Austin band the Bright Light Social Hour are tripping into new musical territory on their first album in five years, Space Is Still The Place (Frenchkiss Records). Compared to their debut self-titled album, which was loose, soulful rock and roll, Space expands into deeper psychedelic terrain. Heavy use of synthesizers and an array of other intriguing electronic effects alongside bluesy guitar riffs gives the band a sound somewhere between Pink Floyd and My Morning Jacket all set to a dance beat. Though it’s quite different than their previous work, it is difficult to call Space a concept album. There are new, experimental elements to the music and the album as a whole revolves around a concept of a “Future South”, which the band describes as “both an aesthetic and a political statement” that is based on the idea that, despite its sometimes negative stereotypes, “the South can be a vibrant egalitarian place.” While that definitely sounds conceptual, what we actually have is a young band still developing their sound into what they want it to be. Space Is Still The Place is not so much a concept but a mark of the Bright Light Social Hour’s musical evolution as a band, and an exciting one at that. It is certain to win over longtime fans, most of whom will undoubtedly see it as a positive progression, as well as connect the band with many new ones. Recently, bassist Jack O’Brien took time to enlighten us on where the Bright Light Social Hour is at these days.
It’s been 5 years since you released an album. Was there a reason for waiting this long?
We were busy all in between [albums]. Somehow it took that long. We put that first record out at the end of 2010 and spent all of 2010 touring constantly. During that time we’d written a bunch of music, but we’d kinda went into the studio after all that and it felt like that music didn’t really fit us anymore, so we ended up scrapping all of that and starting from scratch. We also recorded ourselves, so a lot of that time was spent building and putting together a studio and teaching ourselves to get the right sound that fits us. That was a long process too.
This album is a lot more electronic and atmospheric than your previous work. Was that something the band was trying to do for a while?
I think it’s just been slowly creeping into our vocabulary. Joe [Mirasole] our drummer has been a DJ and electronic music producer for a while, so he was the one who introduced a lot of that stuff along with our new keyboardist Edward who’s also a DJ. Kind of mixing all that together, we started planning really interesting combinations where we combine traditional gritty guitar, bass and drums with synthesizers and sequencers that all fit together in a comprehensive and nice way.
The older stuff was a little more freewheeling and rowdy. Should fans take this new material more seriously or is it still all about that party thing?
However anybody connects with it, I’m down with. But definitely with that earlier music, at the time Curtis [Roush] and I were in grad school and life was really stressful and we weren’t touring. So the occasional shows in town were always like a big escape party for us. The music I think really reflects that; it was kind of an escapist, fun loving enjoyment of the moment and the people around. As we went on the road and played every night we realized that wasn’t who we were every single night, so I think it caused us to look a lot deeper. We want to write music that’s in the moment and enjoy it, but also look at the things that you can make more meaningful, like what in history led us to the problems we have now and what are the solutions.
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Were the songs on the new album written as one collective mindset or did they come from different times and somehow work together?
I think it’s the latter. The songs definitely came out of different times and approaches, but we always keep already written songs in mind when we’re writing new songs. When you’re recording I think a lot of what brings them all together is the production, like what kind of elements you have that go throughout the entire record that make it feel cohesive. As we got closer to finishing we would tailor the songs to how the piece felt like a complete whole.
You came up with a narrative flow for each song on the album. Did you come up with that stuff before writing lyrics and music?
Yeah, all of those were written kind of right at the very beginning of the songwriting process. Those are like our personal notes, like say we just get a real basic idea of a riff, and then we stop and say what does this make us all feel or what would we like to see this mean or how would we shape it. After that we write the notes of what it is and then try to build it with that basic architecture.
It’s interesting because the descriptions are pretty vivid. Do you think other bands build songs like that?
I haven’t heard of anybody doing it that way. But I think we’re always looking for new approaches to writing, so I think that’s what we were into at the time. Since then we’ve been into letting things happen on autopilot, like seeing what comes out of you and following it and letting it go free. So I think different ways can end up with totally different results, but that’s how we did it for this one.
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Based on the album art, music and videos, it seems like you guys are getting more psychedelic with age.
One of our big drives is a search for new sounds, so I think there are things that are new to us and then beyond that are things that are totally new combinations of sounds. We’re always kind of looking for that, which often takes things into experimental or psychedelic territory, which is really appropriate because the goal is to introduce minds to new sounds and new thoughts. So it’s ideally mind-expanding and psychedelic.
For this album were there any specific acts or genres that the band listened to heavily that influenced the sound?
Yeah, definitely the Flaming Lips we were all obsessed with. Maybe because every record is just a wild sonic exploration, so we found that really inspirational. But also we were listening to a lot of old soul like Marvin Gaye, black psych rock, this band Black Merda, and then a lot of modern house and techno stuff. Disclosure is probably one of the few artists that are pretty well known outside of that world.
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You’ve talked about this concept of a progressive South for the album. Given that you’re based out of Texas like myself, is it harder to make a statement about being progressive when our state keeps electing backwards thinking politicians?
No, I think it makes the statement that much more important. Austin is a tough place because it’s growing so fast. The will of the people that move here will make itself known in how the city grows and who we elect to grow with it. What we really hope for and the message in the music is helping to abandon some of the obligations to tradition that hold us back. Because a lot of traditions are really great and are worth holding onto, but I think feeling so obligated to other traditions prevents us from changing and growing in ways that would be helpful.
Are there any other acts across the South that you feel are embracing this Future South concept?
There’s a band from Memphis called SpaceFace. They’re good buddies we’ve toured with before and definitely a band of young hungry gentlemen who are spreading an awesome message of love and making really mind opening, beautiful music. There’s also a band from Austin called the Migrant Kids that are kind of like a psychedelic cinematic rock group who are also spreading a really great message of love.
‘Space Is The Place’ is out now via Frenchkiss Records! Catch the Bright Light Social Hour on tour this spring:
3/5 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge (Early Show)
3/6 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge (Late Show)
3/7 Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
3/27 Austin, TX @ Stubb’s **Official Album Release Show**
3/31 New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
4/1 Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl Music Hall
4/2 Jacksonville, FL @ Jack Rabbits
4/3 Orlando, FL @ The Social
4/4 St. Petersburg, FL @ The State Theatre
4/7 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
4/8 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle – Back Room
4/9 Washington DC @ DC9
4/10 Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
4/11 Cambridge, MA @ Middle East (Upstairs)
4/12 Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground Showcase Lounge
4/14 Montreal, QC @ Quai Des Brumes
4/15 Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
4/16 Grand Rapids, MI @ Founders Brewing Co
4/17 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
4/18 Cincinnati, OH @ The Woodward Theatre
4/19 St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway Nightclub
4/21 Nashville, TN @ The Stone Fox
4/22 Little Rock, AK @ Revolution Music Room
4/23 Tulsa, OK @ Vanguard
4/28 El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace
4/29 Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
4/30 San Diego, CA @ The Hideout
5/1 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg HIFI
5/2 Costa Mesa, CA @ The Wayfarer
5/3 San Francisco, CA @ The Chapel
5/5 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
5/6 Vancouver, BC @ Media Club
5/8 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
5/9 Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett
5/10 Boise, ID @ Neurolux
5/12 Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
5/13 Denver, CO @ Bluebird
5/15 Dallas, TX @ The Kessler Theater
5/16 San Antonio, TX @ Jack’s Patio Bar