Thursday, July 26, 2007

Interview: Straylight Run

If I could point out one band that really got me into music, it would be Straylight Run. The group exemplified the changing musical landscape by debuting with a batch of raw demos in 2003, which they made available for free download on their website. "Existentialism On Prom Night,” whose video records an exceptional slice of subway life, remains one of my favorite pieces of music. But unlike previous groups that grabbed my attention fleetingly, Straylight Run stood out not merely for its artistic output, but the integrity and creativity of the individuals that made up the band. As I played their self-titled debut album in the spring and summer of 2005, I became immersed not only in the songs, but in exploring what exactly it means to be an independent band in today’s musical environment.

MP3: Straylight Run – It’s Everybody’s Fault But Mine (Demo)
MP3: Straylight Run – Existentialism on Prom Night (Demo)
MP3: Straylight Run – A Slow Descent (Demo)
MP3: Straylight Run – It’s For The Best (Demo)
MP3: Straylight Run – Mistakes We Knew We Were Making (Demo)
MP3: Straylight Run – The Tension and the Terror (Demo)

Straylight Run is John Nolan, John’s sister Michelle, Shaun Cooper, Will Noon. The group recently released their second full length, The Needles The Space. One progression is apparent almost immediately; its jangly second track, “The Miracle That Never Came” demonstrates not only the band’s gravitation towards additional instrumentation – horns, strings, and tambourine – but Michelle’s emergence as a songwriter as prolific as her brother. While their first album is bolstered by her back-up vocals, as well as two late highlights in which she sings lead – the electrified “Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs” and the mournful “Now It’s Done” – her presence on The Needles The Space is far more pervasive, as she shares vocal duties on virtually every track and takes the lead far more often.

MP3: Straylight Run – Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs (Live on Domestic Disturbance)
MP3: Straylight Run – Now It’s Done (Live on WLIR)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle, and she stated that this shift was a natural process. While John had written the bulk of the material for their first album, even before Straylight came together as a band, the two year gap between albums allowed her to develop as a songwriter. However, the creative process encompasses the entire group. Michelle described the process as either she or John approaching the entire band with lyrics, perhaps accompanied by no more than an acoustic guitar, which is then fleshed out with the rhythm section. Some of the songs on the new album have existed in demo form for over a year, subsequently becoming live staples even before the new record's release. “What we do in the studio affects what we do live,” says Michelle, and it’s clear that the group has developed great depth instrumentally. To supplement this development, the band is regularly joined onstage by Isaac Burker and Jeff DaRosa (formerly of the Exit), as was the case back when I saw them last November, adding an increased density to each track.

MP3: Straylight Run - Still Alone (Live at Irving Plaza)
MP3: Straylight Run – This Is The End (Live at Irving Plaza)

The band enlisted Mike Sapone and Bryan Russell to produce their second record, but Michelle noted that the band had a direct input in the production process. The result is more reflective of the desires of the band as a whole. For example, the untitled twelfth track exists as an instrumental interlude, something the band wanted to do for the first album but couldn’t due to financial constraints. Unfortunately, such are the realities of an often harsh industry. Despite the band’s many assets, they left the studio without a record deal, eventually signing to Universal Republic, whom Michelle said demonstrated the most interest. “I think there’s more of an opportunity to get yourself out to people, but the [industry] wants to see numbers, if you’ve sold this number of records,” says Michelle.

The band is in the midst two-and-a-half week stint on the Warped Tour, which Michelle views with some apprehension, alluding to “Porta-potties” and “Bad Religion fans throwing things at us.” While Straylight may be a bit melodic for the Warped Tour, the band has deep roots in the music community. The new record includes horns played by former ska band members who are friends of Shaun's, as well as accordion from Tim Brennan of Dropkick Murphys. And if one examines Straylight's influences, they're in good company.

MP3: Straylight Run – Now My Heart Is Full (Morrissey Cover)
MP3: Straylight Run – Velvet Waltz (Built To Spill Cover)
MP3: Straylight Run - With God On Our Side (Bob Dylan Cover)

With such a constant tour schedule, it's unfortunate that something documenting one of their shows never materialized; footage shot a couple years ago for a live DVD was plagued with bad lighting. “It’s always nice to be able to give things to your fans,” says Michelle, alluding to the potential release of the audio, but it’s clear that Straylight Run has already given a lot already.

Official Site: Straylight Run

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