Brooklyn’s The Mystery Lights have built a solid following over the course of the last half-dozen years through their bi-coastal sound that incorporates vintage garage rock tones and gritty proto-punk snarl. After a three-year period that saw the group tour relentlessly, including some well-received stints in Europe, they’re primed and ready for the release of their sophomore album, Too Much Tension!. Produced by Wayne Gordon at Daptone Records’ House of Soul, the new album finds The Mystery Lights expanding their psychedelic garage rock sound to incorporate some synth-driven, post-punk elements with varied lyrical themes that address inner self-turmoil and the current state of world affairs.
Too Much Tension! is set for release this Friday, May 10 on Daptone/Wick Records. Soon thereafter, the band is heading out on U.S./Canadian tour with Future Punx in support of the new record, including a release show on May 18th at Music Hall of Williamsburg. We caught up with Mike Brandon of The Mystery Lights to chat about their new record and their upcoming tour.
Tell us about your new record, Too Much Tension!. How’d it come together, and how would you compare it to your first record?
We released our first album in 2016 and then basically toured non-stop. We then broke into Europe, and they kept inviting us out, so we were touring more than writing. We’d come home and hit up Wayne Gordon, who produced our first record and owns Our Wicked Lady, about working on our next record, too.
On the first record, we were getting to know each other’s style. On this one, we really clicked. We became more experimental as a result. It was more fun and easier to put together. Even though it took us three years, it was three years while we were on the road, so we were spending a lot of time together. We had the record done a year ago, but while we were on tour in Europe, Wayne called us and said he didn’t think it was ready. He encouraged us to write a few more songs. So, we came back, and we recorded the last three once we got back from tour. At that point, we felt it was perfect and ready to go.
Does the band write a lot on tour? Did you work on those last three songs while on the road?
Yeah, sometimes. I’ll jot down lyrics and melodies on tour. We’ll flesh out song structures sometimes during sound check, but there’s not a ton of time. Last summer, we had a few weeks between tours. The final songs we decided to record and put on the record are actually old songs. One is called, “Can’t Get Through To My Head,” which we originally recorded in 2015. We re-did it properly with Wayne at Daptone Studios. It sounded and felt better.
You’re originally from California, but you’ve lived in New York for a while now. Do you feel like you combine influences from the two places? How has New York influenced your sound?
Yeah, totally. We grew up on bands like Television, The Velvet Underground, Richard Hell – that scratchy punk sound, but being in California, we also had the influence of the hard-hitting garage rock of the 1960s. We loved the old Nuggets compilations, like that garage rock sound of The Monks and The Remains combined with that New York sound. Now, we’re going pretty deep in using synths like Suicide, which is New York-based. We have a permanent synth player now, Lily Rogers. We use a sampler, too. We’re keeping true to why we started playing music, which is that hard-hitting, nasty garage rock/punk sound, but also experimenting more with weird sounds and trippy stuff. We’ve been listening to a lot of Brian Eno, Can, and NEU!, to incorporate that psychedelic, experimental stuff into our sound. We’re branching out and we want to experiment with different styles while staying true to our original sound.
What influenced some of the lyrical themes on the record? It seems like Too Much Tension! can be interpreted in several ways.
It’s a combination of a lot of things. There’s some personal stuff like battling your own demons and the tension that comes with that. Also, when we wrote some of the record, it was back in 2017 when tensions were high with North Korea. So, that kind of global tension — everyone was on edge. This for some reason really resonated with us and we felt it, so it made sense. There’s another song on the record called “Watching The News Gives Me The Blues.” It plays off of that same theme. The record cover is kind of the balance between chaos and stability that plays into the whole vibe of tension. It’s also just kind of getting people to relax a little more. Not everything needs to be so serious.
How would you describe your live show? What can people expect?
Every show definitely feels different. I try to keep the shows real. I don’t like gimmicks. I like to have an interaction with the crowd that doesn’t feel showy. I want the crowd feel like they’re just watching us jamming, like we’re all having a good time. I don’t want a separation between the band and the fans. I want people to feel like, hey, we’re all here and it’s a party. It’s like what the Velvet Underground were doing back in the 60s. It was just one big party and they were the background music.
You can pre-order Too Much Tension! on vinyl via Bandcamp. Don’t miss the band’s tour kickoff and release show with Dirty Fences and Future Punx on Saturday, May 18 at Music Hall Of Williamsburg. Tickets are $15.00 if purchased in advance.
You can also catch The Mystery Lights on tour with Future Punx this June. For dates and locations, check out the band’s event page on Facebook.
May is underway in Bushwick, which means it’s time to get out and enjoy some gigs, including some rooftop ones! Here are some to check out this week:
Wednesday, May 8
Adeline, DUVV at C’mon Everybody, 8 p.m.
We simply can’t get enough of Adeline’s incredible debut solo record, so the second night of her residency at C’mon Everybody is our pick again this week! Her vocals shine throughout the record and her powerful voice filled the intimate C’mon Everybody at her residency kickoff last week. For the second installment, Adeline will be joined by DUVV, a Trinidadian-American singer-songwriter who plays a soothingly smooth blend of alternative hip-hop, R&B, and soul.
Thursday, May 9
Ex Hex, Versus, Thick at Elsewhere, 8 p.m.
Ex Hex, the Washington D.C. based project of Mary Timony, Betsy Wright, and Laura Harris returned in March with their stellar sophomore album, It’s Real. They’ve been taking their power-pop tunes in the road ever since with a stop coming up at Elsewhere this Thursday. They’ll be joined by Versus, who just released their first EP in almost a decade, and local trio Thick, who just dropped a raucous new EP of their own on Epitaph Records.
Friday, May 10
Cindy Cane’s Haunted House at Our Wicked Lady, 7:30 p.m.
Brooklyn’s favorite goth electro-punk, Cindy Cane, is hosting a two-night stand dubbed “Cindy Cane’s Haunted House” on the Our Wicked Lady Rooftop that’ll feature a tremendous cast of local musicians. Cindy Cane will cap off the night with a 12:30 am late night set but arrive early as Friday night’s lineup features performances from DA POP, HNRY FLWR, The Doilies, Toyzanne, Dropper, and Coco Verde. If you can’t make Friday night, pop into OWL for an all-day affair on Saturday. The festivities kick off at 3 p.m. and feature appearances from a who’s who of local acts, including Ghost Funk Orchestra, Material Girls, Stuyedeyed, GESSERIT, The Ferdy Mayne, The Mary Vision, Sugarlife, and more.
Saturday, May 11
The Natvral, Little Hustle, Scam Avenue at Coney Island Baby NYC, 7 p.m.
Saturday night at Coney Island Baby features The Natvral, the new solo project of Kip Berman of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Berman released his first EP as The Natvral, the folk-rock Know Me More, in October of last year. Little Hustle, a Bushwick based quartet, are releasing their debut album, Notepasser on May 10th. Sonically, the record is synth-driven and poppy with witty lyrics. Arrive early to catch a set from Scam Avenue, a local experiment pop outfit that describes their sound as “the soundtrack of a John Hughes movie produced by Brian Eno.”
All images courtesy of bands and mentioned venues.
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