Bright Light Bright Light (aka Rod Thomas) made splashes with his debut album Make Me Believe In Hope
, a melancholy but heartwarming collection of cool electronic pop music that became a cult hit. Surprisingly, being an unsigned artist hasn't stopped Welsh-born Rod from upping sticks to New York, writing songs with various members of the Scissor Sisters and even recording a duet with Elton John (!).
Now Rod's back with his rather excellent second album, Life Is Easy
, so I caught up with the handsome Welshman for a much-needed catch-up.
Your new album, Life Is Easy, is out very soon. Does it feel like you're about to give birth to a child?
"A little bit. Maybe more with this album than the last one, because this one was really written and recorded in a very particular time. So start to finish has been quite fast, I suppose. I wouldn't say the last year and a half flew by - it felt like a really good pace - but it's such a specific amount of time that it does feel more like a child. A big child."
Talk me through the album?
"Really, the album is a snapshot of this year and a half I had. It's really easy somewhere like London, or wherever you've lived for a long time, to feel quite stale and feel a bit suffocated by all the things that you do every single day. It was at a point where I thought, 'OK, I need to do something to feel more excited again, feel more alive and a bit more high energy'. So to write a new record, I thought it would be good to have new surroundings to inspire new ideas and new material. Because I really like New York, I thought I'd see what happened if I moved there to work on this album."
How was that move?
"It was really good. It felt amazing to be in a new place, meet new people, to bounce ideas off new musicians and have a new world to write about and write with. So the whole album is about not focusing on things that you don't have, but focusing on opportunities that you do have, people that you do have, people who bring out the best in you and to appreciate all the things that are good in your life. So much of the world is about getting a better this or that. It's like, 'Shit, I'm not good enough, shit I haven't got what everyone else has got'..."
I get that.
"You know, we need to constantly change. And actually, after that one change, while things were evolving in my life, I didn't feel like I needed to completely redesign everything else. It was nice having surroundings for a year where I was happy and I let myself enjoy it. So, a lot of the warmth of the album comes from that- from feeling better equipped to deal with stress, having a better perspective and just falling back in love with life and making music again."
While the new album is quite similar to your debut in some way, it seems like a lot of thought has gone into making it different.
"It's moved on, I think. I didn't want to make a record that sounded just like the last one. I don't think that would very healthy. It's a bit lazy, you know? I wanted to see how much I could push myself with the production and with arrangements. I've used other vocalists on the album to do backing vocals. It makes it more like a choir at times, it feels more human. The different styles that I've used in different songs is partly because it rounds up that year and a half of my life. So it is high points, low points, energy, calm... it kind of makes a photo album."
Being an out gay artist, do you feel there's an expectation that you should act in a certain way?
"Personally, no. I don't think I've ever operated in a sphere other than normal gigging. There's a very different world of music where you have gay promoters and gay clubs - some people tend to do live PAs more at certain gay bars in New York, London or wherever, but I'm not really part of that scene. I have done a few of those shows, but it really does remind me that I'm not really in that world. There's nothing wrong with that world, it's really fun and people have a really great time being part of that, but it's just a different audience."
In what ways are you not part of it?
"I'm, I suppose, an artist where, obviously a lot of my fanbase are gay men, but an equal amount are mothers, parents and straight men and women who would never think to go and watch me in that kind of venue. And truthfully, the show that you can present in that kind of venue is very different from the show that I want to present as me as an artist in general. PA shows, which are really great to do, mean that you can't do any of the softer material. It tends to be the high-octane stuff. You don't get to be as three dimensional as you'd want. So I don't feel like I've ever been pushed into that world, but it's nice to dip in-and-out of it.I'm not really styled as a traditional gay artist, I suppose. It's a tricky one."
I had a chat with Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair recently, and he was saying that his music is really grounded in queer culture and gay nightlife, whereas your music really isn't.
"No it's not. I'm really not somebody who's presenting myself as a queer theorist or a queer rights campaigner. I'm very open about my sexuality but, well, somebody called me boring once, or they called me vanilla. Fuck it, great, because I didn't ever want to be that. I never associated myself with someone who was, like, a queer theorist, or came from that world of struggle, torment and performance, which is another valid world. I am not that person. For everybody like that you have one of me - who somebody equally as 'boring' growing up in the Welsh Valleys can identify with."
Are you a fan of Hercules and Love Affair?
"I really love what Hercules and Love Affair do. All of their albums are so incredible, and they really do push it on stage. I remember seeing them do the last album live and I wanted to be on stage with them so much. The type of person and artist I am is different. I'm not as outgoing as them, and I'm not as confident and fierce as them. I can give it, but there are elements of me that are more normal. And I'm happy with that."
Would you do an album with them if Andy asked you?
"I would die to be on their next record. I love them. I think the talent there is immense."
People on Twitter and Facebook can be a bit much with the requests that they send their favourite artists. Have you experienced much of this?
"There are moments of pushing the boundaries, I suppose. The main thing that I get are people asking for things that I can't provide. I have a lot of amazing fans but they're collectors. They want everything they can, which I can't provide. I struggle because I am the label, I am the musician, the driver, the tour manager and everything else. I'm not physically with
the stock to post it out. I don't really get people being too lewd."
You don't get people asking you to come to their dungeons?
"No, no dungeon requests. I've had people send me pictures of themselves in the bath, or whatever. I'm just like, 'Well, have a nice bath.' Haha!"
Finally, if you could sum up the new record in three words what would they be?
"Enjoying life again."
Bright Light Bright Light releases his second album Life Is Easy on July 7.