Local Music Love: Analog Lights Illuminated Ferndale
(Catlistening, Nov. 15, 2015)
During my bike ride home after his show, under the stars in the stiff northwesterly wind, the prelude to a coming winter, I was awakened to the connection between the cool spectrum of the weather and the music I had just heard coming out of one Gregory Bright (a.ka. Greg Aubry) , long time Ferndale resident, veteran musician, and currently composer and song writer of his solo project “The Analog Lights”.
The hues of the music I heard tonight from the Analog Lights were densely illuminated but transparent, much like the electromagnetically charged ions of the Aurora Borealis. The angular, hard-edged industrial beats and sizzling rhythm and texture tracks were surrounded more by an atmosphere of noble gases than compressed by heavy metals. Noble gases have a full valence in their electron shell resulting in low reactivity with other surrounding chemical elements. They have taken enough. They’re not taking anymore. And like those nobles, the sonic veils, the emotional spectrum in the music and voice of those Analog Lights this evening were chilled to the exchange with outside bodies. It was the presentation of a voice, full and activated, incise and certain but not open for dialogue. It was a declarative voice extended in long phrases of stark comment not so much as a bridge but as a melodic, scrolling announcement of that passage’s closure.
The music had two sides: A side that one cannot touch and a side that does the touching on its own, new terms. You could reach your hand through this music and it would give like the hologram of a life you no longer lead, a memory. But where the music reaches into you, it is to tear a piece of paper from one’s own story of what is no longer. I had a chance to chat with Greg about his project.
C: Those songs tonight all touched on the subject of separation, alienation, disconnection. Even the titles, “Obsolete”, “Excommunicated”, “Divided Attention”, “Lost Connection”- they all rip through the listener like a piece of paper tearing.
Greg: That’s intentional. It’s a move back to more direct songwriting based on my own life experiences after taking a more character-based approach to writing in my last band, Superbomb. It felt more honest. The subjects, to my mind are fairly universal, especially for people that are just a little bit older. Some of this stuff is directly influenced by divorce (“Obsolete”, for example, pretty directly addresses those feelings you experience when someone walks out on you). My themes overall tend to run in a “day in the life” direction, part relationship stuff, part self-help/productivity messages (“Divided Attention” is about the freedom to say no to things that are hampering your progress and needlessly eating up your very limited time, for example).
“Excommunicated” is a funny one for me. This song came about strictly as a bit of a “joke song”. I wrote it as a wink and nod to a friend of mine and recorded a draft of it to give to him on his birthday. He had a local band called “The Excommunicators”. Several of the verses are references bands he’s been in, their names, that sort of thing. But when I found I was able to hang this sort of joke song on to a real theme (finding yourself a social pariah and thrown out of a social circle), I kept it and fixed it up a little to play it out. That’s a fun bit of creative exercise. And my friend loves the song a lot. I call that a win.
C: How long you been working on this solo project “The Analog Lights”
Greg: Technically, for about ten years. But not really. The Analog Lights was a live band circa 2005. Two-thirds of that band would come back together to form Superbomb in 2011. I liked the name and recycled it earlier this year. The solo electronic version of The Analog Lights started in March of 2015. I’d bought my first synthesizer the year before that, though, so the gestation period and current active phase make up the better part of two years now.
C: Your last project was a rock band called “Superbomb”. Your current electronic direction is a huge departure. What inspired you to make this turn and were there any artists working in the genre who inspired you?
Greg: Without being too precious about it, I’ve been listening to electronic music for my entire life. Every household in the ‘80s and ‘90s that had a Nintendo or a Sega Genesis was inundated with the sound of synthesizers and sequencing. It was a world that, for a long time, I thought was too advanced for me to understand. But the start of it all came fairly harmlessly. Superbomb was in a studio working on a follow-up record, and the engineer had us playing to metronomes, which was something we didn’t do on the last record or ever mess with live. It was a humbling moment to discover how much our tempos ebbed and flowed. (Although it turned out that our ebbs and flows were incredibly consistent from take to take.)
The band ended but that studio experience stayed with me. I kept playing bass and guitar, but I wanted to have something electronic to jam with to train myself to play on-tempo. I wanted something with a metronome, but I found the simple metronome itself incredibly dull and soul-sucking. I instead looked into “groovebox” synthesizers that had onboard sequencers, so I could at least play along with something musical. I put my order in and when the synth arrived, playing with it made me realize I was no longer content playing with stringed instruments.
C: Am I to understand this correctly- you mentioned before your show that you just started playing keys and working with synthesizers? Had you never played piano or keyboards before?
Greg: That’s right. I found myself in a completely different mode of songwriting, one that I now wish had been my starting point. If you’re a musician, a lot of what you already know is going to cross over to any set of instruments. But switching to electronics really puts knowing the foundational theory elements front and center. I think a lot more consciously about arrangement, key and tempo now. It was also neat to find out where my vocal range is on the piano spectrum, so I can try to avoid writing keyboard/synth parts in that same range; eliminating competition between elements in an arrangement. You never stop learning.
C: You went from playing no keyboards to playing three on stage while managing patches and loops and beats. Do you feel busier onstage than when you are playing bass and singing?
Greg: Without a doubt. I recently allowed myself to “dump” groove elements down to backing tracks just to simplify my live show. If you watch the YouTube channel live performances, I’m juggling three to five pieces of gear in real time at every performance. That’s okay when recording for YouTube, but there’s a lot that can go wrong live. So I’ve recorded all those hardware performances to tracks so that’s still my sound, but with a little less heavy lifting. And a lot less setting up and tearing down on stage.
With a live electronic music show, I feel that there’s a balancing act between keeping up a certain technically “perfect” level of performance and playing live and loose. Managing several parts at once creates a certain tension that pulls the show away from feeling like you’re just watching a person do karaoke. I’ve seen a lot of shows where it’s just a singer and their completely electronically-produced backing tracks and that doesn’t feel like a live performance to me. The singing might be good, but I need that live feeling to be there. I need that variation and some possibility for things to go wrong for it to be a show. Just not too much possibility for things to wrong. I’ve had some performances where I’ve triggered sequence changes incorrectly and it’s pretty awkward. You just wing it and hope it’s not too noticeable.
C: The songs you played tonight featured a great range of textures, rhythms, melodies and tone colors. Are your compositions normally begun with one aspect in mind, for instance, the beat track, or does your creative process on this project switch up the genesis from piece to piece.
Greg: Every piece of electronic gear has compositions living in it the same way that every acoustic instrument has compositions living inside it. The artist just has to play to find them. The same goes for every individual sound that the gear makes. In this project, I’ve found that just exploring what melody comes out of a given sound has been the starting point for every track I’ve done. There are lots of short phrases I’ve recorded over the last year and change that are just waiting for a good fleshing out. That’s how it goes— listen to something and let it develop over time.
C: What has been the most refreshing thing about this new musical direction for you?
Greg: Complete creative freedom. I tend to write in focused pop/rock arrangements, but when I’m playing by myself at home, I’ll tweak and create weird sounds and just live in that space for as long as I feel like it. A synthesizer is an incredible tool that can do almost anything you can figure out how to create. If I want to create a guitar/bass/drums rock sound, I can do that. If I want to make an arrangement out of nothing but laser gun sounds in a thunderstorm, I can do that.
C: What is your original instrument and which instrument, if any, do you identify with most, the one you call “home”?
Greg: My voice. My first and last instrument, until I die.
C: I just purchased your new “The Analog Lights: Live Takes” EP. Tell us all how to get a copy.
Greg: Sure thing! I bring physical CDs exclusively to shows. So if you want something you can clutch in your hands, find me at a show and get one. Otherwise, I keep a Bandcamp page where the music is available to buy as a download. That’s at http://theanaloglights.bandcamp.com.
Right now, the first Live Takes EP is up there, along with the “Divided Attention” single from March.
C: Have you any gigs coming up?
Greg: The library one I just did was the last one on the schedule for now, but I intend to play out with The Analog Lights pretty frequently in 2016. There’s talk of a quarterly “residence” type of arrangement at Corktown Studios in Detroit, and I tend to get asked on to shows fairly frequently. The best way to stay updated on The Analog Lights live show schedule is through its Facebook page, which is
Greg is a versatile musician with a wide range. He participates in many other local projects frequently, including “This Broken Machine”, a Nine Inch Nails tribute band, whose amazing work can be experienced on 11/27 at Small’s in Hamtramck. Doors open at 9, $8 cover. And keep an eye to the sky locally this winter for more from The Analog Lights.
Local Music Love: Analog Lights Illuminated Ferndale