Bright Light Social Hour Travels the Country Searching for a Better Future

Space Is Still the Place, the sophomore album from Austin psych-rockers Bright Light Social Hour, smashes past, present, and future together into a golden age of the band's own design.

From the lyrics to the sound, from the recording techniques to what the band drew as inspiration from meeting down-and-out creative types across the country, Bright Light Social Hour struggled to make a record that celebrates the best of the past while pushing for a better tomorrow.

Curtis Roush (guitar, vocals, synths), Jack O'Brien (bass, vocals, synths), and Joseph Mirasole (drums, synths) released their self-titled debut in 2010 and spent the next two years on the road after winning Band of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year at the 2011 Austin Music Awards.

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Traveling the country -- especially as the type of band that scrapes by, unable to afford hotels and nightly seeking places to crash -- the band members took what they witnessed and began putting together the concept of what they call the "Future South."

"It was just so interesting to see that every city we went, we weren't running into really terrible situations, but every night was the same thing: young people in their 20s or 30s who have a lot of passion and are restricted from working on them because they're in a situation living month to month, trying to make ends meet. We saw that over and over with the people we stayed with and got to know," O'Brien says. "It's this same gritty reality everywhere. This is the first generation since the Depression that is not better off as young people than the generation before them."

The "Future South," O'Brien says, "is about dreaming of a future where we've been able to cut ourselves from this path that keeps us from growing in ways that we want to. What we're doing every night is a project of passion and we were seeing how many people are prevented from that."

In crafting the music to carry that sentiment, Bright Light Social Hour very purposefully molded together vintage and cutting-edge techniques and sounds. The emphasis is on preserving what should be preserved of the past, even while looking as far ahead as possible.

"It's very important to us to make music playing through vintage '60s amplifiers and using a lot of recording technology that peaked in the '70s and taking that and incorporating it into ProTools, and [using] crazy synth effects and a lot of soundscapes that could not have been done even two years ago," O'Brien says. "It's not as if everything from the past is uprooted and thrown out. There are things introduced now that are more future-leaning, but it's all a big mix."

The roots of Space Is Still the Place, released in March on Frenchkiss Records, began even as the band was still on tour, but Bright Light Social Hour scrapped the early efforts.

"It just felt too comfortable. It was the stuff we know how to do well and didn't seem like we were challenging our boundaries," O'Brien says. "We went through a whole lot of different iterations of songs, really experimenting with sounds, mic-ing things in interesting ways and incorporating that into the sound. We wanted to make sure we express everything we wanted to the fullest, whether that was the lyrics or the mix or what kind of effects were used and the sounds and how that all came together."

The result is a dreamy, synth-laden psychedelic journey that places familiar, throwback elements alongside elements that sound beamed back in time from the band's "Future South."

"It's a snapshot of the music we were feeling at the time, but it's a snapshot that was taken very slowly," O'Brien says. "It captures a moment and an evolution at the same time."

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Eric is a freelance writer covering music, travel, science, and food and drink.
Contact: Eric Swedlund