Bright Light Bright Light, born Rod Thomas, has been a busy man.
With the release of his third album Choreography last year, he has rarely relented. The critically acclaimed record has produced a steady stream of singles, partnering music videos and EPs keeping the multi-dimensional, Welsh vocalist/songwriter/producer squarely in the sights of discerning pop aficionados everywhere.
“I Only Want to Please You,” the fourth single overall from Choreography and recently released as an expanded EP of the same name, extends the Bright Light Bright Light musical and visual universe. It isn't every day that many artists can lay claim to having created a space that is so uniquely their own, especially in today's climate where attention spans are hard to maintain over long expanses of time.
Taking time out from his understandably heavy schedule, Bright Light Bright Light recently sat down with me to talk about music, movies, politics and what it’s like to be a pop frontiersman in the wild world of 2017.
Quentin Harrison: Let's talk about Choreography. How did that record differ from your previous two albums, and what has it allowed you to do that you couldn't have done creatively in the past?
Bright Light Bright Light: I think, creatively, it has allowed me to put more of my personality into the record. My love of different movies that influenced me growing up and my love of pop culture. It has allowed me to have a lot more fun. The record is very colorful and very choreography based. I got to work with some amazing artists who've inspired me for so many years, it's just kind of allowed me to be myself.
QH: You talk about the impact of film on your music very often. What is it about this medium that has been so indelible in your professional and personal life?
BLBL: Film, for me, was like the first way that you got to see the world outside of where you grew up. Most people I know come from very small towns. I come from between two small villages. There was like, literally nothing other than landscape, which admittedly was very pretty, but you know, very sleepy. So, I got to see (through film) all these different worlds, different types of people, races, backgrounds, professions, different styles of music, different colors, eras, genres.
It was just so cool to have the world opened up to you so much through film. I loved the use of imagination and the inspiration for that imagination. Most kids in the ‘80s couldn't wait to go to the cinema. They couldn't wait to go see the new movie coming out. They couldn't wait to see all these fantasy, Jim Henson worlds created. It was really magical and more of an innocent time, because everything was handmade and it was before CGI really came into play. Film is really integral to me.
QH: What spoke to you about “I Only Want to Please You” to lift it as a single?
BLBL: I think because it's so different from the other stuff (on Choreography). It's really the biggest, throwback pop song I've done on this record. It's very much in the ‘80s pop, dance club, radio single world. And Ana Matronic as well! Ana is one of the most brilliant people that I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with. I really love giving her a moment to shine. She was the perfect fit and getting to do the video with her was a complete blast. I've been trying to make as many visuals for the record as I can, because it's based on visual inspiration. I thought it would be fun to turn the single into a full EP and stamp extra tracks on it. Everything I'm doing at the moment is just to bring a smile to people's faces.
QH: How did Ana Matronic come into the equation for “I Only Want to Please You,” was it during the writing and recording of the song itself?
BLBL: When I was writing the song, no. But, when I was finishing up the mix for the track, I just thought like, "Fuck, that would be a really cool thing." The song’s really campy, but really fierce and she's the most fierce person that I know. I just thought it would be fun to get her round to see what would come about from a little rap section. When she was on her way to the studio to see what we were going to do, I kind of improvised this rap bit which she really liked and that's what she did. The energy she brings to any room is fabulous and fierce, and I think that this song needed a little bit more fabulous and fierce when I was finishing it up. She's the perfect woman for that.
QH: The film Murder Rock serves as the source for the music video for “I Only Want to Please You.” Do you want your fans to seek out the movie for themselves to discover?
BLBL: For people who are younger, the ‘80s horror genre is confined to two or three movies, per se. But actually, there's a lot of stuff that was really ahead of its time. Murder Rock is not one of those films [laughs]. It's really trash, but it's fun. I love the whole B-movie genre and I think there's so much fun to be had with that. I think it would be a really great thing if people want to follow through with the influences of the record I mentioned, or the song, and share that with friends. Yeah, I really like the idea of sharing. I talk about my influences because I DJ a lot and I do my tea dance (event), so I think that sharing records (or movies) that people may not know is a fun way to keep conversations going. It gives us something then to explore. I think it's a shame not to share things that make you happy in life.
QH: You've included some non-LP material on the I Only Want to Please You EP. Were these leftovers from the Choreography sessions or did you record them solely for the EP?
BLBL: These tracks were written for this EP. The stuff on Tales of the City was written for that release. The B-side for the Running Back to You EP (“Go Long”) was written for that. I really didn't have any songs leftover from the Choreography album recording because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I literally wrote the songs and they all worked for me. So, there was no loose material. On one hand, that's amazing because I felt like I nailed what I wanted to do with it. On the other hand, that's quite scary then, as it's good to have extra material because you might want to do a special edition or have B-sides EPs. Kind of what I wanted to do with the EPs surrounding the album is to write new material with the lead track in mind.
QH: Terms that have been used to describe you, by fans and critics alike, have included “visionary” and “singular talent.” Are these labels accurate or would you describe yourself differently?
BLBL: I think that those two terms are completely amazing and so kind. I would love to own that. That's kind of what I'm going for. I really do care about what I do and I really do care about the way that it is presented. I come from an era when pop music was immersive and it was exciting. You were looking forward to seeing what artists were doing next, what visuals they were coming up with, what the B-sides would be and what the album would be about. That's what I want to keep alive in music.
I definitely understand that the way people consume music is very different now. But, I think there are a lot of people that still love feeling that there is a story to an album cycle. That's what I try and do. I make music because I love it. I'm very much about the vision and the life that an album gets. That's what I want to have as the core of my music for as long as I can.
QH: Next year, you're going on the road with Erasure to tour in support of their new album, World Be Gone (2017). In addition to being an exceptional live performer, you're also quite the DJ. Will you get a chance to spin on the Erasure tour and do you have preference for your two performer personas?
BLBL: I don't think I'll get to spin on that (Erasure) tour, but I do love being able to do both. The idea of conversation is key to me. For me, being able to DJ is a way for me to get across influences, different songs, different styles that I love that maybe people know, maybe they don't.
In my DJing, I try to share stuff that I love, that makes me think. It's a nice means of connecting with an audience. Which is obviously easier to do with songs that they know than it is with songs that they don't know when they come to see you in a live set. In that DJ set you can play largely songs that people would know, not necessarily the bigger hits, but people would know most of a Madonna catalogue or most of a Mariah (Carey) catalogue. And then you can play some smaller artists that sound in that ballpark and create a thread or a storyline that you can tailor. I love doing them both, I really, really love doing them both.
QH: Could you describe your relationship with Erasure and how they drafted you for their upcoming concert shows?
BLBL: I've been a fan of theirs forever, I love them. I wrote a piece for Billboard recently about how important I think they are to culture. I really think they're one of the most perfect pop duos that has ever been and I'm over the moon to go on the road with them. Their team asked me if I'd like to open for them, but there's been a good conversation between us for the last couple of years. I did a remix for them, Vince (Clarke) did a remix for me, Vince and I have done some studio time together. I opened for them once a long time ago and Vince and I are friends. I'm just so grateful that they're taking a chance on taking me on the road for that long, it's fantastic and so cool. It's really nice, for me, to be able to play with my heroes and it's really nice for me to get a chance to do something on that scale.
QH: What are your plans for next year with respect to your own art? Is there a new album in the wings?
BLBL: I've been giving it thought [laughs]. It is going to be awhile before a new album comes out. As an independent musician I don't have the money to launch a new album right now. There's still more that I want to do with Choreography and there's a ton of other material that doesn't quite work as a whole new record too. So there's stuff in the pipeline. I do definitely have thoughts for what I want to do for the next record, I'm just not quite sure when that will be yet. Probably not next year.
QH: When you start really mapping your fourth album, will you be tapping into the socially political tone of the world we're all occupying currently?
BLBL: I do a lot of work outside of music to make political changes with LGTBQ and ACLU fundraising initiatives. I'm very vocal about my political views and I do what I can to help (my) causes. I don't want to make music in that respect, particularly, just because I don't think I've earned the voice to be the spokesperson for a political cause. I know that in some ways that sounds like I'm backing out or being chicken. But I like to make my music about stuff that I am confident talking about and stuff that I know that I can say succinctly. I like to keep the politics to me talking and to me doing philanthropic work.
However, I'm not going to be completely politically mute in my music though. There's always something involved (in the music) with the presentation of it being non-binary or non-straight, I suppose. There will be nods to those things, but politics will not be the overriding theme. I think a lot of other artists like Tori Amos and the Pet Shop Boys do politically charged music exceptionally well, I just don't feel like I would be one of them.
QH: OK, last question. In keeping with the spirit of Albumism, what are your five favorite albums of all time?
BLBL: They are Kate Bush’s The Sensual World, Liza Minelli's Results (1989) Dubstar's Disgraceful (1995), the Pet Shop Boys' Behavior (1989) and Tori Amos' From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998).