Part of being a successful, long-term entertainer is seeing a demand not being met and filling it, rather than copying other current trends for a quick hit. Rod Thomas' project Bright Light Bright Light sounds completely unique in a landscape of sluggish hip-hop, pop confection and male singers with barely a voice. Bright Light Bright Light hits you right in the sweet spot we all have for strong male vocals over slick, synthy dance tracks with straightforward lyrics that are often equal parts heart-wrenching and joyfully romantic. He just released his third album, Life Is Hard ( the remix of his second album, Life is Easy ) and finished a tour with Elton John. Now he's ready to take on the house that house music built for his first Chicago gig, and I got to sit down with him for a heart-to-heart, one synth boy to another.
Moose: You've had two traditional LPs of original material and now a new remix album. When looking at having others remix your material, what do you look for in a DJ?
Rod Thomas: I look for someone who teases out the best elements of a song. Like Todd Terry's mixes of "Hyperballad" or "Missing." He kept the most beautiful parts, then took the rest into a very different and brilliant place. Someone whose mixes have a real personality and energy
M: Do you get to give feedback after the mixes are received?
RT: I do, but I'm wary of saying too much in terms of amendments; if you have a real particular sound you want, it's unfair to make someone do something you want rather than what they feel.
M: Well, the collection turned out great. Remixed enough to feel new, but not trampling over your meaningful lyrics. On lyrics, your writing style is very raw, personal and heartfeltsomething we don't see much lately, at least from male writers. Many of your songs tend to deal with the extreme highs or extreme lows of love. What are the pros and cons of being so open and exposed in your very public art?
RT: The main pro is being able to write a song actually about something, which is really important to me. The con is that people automatically assume it's a bit of a diary entry, whereas some key songs aren't about me. "Grace" is about a friend's relationship, as is "Moves," and "Feel It" is about Laura Palmer's diary in Twin Peaks. Life Is Easy is much more about how I felt, though.
M: I'd not be doing my job if I didn't ask about recent collaborations with two very large gay icons: Elton John, with whom you toured; and Scissor Sisters' Ana Mantronix, with whom you've worked twice. With Elton, being around such a huge songwriting genius, did it change the way you look at writing material for your next project at all?
RT: I think every person you work with changes the way you look at future writing in many ways. But with him, yes, both to push in new directions, and also to give myself some credit and believe in myself, as he liked my writing. He's an incredibly inspiring man.
M: You've now worked with at least two Scissor Sisters more than once. Any chance in the works of working with Jake and the whole unit?
RT: Wouldn't that be fun! I would love that to happen so much.
M: Your upcoming gig at Northalsted Market Days in Chicago, is it your first Chicago visit?
RT: Yes! Unbelievably, it's my first time to Chicago. I've been dying to come visit for a very long time, so I'm really excited.
M: It's going to be a lot of fun!
Catch Bright Light Bright Light at Northasted Market Days, Sunday, August 9 at 1:30 pm. DJ Moose will be spinning a Bright Light Bright Light & Friends set at Grrr! at The SoFo Tap on Friday, August 7.