How Does It Feel: An Interview with Bright Light Bright Light

Online Music Editor Chloë Edwards spoke to Rod Thomas of Bright Light Bright Light to talk influences, his songwriting process, and whether Sir Elton gave him any advice along the way.

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From growing up in a small village in the south of Wales to preparing for an upcoming tour with pop icons Erasure, Rod Thomas (also known under the stage moniker Bright Light Bright Light) has had a busy few years releasing sparkling genre-blending records of his own, starring in The League of Gentlemen and touring with Sir Elton John (among others), who alongside the Scissor Sisters, is one of the artists Thomas collaborated with on his latest record Choreography. He spoke to Exeposé Music to talk about influences, his songwriting process, and whether Sir Elton gave him any advice along the way.

Hi Rod, hope you’re well and thank you for your time! Next month sees your tour with Erasure kick off, how are you feeling ahead of this? I’ve read that Erasure are a huge influence of yours, as well as friends, and your music feels really well-suited for the band.

I’m really excited! They are indeed a huge influence – they’re one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to music. I think they’re one of the most important acts to come out of the UK. It’s such a joy to be able to go on the road with someone you love, there’s no better reward really!

I really admire the hints of 1980s pop influences in your signature, especially on Choreography, yet your music sounds so contemporary. Which other artists do you consider as core influences?

People like Elton John, Kate Bush, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys … people who have shifted musical and visual styles through the years but you can still tell immediately that it’s them. I’m also very influenced by people like David Morales, Frankie Knuckles and Todd Terry who made monster club hits from songs that weren’t always dancefloor based. They really make my brain think that you could re-work and re-imagine a vocal part into lots of different forms, and it made think outside of the box when it came to producing music.

The colour palate of 80s cinema is very close to my heart

The aesthetics of your music are almost as memorable as the songs themselves, who, or what, inspires your visuals, such as your music videos and album artwork?

I love film, I’m such a film nerd. And I don’t mean highbrow, critically-acclaimed cinema really! I love everything from Hollywood classics to b-movies. A huge influence of mine is the trend of dance sequences in 80s/90s cinema like the scenes in Mannequin, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, Perfect, The Breakfast Club or more recently Ex Machina. I love the punctuation of action and plot with something that lets the characters come to life or get a bit weird. The colour palate of 80s cinema is very close to my heart, and the tongue-in-cheek tone of the 80s and 90s really resonates with me. I love a good low-budget horror, and a ridiculous comedy. Something that makes the film human and lets you see beyond the screen. Although I’m also a sucker for Blade Runner, Alien and Ex Machina where the worlds are so real it’s unbelievable …

You seem to have a knack for producing such infectiously upbeat and refreshing tracks and records, what’s your songwriting process like?

It changes a lot song to song. I’m not really musically trained, so it usually involves a lot of improvisation. Some songs are written almost in the time they sake to sing (‘I Wish We Were Leaving’/‘Little Bit’) and some take a while to re-work and refine (‘I Only Want to Please You’/’Feel It’). Some start with a vocal idea, and some from a looped beat. There’s no rhyme or reason. But I think that’s what keeps it interesting! I never really know where inspiration is going to come from.

As an LGBT artist, who’s worked with many other LGBT artists, do you think it’s important or necessary that artists are open about their sexualities in their music? How have your experiences been with this?

I think it’s important for the artist’s sanity that they can be honest with who they are and present themselves in a way they’re comfortable with. I think it’s important for young LGBTQ+ people to have role models they can be inspired by, look up to and find hope in. But I don’t think anybody should be pressured to divulge personal information that they don’t see as relevant to their artistic creations if they’re still coming to terms with things. I hate the “oh look who FINALLY came out – surprise!!” backlash more than anything. I personally was much happier since coming out, and being able to talk honestly about my sexuality in lyrics and interviews is such a blessing. BUT … I know it’s not always as simple for everyone. For example, I don’t know what sexuality the Daft Punk guys identify with, and I don’t care. They adopt personas and it’s irrelevant to their robotic creations. You know what I mean?

I think it’s important for young LGBTQ+ people to have role models

Your music seems to be a breath of fresh air in terms of the current Welsh music scene, is this something you agree with?

I haven’t lived in Wales since I was 18 so I couldn’t possibly say! I think there are some great Welsh musicians, but I’m not based there so I have no idea what the scene is like there at the moment!

Among your discography is your latest record Choreography, which features the Scissor Sisters and Sir Elton John. After supporting both acts, how did you go from touring with these artists to making music together?

Friendships. They’re the most crucial and rewarding things when music is in question. I’ve worked with people who were connected through industry people, and have had some great times and great results, but working with people you get on with on a really personal level can make it so much more incredible: laughing, joking, getting each other’s very niche references … For these two in particular, we got on so well, it seemed natural to work together, and was a real blast.

I never really know where inspiration is going to come from.

How has working with these artists (as well as Alan Cumming) been? Have they given you any advice or words to follow?

Endless words of advice, but also knowing who I am, what I do, and where I want to end up, it’s usually a lot more sage and relevant than giving advice to, say, a contemporary in the industry who doesn’t know your personal or professional past.

2017 saw the two Cinematography EPs and a role in The League of Gentlemen, what are your hopes for this year, on top of next month’s tour?

More new music. I’m always working on new music. Hopefully more shows of my own through the year, where I can play some new songs and see how they feel live. It’s going to be a very creative year as last year was so crazy.

Lastly, having studied at Warwick University, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to our readers who are currently studying and hoping to pursue a career in music or the creative industry?

Buckle up and get ready to work hard for your rewards. Nothing comes easy, but the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. I’d say think about exactly what you want to achieve creatively before you start. People laugh because I make mood boards for songs: colour schemes, references, costume sketches, what I want a drum hit to sound like … but the more you can fully flesh out an idea, the closer you can come to achieving it and have fun in the process!

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