The Bright Light Social Hour is a psychedelic rock band from Austin Texas. They’ve recently released their second studio album Space Is Still the Place on Frenchkiss Records. I took a few minutes to talk to vocalist and signer Jack about the latest record, some of the themes behind the music, and their ongoing project, Future South.
You guys recently released Space is Still the Place, your second album. It’s been five years since you released your debut LP, what have you been up to in the mean time?
A whole ton of things–mostly touring. The main thing we were spending time on was putting this new album together. We wanted to do something new and different and we had some new stuff we were kind of working on, but we scrapped it all. We wanted to invest in teaching ourselves how to record. Our first attempt at recording some of the new songs were a little spotty, so we would keep experimenting—doing research and reading, video tutorials, gear forums, meeting with people for feedback—until we got our sound. A lot of learning.
You guys started Future South last time you were on tour, showcasing local stories from staying at people’s house. Are you staying in hotels this time?
We’re little up from having to stay every single night on someone’s floor, but we prefer staying with people. It’s like traveling, you know? It’s a little more fun. They can kind of show you around and give a taste of the local life, rather than staying at a Super-8 that all look the same.
What’s the idea behind Future South?
When we first started touring, it was kind of surprising how much people were opening up to us. Not that they would dump their problems on us, but we just seemed to get into the nitty-gritty of people’s lives and struggles. That was really eye-opening for us. We thought like, early bail, we’re already broke, we’re on the road all the time, man our lives are hard. But then you meet all these people who would be spending all their time on a product and passion, but they’re bogged down, they gotta make ends meet. We felt really privileged to be making a tour, doing day-in and day-out what we love. We met a girl that works in marketing and we were talking about Humans of New York—how cool it is—she said, ‘why don’t you do that on the road?’
It’s that traveler’s phenomenon. You’re only meeting people for such a brief moment in time, they’re more likely to open up to you even though you’re leaving the next day. On your website you say the idea is to take the lens and put it on some of those more dreary stories and shift to a more optimistic view. How are you able to see the world optimistically when you see so many of these stories while you’re on tour?
The inspirational part about it is that through their struggles, people are still so optimistic, and impassioned, and generous, and civil. I would never expect that the average person would appear joyful in the mundane and the suffering and the fury. It helps keep track that life is really what you make of it. There’s really some comedy in the most dire situations.
Jo, your band-mate, had said that musical generations of the past have respected their elders so much that they forgot to kill them. Is The Bright Light Social Hour trying to wipe out classic artists?
I think what we’re doing is kind of a middle ground. I think most, particularly southern artists and musicians, are super purist traditionalist. Especially Austin. Every bar on the main drag is Stevie Ray Vaughn cover bands—and the crowd likes strictly Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then there’s a turn [of bands] that if you just listened to the music, you’d have no idea if they were from Germany or Portland or Iceland—just completely trying to be something obscure. There’s this huge hole in the middle where you can take something old and really flip it on its head. That’s what we do as generations go on. We take the best of the old ideas, and the ones that are boring or just business as usual—we get rid of that and make something totally new that uses some pieces of the old.
It’s like an homage to the past with a new spin on it. When you’re not playing in Austin, one of the more progressive parts of the south, how do the more traditional audiences respond?
I think it allows the music to be a little more seductive. Say you’ve got a 50 year old guitar collector lawyer who’s opposed to anything since 1975. If that guy is casually listening, he’ll think, “I hear something that is kind of familiar,” perks up his ears, take it in. Then the next track is like a UK house track or something, and he’s going to be more open minded to that. Instead of chopping off the potential buy-ins for like-minded folk, we’re opening the doors a little bit and trying to show them something new.
Is that the idea behind the structure of Space is Still the Place? You guys start with ‘Sweet Madeline,’ a more southern rocky influenced sound compared to some of the later songs.
That’s exactly the idea. We wanted the opener to feel like looking back at our past and our surroundings and where we come from. The Sweet Madelene verse is a metaphor for our former selves and the south at large. It’s this thing that you love and you know so well, but it wants to keep being the same and it’s keeping you down and you want to just cut it off. As the record progresses it forms this arc, moving from traditional and something comfortable to the new and the different. The last two tracks were a step outside the box for us using mostly on synthesizers and drum machines.
Your music shifts from that classic sound to a more progressive sound, so I imagine you mesh well with a lot of different acts. Do you find you compliment a variety of different genres?
Yeah, definitely. We play with all kinds of different acts. It’s very rare we find somebody where we say, “Wow, this really doesn’t work.” A singer-songwriter maybe doesn’t work too well… but I think it’s more about the vibe than the sound. We’re pretty compatible with a lot of different sounds. It’s the vibe where you can tell. We straddle that line between introverted and extroverted and move around there so if we’re playing with somebody who’s super extreme on either end it can be a little hard to flow into it.
Back to the philosophical side of your band—you say on your website, “Humanity may end someday, but you still have to work towards progress.” I’m wondering why that is, and how The Bright Light Social Hour is working towards that progress.
I think of change in the overarching sense—people usually think massive change like ending war, and peace—I think that starts in a lot of ways with political change. And the political change is not going to come until there’s social change. And the social change isn’t going to come until there’s personal change. There’s a lot of politicians and public leaders who tell people: “This is what we should do. This is what we should do. This is what I’m going to try to do.” I think music is a more seductive way of reaching the individual. The sounds kind of perk your ear up and open your heart or your brain a little bit. Then you listen closer.
People are a little more receptive to a message in music then they might be to someone shouting it from a podium.
Exactly. I think that we encourage people to enlighten themselves and be as aware as they can about their own position in the world and think about what’s their vision of an ideal future and how can they work towards that. Honestly, it sounds cliché, but it’s creating that space within yourself or your immediate surroundings is one of the most activist things you can do to create change in the world at large. I think on a basic level, a goal is to encourage personal progress. That’s something we’re always working on too.
Here’s their fucking bandcamp: https://thebrightlightsocialhour.bandcamp.com/