Austin band the Bright Light Social Hour have managed to gather a loyal following with a style of music that can best be described as loose, soulful rock and roll, that isn’t afraid to venture deeper psychedelic terrain. Of course, the group has never been tied down by genre constraints, and they have been known to use synthesizers and an array of other intriguing electronic effects alongside bluesy guitar riffs to give themselves a sound somewhere between Pink Floyd and My Morning Jacket all set to a dance beat. This is what has always made them a unique and underrated act, and exactly what has allowed founding member Curtis Roush to step out with his debut solo debut Cosmic Campfire Music, which drops February 9th via Austin label Modern Outsider.
Compared to his work with Bright Light Social Hour, Cosmic Campfire Music finds Roush going for a softer sound as he fuses bedroom soul with the ambient expanses of shoegaze. The albums is awash in 70s rock influences while still feeling contemporary and in the moment. For material Roush drew on heavy life events, including the end of a relationship and the suicide of Alex O’Brien, manager of The Bright Light Social Hour and brother to bandmate Jack O’Brien. Roush spent time between tours in Marfa, TX focusing on softer, more acoustic songwriting married with expansive, psychedelic production – a “quiet storm of the west” made possible by Roush playing all of the instruments himself. Ultimately the songs conjure an existential meditation on love – how it rarely arrives, how it often leaves.
Today Glide is excited to premiere one of the most standout tracks on the album, “Getaway”. The song is a sultry and airy rocker that oozes with powerful emotions. Roush captures a sparse, Americana sound while at the same time managing to tap into a dance groove and an indie rock aesthetic aligned with groups like the War On Drugs. While it may be easiest to define Roush by his work with the Bright Light Social Hour, “Getaway” makes is abundantly clear that he is a creative force when left to his own devices.
Reflecting on the song, Roush has this to say:
“It’s a breakup song about packing up and moving back in with my parents following the end of a long domestic partnership. I felt a lot of shame and confusion, but I sought to find ways of feeling good about myself again – to feel like I was starting something new or somehow regenerated. When I made the first demo for the song, I would play it over and over to myself like a mantra. Kinda got sick of it for a while, but it definitely helped.”
LISTEN to “Getaway” and read our conversation with Roush below…
After so many years with The Bright Light Social Hour and with the band going strong, what made you want to record a solo album?
In The Bright Light Social Hour, we tend to focus on big themes and sounds – volume, size, space, politics. I love this work – we have so much fun doing it and we’re always learning from each other in the interchange. But I increasingly found myself writing songs on the side that were ‘smaller’ than the usual TBLSH fare – a focus on the soft, delicate, mellow, and the intimate – and more than anything else, deeply personal.
The passing of Jack’s brother Alex, the release of “Space Is Still the Place,” and the dissolution of a long-time romantic relationship all happened within six months of each other. I was left reeling from it all and had a lot of creative time to explore these feelings within these softer songs. Cosmic Campfire Music is a mini autobiography of my early 30’s – working on music all the time, but processing the pain of adult life wherein we inevitably find ourselves heartbroken, confused, and witnessing the death of a loved one.
You played every instrument on the album. Was it a conscious decision to do this from the start as opposed to bringing in other musicians?
I suppose so. I composed the album in isolation and even made an effort to record it alone. To me, it all underscored the personal quality of the project. Eventually I decided the guiding hand of a producer would help make it a better listen, so I reached out to Erik Wofford and we started working on it together. But playing every instrument helped keep it intimate and challenging in a fun way.
Can you talk a little bit about your process of recording the music and building the tracks since it was all you?
I composed the record in Ableton on my laptop. This allowed me to work on it while on tour with TBLSH. Hotel rooms, coffee shops, the van, and my parent’s bedroom all became little recording studios where I could build out the arrangements – drum beats, synth textures, vocal harmonies, etc – gradually over time. By the time I took the songs to Erik at Cacophony Recorders, I had more or less fully composed demos that we could start from. We set up stations at the studio – for drums, bass, synths, etc – so I could hop from station to station and recreate the compositions with more care, space, and detail.
Some of the material on this album came out of some really heavy life events. What was it like translating pain into uplifting music, and how were you able to get to that place mentally and musically?
Mostly I wrote this music to comfort myself. But the record didn’t just come from a place of pain. I also met my wife while I was writing this music and that experience definitely imbued a lot of the work with an implicit happy ending, or at least an emerging optimism. If I were to imagine a setting where this record would take place, I see it as walking away from somewhere cold and desolate and ahead towards warmth.
You’ve said that you were going for a 70s rock sound with this album and that is definitely apparent in listening to it. Were there specific artists that inspired the sound?
As I worked to make my own musical ‘comfort food,’ I gradually realized I was recreating and then combining the music of my childhood. My parents came to Texas from Southern California in the early 80’s and brought with them the soft rock of Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne. I also listened to a lot of 90’s R&B, like D’Angelo, Sade, and Lauryn Hill, when I was a kid. I found myself seeking to blur the lines between these approaches and merge them together in a space tempered by my own predilections for ambient music, like Brian Eno.
Bright Light Social Hour has never been afraid to express political opinions in the music, most recently with the single “Tear Down That Wall”. Would you say that Cosmic Campfire Music is at all a meditation on the current political climate in America?
While this record is a lot less explicitly political than TBLSH, I think all artists and their art have an inherent politics, whether intentional or not. Cosmic Campfire Music is about empathy and mercy, if not mostly for one’s self. As political values, empathy and mercy are a rebellion against the violence, prejudice, and poverty we find around us. We resist darkness when we seek to love.
On a more specific note, I wrote the last song of the record, “Space Is Empty (Come With Me),” in the dark, confusing days following the election of Donald Trump. It was hard to fathom how many of our citizens, even friends and family, could walk into a voting booth and cast their ballot for an avowed racist and abuser of women, totally lacking in any sense of shame, mental stability, or even basic reading comprehension. His election was an eye-opening catastrophe in the grinding slow progress of our long troubled democratic project. Trump is an inky-black shit spot that will never fully wash out of the fabric of this nation.
But ultimately the song is about making something new and loving each other all the same. ✌🏽
Do you plan to tour in support of this release?
Curtis Roush’s Cosmic Campfire Music is out February 9th on Modern Outsider. Pre-order the album HERE.