makes the joyous moments more joyous as a result, something deeply joyous.

I want to tie that with your blog, “Future South”. I was reading it and it was almost as if you were trying to tackle the youths issues almost? Can you explain that to me a little better? You were staying with your fans at their houses?
Jack: Yeah, a lot of the time actually. Real last resort though, if we couldn’t find a Super8,we were staying with a lot people that we just met and it was  cool because we were talking to a lot of people after the show. Usually when a show ends, you don’t really get to have conversations. You might have conversations about our music, or things in the area to do. You never really get a chance to learn about their lives and their circumstances until you go to their home and see their situations. You start asking questions like “hey what to do you do, how did you get here”. Over and over again, we kept finding people with this similar situation who were really hospitable and generous but were also really struggling… Working month to month, trying to make ends meet, working in jobs they don’t like, having passions that they weren’t able to dedicate their time and energy too as a result of being financially strained month to month…

It’s much harder now, in a way, then it was 10-20 years ago!
Jack: Yeah, exactly! It’s hard, because sometimes your family can be the worst people to give you guidance because they are so afraid of seeing you fail. They would rather you play it safe. That’s why our families spend so much of their energy making sure their kids go to school,  like “hey, if you wanna do your crazy thing, at least have something to fall back on”.  But sometimes your honestly in a better place if you don’t have something to fall back on. You know you have no other choice to keep going until you succeed.
Curtis: We used to talk to professors about that kind of thing, and they’d be like, “take some time, do the band thing, do some crazy shit. I wish I took the time before I got my PHD before I became boring as fuck” “no, don’t do that!”

 Future South kind of resembles Humans of New York?
Jack: No, that’s exactly it.  We just ripped that off [laughs].  We meet so many people with interesting backgrounds, and we are just like, why don’t we take photos of these people and share a little quote that gives peek into their story, and people can just go see for themselves. We just launched it yesterday, and are doing it on tour. It’s the most exciting thing about traveling, meeting and getting to know people. It’s a deep level to get to with people, but I think because we are a band, we have the ability to cut through that, and be like hey, what’s so difficult in your life, what’s keeping you from you from spending more time energy for the things you love? People are really happy to talk about that. I think it makes people feel less alone. They can talk about those things more readily. It’s just not nice to bring that up at a party or superficial situation.
Curtis:  Whereas Humans of New York is more anthropological; a creature in their habitat, in vice versa Future South is a little more sociological, people in society. It’s a bit more based on circumstances and social relations and situational content.
Jack: And there’s more of a united context, these people all came out to see our shows. You need to be around people that have same amount of drive, and want to critique your music. Teach you, and help you grow.
Curtis: It’s hard to grow that way, working in retail.
Jack: It’s almost a catch-22, the amount of artists that we meet that are like, “this is my project ,this is my passion, but I don’t have the luxury of being myself and doing it.” Just recently we’ve been able to quit our day jobs. That’s just been a huge privilege to be at that point in our lives. To be broke, but still do what we need to do to be happy. We live well, we do what we love every single night, we get to travel the country and play our music.

How old are all of you?
Jack: We’re between 26-31. Curt and I basically started The Bright Light Social hour 10 years ago in college. Our band then and our band now are two completely separate things. We have this ability to start illuminating aspects of our sound that need to be illuminated. The musical experience is not just a projection, it’s a shared thing; we may play the exact same thing every single night but it’s always a different room, combination of the people, the vibe and all the invisible little things.

And who you’re playing with I’d imagine. You can’t play with just anyone, it has to be artists that flourish your sound.
Curtis: That’s thing I’ve found most interesting about rock music… It’s conservative almost. Rock bands only want to do “rock”. We probably like rock music the least of the genres we listen to all the time. A lot of our energy comes from a lot of outside stuff – that cross pollination of keeping things fresh.

I definitely think there’s no need to stay in a box.  Genre hopping has so much more value. Can we talk about The Flaming Lips holding your record?
Jack: Our tour manager Katie actually made that happen!
Katie: I walked in while they were building their setlist, and he was like “Whoa Whoa Whoa, you can’t just walk in here”, but I told them I had a present and they loved it.

That’s wonderful! On a side note, what’s your take on Spotify?
Edward: I’m fine with Spotify.
Jack: Very good!
Curtis: We all have Spotify and listen to it all the time. I wish they paid artists more, and eventually they will. It’s still an emerging technology and I’m sure they’ll figure it out as they continue to develop. But it’s not like we’re going to go back and buy CD’s and big box retail.
Jack: Ultimately, it allows us to connect with more people more easily. You don’t even have to be a consumer to be in touch with your music.
Joe: The bands get something more out of it, instead of piracy. For me, I was downloading albums since I was 10 or 11 years old. We were the first generation to do that, you know? Pirating albums [laughs]. But now bands get way more return. You can gain followers, see when a band is on tour, and it cuts on piracy. I don’t even download albums.
Curtis: Even just to have the recorded product of western civilization at your fingertips is unbelievable.
Edward: Spotify in a way prevents people from buying these artists directly, because when it comes down to it, if you are a consumer listening to this music, and you’re making use of Spotify technology but you’re somewhat against it… your really taking the blame out on Spotify because you’re guilty for not supporting the artists directly. Because you CAN spend the 10 bucks for the record directly and still stream it directly off of Spotify if you wanted. And a record, what is that? Two cups of coffee from Starbucks?
Joe: What does a banana cost? 10 dollars? 20 dollars? [laughs]

What I can’t stand is when you don’t have Spotify, they are just force feeding you advertisements if you don’t have premium.
Joe: We live in a capitalist world, and those ads help pay smaller artists. Its not like Spotify is paying us to do an ad. We put out a record, and Spotify was like “Hey, wanna make an ad?” and we were like, “Cool! Let’s put weird druggy effects on our voices so it’s more fun to listen to this stupid ad!”
Edward: So we spent like 6 hours making two 15 second ads, meticulously recording them.

Can you explain the visuals of the project? Spacey, upside down canyons??? Who came up with those ideas.
Joe: I found this artist from Argentina “Mariano Peccenelli” on Tumblr. I showed it to the band, really trying to find the visual aesthetic for this record would be. We spend a lot of time discussing the sound and stuff. As far as the visuals go, I have the most fun doing that kind of thing. I would find pictures online and find out what we all liked and disliked collectively. While doing aesthetic research we found Mariano and they loved him immediately. We contacted him and he didn’t even speak English! Jack had to translate all of our messages. Which was really fun, because Jack would just be sitting there using a dictionary trying to find all of our weird words to explain.
Joe: We had this idea where we wanted a visual for every single song to go along with the vinyl, and our album cover. It took a year or so, just going back and forth while we were recording the album. After a year of sending things back and forth, sending him our songs,  we finally had 10 images and our album cover.
Curtis: Even aesthetically, it really spoke to us I think, because it straddles two worlds. There’s something about his art that is simultaneously retro and gritty and 60s feeling as well as surreal that really struck the balance we were going for with our record.

Be on the lookout for more with The Bright Light Social Hour, as well as their blog Future South.

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