The cover of The Bright Light Social Hour’s first album pictures bassist/vocalist Jack O’Brien leaping into the air, all smiles and hot pants. Not long after it released, Margaret Moser penned an article (with a memorable photo shoot) about the band in Austin Chronicle with the sub-title, “Nakedly optimistic about The Bright Light Social Hour.”
And in fact, it was optimism that characterized The Bright Light Social Hour’s first release. They were on a mission back then: namely to rock your ass off, but also to galvanize the air with a sense of possibility. “Bare Hands Bare Feet,” with its shouted power-chanting and collective call to build a city (“Bare hands! Bare feet!”) is a fist-pumped salvo to take the world by the balls, and do what you will with it.
But their second album, currently with the working title of Future South, signals a shift for the band to a more internal mode. They’re recording it as we speak in a tucked-away house on Lake Travis, where a 1960’s outboard gear rack from NASA resides, along with the band’s other prized studio pieces. This is an in-house operation, a place where the guys can create safe from the demands of record labels, who no doubt would have urged them to blaze ahead with the all-party, all-the-time sound. There’s still plenty of energy here, the band says, but it’s channeled into something a bit darker, both figuratively and literally. Because as you’ll read, there’s much talk of space here. The outer kind.
Read the Q&A below about the band’s album, tentatively set to release spring 2014, which (fingers crossed) will get teased on-stage at this year’s ACL:
Realizing that “Future South” is just the working title of your forthcoming album, how did you arrive at that?
Curt Roush: It just kind of cropped up as a mantra for the whole thing.
Jo Mirasole: We were talking about aesthetics, places, imagery – and, if we were to make a visual picture for what the next record would be, what that space would look like.
Curt: We all like southern music so much. Soul, blues, southern rock…but it’s usually so much of an anachronism. We just got really curious about pairing the feelings of southern music with a more forward-looking vision. As the South is trying to become a more progressive place, tiny bits at a time, we’re interested in the music of that.
You’ve also mentioned that this album is a little bit darker than your last. How is it darker?
Curt: The way I’ve been thinking about it is we finally got comfortable having a cultural or
“We finally got comfortable having a cultural or political perspective.”
political perspective. The first record for us represented this constant party, so the songs were celebratory. And it kind of coincided with the Obama election, and all the feelings of optimism – like, “hey, everything is solved!” But later you realize that A) you can’t party every night, and B) revolution doesn’t happen instantaneously. So you find grit, passion, and constructive anger in those moments.
Jack O’Brien: …while still maintaining a vision of the future that’s optimistic, that’s forward-leaning.
Jo: That’s the important part for us I think. Not just being frustrated with now, but to forge a path toward the better.
Jack: The music goes back and forth between being very roused-up and gritty, in the now, and “this is not what we thought it would be…what the hell?” and then on the other hand, going into the self. Like, “what could it be? Who else is out there dreaming like I am right now?”
Curt: We’ve also felt this obsession with space and progress and what a future would be like if it wasn’t necessarily tied to Earth.
So, literal space? Outer space?
Curt: Yeah! Dreamy conceptions of what southern culture would be like in space. Or, how a liberal society would eventually find itself in space.
“Being on the road, you’re meeting so many people… but most of the time you spend in your own head.”
When we first met, it was in this awesome little house that felt like it was out in the woods, but really, it was right there in the city. Now that you’re in this recording space, how do you feel like it’s affected your creative process?
Jack: Being on the road, you’re meeting so many people and visiting so many places, but most of the time you spend in your own head, just looking out the window. And so when we came out here and started working…it’s really allowed us to dive in internally more.
Yeah. And that level of exposure was a new thing for all of you with your first album – none of you had ever been in a huge rock band before. Do you think this album is a response to all that outward drive? Being in front of people so often? Or do you just think you’re getting older, a little less party?
Jack: I think when you’re young and don’t have a whole lot going on it’s like, “all I want is this every night!” And then you do, and then it becomes, “whoa, I don’t want this at all…I want
“Whoa, I don’t want this at all…I want something that means something.”
something that means something.” So you search and look for that, and it’s part of growing up, but for us it was also part of being on the road and doing this party thing every night.
So did the song writing for this album come naturally?
Jack: Actually, we probably wrote a whole album’s worth of stuff that was not good, and got thrown out!
Curt: We’ve been joking that this is really like our third album. That other stuff…it didn’t keep a sense of authenticity. But this all feels right. It’s an honest expression.
Catch The Bright Light Social Hour at ACL Music Festival
Saturday, October 5th & 12th | 7:00pm – 8:00pm | Austin Ventures Stage
They will also be performing at a special ACL Late Show
Thursday, October 3rd | 9:00pm | Emo’s Austin
For more ACL Festival Coverage, download a free issue of Citygram Austin Magazine for iPhone and iPad
Culture & Lifestyle Columnist
Tolly Moseley is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, TX.
With a focus on arts/culture and life, her work has appeared in Salon, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, on NPR Austin, and more.
She is also the voice behind the popular blog Austin Eavesdropper, and one half of the aerial silks performance duo Vayu Aerials.
Photography: Tolly Moseley