You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Lights Resolve

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Q&A with Lights Resolve

Back in April I met the guys of Lights Resolve while touring for a few dates on the "Get A Life" tour. After winning Samsung's "Unsigned Battle of the Bands" contest, Lights Resolve opened up each night of the national tour followed by Street Drum Corps, Army of Me, Straylight Run and headliners, the Used.

I caught up with Matt, Neal and Sherman of Lights Resolve this past Saturday when they were playing at Maxwell's in Hoboken and learned more about the three-piece band, their music and tricks of the trade in getting concertgoers to remember them. Their set Saturday was incredibly energetic — one of the most lively I've seen in a while — at times Matt and Sherman even jumped off the stage to play in the crowd.

Afterwards, they gave tickets away to their show this Saturday at Blender Theater in NYC, which you can still get tickets to (for free!) by emailing Lights Resolve here. I'll be there covering the show so look back for a review next week and, if you haven't yet, check out their tunes on MySpace, I think you'll dig. Read below to learn a little more about the band.

Here are the names and instruments they play so you get a better idea of who is answering:

Matt — vocals/guitar
Neal drums/percussion
Sherman bass guitar/piano/vocals

Tell me a little about Lights Resolve. You were all in another band together, right?
Sherman: We were in another group, been around the block, had fun, got to travel to Southeast Asia, East Coast, the States. We were a four-piece and then one day we came to the bridge where we needed to downgrade to three and Matt started singing lead vocals, Neal stayed on drums, I was still rockin’ bass and we’ve been Lights Resolve since two years, since 2006.

You guys were just on the “Get A Life” tour with the Used. How did that come about?
We saw that Samsung was running a contest for a band to open up for the Used and being Used fans, thought it was a good opportunity so we just posted a song called “Lost and Jaded” on the site and ended up getting more votes than anybody. It was something like 200,000 votes or something crazy and then we won. They ended up giving us a nice, fat check to go on the road with them and we got to go on the whole “Get A Life” tour with the Used, Straylight Run, Street Drum Corps and Army of Me and we just had a blast.

That was the first big tour as Lights Resolve. We had done two national tours before, they were each a month and a half or two months each so we had a good bit of real touring experience, but this was more luxurious touring. The venues actually had people in them and we had catering and all that stuff and we were playing with really good bands as opposed to before, we had to work our asses off to get 10 or 20 people in the room to play for them. It was really good that we had that experience beforehand because we knew a lot more. Once we got on the Used tour we knew what to expect and now we know even more so what to expect after being on that type of tour. So, we kind of covered it all besides the Rolling Stones tours or anything. We haven’t done that, but that’s next. [Laughs].

What did you learn from watching the other bands on the “Get A Life” tour?
Just learned how to perform a little better, learned how to function on the road a little better, learned what not to do, learned what to do, learned what works when trying to get people into your music and trying to get them to walk away with a t-shirt or a CD or just something from the band. Some interesting stuff. One of the things we saw was when we put up our gobo, which is a light shining through a little cut and our logo shows up as a background for our set, we ended up selling 50% more merch then when we didn’t have it. So we learned that a logo does something, it gives people something to remember. We were the first out of five bands on that tour so we really had to make our mark on them because there was a circus after us with Street Drum Corps. So, we had to make our mark and we found that that was one way to do it. Another way was we were out there peddling our stuff and working our asses off to try to get people into the band. Dedication.

Neal: I think the biggest thing for us was, when you’re playing bigger rooms it’s very easy to only play to the people in front of you, but I think we learned how to play to the entire room. That means, if kids are in the back or to the side you’ve got to basically play to everybody. I think playing with enthusiasm and excitement really rubs off to the other kids so when they see that you’re putting your all into it, it’s kind of like cause and effect. I think that was really important, learning how to perform on a big stage especially because we’re only a three-piece so we have to cover a lot more ground than maybe a four-piece. We definitely learned a lot about performance.

Is it harder being a three-piece?
Matt: It’s way harder. Every note that you hit is an obvious note and if you hit a wrong one, you’re fucked. It’s the generic thing to say, but there’s more weight to pull for each member being a three-piece. The way we try to fill that out is we try to . . . at least I try to use a lot of delays on my guitar and try to fill out the sound. Sherman plays the bach organ on his bass, Neal hammers the drums. We try to leave as little space as possible unless it’s warranted for what we’re playing. It’s all about filling the space.

Neal: If your guitar breaks a string, you’re in deep trouble. If your bass player cuts out, it’s two people.

What do you do differently during a show being the opening act vs. the headliner?
Say the headliner’s name a lot.

Neal: Yeah. I think your job as an opener is to get the crowd warmed up and ready to go, so I think you just have to go out there with no fear and just have to lay it out on the line and have fun and be exciting. I think that’s what translates. You can’t think of yourself as the opener you just have to say, “You know what, I’m about to play. Let’s do it! Let’s have fun and kick ass.”

How much does the audience’s vibe affect you as a performer?
Well, I think it’s a lot better when the audience is into it. You feel a certain type of energy that you can’t really explain it, it’s just there and you can’t help but feed off it. Sometimes when the crowd isn’t into it, or they could just be into it but maybe they’re just not as animated, you still have to do the same thing and look past it and play. Play for yourself, play for whoever you can, it’s the best thing you could do.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We’re definitely working on new material right now. We’re taking the summer to do just that, we have a bunch of new songs. I think our plan is probably in the fall to do some kind of tour, whether it’s either September do the Northeast and branch out in October and do something, possibly a national tour. We’re focusing on new songs right now and just getting those ready and possibly recording soon as well.

Matt: The reason that we’re playing so many shows right now is because we want to test the new music that we’ve been working on. We never went into a studio and just recorded a song that we haven’t played live yet, so we’re hoping that we can get all the songs that we’re writing and play them live and see how they translate on a stage because that affects what we think of the song a lot of the time. So if you’re doubting a song and you bring it out there it could work and its great, or you can bring it out and it can fail miserably. We only want to do stuff for the stage, because we have more fun playing live on a stage than in a recording studio, that’s just how this band works.

What is your writing process like for each song?
Sherman: Well, we have a cool process. Every song sometimes will take a different toll, but typically we’ll have a melody in mind or some sort of progression, like an order of chords on the guitar where we’ll bang it out in our rehearsal space, in Neal’s basement. We have all our gear down there and the kit and we just build off of simple progression. Vocals tend to be . . . would you say later, Matt?

Matt: I usually end up using the first thing that comes up, just because that’s the most pure and untainted. Not all the time, but that’s my favorite thing to do — just use the first thing that I come up with, just because it sounds more natural and unforced. We haven’t had the best recording experiences thus far. Our first CD we’re not that happy with, the actual recording process that we went through. And we learned from that for the second EP that we did.

Our friend Ryan Siegel, who is now in a band called The Urgency, he recorded that for us with a guy named Brian Chasalow and the two of them just helped us on that as well as Alex Ferzan helped us. That one we came to the table with a little more knowledge of what we wanted with this band and the certain energy that we wanted to capture. At the same time it was limited because it was in Brian’s house. We just set up in his house and went for one weekend and we took three days to do it so that was also limited. So this next recording we kind of know exactly what we’re looking for and we’re hoping to get into some kind of, I don’t know about real recording studio or what, but we know what vibe we’re looking for and we know we want to capture the energy of our live show, which I don’t know if we’ve fully done yet. This one we will definitely do that, there are no questions, we’re not compromising.

I really like your latest EP, Currency and the first track, “The Hills and Michael Jackson.” How did you come up with that title?
It does go along with the song if you listen to the lyrics and you think about it for a little bit, it will make sense. The title came to me when we were in California and the song . . . I think the song came after the title, so I think that maybe the title influenced the song somehow.

Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?
Right now my favorite recording of what we have is “The Hills and Michael Jackson.” We all love playing “Lost and Jaded,” we love playing “This Could Be the Last Time.” I don’t know; all the new stuff. Whenever you write a new song, that’s all you want to play. You don’t want to revisit all the old stuff. It’s all about the new stuff every time you come out with something new. We want to rework some of the old songs. We found by playing them on the stage that some stuff doesn’t work because we’re a three-piece. We tried to record as a three-piece and in some cases it worked and in some cases it didn’t. So we’re going to end up reworking some of the songs to make them fit how we play.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for Lights Resolve?
Not killing ourselves. Everything. Everything about being in an up-and-coming band right now is a challenge. I don’t know how to expand on that, there are too many things.

Sherman: For someone who has no idea about being an unsigned group — packing our own van, paying for the van every month, sometimes playing some odd gigs, it’s all a part of what we do. Every now and then we get a bone thrown to us where we get something prestigious and then packing the trailer right after. It’s a lot of different duties. We also have to be really good about being on the computer and stuff like that, as much as we may not like to because we’d like to focus more on the music, but we have a really great time communicating with all of our fans. They’re kind enough to send us messages and bake us cookies and whatnot. We have some very sweet fans, very thoughtful. Having really supportive fans makes us think really positive about this crazy business.

Matt: I remember when we were playing South by Southwest this past year back in March. We had a couple of shows that were not part of the South by Southwest festival and they were on the other side of the tracks at a place called Pete’s Bar which was smaller than this room and it was the Mexican part of Austin. It was all, probably first generation Americans, their parents were Mexican I think, or maybe some of them were Mexican. I don’t know, whatever it was, these people weren’t the normal people that would go and see a show with all the dyed hair and everything. These were just people going to have a drink or whatever and they didn’t know what to expect, they were just hanging out. We ended up playing and the people just were having a ball, they were just having a good time.

That’s when I realized it’s so great to just play music and have people enjoy it and it made it all worthwhile because I had been bummed being as SXSW and seeing so many bands and so many people’s noses in the air. SXSW this past year just wasn’t my vibe and then when I crossed over the tracks and met these “real people” and we had a good time with them, it kind of made it all make sense to me. It was funny because the drummer that we played the show with [in the other band] said the exact same thing so we had a similar experience.

What is it about Lights Resolve that makes you stand out from other bands out there? What would you say to convince people to come check you out?
Sherman: The tightest pants. [Laughs].

Matt: We just have fun. Not a lot of bands do. We have fun onstage, we’re all somewhat proficient in our instruments. We’re very tight as a band because we’ve been together for so long, through the other band and this band so the tightness is there. Maybe our only goal is to put on the best show that we could possibly put on. All the other stuff goes with it — writing songs and having a hard copy so that people can go home and listen to it. But, we want them to live for seeing the live show. I guess word of mouth gets that out. I know on the Used tour a lot of people had checked us out for the first time and were impressed and even the other bands that we were on tour with were really excited that we were on the tour and we would walk into their dressing room and they would be singing our songs and it was just a cool vibe. It’s just about that. Right now, Will from Straylight Run is working on some demos with us and Quinn from the Used played guitar for “This Could Be the Last Time” with us at some of the Used shows, I got to sing “Box Full of Sharp Objects” with the Used. Why would anyone want to see us? I don’t know. If they want to see tight, white pants. Maybe Sherman. The smiley drummer.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I think it’s very atmospheric, somewhat anthemic. For the three-piece that we are, we try to produce this big sound that’s meant for, hopefully someday a big arena. There are a lot of dynamics. I think it’s really this big rock sound is what we are.

Matt: Its cinematic alt-rock I think. It’s a bit theatrical.

What are your hopes for the future?
We hope to become rich and fat. [Laughs]. We hope to just write the best music we can write and come up with the best show ideas that we can come up with, be on as many tours as possible, reach as many people as possible. I mean, it seems like the pretty standard thing for any band to say. Try to figure out something in this changing industry right now that could be cool to do that nobody else has done. We’re still working it out.

Do you feel that a band needs to have a record contract to be successful?
I think at some point it’s necessary for a band to have some kind of funding or some kind of promotion behind it. That’s usually a record label, whether it’s an indie or a major, just somebody financing the band. Money does play an important role because you can’t do a lot of the stuff that you want to do without money and you can’t accomplish a lot of the things you want to accomplish without somebody pushing your material and it’s hard when it’s just the people in the band pushing your material. I don’t know whether it’s a label or whether it’s money or what it is, but at some point you need to step it up and have somebody else take the business reigns out of your hands.

Sherman: I would agree with Matt completely, but being unsigned thus far, we’ve had more success then a good percentage of cats out there. So, we’ve been really, really lucky so far without the big bucks behind us.

What keeps you going?
Every time somebody says they like your band or they like your song. We just came across a video of a girl on YouTube that a girl sent us, actually there were a bunch. First, there was a girl from Bakersfield, California, who played beautiful guitar and sang beautifully, she did a cover of “The Angel Sings,” one of our songs, and she did her own version of it and just did it really, really cool. I didn’t expect it to be so amazing, but she did and that was really cool to see. The other one was this girl, she filmed it in her garage with her cat on a leash, and she was just dancing in her own world, loving it. I would never even be able to dance that way if I wanted to try, but she had her own thing, so that was cool. Really cool. It’s just the little things. It’s people saying hi. I also sometimes snoop around on the net and read people’s blogs and stuff about their experience at the show and you never realize, you never think what people do in order to make your show. They have to take the train and the cab and do all this stuff just to see you. That made me appreciate it more.

Neal: I think playing live is just the best thing anybody could do. If you can make a living out of it and performing, it’s the most incredible thing. It’s so raw and real and that’s what we love doing the most. Having people you like to play with helps too. It’s doing what you love with people you want to be with.

If you checked Lights Resolve out on MySpace and liked what you heard, pick up a copy of their EP's on and catch a show when they're in the area! Below is a live interview I found of them talking more about their music and influences as well as clips from various shows and performances. Let me know if you're planning on attending the Saturday show! And be sure to email them if you want tickets!

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