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  • Interview: The Bright Light Social Hour

    Mon, 09 Mar 2015 08:06:43

    Interview: The Bright Light Social Hour - By ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino...

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    “It’s a journey,” says Curtis Roush of The Bright Light Social Hour, when describing the group's new opus Space Is Still The Place.

    In this case, "journey" feels like an understatement. The Bright Light Social Hour's new album is an enigmatic, engaging, and enthralling psychedelic symphony with cinematic overtones and a blues rock heart. All of these elements manage to ignite an intergalactic roller coaster that makes for one of the year's best albums and a defining moment for the Austin band thus far.

    In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Curtis Roush, Joseph Mirasole, and Jack O'Brien of The Bright Light Social Hour talk the album and so much more.

    Where do you feel like the overarching vision connects on Space Is Still The Place?

    Jack: There are a couple of threads going through it, but the main one is that a lot of this music is a bit autobiographical. I think it’s about a musical and professional coming-of-age that we went through by touring and transitioning—where music went from being a hobby into our life. The main things that we’re trying to say with all of our music is to give a last look at the past, but to move forward, shed that past, and leave it behind. As far as changing the world around us, we expanded it to that as well. Touring around the country, we saw so many people in these tough situations who were tied to the past and a difficult present, while hoping for a brighter future.

    Curtis: Song-wise, I think the record starts a bit more terrestrial and on the ground. “Sweet Madelene” is the most like where we were coming from prior on the album. It picks up and starts moving from that point. As the record unfolds, you get further and further out from that point. It’s not necessarily in a linear way though. Some songs on the record look back and others look forward. There is a tendency as the record unfolds that we’re getting further and further away or maybe towards something.

    Joe: “Sweet Madelene” is mostly about identifying the problems of the South. The songs themselves tend to work towards being more optimistic in their content as the album moves on. That one recognizes the problems, and the next few songs are existing and trying to get away from it, eventually departing from it. “Escape Velocity” is literally the final release from all of the Southern terror past and liberation.

    The instrumentation tells a story just like the words do...How close are the lyrical and musical processes?

    Jack: That’s very conscious, and they’re really intertwined. We would start getting the basic grooves and chords down for a lot of these songs and pretty quickly start talking. Once we realized that it’s something we wanted to develop, we’d discuss, “What does this make us feel? What do we want to develop? What kind of scenes does this make us imagine?” We’ll develop a concept, and we write the lyrics alongside. We bring in whatever appropriate musical elements will further articulate that vision or expression.

    Joe: For the last few songs on the record, there’s an expression of moving further away from Earth. They’re really good at giving that. That’s why the textures change on the back half of the album.

    Curtis: The first song uses all vintage sounds, chords, and rock instruments. The last track is all synthesizers and drum machines.

    What’s the story behind “Escape Velocity?”

    Jack: It has a fun story actually. We had the record pretty much totally done, except for the ending which was a huge question mark. One day here in the studio, the three of us threw on the microphones and decided we were going to film the whole day. We wanted to totally clean the slate and see if we could find something, which is not a thing we’ve done before. I immediately started imagining the house we live in was like a spaceship. That one-note bass line was powering the spaceship as if it were shoving coal in a coal-powered spaceship. I couldn’t stop playing that one note in that rhythm.

    Curtis: It was probably seven or eight hours of you playing that D.

    Jack: Curtis and Joe came in with the rhythm and chorus melody. We really built it into a very particular space. It’s this departure like a calm that explodes into an overwhelming overtaking of orgiastic collective consciousness or something like that. We had no idea how the album was going to end, and that presented itself to us.

    What else influences you beyond life and music?

    Jack: It’s really different for each of us. For me, it’s really people on the road. I enjoy talking to them and connecting with them—having conversations, and seeing the connections we share. I feel like that’s where I learn a lot and find things about myself that I want to say.

    Joe: Jack and I are always joking, because we’re total opposites. He gets all of his life from humans, and I feel like weird and alienated around other people. I tend to look more inward. A lot of what I write comes from being bipolar and being torn between two emotional extremes. It’s the leftover existential residue from being thrown around like that tends to leave me with a lot of weird feelings I have to get out or I’ll explode. Other than that, I’ve been reading a lot of critical theories and philosophies. It’s weirdly turning into musical ideas. I also really like my tumblr for following visual artists.

    Curtis: Outside of music, two of my primary loves have always been politics and culture. I get a lot of my extracurricular and content from where I’m coming from by reading and observing issues with politics and culture as well as interrogating ideas of race, class, and gender and how music can talk about those things and interact with them. My ideological core is always looking for, dreaming of, and desiring more egalitarian ways of being, points of identity, and consciousness. Reading and keeping really abreast of news is part of it. I really love Twitter, because it’s a real-time fast interchange of so many issues of politics and culture. We all have different strategies of cultural and human interrogation. Joe’s interrogating the self, philosophy, and consciousness. Jack gains so much from his interactions with people, and I like to interrogate issues of politics and culture. It comes down to the same craving, but there are different focuses of source fuel.

    If the album were a movie, what would it be?

    Jack: The first thing that comes to mind for me is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain. It’s always been on somewhere in the background for the last two years or something lingering.

    Curtis: Similarly, Jodorowsky’s Dune has meant a lot. It’s really similar in some ways as far as consciousness expanding. It’s that vibe of that otherworldly and alien character of it that’s in a lot of our songs. It’s a movie we all watched at some point during the making of the record that resonated with us.

    Joe: The soundtrack for that is spectacular. It’s all modular synths. We were all getting deeper into synthesis, but the modular synths in particular, we’ve all been obsessing over for the last year in change. If you haven’t seen one, it’s like a scientist’s musical instrument with knobs and cables going everywhere [Laughs].

    Jack: It’s a combination of mad science and generous love. That’s what a lot of what Jodorowsky is about and what the record is too.

    Rick Florino

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    Tags: The Bright Light Social Hour, Curtis Roush, Alejandro Jodorowsky

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