Interview: Bright Light Bright Light Talks Kim Cattrall, Gremlins, & His New Album
Rod Thomas, artistically known as Bright Light Bright Light, hails from Wales. He started out as a folk singer singing in subway stations and small taverns. He eventually went on to become a highly celebrated indie act performing with the legendary Sir Elton John. He’s been critically acclaimed from the music elite (Billboard, NME, PopJustice) for his emotionally driven electronic pop music. Today he’s released his third studio album titled Choreography. Needless to say it’s a brilliant record. I had the esteemed pleasure of reviewing the album (Choreography Album Review). With so much going on with him, he still took the time to chat with us about his album, his love of movie dance sequences and much more.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a singer?
I don’t really feel like I decided, I just always sang. I always sang along to the radio as a child and as an adult. It feels like I just ended up doing it after a job didn’t work out. I managed to pay the rent by singing on the subway and doing some bar work until I ended up doing it full time!
Could you tell me what was your sort of “big break” moment?
God, I’ve been doing it all independently and it’s been a really long-game approach. I don’t feel like there was one, in terms of how you might think, like ‘STARTING’ a career. I think for me performing on Graham Norton’s TV show with Elton John felt like my “big break,” and that’s launching my third record. I never, ever thought I’d get to perform on a show like that, let alone WITH Elton. It was so special, and such a huge moment in my career!
Your name Bright Light Bright Light is very unique. How did you come up with that stage name?
It’s a line from Gremlins, one of my favourite movies! I had no idea what to call myself and that popped into my head. I literally couldn’t think of anything better!
Your first album, Make Me Believe In Hope, was a glorious debut album. It was one of the best debut male albums I had ever heard. I found the overall tone was somber and melancholy. What was the concept for the debut album?
THANK YOU! A lot of that album was written about things that happened to friends rather than what happens to me, like ‘Moves’ or ‘Grace’ for example. The overall theme was how “where you live” and “who you’re surrounded by” can affect your sense of self, which was really affecting me at the time. How different places and people can tease out different sides of you. It was a time where I was working out who I was, as a person and an artist really, and I was very aware of how my mood changed drastically depending on my surroundings.
My favorite song from your debut album would be Moves. I think I’ve personally cried to that song more times than I’d like to admit. Is it tough for you to sing these songs? Were there any songs that were difficult to record because of how emotional it was?
That [song] was about my best friend’s break up. I do actually get really emotional singing ‘Moves’. Partly because that friend means so much to me and partly because there are a few events that fans have told me that the song really taps in to. It’s a very special song for me. ‘Debris’ was actually the hardest to record, because I felt very defeated when I wrote it and it was me at my most vulnerable on that record.
The pop music press has dubbed you the “Boy Robyn.” I personally don’t think that’s a fair comparison as your music is more romantic and softer than Robyn’s aggressive assertion. How do you feel about the comparison?
I think it’s an incredibly flattering comparison as she’s a real force, and a true star. But I agree that our tack is different. I really admire her, and I think she’s incredible, but I don’t think we’re much alike beyond the general pop realm. I think where she’s fierce, I’m ridiculous, but we both definitely love our electronic pop!
You have so much music. I’ve love your b-sides like “Being Sentimental” and “Arms of Another”. I also adored ‘Same Dream’ from your EP. Is it difficult to choose which songs go on the albums and which ones to leave off? Have there been songs that you absolutely hate that were left on the cutting room floor?
It’s really hard actually! I REALLY love some of the b-sides, but to make the album flow properly they can’t all go on. I wanted ‘Arms Of Another’ on my second record very much, but it was either that or ‘I Wish We Were Leaving.’ In a way, there’s something really cool about the tracks less people hear. I really loved discovering b-sides, and the treasure hunt of it all growing up. I think fans still like that.
Your second album Life Is Easy felt like your transitional album both sonically and literally since you moved to America around that time. Could you describe that experience?
It was crazy. I moved to New York to start work on the second record and this incredible rush of calm came over me. I worried so much less about things that drove me INSANE in London, and I felt much better about myself. It was really liberating. I ended up having the most brilliant year or two. So the record was quite a calm and warm process. I felt much more confident after all the work [was done] getting album one ready, and loved having totally different surroundings while working on the second.
This was also a time when you began working with Elton John and touring with him. What was it like working with him both in the studio and being on the road with him as his supporting act?
It was life changing in so many ways. Being in the studio with him first time round was quite scary – I didn’t really know how it would go because HE IS A LEGEND. I felt very unprepared, especially as I was producing and mixing the track, but he loved the production so it was very fast and very easy! Being on the road with him was absolutely the most wonderful thing in the whole world. He and his team made me and my band feel like family. I can’t actually put into words how much care they took of us. It changed how I am as a performer, and it made me full of joy, hope and love.
You also set off on your own tour as well. You even played in Chicago at Market Days. How was that experience for you?
AWESOME! Playing your own shows is so great because you get to have people show up to watch YOU, not just you as an opener. Market Days was BRILLIANT. I love that city and the festival is unbelievably fun. Touring is so great because you finally get to take these songs you’ve recorded – (primarily alone) in a studio into the real world, see how people react to them and really play around with their energy. It’s so cool.
Your new album Choreography, it’s probably the happiest and joyous I’ve heard from you thus far in your career. I was glad that you’re kept with the theme and danced in your video for All In The Name. What was the concept behind this album?
This album is based on my love for dance sequences in films. Those moments make me SO happy, they’re so euphoric. I wanted to capture that energy and magic and make an album that felt as amazing to perform as those are to watch. ‘Symmetry Of Two Hearts’ is inspired by Kim Cattrall’s dance sequence in ‘Mannequin’, ‘All In The Name’ is inspired by ‘Downtown / Skid Row’ in ‘Little Shop Of Horrors.’ I worked with an award winning and incredible choreographer Steven Hoggett to make the visuals. ‘All In The Name’ is purposefully showing I’m NOT an amazing dancer in the way that in, say, ‘Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion’ they aren’t polished dancers, but they’re having their moment. It’s about getting out of your norm and having a f***ing great time while you do it!
There are so many amazing collaborations on this album. The most unexpected would be your sensual duet with Jake Shears. It’s very sexy song. How did that song come about?
It’s inspired by the scene in ‘Alien: Resurrection’ where Sigourney Weaver is writhing in a pit of Aliens. The idea of discovering that you belong to something dangerous and alien, but it also feels comforting, like home. It is a lot more sensual and sexy than anything else I’d recorded; I wanted to dip into the moods of a lot of different films I love to make something really different from the last record. So it slips into the mood of ‘Vamp’ too, that underworld, dark and neon nightlife. I thought Jake’s voice would sound PERFECT for the mood – he has done so many effortlessly sexy songs with Scissor Sisters. And he nailed it.
While listening to the album, it felt like the collaborations added something new to your repertoire. What were some of things you’re learned while developing this album that’s different from your previous work?
I learned to be a little more unfiltered. I think with the way I’ve been considered a bit too indie to be pop, and a bit too pop to be indie. I just thought f*** it, let’s go balls-out pop, and when I want to be dark, like on ‘Kiss For Kiss’, let’s go really dark. I learn so much from collaborators. Sometimes I learn things about the songs I didn’t realize, like how their tones bring out different effects in the lyrics. Alan’s delivery of the word “careless” on ‘Home’, or Ana’s inimitable rap on ‘I Only Want To Please You’. It’s so cool to let them twist things and bring their own unique qualities.
Your tour starts soon and you’ll be traveling everywhere including select cities in the US. What will be different about this show tham your previous shows?
FUN FUN FUN! I get to sing some really fun songs on this tour. Not that the other shows weren’t fun, but I purposely wrote big, fun songs that I could tour and have a blast this time round, so I’m really excited for that!
I know that you were asked to play at G-A-Y Heaven in the UK. That’s such a legendary venue. So many incredible acts have graced that stage. How does it feel knowing you’ll be playing there too?
It feels absolutely amazing. I’m SO proud to be asked to play there. It’s been an iconic night for me for as long as I can remember. Certainly since I moved to London in 2004 and since I first read gay magazines before that. It’s humbling and so heartwarming, and I think in many ways career defining, to be asked to play.
What can we expect from you in 2016?
Tour, tour, tour, album, album, album, ridiculous posts on twitter and updates on what records I’m spinning at my DJ sets.
What advice would you give 16 year old Rod that you’ve learned as an adult?
Take dance classes.
♫All in the name of being somebody, that somebody cares about♫