Who knows if it's the right time to be happy. Bright Light Social Hour spent the last couple years touring and hanging out, and the band isn't sure either. But BLSH is looking to drum up some optimism with the upcoming album, Space Is Still the Place, because everybody is so tired of it sucking in America.
Bright Light Social Hour will kick off its 2015 tour in support of the new record with the New Times Music Showcase at Coconut Grove Art Festival 2015.
The band is excited to come back to Miami, where they played about this time last year. In fact, the Austin outfit is so stoked for our sunny shores, singer and bassist Jack O'Brien tells us that he and the crew are already craving Cuban chow and some beach time.
New Times: How has your music progressed from your first album to Space Is Still the Place?
Jack O'Brien: We spent much of 2011 and 2012 on the road. We got in the van and just toured and toured and toured. I think we realized if we're going to be doing this night after night, as a career, and make our lives out of this, what do we want to say? We spent a lot of time soul-searching. We wrote a whole record's worth of stuff that we ended up scrapping. We'd write stuff, and then we'd try it out on the road, and it just wouldn't be powerful enough or deep enough or something. So I think with this new music, we were inspired by touring and staying with people. Mostly on couches and floors.
Most of the touring was in the South and Texas, and we were really inspired by people that we stayed with and talking with them about their struggles. People of our generation are really struggling. It's improving, but we're still one of the first generations of recent ones to have the unemployment and class gap that we have. A lot of it was looking at and reflecting on that situation. At the same time, we all really got into space and used it as a metaphor for a future that is detached from the past.
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You've gotten more political on this new album, which isn't a huge surprise considering, at least, your 2013 song, "Wendy Davis," about the Democratic politician from Texas who became famous for filibustering an abortion ban. But are people surprised?
It's funny. We've always been a very politically minded band. The self-titled album, the politics is very secondary there. It's heavy, times are tough, but let's get together and be optimistic about the future. That's what our lives were. It was right in the middle of the recession and that stuff was really escapist. There's a political undercurrent there. But the new album, the politics are a lot more in front and dealt with more directly, which could be surprising.
How do you guys tie in the political message with a concept about space?
It's very easy to be pessimistic right now, because there isn't any sort of obvious new frontier. Up until the early part of the 20th century, there was always the actual frontier, going west to further develop the country. And then in the '60s, you had space become the new frontier, and that was really exciting and captivated people. Once the Cold War ended, there just seemed to be a waning in the interest for that. Now, there's the Internet and technology, but not a physical place that represents imagination and the future. In the last few years, there's been a resurgence in that interest and you see a lot of young people really looking to that. We've just come off a really difficult thump. Our generation is one of the few that hasn't been better off than the one before. So we've kind of fallen back and [rediscovered] the positivity and optimism of progress. We searching for something to hope for. That's represented by space.
And you've taken on a more Southern sound on this album. You guys sound like the War on Drugs playing dancey rock music like Passion Pit. How does that work out?
For the new record, it kind of goes back and forth between songs that are more dance-music inspired and something more gritty, founded on driving drums, guitar, and bass in a Southern kind of way. For us, what we take from Southern rock is overdriven guitars and bass, and maybe a Stax Records kind of feel. Traveling through towns and what we're seeing. The back and forth throughout the album reflects that.
You're kicking off a pretty lengthy tour in Miami at the Coconut Grove Arts Fest. Why Miami? You guys actually like it here?
Honestly, only because we were invited to play the arts festival. [laughs] The timing of it was first.
You guys do like it here, though.
We love Miami. It was the first city we played outside of Texas. We're flying in a day or two before [the festival], and then we leave the day after. We have some time. We'll hit the beach, and eat only Cuban food the whole time we're there. That's all we eat.
-- Stephen Feller
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Bright Light Social Hour. As part of New Times Music Showcase at Coconut Grove Arts Festival 2015. Saturday to Monday, February 14 to 16, Peacock Park, 2820 McFarlane Rd., Coconut Grove. Gates open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for adults or $5 for Coconut Grove residents. Admission is free for ages 12 and under, as well as Metrorail Golden Passport and Patriot Passport holders. Visit CGAF.com.