We spoke with Mike Brandon of The Mystery Lights about the band's creation and recording their first album.
The Mystery Lights is the first band to sign to Daptone Records' new rock imprint label, Wick Records. What's it like being the guinea pig, if you will, for a very established label's new venture into a new genre?
It was a bit daunting to think about at first - not to mention a big risk on their end -but we’re all on the same page with extremely like minds, so it made perfect sense to work together. They knew what we wanted to do and we knew what they wanted as well. It was a perfect match for the sort of thing they wanted as a representation of their new imprint.
The self-titled album came out last year. Where was it recorded and who produced the record? How was the experience?
We recorded it at Daptone’s House of Soul in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY), with co-producer/engineer Wayne Gordon. The experience was great, pretty much tracked everything live, all analog to an 8-track reel-to-reel. Their approach to recording is exactly the way we like it. The object was to capture the energy and sound of the live performance, which I believe we accomplished.
This was the first record for you guys collectively, but have you individually recorded either solo or with other groups?
Yeah, I’ve recorded a bunch of solo stuff, and have been in a few other side projects on various instruments from drums, to guitar, vocals, and bass. Same with the boys. I still perform solo sometimes but not as often as I use to. L.A (Luis Alfonso) and I have sat in with some other bands like The Fat White Family, Surfbort, etc. Luis also has a little side project called Subdom with our friend Kuato. They have a 45 coming out soon actually.
How did you come together to form The Mystery Lights? How long have you been playing together?
L.A. and I have been playing since high school. We started the band with our buddy Joe Della-Mora when we were in high school. We all had the same taste, so we decided to make some music together. We locked ourselves in an auto mechanic shop on Commission St in Salinas, California where we wrote tons of songs and recorded lots of demos. After about two years of hiding, the band finally came out and introduced ourselves to the world. We played small shows here and there in California, not taking it too seriously. Shortly after, the band came to a halt. Joe got busy taking over his father’s business and our drummer at the time (Stephen Miller) got busy with school. After a long break, L.A. and I came out to New York City with no real plans but to hang with friends and play some music. We ended up really liking it there and had the idea to move out to the East Coast and resurrect the band. Nothing was really happening in California at the time, so a more fast-paced diverse setting seemed like a good place to make some music. We never took it too seriously, just did what felt right, playing with friends who wanted to be a part of the action and who had the same musical tastes. We eventually solidified a lineup and began playing a bunch of local shows. That’s where we met Daptone, released a record, and then began doing extensive touring.
Your record evokes the feelings from a 60s psychedelic party. Do you record or write your songs to be experienced in a big room with a big crowd or for a tighter, more intimate venue?
We definitely prefer the smaller, more intimate venues where the stage is practically non-existent. However, we try to create that same intimacy wherever we play, whether it’s a smaller or much bigger venue. We’ll play wherever, but obviously the smaller, the sweatier and more fun.
Who were some of the bands that inspired you to create this sound?
We’ve been inspired by a lot of different groups varying in many different styles/genres from jazz to blues to hip hop, soul, punk, psych, rock’n’roll, country, so on so on so on… Some big inspirations have definitely been artists/groups like Billy Childish, Pete Drake, Velvet Underground, Television, Richard Hell, Sun Ra, The Kinks, Them, Blind Willie Mctell, Country Joe and The Fish, etc. We also grew up listening to a lot of fuzz-driven 60s garage rock comps like “Uptight Tonight”, “Nuggets”, “Back From The Grave”, the list goes on.
You guys toured pretty heavily last year. How has touring changed the band dynamic or songwriting and sound?
Once the LP came out we hit the road pretty hard, playing numerous shows in a row causing the band to become a much closer, much tighter unit. The consistent touring has also definitely improved our alcohol tolerance, ha.
Any memorable shows on tour either for good or for bad reasons?
Many memorable shows! One memorable show in particular happened recently in Helsinki, Finland where I slashed my face with an edge on the guitar at the end of our set and was rushed from the stage to the hospital. That was fun.
Will we see The Mystery Lights touring more in 2017? Will we be hearing any new songs any time soon?
We are currently in the studio working on album number 2! We’ll probably release a 45 soon to promote it. In February/March we’ll be doing an extensive tour throughout Europe, then March 10th we begin our tour to SXSW back in the States. Once this run is finished, we are back in the studio to finish the next album, then off to Primavera Festival where we plan to do a little tour around it in Europe.