The Secrets to Slutty Rock ‘n Roll
“I can’t do it all!” exclaimed the tour manager, as the cheese stuck to the brown waxed paper of a double-cheeseburger from Burgers Priest – a very popular Toronto-based burger chain known for its insanity when it comes to piling together stacks of beef, onions, grilled cheese sandwiches, and jalapeno peppers larger than the customers head. The word that was thrown around which aptly describes it is “meat-trophy” .
“I’m actually not sure if it’s totally fit for human consumption in one sitting; that might just be Western excess and gluttony in between two buns”.
These guys devoured these things.
Granted, they’d been sitting in a van for hours on end playing shows from Vancouver to Jacksonville, from El Paso to Montreal; these were hardened road warriors who knew how to put down a fucking burger, no problem.
“This is the secret to slutty rock ‘n roll,” drummer Joe Mirasole theorized. “When we were in Atlanta we ended up eating about a thousand pork ribs at this BBQ shack and we ended up playing a really good, slutty show. The pocket gets deeper, we start playing slower, and everything sits better.”
This idea of filling yourself full of greasy meat in order to get the right sound on stage seems simplistic and almost counter-productive. Wouldn’t you want a light salad and a little bit of carbs before you get on stage and do something as physically demanding as a southern-style psych-rock show? Lead singer Jack O’Brien offered up tangible evidence to the contrary, “Have you ever seen ‘Jodoroswsky’s Dune’?” I hadn’t. The documentary, he explained, followed the never-made work of filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky of “Dune”; an adaptation of the seminal science fiction novel. With an enthusiastic attitude and an amazing vision for this project he began to assemble a team and cast that is now, in retrospect, a who’s-who of culture in the late-60’s/early-70’s. It starred David Carridine, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and a very young, pre-movie making H.R. Gieger, and the soundtrack was set to be written and performed by Pink Floyd. “So when Jodoroswky met with Pink Floyd,” Jack explained, “they were just eating hamburgers! Apparently, they had very little interest in the project; all they could think about was their hamburgers.”
So, “in the style of Pink Floyd” the band ate hamburgers.
As they ate, the conversation moved more and more to the genesis of the band, itself – as we talked about Jack and guitarist Curtis Roush meeting and starting the band during their days at Southwestern University, I learned that both Joe and guitarist/synth player Edward Braillif had a shared history in marching bands and drum lines. This blew my mind. These two guys, skinny as a rail, 7 feet of hair between them, in a military-style marching band was almost inconceivable.
“There was really no passion for ‘drum-line’ at all,” explained Joe, “I made myself do it because I wanted to be a better drummer. And I hate rigid, authoritarian approaches to music, but it was ultimately a really good learning experience. When I began I was a bit of a super-wimp, just a kid who built computers and played around inside a lot and this experience really scraped some manhood out of me.”
“Marching band teaches you fundamental discipline,” Edward added, “almost to the point where it teaches you to be a better person; where everyone else is relying on you as you’re also relying on everyone else. It really teaches the fundamental value of working as a group.”
Around this time that Ed and Joe were ‘learning to be men’ in a drum-line, lead singer Jack was doing something completely different, “I had went to Madrid and took [Flamenco guitar] lessons with this really cool gypsy dude who had this one tiny apartment and 12 cats and just slept on his own couch.” Jack had found himself the opportunity to study abroad as he did Pre-Med and Spanish and during his time in Madrid just decided that he’d pick up a little bit of the musical culture by studying with a dude who, as he described “was like if Ozzy Osbourne spoke Spanish”.
It was around this time that the band had finished their meals and we started to talk about their creative process, their early work, how influences of the local hardcore scene found its way in and out of their collective creative output, and the new record Space Is Still The Place:
Playback – So around the time you got back from Madrid you did your first EP and a lot of what I read about this period of the group was the other bands you were playing with: 25 Dollar Massacre, Thumbscrew, At All Cost – they’re all real high energy, hardcore live acts. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your sound has developed into more of a southern-rock greasy tone – how did those billings come about?
Joe – The high energy live shows are really the only thing that is still around from that era. We all grew up ‘hardcore kids’, following hardcore bands and really loving that kind of music and that era for us was just us going fucking crazy and being fucking heavy on stage.
Playback – That ‘heaviness’ does translate to the new record, but the one difference being, and I know you’ve heard this before, that this is a little more controlled and subdued. Is this a conscious decision you make in the studio or is this a reflection of the atmospheric differences between the stage and the studio?
Jack – I think it’s ultimately what the songs require. If we were to go too over-the-top in the studio we would suffer from losing the subtlety of the tunes. We tend to leave that kind of energy on stage; at the same time, we work to keep that same kind of stability to the actual sounds we’re making.
Playback – So when a song is being written, do you find that you’re writing for the studio – where you’re working out this piece and then figure out how to perform it afterwards – or does it form around your ability to play it before making its way to a record?
Jack – A little bit of both, for sure. On this record the first 8 tracks, they were performed live before any recordings were created while the last two were totally written in studio and it took us almost a year after the record was completed to learn how to perform them live because we hadn’t even thought about it yet.
Joe – I think it was about a month ago that we realized, “Shit! We gotta do these”.
Playback – So, looking back at your first full-length, SXSW and a ton of critics loved this record and you ended up getting a ton of accolades because of it – was this a turning point in the band, sort of vindication for the work you’d been putting in?
Jack – I think mainly what was really good about it was that it was a really great resume booster. At the time everything was DIY – booking ourselves, doing our own promotion, etcetera – but all of a sudden people started responding to our emails. Whereas it used to be we’d write a club 5 times before they even said “No,” but once this happened people just started responding to our emails. This was nice.
Playback – Did you guys do stuff with SXSW this year?
Jack – We don’t do too much in Austin actually, we try to treat Austin like any other city we happen to be playing in. It’s sort of a economic thing – there are great Austin bands who play every week, but just knowing that you can see this band any time really thins out the crowds and the atmosphere overall.
Playback – Is this the main reason why you guys are always on the road? I mean, the last tour you guys did was fucking expansive and now you’re back working this record with another huge tour.
Jack – Every show is as different in the same way that every city is different. There are definitely markets that we’ve been to too many times that are established and we have a great fan base in, whereas other cities are new to us, just as we are new to them.
Playback – Tell me about the album art for this new record, Space Is Still The Place.
Joe – It’s actually this artist from Mendoza, Argentina – Mariano Peccinetti – and I found him on Tumblr just kind of scrolling through art blogs. I was in the process of putting together this visual dictionary for the band. As we were writing the record, part of my job was trying to piece together a visual aesthetic and representation of what we were writing. So I started scrolling through art blogs and saving stuff that I liked and brought it to the guys looking for feedback and eventually we found Mariano and it was really right, everyone agreed immediately.
Jack – His style is a lot of collage art that mixes old photos from magazines and combines it with sort of a ‘space-thing’, so it fit the sonic ideas of the record which is a mix of tried and true vintage sounds, drums machines, and modern future-leaning production styles.
Playback – With all these Spanish influences – working with an Argentinean artist, studying in Spain, living in the Southwest – do you find yourself drawing on a lot of Spanish/Tex-Mex cultural influences?
Jack – I feel that this recent record was actually a little lighter on it than in the past, and maybe even less so in the future, but I think it’s defiantly deep in all of us. We’re all pretty much part Hispanic; we eat the food every day, we’re surrounded by this culture at home – it’s most definitely deeper in us personally than it actually gets translated into the music, on this record at least.
Joe – Plus, once you’re in space, ethnicity doesn’t really matter. I’m pretty sure aliens don’t give two fucks about 4 different shades on a hex-code chart. I mean, when you look at ants you’re not seeing “white ant” having a lot of privilege.
Playback – How much time do you guys actually spend at home with all this touring?
Jack – During the making of the record we spent a lot of time at home but we were so busy: five days a week, 8 hours a day writing and recording, teaching ourselves the right way to record it the way that we wanted it to sound. So, now the process should be much more sped up just because we’ve done it already.
Joe – A lot of that year was spent teaching ourselves how to record a record that we would be happy with. There’s just a huge difference between making a demo for you and your friends and making a record where you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and a professional studio.
Playback – When you write and record, do you do it for yourselves, or are you doing it for your audience?
Joe – I have a habit of writing almost exclusively for myself.
Jack – I feel that this last record at least we knew that we were going to have fans that were just not into it, but it defiantly varies. I mean, we start processes knowing that we’re just doing ‘whatever’, but once we’ve composed a song into an idea and a song from scratch only then are we ever looking retrospectively on wither or not the song “is right for the band” or “fits our brand” or what have you. And really, at that point, the damage is done and we’ve become the monster we’ve created.
Joe – There’s absolutely an element of giving-ness, like in many cases the subject matter is extremely personal. I think the best way to get people to naturally accept this emotional and personal subject matter is to form it into an appealing piece of art, a song. For instance, political 60’s/70’s soul music was able to sneak onto the radio a very political and emotional message because they hit it in extremely funky assed pop songs.
Of course be sure to check out the new offering from The Bright Light Social Hour. You can find it all over their website, or streaming via Spotify below. Also check out the video for ‘Infinite Cities’ and their upcoming tour dates!
Tour Dates :
Apr 30 The Hideout
San Diego, CA
May 01 Bootleg Theatre
Los Angeles, CA
May 02 Wayfarer
Costa Mesa, CA
May 03 Chapel
San Francisco, CA
May 05 Mississippi Studios
May 06 Media Club
May 08 Tractor Tavern
May 09 The Bartlett
May 10 Neurolux
May 12 Kilby Court
Salt Lake City, UT
May 13 Bluebird
May 15 The Kessler
May 16 Jack’s Bar
San Antonio, TX
Jun 06 Free Press Summer Festival
Jun 17 Haymarket
Jun 18 The HI-FI
Jun 19 Taste of Randolph Festival
Jun 20 7th Street Entry
Jun 24 Vaudeville Mews
Des Moines, IA
Jun 25 Reverb Lounge
Jun 26 Riot Room (Outdoors)
Kansas City, MO
Jun 27 ACM@UFO Performance Lab
Oklahoma City, OK
Jul 12 Winnipeg Folk Festival
Aug 28 FLOAT FEST