It’s been a long road for The Bright Light Social Hour. After welcoming a new keyboard player to the band in 2013, the Austin, Texas quartet began to explore the sonic concept of “Future South” while writing at their own self-made studio.
The resulting album, Space Is Still The Place, which is out today on Frenchkiss Records, is a cosmic exploration steeped in southern blues and lush psychedelic sounds. Shortly after finishing the record The Bright Light Social Hour talked to Kevin Vanstone about finally giving birth to their new musical baby, what it took to polish the record off, and more.
LYFSTYL: OK, I have to start with the new album. How does it feel to have it done?
Jack: It’s like having a baby – you’re happy and sad to have it out, but also anxious about where it will go, but it’s a pretty cool baby.
Curtis: It’s nice not to have it inside us anymore.
LYFSTYL: What was it like living together and recording together in the same building, did that change the dynamic of how it was created?
Jack: I’m sure its a lot different than how it would have been if we did the traditional studio thing, where you go in during the daytime from different places. Somebody was working on it around the clock, which was cool. So we got to take as long as we wanted on anything, which was great because we wanted to do a lot of experimentation.
Curt: We were doing a lot of self-instruction on recording and mixing and stuff, so it helped to have a lot of extra time to try things that we might not have felt comfortable with trying in the studio with the clock running.
LYFSTYL: You guys mentioned when we talked last April that being on the road together can change each other’s worldview, how has that changed with Ed being in the band, getting a feel for the music?
Jack: Things have been super smooth and easy, which is great.
Ed: Yeah, as Jack said everything has been really smooth, which is nice. When you’re in a certain environment for a certain amount of time you want to be as frictionless as possible. It’s been smooth with everyone else, really happy vibes.
LYFSTYL: So are you all on the same page in terms of where you wanted to go with a more psychedelic sound?
Jack: Well I think we all just wanted to be open to try a whole bunch of whatever, and pick out the ones we all liked most.
Ed: All the pieces fell into the correct places, it would seem.
LYFSTYL: You guys mentioned “Future South” was a central theme of the album. How did that play out?
Jack: The ethos was to try and take really old things, and do new things with them. So, to take tried and true things and flip them on their head a bit, taking what’s nice from southern tradition and trying to look into the future for a realistic vision of what the south might look like.
LYFSTYL: Many Songs on Space Is Still The Place have a more psychedelic and space-like feel to them. Are you happy with where you’ve landed with that first goal in mind?
Curtis: Yeah, now it feels like the start of a good broad set of practices. I feel like there are a lot of different aspects of the sound on the record that we could zoom in on, and do different things with. For me it’s actually kind of exciting to get right on to the next stuff. I feel like we have a better idea of what sounds and things we want to play and talk about in music compared to a year and a half ago. It’s liberating and exciting.
LYFSTYL: So are you still focused on going in the same direction? What does the future hold?
Curtis: It’s pretty broad. I think we’re really comfortable with having songs that were not really experimental, but as long as they were trying to do something else new. Or things that were very experimental while trying to come up with seductive hooks for it.
LYFSTYL: To me the way ‘Infinite Cities’ evolved, especially after Ed joined the band, really showed the change in direction and sound. Ed, you mentioned that it’s getting easier for you now that you aren’t just playing notes and have a feel for the music. How has the transition been?
Ed: Well I feel as though I’ve been improving over time. I’m certainly getting more comfortable with how everyone plays individually and piecing that altogether as a whole. I feel like I understand it better overall. Playing together has certainly gotten easier. It’s like anything else, with time and repetition things tend to solidify.
LYFSTYL: Have you noticed the live show improving as you get more comfortable with the guys?
Ed: Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but…
Jack: Yeah it’s crazy. We took six weeks off after SXSW when we were finishing the record, and the first show was really rough. We had technical problems and whatnot, but after we rehearsed and played a lot of shows the band has been feeling really tight for sure.
Ed: There haven’t been any train-wrecks that I’m aware of. There’s never been a times we didn’t finish a song or anything. Overall things get easier over time. Finally having a better understand of the songs as a whole has been great. Before I was jumping into things that hadn’t been written yet, so having defined parts has helped quite a bit.
LYFSTYL: I know Rick Rubin talks about that, encouraging bands to go out and tour incessantly until the get the songs down, and then to record them. It sounds like you’ve really been able to hear the difference.
Curtis: Yeah, there are advantages to both, though. It’s nice to really polish up a song and get a really refined version of it, but it’s also really nice to get the raw feeling of the song at the outset captured, because that can be one of the most exciting moments in writing. When you stumble onto something and it feels fresh and it’s writing itself.
Jo: Its one of the reasons we wanted to build a studio where we usually are already, practicing and writing. Now we can capture a lot of those early experiments and ideas in record quality. So now they could make it onto the album in their purest, earliest form, which is sometimes a lot more exciting than the polished version for certain things. Because the edges haven’t been smoothed out in the performance.
LYFSTYL: Is that raw feeling something you were hoping for?
Jo: Hopefully you’ve recorded it, and what comes out is an honest thing. I think the further you get from the original spark the harder it is the make it honest because of the amount of mental activity that goes into editing something. Some songs react really well to meticulous things like that, but I think we’re still interested in trying to capture feelings that are a bit more raw for the next thing, not that there won’t be polished things. I think we’re ready for some rawness.
The Bright Light Social Hour are currently touring across North America in support of Space Is Still The Place. Catch the band live at one of the tour stops below or buy the album via TBLSH’s website here.
3/27 Austin, TX @ Stubb’s **Official Album Release Show**
3/31 New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
4/1 Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl
4/2 Jacksonville, FL @ Jack Rabbits
4/3 Orlando, FL @ Social
4/4 St. Petersburg, FL @ State Theatre
4/7 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
4/8 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
4/9 Washington DC @ DC9
4/10 Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
4/11 Boston, MA @ Middle East (Upstairs)
4/12 Burlington, VT @ High Ground Lounge
4/14 Montreal, QC @ Quai Des Brumes
4/15 Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
4/16 Grand Rapids, MI @ Founders Taproom
4/17 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
4/18 Cincinnati, OH @ Woodward Theatre
4/19 St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
4/21 Nashville, TN @ Stone Fox
4/22 Little Rock, AK @ Stickyz
4/23 Tulsa, OK @ Vanguard
4/28 El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace
4/29 Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
5/1 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theatre
5/2 Costa Mesa, CA @ Wayfarer
5/3 San Francisco, CA @ Chapel
5/5 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
5/6 Vancouver, BC @ Media Club
5/8 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
5/9 Spokane, WA @ The Barlett
5/10 Boise, ID @ Neurolux
5/12 Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
5/13 Denver, CO @ Bluebird
5/15 Dallas, TX @ Kessler
5/16 San Antonio, TX @ Jack’s Bar