I'm at MOTR more often than not on a Friday night. Or Saturday. Even Tuesday. (Sorry, mom.) One of these nights in June I had an experience music nerds like me geek out over.
I stumbled upon a band that I absolutely loved, and it was pure serendipity. I’d never heard of them, didn’t even know they were on the bill. They drew me in with sweet, sweet bass lines, and I stayed for raucous organ playing, lots of long-hair swaying, impeccable vocal harmonies, and some of the best dancing music I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
And now they’re back in the 513 playing the tenth anniversary of MidPoint Music Festival. I love when this happens. I spoke with Jack, Curt, AJ and Jo of The Bright Light Social Hour, a four-piece of funky Southern rock from Austin—via phone—in order to make sure you don’t miss them this weekend. We talked about food, clubhouses, 1970s promotions, and their unique musical styling.
Leyla: Hi guys! You just started your second national tour. Where were you last night?
Jack (impressively mustachioed bassist): We were just in Fort Worth at the Wild Rooster Bar last night. It was cool, it was a good time; the guy from the Toadies came out, which was really cool.
Curt (guitarist/vocalist): They had a really good chicken-fried steak special, hand-breaded, it was great. You’ll have to track yourself down a chicken-fried steak.
This is the part where I waxed amorously for about two minutes about Skyline Chili (you’re welcome, guys) and eked out a promise from the band to try it with me. Follow-up interview to come.
L: So you’re playing MidPoint Music Festival!
J: We’re really excited about MPMF,. That’s definitely one of things that’s going to be a highlight of our tour.
L: What can MPMFers expect to hear?
C: A lot of us were raised by classic rock dads, [so] we like mixing elements of that with funk and soul and psychedelic music and modern dance music. We like electronic dance music a lot, so we try to kind of condense those elements into something fresh and exciting.
L: How did the band come about?
J: Curt and I met at Southwestern University. We started a band that was pretty different from now, very like kind of hardcore, strong key screamy experimental rock. We got a couple line up changes, spent some time abroad and brought Jo on, found him on Craigslist, and AJ was a friend of my brother’s and an awesome keyboard player and singer, so it’s been like four years the four of us have played together. We’ve just been keeping busy touring and playing and writing and everyday we get to spend time on what we love—it’s great.
L: You have really intricate vocal harmonies and lots of layering musically. How does your creative process work?
J: We all know each others' voices and what they do well and what they don’t do well, [and] usually Jo’s the one who makes the final call. He’s usually pretty right about it, depends on what the part calls for.
C: We also develop a lot of music improvising together, spending long hours playing music. We work best when we’re all in a room together hashing it out.
L: I feel like you guys live in a clubhouse together with lots of brightly painted walls. Is that close?
C: We spend most of our week out at this house that Jack and Alex (TBLSH’s manager) live at, and we just write music all day and make meals and do the sort of fun things you get to do with a bunch of guys hanging out.
J: It’s a little cabin out on the lake outside of town and so we just hang out and write music and jump in the water, clubhouse style. We’re really lucky to have that place.
L: Austin’s a hard city to break. How’d you guys do it?
J: It took us a long time. Austin’s a city where it just has so many musicians and so much music culture, it takes a lot to get noticed in a sea of other bands. After hanging in there and working on our live show, it encouraged us to improve our live show and improve our music and get something that was pretty competitive. Playing South by Southwest and some other things helped us get recognition too, but it was definitely [a] slow and steady wins the race kind of thing.
L: A lot of bands these days are finding that not having a label isn’t a big hurdle. What do you guys think?
J: We’re doing very well without one. Every day it’s kind of looking less and less like we need one, but we’re definitely open and it would all just depend on it really being the right relationship. There’s things we need help with like distribution and getting carried in stores, on a large scale and international play, but all the rest of the things, we’re able to hire our friends to help us when we can. We’re open to finding the right relationship with someone to help us out.
L: What do you do on the tour van out on the road to occupy yourselves?
J: We’re all starting to teach ourselves French in the van. We just got Rosetta Stone. Jo (prolific drummer who doesn’t sing) set it up on our computers. We may be traveling to Canada later in this tour so we may get a chance to use it. *Just announced: TBLSH will be in Toronto on October 17. Parlez vous-francai, boys.
L: You have a pretty interactive web presence. Tell us about Brick Cat.
J: Actually, Jo and I were outside of a venue talking about what people did in the '70s, before we had the internet to promote shows, and we were just joking how you had to go door to door or you could just send a cat because people love cats and you could just throw it through people’s windows and we were like ‘Oh my god, we should make a video!’ And we were totally joking, and then I was like no, let’s actually do it.
L: You’ll be in Cincinnati all three days of MPMF. Who are you going to check out?
J: We’re super excited to see Washed Out, Cut Copy, Toro y Moi. Those are some of our total favorites.
L: Last words for Cincinnati?
J: We love Cincinnati. We were there the first time in June, and it was amazing, Just tell [everyone] to tell their friends in other places, ‘cause we’re going all over Ohio. We’ll be in Akron and Columbus and Youngstown and Cleveland.
Don’t miss The Bright Light Social Hour, a Critic’s Pick for MPMF2011, at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club King Records Room, on Saturday, September 24, at 12:30am. I’ll see you all there!