By: Victoria Moorwood//
The Dull Blue Lights, comprised of Todd, Ben, Tim, Matt, and Josh, recently released their self-titled LP The Dull Blue Lights. The album was recorded over the period of five consecutive 12-hour-long sessions at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee with renowned producer Andrija Tokic. Featuring all-analog recording, The Dull Blue Lights combine many different types of music while breaking the industry’s genre boundaries. Previously known as The Snails, The Dull Blue Lights talk about the evolution of their sound, why genres are confining, and their upcoming tour.
When making this album, what were the 12-hour long sessions like? How were you able to work for that long and how did they usually go?
You know, it sounds like a whole lot of work at first, but we had a blast in there. We probably would have pulled a few all-nighters if Andrija had let us. He’s got so many cool toys to play with, and the energy that guy brings into a session almost made the hourly espresso unnecessary. We had some down time here and there, especially after the bed tracks were down, but it was still very go, go, go for the entire week.
Define what “basement soul” means to you?
There are a lot of bands out there that don’t fit neatly into the genres we’ve all inherited. There’s a lot of experimenting going on, and every time a new genre gets coined, a deluge of post-x, alt-y, and pop-z is mighty quick to follow. That’s absolutely not a bad thing, but it can be a little overwhelming. We decided to carve out our own little niche and just chill there, and whatever we end up doing there, that’s Basement Soul.
How might genres confine artists and how have you benefitted from rejecting and mixing them?
Quick little anecdote—when we released one of the first singles from this record, “A Deeper Blue,” one of the comments we saw floating around the internet was something to the effect of, “These guys are definitely a rock band, but I only ever see them at ska shows.” The story goes, we all really like Jamaican music, so for a while, we were making music heavily influenced by Jamaican music, and we were playing shows with other bands heavily influenced by Jamaican music. After the rocksteady and ska started to drift towards the back of our sound and things like soul and psych started to come towards the front, we had a tough time getting away from ska shows, despite fitting the bill even less than we had before. We have a ton of great friends in the ska scene, and we’re happy to hop on ska bills when we can, but giving ourselves a little room to not be a ska band has been very refreshing.
You did some touring in June, how did that go?
All of our shows since we started releasing singles from this record have been a blast. Folks seem to be even more supportive than they were before, and they finally get to listen to the songs before they come to the show. We have a little tour coming up in August, and shows are coming together for the rest of the year as well, so we’re looking forward to getting back out there and seeing the record in action.
Who is behind most of the concepts for the album lyrically and what is your writing process?
Todd’s our main lyricist fellow, though Ben did contribute a tune for this one. The lyrical inspiration for us has always been less musical and more literary. The beats have always been a go-to when it comes to self-expression. The delivery of beat poetry is some of the most authentic work you could stumble across. As far as the process, Todd will typically come to the band with some lyrics and a handful of chords. Once we have a stylistic foundation started, we just play the tune again and again and again, adding things, taking things away, feeling out how all the pieces fit together. We like to write with a very light touch and let the song write itself as much as possible. But hey, sometimes you’ve got a square peg and a round hole, and someone’s gotta find a hammer.
Where did the inspirations for this album come from?
We didn’t hold back on this one as we have, to some extent, in the past. It’s all there, the music we love, no matter where it’s coming from. That was the game we were trying to play with ourselves. How wide can we really cast our musical net this time around? A few of the tunes are very much about the band growing up, but as folks have noticed, Todd does like to take up some social and philosophical topics in his lyrics. The point is, just like anything else, the inspiration is our experience, whether as people or a band.
How do you balance the different types of genres you mesh together, and how do you know they will compliment each other?
We’ve always liked to mix and match, try to use some old tricks to get new sounds, so the first step is years of practice. Beyond that, it’s not very different from any other songwriting process. We listen closely, and if anything sticks out and makes you go, “What’s that doing there?” then it’s probably not going to work out.
How has Philadelphia influenced your sound, since the band originates from there?
That’s pretty tough to say. We tend not to think that Philadelphia has had that much of an influence on the music we make. But this band grew up in the Philly scene, and who’s to say what would’ve happened had the five of us ended up in New York, or Nashville, or Seattle instead? We can say, if anything, that Philly’s music scene feels like less of an echo chamber compared to scenes in other cities, so if anything, maybe it’s given us some room to carve out that niche we were talking about before.
What is each of your favorite songs on this album and why?
Todd: My favorite would have to be “All The Way Back Home.” My favorite part about it is the groove. It really has a nice feel to it and reminds me of a Phil Spector production, MY FAVORITE.
Ben: My favorite may be “A Faint Whisper.” We tried that song in a number of different styles, and we weren’t even sure it was going to end up on the album. Almost out of frustration we played it loud and sloppy and suddenly, after years of worrying about being pigeonholed, I realized we really can play anything we want.
Tim: My favorite tune would be “Sedated.” It’s a blast to play live, and it never sounds exactly the same two nights in a row. Playing it live, the dynamics and feel of the song can be heavily influenced by the crowd or environment. So, it’s kinda like a box of chocolates. You never really know what you’re gonna get.
Matt: Probably “A Faint Whisper” because it was the last one we wrote and didn’t fully come together until we were in the studio. Plus, backwards guitar.
Josh: I’m a sucker for dramatic and dynamic changes, and “Sedated” covers the entire spectrum. It’s like a backwards Surprise Symphony, which is pretty fun. I am gonna throw an honorable mention to the party percussion hoo-hah section of “Press Play.”
Why the band name change?
There are reasons galore for the decision to change our name. You can get a hint of one of the reasons in that question about how genres can confine artists. The gist of the whole thing, though, was that we just didn’t feel like The Snails anymore. The idea of changing the name had been floating around for a few years, and especially in the last year or so, it became clear that we didn’t really have a choice. There was no Snails anymore, and we had to catch up with that revelation.
What’s coming up for The Dull Blue Lights in the future?
As we said, we’ve got some touring coming up in August, and the rest of the year is filling out with shows. We’ve also been recording some tunes here and there that will probably be surfacing in the fall, and, oops, a new EP (or maybe a full-length) in the works that we plan to start recording in the next couple of months. Stay tuned for more tunes, everybody!