Bright Light Bright Light steals our attention with 90s inspired dance tunes

Rod Thomas who performs as Bright Light Bright Light has been flying under the radar for the last few years, occasionally he’s caught our attention for his collaborations with Elton John, or covers of classic 80s favourites, but his own music is about to burst into the spotlight.

Earlier this year, he began releasing tunes from his forthcoming third album Fun City and the first singles have all been remarkable. Firstly, there was the house focused This Was My House that featured Madonna’s long time backing singers Donna Delory and Nikki Harris, and then the delicious I Used To Be Cool.

OUTinPerth editor Graeme Watson caught up with Rod Thomas while he was in lockdown in his home in NYC.

Tell me how do you get from being a young boy living in Wales all the way to living in New York City? 

Christ knows, it’s been a long journey, I went by London which is kind of a natural conduit to  other places like New York. I never really thought I would end up living abroad, it just seemed like such an alien concept to me, but when you start travelling and you start getting different visas to play in different places and whatever, I got my work permit and I just thought ‘well I love New York, so why not trying living there?’ And I did, and I really like it so I’ve just stayed.

It strikes me when I visit New York that it’s a city with really tiny apartments, and you have to live out in the world.

Yeah, the apartments are not known for their spacious qualities but it’s worth it. I love my neighbourhood. I love my neighbours, I just came back from a drink on the roof with my neighbour. I have a really fortuitous situation where everyone on my floor is just really good friends, it’s just four apartments and we all hang out together all of the time and get on really well.

We work together as well, it’s a nice situation I’ve ended up in, it’s kind of amazing, it’s more friendly than anywhere else I’ve lived in my life.

Your new album, which we have to wait until September to hear, is called Fun City. Which city is the fun city? 

“Fun City” is a quote from Mayor John Vliet Lindsay who took over New York in the late sixties. Basically he took over and on his first day of being mayor there was a huge transit strike, the power went out, there were riots, everything, it was just like a disaster. One of his adversaries said to him ‘Oh, are you still happy to be the mayor of New York?’ and he said, ‘I still think it’s a fun city!’

I took that quote because I’m really focused on the idea of how LGBTIQ+ people see their surroundings, because we all live in these places which are very flawed utopias, that offer so much, but there’s also so many obstacles for you. It’s about how you make your own joy in a place that it problematic to you.

Fun City is kind of a tongue in cheek phrase, like for him everything fell flat and it was in disaster zone, but he was like; ‘I still think it’s a fun city!’ For a lot of queer people it’s like, police attacks, homelessness and lack of jobs, and homophobia – but where else would you be? So the concept of the album is this survival and celebrating yourself in spite of what your surrounding throw at you.

I think in queer communities we still see people moving to find those places of safety. I grew up in outback town in Australia and certainly counted down every day to get the hell out of there. 

I feel for a lot of people, you don’t grow up around queer people, you maybe don’t grow up around anybody non-white, or anybody that’s not religious… whatever the population is there, and you feel so suffocated and you have to leave. You have to go where there’s more diversity and that offers something that you don’t have, and to be more yourself.

For a lot of queer people that is a city, because cities are technically more varied and more diverse and have more opportunities, so for a lot of queer people it’s about flooding to the nearest city and hoping for the best.

The first tunes we’ve heard from your new record they are fun, their disco, their dance-able, and uplifting. We seem to have turned a corner in the last few months where really great pop music is allowed again, it’s embraced rather than shunned. 

There’s been a lot of good music this year, in spite of everything that’s gone on. A lot of it is disco-leaning, which I don’t think was planned for this time. The reason I worked in the disco influence is because for me, disco records have been about defiance, and dancing through pain, storytelling and celebration of yourself. Taking no BS kind of clap-backs, I love that about disco music. Heartbreak, but it’s resilient heartbreak.

That’s why I was drawn to that – other than the fact I listen to disco stuff all the time. I feel like disco is so embedded in queer culture that it would have been a shame not to reference that on my record, so I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with that.

I was watching your ‘Rodcast’ on YouTube, and you were sharing your favourite records, which you have on vinyl. When did you start getting into music, it sounds like it was when you were really young.

Music was always playing wherever I was, I wouldn’t say my parents were audiophiles, but they always had tapes on in the car or the radio was playing and we’d watch all the programs like Top of the Pops. I don’t think I can consciously remember a time when I started, but I probably started paying attention to it when I was eight or something. It’s always been there, I really don’t like silence very much… it’s a big part of my life really.

The last album was based on scenes from movies; so music, radio, TV, movies, I grew up very remotely as well, and having those outlets were a way for me to see a world that was so distant and different from what I had around me.

I sort of became a sponge, listening to lyrics and production and remixes that had such a different energy to where I was growing up, and it blew the doors open.

When This Was My House came out, it took my straight back to the late 80s, early 90s… but you would have been like eight or nine?

It’s all about referencing Shep Pettibone, and I would have been about six when he was at his peak.

The guy who produced that track, Initial Talk, he’s in Japan and he’s a massive 80s/90s music enthusiast, I got in touch with him because he did a really cool remix for Louise (the audacity of calling yourself just Louise! It’s wild!), he did an amazing remix of Stretch and I love it so much… I’d written the song and couldn’t really finish the production of that myself, so I just sent him the acapella and a few stems, and his remix just became the original version because he’s super into that piano house kind of world.

How did the collaboration with Donna Delory and Nikki Harris come about?

This guy Bill, who’d worked with Nikki, reached out to me a few years ago and asked if we’d do something together, and obviously I was like… Oh my god, yes. We couldn’t really work out what to do though, whether it should be something collaborative or write for her or whatever. Then when Initial Talk sent me that backing track, I was like ah! This is very Shep Pettibone. Who do I know who worked in that world?

Then I got back in touch with Bill, he loved it, sent it through to Nikki and Donna, they loved it, so i went to meet them at their rehearsal studio, did the vocals in an hour, had a laugh, went to their show the next day and they got me up on stage and introduced me, it was just a really nice, fortuitous re-connection with a person that led to some good relationships. It was super fun.

Bright Light Bright Light’s Fun City is released on Friday 18th September. Listen to the audio version of this chat below. 

So Loquacious · On The Line: Bright Light Bright Light

Graeme Watson

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