Light House is a two-piece group that is hard to categorize music-wise. They stumble upon each other as their intricate music is filled to the brink with cold wave, minimal synth, industrial, dark wave and everything in between. The core members of Light House have always been Chris Relyea and Dawn Sharp, with occasional help from Brooks Blackhawk (Atriarch) and their new addition to the gang – Frank Burkard, whom you’ll know more about if you read this interview. It’s one of those groups that you simply set your eyes on and couldn’t turn away for a moment. When I started listening to their music, I was simply hooked. Since 2011, they’ve released everything from their self-released 7¨ in that year, to their “2012 / WISHBONE” 7¨ which was released in 2012. To their first EP ever, titled “In Their Image EP“, which was first released by Freee Records and later on, in 2013 – re-released by Mannequin Records. Here, in this interview, you’ll get to know a little bit more about their forthcoming album, how they evolved, what Light House means to them, their thoughts about their own music, and much more. Read this or leave it be, but I bet it won’t leave you unshaken.
When you emerged in 2011 it seems like you had some material to play shows, but only shows. As if there weren’t enough for a release back then. How did Light House come to be and when did you even think of releasing your first record, as it came out the same year?
– Chris and I practiced for about six months before we played our first show so by then we’d already written about six or seven songs. We wanted to play out a lot that first year and let Light House develop so that was the focus then. However, we actually write new material pretty frequently and always have, so when Chris and I self released the first 7″ we were already thinking about an EP or a full length. Chris and I have been friends for about fifteen years. I’ve seen him play in most of his bands and attempting a project together has actually been an idea in the peripheral for maybe ten years. I was doing a clothing line for several years and Chris has generally had some music project going the whole time I’ve known him, so we were both just focused elsewhere. When I moved back to Portland from L.A. we revisited the idea and agreed that the time seemed right so when we began practicing we already had pretty solid intentions of seeing something come to fruition.
What was the process like to self-release your first record under your name of “Light House”, considering that you’re very close to each other? Since it went pretty quickly, could you elaborate?
– Well, like I said, we had a fair amount of material to work with early on so making that first 7″ was the natural progression toward doing an EP. I think we talked about self releasing a 7″ just a couple of months after we started practicing. Our friend Robert Burns, an industrial musician, recorded and mixed the songs at his studio in Portland. It came together in about four days. Robert also plays the role of the A.V. guy in our official video for “The Walls Want Communion” and he made the live videos of ours that are up on YouTube. He’s been a huge supporter. Making the 7″ was relatively painless, Chris is very easy going and pragmatic about things. That was my first experience with semi professional recording and I’d say it was a great first taste.
Our actual song writing process usually involves Chris sending me simple digital tracks, something like a heartbeat drum or a minimal arpeggiator track and I’ll listen to a few and find something that I can work with lyrically. I’ll develop something over the original track and then we’ll just continue adding layers and curating the song until it seems finished, or ready enough to play live. We generally continue with the process pretty far into the songs existence. Some of the previously released tracks have even had changes made to them since their release.
Since Chris has obviously been involved in other projects, and you too, what kind of experiences have you drawn from that, which have been useful for you in Light House?
Chris: – My previous projects gave me a good foundation in finding the balance of several peoples inputs and layering them to make what is impossible alone. The experiences really make me appreciate how Dawn and I can work together. Our creations mesh together really well.
Dawn: – I had a clothing line for about 7 years and have done a handful of acting but this is my first band. I’ve always written and now I just channel a lot of that into lyrics for Light House. Chris is really intuitive and receptive to developing songs influenced by their lyrical content and together it feels very much like ‘our’ creation.
As you’ve played live a lot of times during the first year of Light House, what was it like when you played your first show? Also, what were the other ones like?
– Our first show was at Dunes in N.E. Portland. I’m really glad we did it there as it closed shortly after and it was definitely a time and place that that venue existed for a lot of us. We arranged that first show and only invited a handful of friends, most of which are in bands we’ve since played with (Soft Metals, Litanic Mask, Vice Device, Lost Lockets, DBC). I was so nervous, we wanted to break the ice with just friends before our first public show. It ended up being really special to introduce the project to the world that way. I remember we did a Suburban Lawns cover and a Death In June cover. Since then performing has definitely gotten more comfortable and enjoyable. The last show we just played was a live taping of Experimental Half Hour, where we had to perform in front of a huge green screen and a live studio audience. Each show has been unique and all the variables are definitely what makes the live experience so rewarding in it’s own particular way.
When 2011 progressed into 2012, where would you find yourselves after having done a lot of shows? When did you start to write material for releases, anew?
– I guess by early 2012 we’d already played out of Portland a handful of times and released the seven inch. We definitely had our sights set on an EP or a full length. Brooks Blackhawk (Atriarch) joined Light House on guitar and a couple of months later we went in to record some songs with Brooks at Red Lantern studios. These four songs later became the In Their Image EP but at the time, we were just trying to document our new sound with guitar.
This is where the misconceptions seem to stream in, though in 2013, mainly. There seem to have been a lot of those surrounding Light House. How was it to record together with Brooks Blackhawk for the first time, and where do these misconception stem from?
– We recorded the songs on the EP on analog tape and the whole session took about 5 hours. I only did maybe three vocal takes of each song. We actually weren’t recording them at the time for vinyl – we were just trying to document our sound with the addition of Brooks. Mixing the songs proved a little trying so we consulted a friend for her opinion. This friend was Honey Owens (Miracles Club, Ecstasy records). She gave us a lot of good suggestions with the mixes and then said “and I’d also like to put the songs out as an EP”. She created a sub label of Ecstasy called Freee to release the EP and the official record release date for the first pressing was 12/12/12.
I haven’t seen too many major misconceptions printed about Light House but I’ve definitely read some misinformation. A tape label run by Remi Marc called Sweating Tapes released a compilation of Portland bands a couple years ago which contained our song ‘2012’ and I think somehow that release got mixed up with our EP release so I read in a few places that the ‘In Their Image’ EP originally came out on cassette but this isn’t the case. It’s just had two releases, both on vinyl. One released by Freee – and now distributed through Light House directly and the second pressing, distributed by Mannequin records – our current label. Also although Brooks is on the EP he actually hasn’t been in the band for about a year. The current line up is Chris and I and we’ve just recently introduced Frank Burkard (Deathcharge, Lebenden Toten) on bass.
That’s very interesting, how people contribute in their own unique way and inspire. Now, what prompted you to go with Mannequin Records? Also, what made you think of re-releasing “In Their Image” on Mannequin?
– Mannequin approached us after the release of our video for The Walls Want Communion. They wanted to repress the EP in Europe and they seemed like a great label for us so we signed with them and moved forward with it.
Is Frank Burkard going to be with you when you’re playing live, or are you recording new material as we speak?
– Frank is set to play his first show with us at the end of September and I suspect he’ll also be on the album we’re currently conceptualizing. We’ll see where things go from there but I’m certainly hopeful about his contribution.
So, in other words, your forthcoming album will also be released on there? How far have you come into your creative process of conceptualizing the album?
– Yes, I believe we’ll release the album with Mannequin. We have about 6 songs completely ready and plan to develop 2-4 more over September and hopefully get in to record by the beginning of October.
When thinking about your releases so far, I was wondering – do you have a continual point that you are trying to reach, by progressing through and through, or do you have certain thought out “themes” lyrically and conceptually?
– We definitely feel that music is a portal and can harness great power so we develop most of the songs with the intention of connecting and if at all possible enlightening the listener. Most of my lyrics begin as poems and get reshaped to work with music. All tell a specific story. I’d say romance and spirituality are continued ‘themes’ for Light House.
Does this mean that Dawn creates the lyrics and Chris Relyea the music? Or do you co-operate on those parts too? Also, what kind of gear do you normally bring along for live encounters, as well as in the studio when you record?
– Chris is responsible for the original sounds but both of us create and develop the songs together. I write all of the lyrics. We use a Sequential Circuits – MAX, Korg – Micro-x, Korg Electribe ER1, Korg Electribe ES2, Rhodes electric piano, Kay hollow-body guitar, Tune in Tokyo and several home-made tone generators and oscillators, Roland TR-505, Roland space echo, Delay 1, and a casiotone M1.
Earlier, you said that you’ve been a part of the Experimental Half-Hour. Why did you get invited and what was it like?
– I met Eva and Brock a year or two ago in Portland and EHH has always been on our radar. We were excited when they asked us to play the live taping show recently at Mississippi Studios. It was strange to perform in bright lights and in front of a huge green screen, especially with an audience present but it was a really fun and creative environment, I’m glad we could be a part of it.
Lately, since you re-released your latest EP, you’ve been getting a lot of positive reviews. What have the response been on it and what do you think about that release yourselves?
– The response to the EP has been very positive. I think it’s always been a bit strange for Chris and I because as I said those four tracks were not recorded with the intention of going onto vinyl, we were just recording them to get new music on line to then possibly get a label and record an actual album. So, because of this the tracks seem rather raw to us. Honey and Raf from Ecstasy did an incredible job mixing the songs to sound great but I believe there’s a couple songs that Chris did music for in one take and as stated I had very few vocal takes also. Perhaps that is why people have connected so well with it though, because it does have the charm and presence of imperfection. I think I am most proud of the title track ‘In Their Image’. That song is really important to us because it kind of exemplifies Light House’s sound. We are getting ready to shoot a video for that song actually.
What have you got in mind, regarding the video for that song?
– Well, we want to keep it a surprise but it will definitely include some Northwest beauty and filming at night.
Alright, thank you for this experience! Put in whatever you’d like here in the end of this interview.
– Thanks for your time and interest!
Best, Dawn and Chris