Bright Light Bright Light – Interview

Mitch Cole
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Relocating from a small village in Wales in favour of London in order to busk on the busy underground, Rod Thomas, otherwise known as Bright Light Bright Light, released his debut album Make Me Believe In Hope in June 2012. It’s a wonderful record, full of sparkling electronic music paired with beautifully honest lyrics. The 80s inspiration is apparent throughout, but it’s the modern influences and concise production which really make these songs shine – Rod’s passion for his music is unmatched by so many artists.

Having garnered an array of positive attention, Make Me Believe In Hope was well received by critics and fans, praising the mature progression from earlier singles, as well as a fresh take on pop amidst so much “music by numbers”. Rod has had his singles added to Radio One playlists, as well as performing live at Bestival and several Prides, before supporting Scissor Sisters (who featured on his debut) during their UK tour. Having toyed with these album tracks for years, Rod decided to release an acoustic version of the album, one which highlights the sentiments and emotions behind each song wonderfully. I was lucky enough to catch up with the artist and talk about the new release, his inspirations, writing process, sexuality, career highlights, and the future of this project.

Vada: Thanks again for taking the time out to answer a few questions for us. You must be really busy, especially with the re-release of Make Me Believe In Hope. How did you come to record and release an acoustic version of your album?

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Bright Light Bright Light: It’s quite busy yes! I actually recorded the acoustic version of Make Me Believe In Hope over the last year in bits of down time. In 2012, I did quite a few solo piano concerts, so while I was rehearsing for them I just hit record and did some of the ‘Blueprints’ versions. Some of them worked really well, so I set aside time to finish the rest, so it came together gradually over the last few months.

You’ve included a spectrum of people on this re-release, including Beth Hirsch and Sunday Girl (with whom you previously met supporting Ellie Goulding). Your songs are quite personal so how did it feel letting these artists feature on them?

Collaboration is my favourite thing in music. I really loved hearing people’s voices interplay when I was growing up… PJ Harvey & Björk, Aretha Franklin & Elton John, Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel… I think adding another tone is a way to bring out more character in a song (when done right) so I asked some friends if they’d like to sing on some of the tracks, and it worked out. Some of the songs are personal, but they’re about interactions, so I thought there’s no better way to explore that side of it than by interacting with another voice.

What process do you go through when writing your songs? Are they autobiographical or more metaphoric in their approach/execution?

I’m more of a storyteller. I tend to overhear things and write about what I see and hear as much as what I go through. Ideas for songs come from all sorts of places, it’s usually that I hear something that triggers something in my mind, then it starts to write itself.

In regards to your earlier releases, who or what would you cite as your main influences and inspirations when making music?

Well when I first started writing music, I was in love with Joni Mitchell, Duncan Sheik, Dubstar, Tori Amos, Björk and Air. It wasn’t until a little later that other influences started to creep through, when I got a bit better at production. I’ve always been influenced by people with very strong identities – Pet Shop Boys, Elton John, David Bowie, Grace Jones – but those influences aren’t very evident in earlier acoustic guitar driven songs.

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For those that don’t know, this isn’t your first foray into music – you’ve been around for quite some time now, releasing singles and playing festivals . Did you have a “big break” or was it more a gradual chain of events that put you where you are today?

I think most artists who people perceive to have had a quick rise to fame have had a more gradual chain of events than anyone would realise. Most skill comes from practice and evolution, and most confidence or distinctive style comes from experience, so most people will have done a bit of ground work before “breaking”. I had a quite gradual move from busking on the subway to opening for Ellie Goulding, with lots of twists and turns on the way.

You’ve been open about your sexuality from the get go, something which we at Vada really admire. How does it feel knowing you’ve got such a strong, loyal gay fan base?

It’s amazing. I obviously spend a lot of time in gay bars when I’m in different cities, so it’s nice to feel a support from the community that I’m so involved in. It was very important to me to be open about my sexuality, and in a matter of fact way, as when I was growing up, the only gay figures that were really known were very theatrical, colourful figures who, while amazing, didn’t seem like the same kind of people as me, so I felt like I wasn’t part of that world. I think it’s great that now people can be out, and honest, and there is a whole spectrum of out gay public figures, so more different types of people have someone they can relate to.

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From supporting Ellie Goulding & Scissor Sisters to playing at Bestival, you’ve achieved some pretty impressive feats already. What would you say is your career highlight? And how has life changed for you since becoming a pop star?

Probably my career highlight is having Elton John tell me that he likes my record. I remember hearing him on the stereo in Wyvale Garden Centre buying a Christmas tree as a child, and singing along, and to think that he bought my record is wild. That and opening for Scissor Sisters. They were my favourite band for so long before I met them, and being their support act I really felt like I’d sort of made it, that my favourite band had taken me on the road – so weird and so wonderful. Elton said recently that there’s nothing in the world like someone you admire telling you that you’re on the right path, and he’s so right. It’s the most bizarre, reassuring, startling and comforting experience.

For those who are yet to hear your music, could you describe it in three words?

Melodramatic Electronic Pop

With the release of your acoustic album will come questions of your future plans. Can we expect an intimate tour highlighting Make Me Believe In Hope’s genius? Perhaps the prospect of studio time and new material? Or maybe a well deserved sit down?

I wouldn’t think too heavily about the acoustic album. It’s something that’s being released, to tie in with Cassette Store Day, that ties up the bow around Make Me Believe In Hope. I’ve been in the studio constantly through the whole album campaign and I have started playing new material in shows too. I’m finishing up the next album and will be doing some touring again in Spring. No sitting down (apart from this).

Make Me Believe In Hope (The New Batch) is available on iTunes now whilst Blueprints version is released September 16th.

About Mitch Cole

The love child of all seven dwarves, Bristol will always be home to me. With an unusual degree in Early Years Education, I'm keen to get my teeth into something new. Excited to write about anything and everything, I might even stimulate you with my emphatic opinions and disappointing vocabulary.