Blackpool Lights Biography
But the level of craft and passion underlining these 11 songs suggests there’s more to Blackpool Lights than Suptic lets on. He’s candid, for instance, about the band’s birth, after the death of his previous outfit, the Get Up Kids. “I took a few months to clear my head and figure out what I was going to do,” he confides. “I’m an art school dropout, and I was thinking of going back to school. But I had these songs, and I thought, if I don’t give these songs a shot, I’ll regret it the rest of my life. I’ve got to do this.”
“This,” of course, was finding a new band, now comprised of Suptic (vocals, guitar), guitarist-singer Thom Hoskins, bassist Brian Everad and drummer Billy Brimblecom. “Blackpool Lights started as a bunch of people who’d just quit other bands and wanted to do something fresh and exciting,” Suptic explains. “We’re all very focused and we agreed, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right; let’s really give it our all.”
Their all is an album’s-worth of perfect-power-pop nuggets like first single “Blue Skies,” which propels itself out of the speakers with a descending guitar riff that pays off big time in the sing-along chorus: “I’m watching these blue skies turn to grey/ And all these friendships fade away/ These clouded memories are seen through bloodshot eyes/ I’m watching these blue skies turn to grey.”
“It’s about how people grow up and change,” Suptic says. “Your friends go in different directions, and no matter how close you’ve been, you all move on. You have to enjoy the good times while they last because they’re gone in a second.”
Much of the material on This Town’s Disaster was written when the songwriter himself was in a transitional period. “With a lot of these songs, everything’s screwed up, but then there’s an uplifting part; the person in the song starts out confused but ends up figuring things out. The songs aren’t all about me, but I was in that head space when I wrote a lot of them. The Get Up Kids were ending and I was trying to find my new path. When you’ve been in a band for 10 years, it’s all you know, and then it’s over and you’re left wondering, what the hell do I do now? You’re starting over and you have issues and regrets to work out, but you do have those great memories, too.”
Suptic took his first real step down his new path when he jammed with drummer Billy Brimblecom in spring of 2005. He’d known him from the KC music scene but had never played with him until Ed Rose, longtime Get Up Kids producer and co-engineer on This Town’s Disaster, played matchmaker. “The first practice was just Billy and me, and he knew exactly what to play at all the parts. It was amazing,” he says.
Bassist Brian Everad was a natural addition to the lineup, having previously played in a band with Brimblecom. “Brian was kind of a hired gun in his last band and he knew with us he’d have a creative role in everything. I’ve always really liked him, and he loved the songs Billy and I were working on, so it just felt right.”
Original Blackpool Lights guitarist J.D. Warnock, who played on This Town’s Disaster, left the group due to road weariness, which paved the way for Thom Hoskins’ arrival. Suptic says of Hoskins: “He’s an awesome guitarist and an awesome singer and he’s a songwriter, too. He has really cool song ideas; he came in to practice recently with this thing that sounds like The Kinks. I love working with other songwriters. Everyone in this band writes their own parts and has definite ideas about how the songs sound. For me, personally, if you don’t like something I’m writing, tell me it sucks – that’s what a band is. If I wanted to put out a solo record, it would be as Jim Suptic, not Blackpool Lights.”
The name Blackpool Lights comes from something George Harrison once said, about the film “Magical Mystery Tour” being about people going to see the Blackpool Illuminations, commonly called the “Blackpool Lights.” Blackpool is an English seaside town, which, for two months each autumn is transformed by a six-mile stretch of spectacular light shows. Having first lit the sky in 1879, the Blackpool Illuminations are an English institution – one none of Kansas City’s Blackpool Lights has ever seen. “We had no idea what it was when we chose the name,” Suptic confesses, “but we thought it sounded cool. I know, a Beatles reference for the name of a pop band – we’re so clever.”
Thus named, Blackpool Lights played exactly one gig before real disaster struck. Billy Brimblecom had been suffering persistent pain in his left leg. The drummer thought it was just lingering effects from a long-ago car accident. But a series of tests and exploratory surgery determined that he had Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer that would require an extensive and immediate course of chemotherapy.
Suptic remembers: “We were all in a state of shock. But Billy really wanted to make this record, and he knew he’d have to do his drum parts before he started getting sick from the chemo. So we decided to just take the 14 songs we had and go for it. It was unbelievable – Billy’s hair was already falling out, but he tracked 14 songs in two days, and he did an amazing job.”
Midway through the treatment, Brimblecom got even more staggering news: Unable to arrest the spread of the cancer in his lower leg, his doctors would have to amputate at the knee. Everyone was stunned. But, Suptic says, “Billy quickly realized, as he puts it, that it was either a funeral for him or a funeral for his leg, so he had the surgery.” Now cancer-free, Brimblecom has been fitted with a state-of-the-art, computer chip-enhanced prosthetic. “When you see him onstage, you’d never know,” Suptic attests.
In fact, Brimblecom’s aforementioned pop chops have remained key to Blackpool Lights’ sound. Suptic, who wrote his first song – complete with sheet music – at age 8 explains: “We like melody. We like songs that have hooks that grab you and draw you in. A lot of bands have a cool sound, but they spend too much time working on their wardrobes and not enough on their songs.”
He cites The Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Replacements, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as inexorable influences and maintains: “A good song is a good song. That kind of stuff is undeniable. Everyone in this band has a really sharp pop sensibility. They understand the structure of a pop song; they all just know where to go.”
Undeniable, too, is the magnetic appeal of This Town’s Disaster tracks like “This Town’s Disaster,” “Blue Skies,” “Empty Tank,” “Maybe Just Maybe,” “It’s Never About What It’s About” and “Truth About Love” – all standouts among standouts. Almost all of them are persistently upbeat, sonically crisp, and instrumentally tight. But they also manage to breathe, perhaps due to the casual circumstances of their creation. Drums were recorded (and vocals mixed) at Ed Rose’s Black Lodge; guitar, bass and a sprinkling of keyboards were cut at the home of co-engineer Chris Cole. “We just went up to Chris’ attic with a bunch of amps,” says Suptic, “and recorded five days a week until it was done. We made this record for very little money and we are putting it out on our own label. The thing is, you can make a record in someone’s attic and have it come out sounding great. If you listen real carefully, there’s probably birds chirping and dogs barking in the background, but it sounds great.”
All’s well that ends well. Asked about the song “Maybe Just Maybe” – which bears the refrain “Maybe, just maybe, we’ll pull on through” – Suptic ventures, “It’s a song about forgiving and making things right.” The lines, “The world has a way of working out the bugs/ It may never make sense, but what ever does,” nonetheless speak to the larger recent reality of Suptic and Blackpool Lights.
“After what we’ve been through to make sure these songs get heard,” he says, “everything seems to be alright. I guess you just have to hang in there and think positively and, it’s amazing, but stuff does work