Rocked to Sleep, Grown-Up Style

Photo courtesy of Myspace

The word “ambient” has gotten such a bad rap with those folks of the mainstream, but those particular haters whose thoughts might be more Enya than Eno, please, hate no longer. Because of the pioneers of ambience (such as Eno), the music of Neu!, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, New Order, Boards of Canada, Massive Attack, Portishead, Ulrich Schnauss, Aphex Twin and Autechre has developed into more than something to just tune in and tune out to. There are so many facets of this blurry, dreamy genre, and Milwaukee is called home to one very talented set of this un-graspable, but very effective and engrossing style of music makers.

Fan-belt’s Erin Wolf asked guitarist/vocalist Chris Schafer of local band Lights Out Asia (along with Mike Ystad on electronics and Mike Rush on guitar/bass) for his take on being a band in Milwaukee creating this music of vapor and changing mood, and what’s in store with the release of their new album Eyes Like Brontide this Saturday at the Cactus Club.

There was a good length of time between Lights Out Asia’s first release, “Garmonia” (2003) and the second, “Tanks and Recognizers” (2007), and now, there’s an even fresher release, “Eyes Like Brontide” (2008). Was there more time between the first two CDs because of the label changes (from Sun Sea Sky to n5MD), or were there other reasons?

The label switch played into that, but we also, within those years, went through big personal changes. Also, we had gone through about fifty songs before picking the lineup for “Tanks”. We just really wanted to make sure that it was right for us and if it took years to do that, then it was what it was.

There was an interesting transition from your first release to your second…not as many vocals, etc., but it wasn’t a shocking change of sound. Is the new album in line with the first two, or is there anything that will throw listeners off-guard? And explain the title — ‘brontide’ is a rumbling noise caused by seismic activity…any particular tie-in to the new album’s material and its being more apocalyptic or anything of that nature?

Well, that’s for the listeners to decide. We still think we sound like us. We haven’t tried to transform ourselves into something radically different. “Eyes Like Brontide” is a little less polite than “Garmonia”. It certainly gets heavier, but it’s also very pretty, we think. It is more consistent than “Tanks” was, and perhaps a bit more musically unified where “Tanks” was gritty and diverse and all over the place. “Brontide” has a very good flow from beginning to end, and captures a certain feeling that we have tried to evoke musically, but can’t really describe. 

As for the title, it felt right to us. We can’t tell you how or why.

Where was the new material written and recorded? What was the process like this time around?

The music was recorded in Bay View, and the process was much like “Tanks and Recognizers”, although we had less time to put this album together. We used the same tools and the same methods, but we have become quicker at working. Much of our time is spent on arranging and production as on playing instruments. We mostly record one part at a time and everyone has feedback and influence over everything. We are not a band to write songs with one guy on guitar, one on keys and another on vocals and a strict ‘ownership’ over parts. Our way of working requires good communication, and it sometimes takes a loooong time to make progress.

Which of the band members could be considered to be the catalyst?

Boba Fett is the catalyst.

‘Ambient’ is a term often used to loosely classify the type of music Lights Out Asia writes. Is this term correct? Is there any other genre that would provide a more pin-pointed description? 

I don’t know what genre we are. Our music draws from a lot of different styles. Ambient is one, although we don’t consider ourselves to be ambient in the way that Brian Eno intends the term. We also draw from shoegaze guitar bands, some post-rock stuff like Mogwai and such, even IDM and more abstract electronic music. People have noticed some ‘dream pop’ elements in our sound, which we also acknowledge. Somebody called us ‘sleep rock’. That works, but we hope that not many people will be sleeping through this next one.

I see ourselves as keeping with the spirit of bands on labels like 4AD. A lot of the bands on that label, particularly in the 1980s, were not afraid to incorporate different styles. There was ambient stuff, drum machines, guitars and interesting traditional instruments going on all at once. The music was pop as well as rock. It was a lot of different things, but yet there was a certain musical unity even within the stylistic diversity. We feel that we do the same things, to a certain extent. Our influences are all over the place:  soundtrack music, IDM, trip-hop, even a little post-punk.

Maybe that makes us ‘prog’. But one thing we don’t do is throw styles in there just for the effect. We don’t want our listeners to notice “oh, here’s the shoe-gaze-y part,” and “wow–I like how they went from ambient to trip-hop”. That would be totally cheesy. We just make music. We use whatever seems appropriate to us at the time. The decision is always based on the song, never any kind of cleverness or conceptual trickery. That doesn’t really help with the genre-thing, does it? Believe me, we would love to know what to call ourselves. Maybe post-dreampop? Narnia-rock? Fudgebient?

What’s it like to play this type of music in Milwaukee? The Midwest is not typically known for its electronic prowess…that’s normally left up to Europe and even the Coasts…

Well, there’s a certain legacy of electronic music in Milwaukee, such as Casino Versus Japan, Signaldrift, and others. There’s also a tradition of more experimental and (dare we say it?) post-rock music being made here. But we aren’t really part of a ‘scene’ in any way, at least not in Milwaukee.

We’ve had good feedback in Milwaukee but most of our fan base comes from other places, people who have heard the album on college or Internet radio, or who have sought out our music through various ways. So, playing in Milwaukee is fun. We don’t do it a lot, though. When we do play, we usually play with bands that are very different from us, and the audience doesn’t always know what to expect, but they are nearly always appreciative.

What can Milwaukee expect at your release show on Saturday?

Lots of new material off of “Brontide”, cold and tasty beverages, and perhaps a few floor exercises just to warm up the crowd.


Lights Out Asia hosts their CD Release for “Eyes Like Brontide” at the Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth. Show starts at 10 p.m. Also with Strangest Places (CD Release Show) and BTS. WRKNG.
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