Since he burst onto the scene a decade ago, Bright Light Bright Light has blazed a trail up the music charts and into the collective minds of lovers of his distinct and unique style of 80’s style disco-pop house music.
From collaborations with artists like Elton John, the Scissor Sisters and now Niki Harris and Donna De Lory and a residency at Club Cumming In New York City, Bright Light Bright Light is ushering in a much needed dose of house music that is truly made for everyone. As we awaited the restart of the world, I caught up with Bright Light Bright Light to discuss his new single, the New York City love letter This Was My House, working with Sir Elton, & crafting a brand new way for the LGBTQ+ community to connect.
Michael Cook: The new single “This Was My House” is absolutely glorious! It features Niki Harris & Donna De Lory, and the video features a litany of New York City nightlife glitterati, which makes it a real party. Tell me about it.
Bright Light Bright Light: I had a drink with a friend of mine in New York City who had told me about his mother voting for Trump, despite him trying to explain the problematic nature of that for him as a gay man. When I was walking home after listening to him tell me this story, I actually wrote the song in my head. I sang it into the Notes on my iPhone and when I got home, I just sang it out in the software that I use to produce everything, and then I put a chord structure around it. I was trying to decide what to do with it and I had already been talking to Bill, who manages Niki Harris’ social media about possibly doing something together at some point. I had also started talking to Initial Talk on Instagram since I loved his remix of “Louise”. As for the whole “social message thing”, I mean I had not been very political I don’t think. I have been with my fundraising and my advocacy, but I am not a mouthpiece for society I guess you would say. I thought that the message was important though, that wherever you feel is your home, you should feel safe. I thought about when Madonna was doing a lot of outspoken & informational presentation of fact, with everything like “Like A Prayer”, The Blonde Ambition Tour and the The Girlie Show. When I sent the acapella to Initial Talk, he sent me back a track that is like a Shep Pettibone club mix, which I thought was amazing. I thought that was the connection, and I thought that maybe I could get people from that era on the track. I thought that I would see if Niki and Donna would do it, and then they did! It was kind of wild, and it was nice to put together a track that was meant to be from a place of weakness, but with an empowering message and with people that took an important message to an audience and helped empower them back in the day.
MC: Legendary DJ & producer Shep Pettibone remains one of your influences it sounds like, is that fair to say?
BLBL: I love him so much. His productions changed my life. He is one of my favorite producers, like the Salsoul remixes even before Madonna, he is just amazing. I adore that man.
MC: The music you craft is that house style type of music that people are getting back into, with the pots and pans style really starting to take a back seat. Do you think that is fair to say?
BLBL: I hope so (laughs). I have definitely seen it being referenced a lot more recently. Whenever I am playing something which is of this production era at the parties that I DJ for, people instantly respond to it. Speaking of Shep, it’s like the Cathy Dennis, the early Kylie, Madonna from that era, the dancier Whitney tracks, some of the Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, people have really gravitated towards that sound because it is just so hypnotic, and also not dark. It has the dark production sound in it, but it is just so joyful and euphoric. It’s so easy to dance and get lost in it.
MC: What was it like working with Niki and Donna and getting to collaborate with them on “This Was My House”?
BLBL: It was really fun. I was really nervous, I did not know what they would be like or if they even cared who I was, you never know you know? They were people that I worshipped before meeting them, which is not very common in my world. Most of the people that I have worked with I have at least been friends with before, so it was kind of a new experience for me. I turned up at their rehearsal studios the day before they had a show in New York City and they were just so lovely. Niki is a hoot and Donna is an absolutely gorgeous woman. Donna and I had been emailing before the session to sort everything out, talking about harmonies and parts and things like that. Niki was just hilarious and just so sassy and funny. It was lovely and really fun.
MC: If there was a vision board filled with some of the artists that people would love to collaborate with, you have definitely done it. Is there ever a world where you thought that you would be working with someone like Elton John on tracks like “All In The Name”.
BLBL: It was definitely very surreal then, and it still is now to be honest. Whenever I talk to Elton now, I think of my friend first. We speak all the time and we email and send silly GIF’s and poems that we like and things that you would send to friends really. I was very scared the first time that I worked with him. We were friends before that, but the pressure of being an unsigned person who has not really found the acclaim or the place in the world before working with someone like Elton, it is a lot. I mean, you could fail and it could be terrible. I did not have much confidence, so I was trying to get the song mixed before I went to work with him and my engineer pulled out. I had to do the mix of the song myself and it was the first time that I had done a mix of a song to present to someone totally by myself! I turned up in Atlanta to record the vocals with him and the studio engineer said “this mix is really cool”, and I thought “this is amazing”! Afterwards, I did actually tell Elton that that I had done it myself, so I had felt very proud. Just having him on the track, as a friend, was an amazing moment. As a fan, it was absolutely wild. Now, it is just crazy to think that we have done four songs together. He is just so supportive, he cares about music, he loves new music. You have seen the hundreds of articles about bands that he has given a shout out to to help them just because he likes their stuff, it’s amazing. All of the people that have come since him, it’s just so weird. Before Lorde’s first album came out, Elton was telling me all about a new Lorde remix that had come out on SoundCloud, it’s just so surreal. He’s just amazing.
MC: You are part of a New York City scene that is very important to the culture right now, and your party, Romy and Michele’s Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance is becoming legendary. Club Cumming is bringing a vibe back to that area that is truly needed and has not been truly seen since the mid-90’s. Do you think that is fair to say?
BLBL: It definitely feels like that. From someone that used to go to Eastern Bloc back in the day, I loved it. So did Alan (Cumming) that is why they took it over and kept it alive. To watch that space lose its audience towards the end, it was really quiet and really sad. I don’t know what causes that, I think people just get blasé. Maybe it lost some of its identity vs the other bars perhaps, I don’t know. When Alan and Daniel took it over and revitalized it, they rebranded it and made it feel like a hub. A family thing where anyone and everyone is welcome, on a Monday night people can get up and sing. I think that they made the East Village feel like it had spirit and life again. It is really cool to be part of that family. I don’t even think I was part of that family in London living there for nine years. Here, it feels like they really care about the people that are trying to do LGBTQ+ opus work and they really want to support it. They really give people these opportunities to try something out and let it flourish. There are also the personalities that are involved at Club Cumming. They are all so bonkers and unique and wonderful, it does feel sort of like a crazy Party Monster-eque ball, without being pretentious or precocious. People just turn up and they have fun and they want other people to have fun. My party is set up so that people who don’t have that outlet in their lives to listen to silly pop music or they don’t have that close network of friends or don’t like doing drugs, going out at night or drinking too much, or they work in nightlife and now they have a daytime event where they can go meet people, hang out, and not worry about anything for awhile. I have seen some of them collaborate on work together as well, and post that they are doing shows together. It feels nice to have seen, even within my own party, that is has created a little community. It’s a cute space, it feels busy when there are ten people or there are one hundred people. It’s fun, it means you can have a little space there where you can grow a party without having to worry about filling the space every single night. I think that’s really important for new ventures.
MC: What do you think are some of the biggest struggles and hurdles that queer artists are facing in the industry today?
BLBL: Maybe the label “queer artist”, maybe that is what makes it the hardest. On one hand, it’s a useful term and you have have this sort of camaraderie and it is easier to be connected to things like Pride events and other LGBTQ+ promoters if you are visible within that bracket. It is difficult, because everyone is not alike. For example, I am nothing like Le1f or Big Freedia or Caveboy, this amazing band I know from Canada, they are more indie pop leaning. There is a problem within the queer scene where things are not radical enough for certain people or too vanilla for other people. Trying to find your identity when being a queer artist without trying to pigeonhole yourself or without letting someone else pigeonhole you as being “allowed in the gang” is difficult. That is why I like Club Cumming. There is no door code to being allowed in that family, other than don’t be a prick. It is really nice and I feel like everyone there is given an equal shot at showing what they can do. Whereas using that LGBTQ+ artist tag is a little bit difficult because people are almost always judging before you have even shown who you are; there is sort of a silent eye roll of sorts. There is also the problem of saying “does that mean I am not an artist then”? There are people that don’t care about LGBTQ visibility and whether it is there or not, they just want music. You can find yourself in a position sometimes where only LGBTQ+ outlets will cover your work. It’s that division of community that may be the problem within it. I don’t know if it’s completely internal or external, it’s kind of like easy categorization. Helpful in some ways and in other ways, a little bit destructive.
MC: You have worked with so many amazing artists so far and accomplished a great deal. Five years from now, where do you want your career to go?
BLBL: I want to star in a shit horror film (laughs). I really want to be in a really terrible, low budget horror movie. I want to do lots of different things actually. I want to work in movie soundtracks, the composition side of things for sure. I obviously want to still be performing and touring and doing my own artist music. I set up this label YSKWN! to put out the new record and I am also using it as a method of connecting and supporting LGBTQ+ small businesses, creatives and entrepreneurs in whatever way I can. I would love to be able to find a way within the next five years to make that some sort of feasible platform where it can provide a real network of support for people like I was ten years ago. Lost and struggling to find the right people to connect with or needing to find resources to see who you could talk to about certain opportunities and different funding that is in place, charities that you can become involved with to really support causes that are close to your heart. I would love to be able to compartmentalize the fact that I do care very much about the LGBTQ+ community and about the creation of music, and to find a way to grow that idea and maybe employ more people. To have a team, that has enough knowledge between them to help the community that I feel so proud of and so much of a part of, to support itself.