Interview: All The Bright Lights

ATBL interview art

photo by Luke Hill

Since putting our their debut record back in 2010, I have kept up pretty closely with the guys in All The Bright Lights. In fact, we’ve become pretty good friends over the years. Two of the fellas are brothers– the ridiculously talented bro-duo- James and Jon Duke. The band is a trio, which makes it all the more impressive when you hear them live. The sound is so huge and often completely overwhelming for the listener. Most true ATBL fans know these guys from their presence on Twitter and Instagram. Some fans only know them by their music. As we approach the release of their second release, The Wind & The Waves, I wanted to make sure you all get to know the band a little better. And plus, hopefully reading what they have to say about this upcoming record will get you pumped. To kind of give you an idea of just how good the record is– I haven’t stopped listening to it since James sent it to me a month ago. That’s no joke.

TBI (Luke Goddard): James, Jon, Jacob. Hey fellas. You Charlotte bros doing good these days? Jon, you moved to Jacksonville, FL right?
James: I’m fine. Thank you for spelling Jon’s name right.
Jon: I’m doing just fine. I did move to Jacksonville, FL. I’m here now.
jacob: Doing fine thanks, how are you?

TBI: I’m doing well. Thanks for asking. Okay, for real guys. Do you ever listen to music sometimes and just get overwhelmed by it? Like you’re not sure whether to keep listening to it or turn it off? Can you think of a few records that grab you like that?
Jon: Yes, absolutely…. James and I discuss this very subject in our upcoming “conversation” on his blog. There’s a lot I could say about this, but we’ll save that for later.
Jacob: Yes. Mostly instrumental stuff. Hammock, Jonsi, and Alex Riceboy Sleeps. Also, the first time I saw The Killers’ Live DVD. I thought I was going to die.
James: I’ve been listening to Under Pressure non-stop. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie is the best combo of all time.

TBI: I’ve been sitting on your new record. Some days, it’s just too much for me. Music does that to me sometimes. Really good music. When you’re writing a record, like the coming release– The Wind & The Waves— are you high in energy after a day’s work in the studio or are you sort of wiped out emotionally? A lot has gone into this record and the process, right?
Jacob: I’m always wiped out after a day in the studio.
Jon: Yeah, me too. It’s draining. This was probably the easiest project I’ve ever worked on. We kept it pretty raw and the songs/parts sort of wrote themselves, in my opinion.

TBI: Where did you record the new record? Who produced the record?
Jacob: We started at Jon’s old house in Charlotte, NC. Then, we moved to my house. Then my wife and I moved and we finished the album at my current residence.
Jon: We produced it.

TBI: Who was the engineer?
Jacob: Me
Jon: Jacob
James: Jacob

TBI: Jacob, were you crying your eyeballs out the entire time y’all were recording?
Jacob: Sometimes.
Jon: He was the whole time.
James: He was wearing sunglasses the entire time so I couldn’t tell.

TBI: Jacob, you play drums for a few different folks on the side. Does it feel different or more suitable playing for ATBL?
Jacob: More suitable, yes. Most of the jobs I have require me to play with a certain precision. Especially in the recording world. ATBL allows me to be a little more human in my playing. More me.

TBI: The title for the song “Versus The Dark” is just perfect for the sound on that one. So moody. Jacob, you really know how to walk a fine line of being boss, but not coming off as “showy” on the drums. Who are some of your influences?
Jacob: I’m a classically trained percussionist and jazz drummer. For some reason, when I was growing up, I was totally oblivious to the radio and all the bands I should have been listening to. I listened to a lot of jazz and Garth Brooks (in the car with my dad). Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Art Blakey are some early influences. Then something changed and over the years I’ve been more interested in the sound of a drummer rather than what he’s playing. Some examples would be Steve Jordan, Larry Mullen Jr., and Ronnie Vannucci Jr.

TBI: I’m not sure I know a trio who puts out a more full sound than All The Bright Lights. It’s truly impressive. What pedals do you use on the reg in an ATBL set?
Jacob: I use dw9000 pedals. They’re huge.
James: I think he was talking to me, Jacob.

[Laughs]

TBI: Sorry, I should have clarified. It’s cool though– we can move right along. I feel like there’s more lyrics on this record than the debut. Who’s the lyricist? Your favorite line?
Jacob: Jon. I like the words to “Steps” & “The Wind & The Waves.”
Jon: Jacob, he said what “line.”
Jacob: Fine. From “Still Beating”: “I’m just making sure your bruised and broken heart is still beating.”
james: “Let’s make our steps a rhythm to the sound.”

TBI: Jon, probably the sleeper in this deal is I’m not sure people realize how great of a singing voice you have. I remember hearing you in Macon at The 567 when ATBL played. I was sort of like, “Whoa….” What’s your part in the songwriting process for an ATBL tune?
Jon: Thanks! That’s hard to answer. Typically, James and I will bring ideas and expound on them together or combine them. Like “Still Beating,” for instance, I had written that whole beginning section and played it for the guys and James was like “hmmmn, I have this idea that would work with that.” Which is the last part of the song. That happens a lot. “The Door,” off our debut record, was that way also.

TBI: Good grief man. “The Door” is one of my favorite songs. I still wear that track out. James, you’re known for your guitar. It’s pretty incredible the reputation you’ve built in your community. ATBL has been a vehicle that has taken you and the band to being on several soundtracks to movies, TV shows, etc. Sometimes I hate seeing guys like you held down as just a guitarist for a band whose music doesn’t line up with the depth of the said musician. You’re known for your work with John Mark McMillan. He’s an incredible songwriter and you add a whole ‘nother dimension to his sound. Do you feel like you’re neglecting what “could be” with your artistry as a musician by remaining exclusive to a band as their guitarist?
James: I never felt like I was neglecting anything, because I never thought it was about me. I love making music with my friends. So regardless of whose name is on the marquee, I am in it. I love the job of backing up someone with my guitar, trying to make their music the best it can be. The last couple of years I’ve been able to make my own music and it’s been an amazing experience. I will be focusing more on my music now, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing with other artists and bands. It’s an important part of my life as a musician.

TBI: Well man, I absolutely love your blog, Matters of Urgency. You have a section called “Conversations.” I find it interesting that you’re sort of this shy, introverted artist. Most true artists are… well, that’s sort of stereotypical of me. But you know what I mean. This “Conversations” section of your blog really brings out the hilarity of your personality. I swear you could write for an off-kilter comedy show. I’m pretty sure that’s why you have a lot of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram followers. You contact musicians in the biz and chat with them. How do you choose these folks to converse with on your blog?
James: Thanks. The idea for the conversations came from me being a little bored and insecure about my blog. I started that blog for myself to kind of answer some questions people have about my guitar rig and write about my life. Mainly because it created an outlet to write. I love writing. I didn’t really expect many people to find it or read it. When I started noticing it was getting a lot of traffic, I got really self conscious and a little embarrassed. So I just stopped writing on it, just posting random pictures and updates. So one day I had the idea to do these conversations with other musicians. Talk about life and music. I love reading stuff about musicians, and there really isn’t a lot of people offering that. It’s really gotten a good response, and it’s been fun for me to do something new and introduce people to really great musicians. As far as how I choose them, it’s just different every time. If someone pops in my head, I shoot them a message and ask them to do it. Nobody has said no. It’s been fun and just what I needed to help me get out of a rut. I made some friends, too.

TBI:  Do you credit some of your popularity to being in John Mark McMillan’s band? 
James: Yes. But it was definitely a process. You know, at this point, I have played guitar for 20 years. That’s a long time. I’ve played guitar longer than I’ve done anything besides breathing and talking. And sleeping. I love sleeping. Anyway, I’ve worked really hard. So while I started becoming more “known,”– I hate talking about this by the way– a couple of years ago when John Mark started getting some recognition, it was because of what I was doing prior that affected the music. For instance, it was playing with Jason Upton where I learned how to make the big, ambient washed out mess of a guitar sound that I then started incorporating to some of John Mark’s music. It was playing on dozens and dozens of records that taught me how to play and create in the studio to where now I finally feel like I sort of, maybe, kind of, almost know what I’m doing when I am making a record now. So while I would definitely agree the things I have done with John Mark have given me more of a platform recently, it would be a disservice to not acknowledge the people that gave me my first opportunities. Like Jason Upton. People like Leonard Jones and Suzy Wills-Yaraei. Those are the people that put me on stage and let me learn.

TBI: It’s pretty crazy you’ve been playing for 20 years now. Wow. Jon and Jacob, both of you guys play for Matt Redman occasionally at huge events where thousands upon thousands are there. John Lennon used to vomit before a Beatles TV performance or concert. Always thought that was crazy. Do you guys get nervous playing in front of crowds that size?
Jacob: The last time I got nervous was a show ATBL did this past December here in Charlotte, NC. All our friends came out. As soon as we started the first song, I was like, oh yeah… I have played drums before. Jon and I played with Matt Redman at the Georgia Dome with like 65,000 people… I pretty much never get nervous at huge venues. The first time I played an arena was really frightening.
Jon: My answer is the same. Intimate settings are more scary to me. I used to be so scared to sing in front of people… like the thought of it made me want to crawl in a hole. One day a friend of mine put his hand on my head and said “God is going to give you an unreasonable boldness… get ready.” It felt like a switch flipped. I’ve never told anyone that story.

OK, OFF-THE-WALL stuff:

TBI: What would the line-up be in your All The Bright Lights dream tour?
Jon: Maybe like us and… Katy Perry.
James: I want to do a tour of planetariums. We can play music and people can sit down and look at the stars.
Jacob: What’s your ATBL dream tour lineup?

TBI: I’d love to see y’all tour with Lights & Motion. That would be a perfect tour. While on the road, what’s 3 items you MUST HAVE?
Jon: My knife.
James: Air conditioning. Pillow fights.
Jacob: I like to drink coffee three times a day.

TBI: If you could have one superhuman ability, what would it be and why?
Jacob: Hold my breath underwater indefinitely.
Jon: I would have “super punch.”
James: Pass.

TBI: Which of the following should John Mayer have not broken up with: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mandy Moore, Taylor Swift, Minka Kelly, Jessica Simpson, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Anniston, or the current (assuming he breaks her heart too) Katy Perry?
Jacob: Steve Jordan
Jon: Mila Kunis.
James: He dated Jennifer Love Hewitt?

TBI: I’m a huge John Mayer fan, James. So yes, he dated Jennifer Love Hewitt. Click here and you can see for yourself. I missed the Mila Kunis fling though, Jon. Thanks for the info. What’s your favorite iPhone app?
Jacob: I recently took Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram off my phone. So… mail? Or messages.
Jon: ummm….
James: Twitter, I think.

TBI: What’s some of the most visited websites on your computer?
Jacob: Any Mac Rumors type page. Mycymbal.com & Bank of America site.
Jon: http://www.theblueindian.com !
James: MMA websites. For real.

TBI: Well Jon definitely wins the award for the best answer to that question. Okay boys, thanks for your time. When can we expect the new ATBL record The Wind & The Waves? Tell us first!
James: We are working on it! It’s finished. We are just tying up some loose ends. Soon!

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