Jack O’Brien of The Bright Light Social Hour.
By Todd Stevens
I had the great opportunity to interview Jack O’Brien of The Bright Light Social Hour at the House Of Blues in Boston, MA on March 25, 2016. Jack is a vocalist, bass player, synth player, and songwriter for the Austin based psychedelic art rock band. They are finishing up their winter US tour with Galactic and Soulive. I asked him a few questions backstage after their act and this is what he had to say.
Indie Minded: How did the band meet?
Jack: So, Curtis (Roush), the guitarist and I were at Southwestern University, a little liberal arts school near Austin, Texas and he wanted to start an art rock collective thing. The idea was originally to get a ton of people and make a weird orchestra of bizarre experimental music but actually just the four of us ended up showing up the first time, so we’re like we’ll just be a regular band. And then a couple guys were kinda in and out. Then we met Joe (Mirasole), the drummer, on Craigslist. He was playing in a local high school drum line and then he worked with Edward (Braillif), our keyboard player, at a music shop, and they would DJ together.
IM: How long have you known each other?
Jack: So, Curtis and I met 11 years ago, umm 2004. We brought Joe on in 2007, and Shred has been with us since 2013.
IM: How’s the Austin music scene?
Jack: Crazy, always changing. I don’t know any of the new hot bands, but it’s cool. It’s like Nashville, all talent but no creativity, and I think Austin is the opposite. We’re (Austin) – really creative but not known for being talented, but that’s my style and I’m cool with that. I’m not impressed by someone who can shred. I like someone who is doing some weird shit.
IM: When did you first start playing an instrument?
Jack: I always knew I wanted to play the bass. My dad always used to point it out on records but I didn’t know what it was or what it looked like. And then when I was in 5th grade, there was an orchestra teacher who came to visit our classroom. He said:
“If you want to join orchestra, they’ve got violin, cello, and bass,” and I’m like “Wha! I can do that! Fuck yeah! I’m down.” I then went to the music shop with my dad and they pull out this gigantic double bass and he’s like, “Hell no! I’m not getting you that!”
(laughs) So he got me a violin instead. So I played that for several years until I realized what an electric bass was. Then I asked for one for Christmas and my dad said, “You’ll get bored with that” so he got me a guitar instead so I learned that. Then finally a friend left one at my house when I was 13, so I didn’t really start playing bass till I was 13.
IM: Who writes the lyrics or the music? How does that work?
Jack: The music is super collaboratly written, you know. Space Is Still The Place, our last record, it was just Curtis, Joe, and I; the time we wrote that. For the lyrics it is just Curtis or I. We were between keyboard players when we wrote those songs.
IM: Do the lyrics or the music come first?
Jack: Both ways. Usually the music first, but the newer stuff we worked on since, sometimes just a theme, ya know, like a song longing while touring. We have the concept then we make some music that sounds like that then come back and write the lyrics.
IM: Who are your musical influences? Who are the bands’ influences, too?
Jack: So many! Sly and the Family Stone is probably the main thing we go to. The Flaming Lips, James Brown, Beatles, Rolling Stones. I can go on for a long time.
IM: What are your favorite songs by other artists?
Jack: I think “Money” by Pink Floyd is like the greatest written song in history probably!
IM: Roger Waters wrote that when he was in elementary school or something. Watch The Wall and watch the clip of him when he was in school.
Jack: Crazy! I remember that! I didn’t know that’s the story of how it was done, that’s crazy.
IM: Yeah, its semi autobiographical.
Jack: Also “Halleluwah” by Can (German band) is like an 18 minute long groove. It’s a super long song that’s been playing in my head for years.
IM: What are your favorite songs by The Bright Light Social Hour?
Jack: “Dreamlove,” “The Moon,” and probably “Escape Velocity.”
IM: Do you have any new songs or a new album coming up?
Jack: Yeah, normally we’re on this tour and the shows that we’ve done when we’re headlining; we’ve been trying some new ones out. We’re just kinda experimenting with them. But yeah, we have a few new songs and when we finish the tour and we get home, we’ll keep writing and work on our next record.
IM: Tell me about Space Is Still The Place. What can you tell me about that?
Jack: It’s an album we’ve been working on for a very long time. It’s kind of a bit of autobiographical journey. It starts with us trying to find a new direction, appreciating what we’ve done before but deciding its time to turn our backs on it, and move towards something new.
IM: How’s the tour going?
Jack: Super good! Touring with Galactic has been awesome. They are so laid back and easy to work with and just such like a powerful, educational thing to just chill and watch them. They just blow my face bone off. It’s been cool, it’s been very cool. The east coast has been good, weather’s been great, people have been awesome. I don’t know, it’s been fun!
IM: Are you all on the same tour bus?
Jack: No, they have their own tour bus. We have our van and trailer. We try to keep up with them! (laughs)
IM: Do you guys drive your own van or do you have a driver?
Jack: No, we switch off.
IM: You have New York City and Ohio next?
Jack: Yup, New York City is our last show with Galactic and Soulive will be at that one too. Then we have a few shows on the way home. We have Cincinnati, Bloomington, Indiana, Nashville, and Oklahoma City.
IM: I noticed you played The Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Is there anything special about that?
Jack: Yeah definitely, I don’t know, it’s a deep cut. The drummer Joe has been wanting to cover that for a real long time. It might be all our favorite, it’s at least Joe and I’s favorite Beatle song. I think I read that they took a ton of acid and had experienced a total ego death and all that. It was just something that was an interesting idea to us. The idea that there’s no separation between human beings and living things; if you open your mind to it, you would be astounded.
IM: Do you do a lot of covers? I noticed on YouTube that you’ve done “Mannish Boy” at a New Years Eve show.
Jack: Not a lot, we usually have 1 or 2 going at a time.
IM: What covers have you done?
Jack: Over the years, all the covers we’ve done probably included Mannish Boy by Muddy Waters, Young Man Blues by The Who, originally by Mose Allison. A long time ago we did American Boy by Kanye West and I forgot the name of the chick singer that did it with him. More recently, we’ve done All I Wanna Do, which is a Beach Boys cover. We just released it on our Sound Cloud page last week. What else? That’s all I can think of right now.
IM: What’s it like at the studio? Do you have a producer and all that stuff?
Jack: Good, man! We built our own studio out of our practice space where I live. Joe and Curtis are both super talented engineers, so we work out of there, produce ourselves, and produce for other bands. We’ve produced for some other Austin bands; a band called Migrant Kids. We just did a record for a band called Megaphona.
We’re not sure yet if we will have a producer or just producing ourselves on the next record. But Space Is Still The Place, we produced ourselves and engineered ourselves.
IM: That’s cool! Even Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin produced everything he did. He wrote all the songs and produced them.
Jack: Yeah, that’s hardcore.
IM: What’s going on after the tour?
Jack: After the tour, we’re going home and going to do some festivals. We’re doing Maverick Fest in San Antonio, Sloss Fest in Birmingham, Alabama, and we’ll also work on writing, writing, writing. That’s our focus.
IM: I noticed you wear nail polish and stuff. Any other weird shit you guys do?
Jack: (laughs hysterically) Ha, the weird shit we do?
IM: I think when I first met you around Halloween… (Great Scott in Allston, MA)
Jack: That was my first time ever painting my nails. I was like, this is really fun! And I noticed that I actually enjoy watching guitarists and bass players that have their nails painted because you can more easily see what their fingers are doing. Halloween is Curtis’ birthday. We always cross dress on Halloween. Last year we were Baywatch girls, the year before we were Golden Girls, before that we were like Disney princesses.
IM: Yeah, the last time I think you had a blonde wig on.
Jack: Yeah, I was easing into my transvestite apparel. (laughs)
IM: How do you feel about this year’s election?
Jack: It’s an important one. I don’t know. I was very freaked out and worried about it. I’m sure that most young people you talk to, a lot of people you talk to, the thought of Donald Trump being president is very bizarre. But now I’m not so worried about it because that’s an overwhelmingly popular point of view so I do think if he was the nominee; I don’t have the belief that would exactly happen. So I ultimately think that it will be exciting, there will be a lot of drama in television spectacle but I think ultimately something conservatively progressive I guess. Hillary probably, but ya know we’ll see. But it’s definitely going to be an interesting and entertaining one.
IM: Anything else you want to say?
Jack: Yeah! Just that the Beach Boys’ song (“All I Wanna Do”) that we just released on Soundcloud, that’s the newest thing we’re working on and we might put out another single this summer. Yeah, that’s it!
IM: Cool man, thanks for doing the interview with me, and Indie Minded appreciates it too so thanks a lot.
Jack: Hell yeah man! Thanks.