It’s a testament to someone’s musical talent when an artist like Elton John drops you from his management agency only to later find your most recent album online and not only becomes a fan, but a friend. That’s what happened with Welsh-born electronic pop artist Bright Light Bright Light (Rod Thomas) after the release of his 2012 album Make Me Believe in Hope. Impressed with the album, John took the artist on as his mentee and the relationship quickly grew into a friendship with the musical legend not only lending the younger act his advice, but soliciting Thomas’ input on Elton John’s own work.
Many in Washington got to know Bright Light Bright Light when he toured last year with dance pop band AVAN LAVA in support of his 2014 album Life is Easy. It helped the Welsh singer, now based in Brooklyn, to quickly grow an enthusiastic fan base here. While the artist works on a new album, he returns to Washington this Friday to DJ at the popular monthly gay dance party Otter Crossing. We talked with Bright Light Bright Light ahead of his set.
Brightest Young Things: You’re coming to DC to DJ for the monthly Otter Crossing party. Most who’ve seen you in DC have watched you as a recording artist. What’s the difference between expressing yourself as a DJ versus what you do as a recording artist?
Bright Light Bright Light (Rod Thomas): Well, in a show performing as Bright Light Bright Light, I’m really only playing my own material. So, you draw people in with your own songs. When I’m DJing, I love creating a real ride with the music I play. I love playing lots of the songs that influenced the music I make, which is a step beyond what I get to do playing my own songs on stage.
More eagle-eyed fans notice little links I make between lots of the songs (during a DJ set), some themes I follow with them, and that I get to play lots of different styles of music. For example, in my new Saturday Afternoon party in Brooklyn, Romy & Michele’s Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance, I go from old, deleted girl group tracks, to film soundtracks, to 80’s and 90’s music, and right through 12″ mixes of current songs that nod to all those things. It’s amazingly fun to arrange my collection in a totally different way each time.
BYT: That sounds pretty eclectic. What can people expect from your DJ set at the Otter Crossing party?
Bright Light Bright Light: Just so much fun! The last time I DJd in D.C. I had a blast. I’m hoping for the same. People can expect lots of pop and dance anthems and forgotten gems.
BYT: You’re from Wales, and have been based in London and now Brooklyn. Each place brings its own collection of musicians and influences which shape the artists living there. Now that you’re in New York, how has living-and-working there influenced you creatively?
Bright Light Bright Light: It’s changed everything, really. America has a very different energy and viewpoint from the UK. It’s been really eye-opening to be an outsider living in the US. I love the energy and architecture in New York. I find the city really inspiring, which is why I moved there. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet some really outstanding and really welcoming musicians, so I’ve found a network of collaborators that I never managed to find in London. I think the “I help you, you help me” approach that I found in New York is incredible, and the people I meet keep surprising and pushing me on. The last album and the one I’m working on now are very driven by the world there.
BYT: Not only have you toured and recorded with Elton John, but he has referred to you as a “friend for life”. Specifically, he told The Independent that you are “not afraid to send me up” and relies on you to honestly tell him when something he writes is bad. How in the hell do you tell Elton John that you think something he created is bad?
Bright Light Bright Light: (Laughs) I can’t for the life of me remember telling him that something was bad! But, I mean, I’ll let him know my favorite parts of things, my favorite songs in a bunch he might play me at once, whether I think the order is right. For example: which intonation he used that I liked when singing our duet in the studio (two takes – both perfect, just slightly different in intonation). The fact that this legend listens to a second opinion is a real testament to the fact he makes music to make music, not to feed an ego. And, he’s funny as fuck too. Sometimes, I might say a cheeky “I don’t like that” to wind him up and he knows after a second that I’m joking and then we’ll laugh. He’s a joy to work with.
BYT: Elton John has also said that he wants to help your career as you progress without “spoiling your journey” by being heavy handed in it. That’s a sweet spot that many young people don’t find in mentors. How do you use him for advice and feedback?
Bright Light Bright Light: He’s an incredible person. He’s been great at offering advice, and actually a few things he’s suggested I had already been doing. So, it’s pretty amazing to feel on the same wavelength as someone like him. I played him demos of the last record before I committed to the final tracklisting, and I really listened to what he thought about them. Same for this next record I’m working on now. I’m sending him tracks as I go.
He’s very honest, and he’s also a music fan. He buys music all the time and is always sending me some new artist he heard on SoundCloud or someone else that someone turned him on to. He listens to so much, and really gives music time. So, I trust his judgement. Of course, it’s all subjective. But, I know that when he says something, it’s not a knee-jerk reaction. He’s thought about it, and that’s incredible. He never tells me to do something, or tells me something “isn’t right,” but always offers his take – which is a perfect balance.
BYT: What are the next projects you are working on, or would like to work on?
Bright Light Bright Light: I want to do more collaborative work in the next few years. There’s something very special about what you can create with another mind in the mix, or another voice with equal weighting in a song or project. Right now, I’m working on my third album and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. Touring is so much fun. It’s so rewarding to meet fans on the road and bring songs to life on a stage. After a year or more on the road, though, it’s so good to be creating something new. And that makes me excited for the next round of touring.
Bright Light Bright Light will DJ the monthly Otter Crossing party this Friday, November 6 at the Green Lantern along with DJ Bil Todd, Wes Della Volla and others.
All photos courtesy of Bright Light Bright Light