SXSW 2014: Bright Light Social Hour x Vinyl Mag

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Photo credit: Emma Cramer

In the trendy East Sixth Street district, I watched Bright Light Social Hour rock the backyard of the local dive bar, Liberty.  Hot, sweaty and dusty, surrounded by long beards and longer hair, I could sense right away how at home this Austin-based band was.  After we loaded up with tacos at the East Side King food truck, we snuck away to a quiet alley to talk.  Formed in 2004, BLSH released their self-titled debut album in 2010.  In 2011, they dominated the Austin Music Awards during SXSW with six awards, including Band of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year (nbd).  After a non-stop tour of over 300 shows, the Psychedelic Southern Rock band is ready to release their second album later this year.  I spoke with members Curtis Roush, Jack O’Brien, Joseph Mirasole and Edward Braillif. – Jessamyn Mctwigan

VM:  I saw you guys at Holy Mountain last night – what a great show!  I really enjoyed it.  I know you guys are working on your second album – where are you with that?

Jack O’Brien: We recorded it here on Lake Travis in Austin. We’re getting ready to mix it in New York with Chris Cody. He’s done Beach House, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs…

VM: You have a couple more shows here at Southby, right?

JO:  Yeah, we’re playing the Soho Lounge, the official showcase tomorrow. And Saturday, we play The Pie In The Sky Collective Future Musicians showcase at Shiner Saloon.

VM: Sounds like your excited about the second showcase?

JO: That one is gonna be awesome – definitely the best from around here.

VM: How do you feel about playing SXSW?

Joseph Mirasole:  We love it. It’s crazy, and it hurts, but it’s a good hurt… it’s like adult Olympics.  It’s the only week that I feel like I’m getting older.

VM: I know you guys are all locals; how long have you known each other?

Curtis Roush: About 10 years. It’s been a long courtship; we dated for a while… don’t even know where one beard ends and the other begins – like Siamese twins, or you know, when a dog and owner start to look alike…

After the South by Southwest interview, Emily McBride conducted a follow-up interview with member Jack O’Brien via phone to talk more about BLSH’s upcoming album, how the rest of their SXSW was and tour plans. Enjoy!

VM: I was looking at your Facebook page, and I saw on the ‘About’ it says ‘la lucha sigue’…I looked it up, and it says it means, ‘the struggle continues.’ So, can you explain what inspired you to make that your ‘About?’

JO: I don’t know. I think any time we run into some sort of adversity, I think that’s just something we say to each other. I don’t know where it comes from, but I feel like it’s something we hear a lot in Texas, so I think it’s just remembering to always be putting the passion forth for the things that you believe in.

VM: Okay, so that’s a common saying in Texas?

JO: In Mexico, and maybe in the Spanish-speaking communities in Texas, yeah.

VM:  You’re playing Shaky Knees in Atlanta coming up, and we’re in Athens-Atlanta area, so we’ll definitely be there, but how did that come about? And have you looked at the lineup? It’s really awesome this year.

JO: Yeah, yeah. They just reached out to our booking guy and then – maybe our booking guy reached out to them; I’m not actually positive [laughing] – but I haven’t heard of the festival before. I guess it’s only the second year, and when we saw the lineup, we were like, ‘hell yeah, let’s do it!’ So yeah, really phenomenal. A bunch of great bands, and a lot of great Austin bands, too.  I saw Spoon is playing, so that’s exciting.  I feel like they haven’t done anything. They were kind of on hiatus for a few years, so that’s really cool.

VM: So who, besides Spoon, are you most excited to see there?

JO: Well, unfortunately, I’m only going to get to be there Friday, because the next night we have a festival in Tampa, but definitely Spoon, the National…Man Man I really like; White Denim is also from Austin….and The Whigs is a band I’ve never seen, but they keep popping up, like, ‘if you like Bright Light Social Hour, you should check out The Whigs.’

VM: Yeah yeah, they’re cool. They’re from Athens, so they’re one of our local groups we’re proud of.

JO: Oh, crazy! Oh, I just saw that Graveyard is Friday! We just saw Graveyard – actually did a show with them once in Atlanta – they’re actually from Sweden, but it’s like really cool, groovy, psych-y kind of blues metal stuff…really hilarious Swedish guys. We met them at their show, and they were just really drunk and goofy, and I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. They were just really jolly and drinking hard. And lots of laughing and taking photos and not understanding.

VM: That’s all you need. So I know South By is over, but since this was technically a South By interview, did you get to see anybody? I know most of the bands I talked to are like, ‘no, I never get to see any music!’

JO: Not much… you know, I got to see a lot of local bands and local friends, and friends that were in from out of town who were playing on the same shows as us, so that was cool. My girlfriend bought a pass, – she paid for the wristband, and at the end of the weekend, she was like, ‘it sucks! Everything I went to, I got in because of you. I didn’t need my pass!’ We tried to go see some shows, and then I would know the production guy, and he would pull us in, and she’d be like, ‘no!’ but we finally went in, and we got to see CLASSIXX, and that was like the only one we actually we went to just as a consumer.

VM: Tell me about your upcoming album. I know ya’ll have been writing for a while. Where are you stage-wise?

JO: Well, we’ve finished it a few times [laughing], but we keep reopening the project file, you know. We really wanted to work with this mixing engineer, Chris Cody, and we flew up to New York and did one song with him, and he blew us away, so we’re going to do the whole record with him. He’s done Beach House, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear and a bunch of TV on the Radio, and people with that kind of indie sound. But he wasn’t available until the beginning of May, so we kind of got back, and we were listening back to our tracks and just trying to think of ways to improve the sound from what’s already there. Of course that is a slippery slope, so we went out and bought a four track tape machine just the other day. Right now, we’re running every little individual instrument from the record through that tape machine way too hot so that it gets this really warm, punchy saturation. That’s kind of a whole week-long process, just running everything out of the computer onto tape, so when we bring it to him, it’s something closer to what we want it to already sound like. And we’re rerecording drums on a couple songs just to make a few changes, – you know things that we wouldn’t do if we didn’t have the time, but since we have the time, we’re kind of just really dialing things in.

VM: So what’s the projected release date as of right now?

JO: We don’t have a date yet. We’re going to try for the Fall, but the scary thing about the Fall is, the music industry basically shuts down from October to January. I question it, but they say it’s pretty inadvisable to put a record out between then – between October and December – so if we don’t make it out then, then we have to wait until next year. I really hope that doesn’t happen. We’re shooting for the Fall, but I don’t want to say, because I feel like I have been saying ‘about six months’ for about two years, and it still hasn’t happened.

VM: So I want to talk more about that just because I’m curious and ignorant- why is that a bad idea?

JO: To put it out in the winter?

VM: Yeah.

JO: Well, October in Austin’s a little rough, because it’s the Austin City Limits Festival….like, if you’re trying to promote something that’s not really the festival thing, it’s going to get lost. But then during the holidays, a lot of media, press, people like that just quiet down a lot, you know – are less busy.  So just trying to get the promotional publicity and stuff like that…it freaks out publicists to try and work during that time, because people are generally not responsive. That’s what they say. You see a lot of larger-name artists will put out Christmas records and stuff like that, but generally, I think it’s a time you’ve got more general consumer things, and family issues become much more in the forefront…and the music stuff kind of gets on the back burner a little bit.

VM: Is there anything else you can tell me about the album?

JO: Yeah! What do you want to hear? Like sound? Or what else will happen with it timeline-wise?

VM: Yeah, just the sound and I guess the typical, ‘what was the inspiration for this album?’ question.

JO: [Laughing] It’s definitely a lot more introverted, for sure. I think that the one record we put out is extremely extroverted, and it was really natural for us at the time, because the guitarist and I were both in grad school and living really stressful lives. And we never played outside of Austin, so every time we would play a show would be this huge party. We would be letting off all this steam. We were just swamped with really dense things with school, so we just wanted to write a really fun, outgoing carefree, wide-eyed music.

After that, we started to take the band seriously, touring a lot. So then we were doing this every night, and it didn’t really feel like a genuine party every single night, you know?  So I think that the music we started writing started to reflect something like that – just a lot more of feeling a disconnect from an audience that is there to party, but you’re kind of maybe phoning it in a little bit.

I think it’s just about spending a lot of time in the van and feeling really isolated from the rest of the world and feeling very marginalized. You’re kind of this sneaky circus that’s just sneaking into towns and setting up this party, and then you take it right back down. And there’s a lot of space allegory, feeling like you’re just floating in space and dream world. So, it’s much more dreamy and much more psychedelic and darker, and there’s a lot more heavy rhythms and deeper grooves.

VM: I’m really excited to hear it. So what is next for you, besides the stuff we’ve talked about? What are you trying to get the word out about?

JO: I guess the album, mainly. We’re not there quite yet…but it’s coming, it’s coming. I guess mainly that. It’s coming, and we’re finishing it, but also just the festivals we’ve got coming up. We’re doing Shaky Knees and Sasquatch, and before Shaky Knees, we’re opening for Charles Bradley in Asheville. So that’s cool – little things like that. I’ve got a music video that I’m editing right now for one of the tracks on the album, so hopefully that will be out sometime, maybe the summer.

VM: You do your own video editing? That’s pretty cool.

JO: Well, yeah, I’ve never done it for anything. I’ve done it for stuff on our website that’s promotional videos, but I’ve never done a music video like this, so this is kind of a big project for me, so we’ll see how it turns out. But I got this amazing Director of Photography and then another director with these really amazing cameras that had this whole mount built on this truck, and we had a ton of friends dress up super weird, so I think it will be really strange and then really fun. So that’s kind of my project right now.

VM: What song is it for?

JO: It’s called “Infinite Cities.”