Questions asked by Jon Wilde, added to Rock Realms 4th June 2010.
Surrey band Third Light, formed in 2005, release their new single 'Time to Shine' in June. The band - David "DJ" Wallis, Michael "Pain" Payne, Martin "Belf" Bell, and Richard "Sticks" Stillman - have their debut album, Built By Machines, on the way out soon too.
We caught up with guitarist Mike and bassist Martin to find out more.
Hi Guys, thanks for taking a moment to answer these questions. Hope you are well?
Mike: Hi Jon, thanks for taking the time to speak to us!
Martin: We’re well thanks, excited about all the attention the band is starting to get!
Can you give us a brief history of Third Light – how you formed etc...?
Martin: About five years ago DJ’s sister introduced him to Mike and got to discussing music. They were both looking to join or start a band, and eventually that band became Third Light. In 2008 I saw them perform after a mutual friend recommended them. I thought they were amazing. A short time later the same mutual friend told me they’d parted ways with their bass player, so I dropped them a message and we all met up and got along well, and before long I was part of the band. Rich stepped in at the back end of last year when we needed a drummer at short notice. Inside of a week he played an awesome gig with us. He’s so talented.
Did you know what sort of music the band was going to play right from the start, or has it developed considerably over time?
Mike: Originally we set out to be a lot more pop than we are at the moment. We always wanted to be a guitar band, but the sound was supposed to a lot more stripped down. As we developed, the guitars kind of took over, but ironically we’re starting to come full circle in a sense. We’ve ended up somewhere in the middle with the new album, as it’s very much about guitars, but also about arrangement – different textures have come into it a lot more than we originally anticipated.
How would you describe the sound of the band to someone who hadn’t heard you before?
Martin: We played a show in Soho, at the Spice of Life where we play often, so the promoter knew us and on the sign outside he had described us as “pop-tinged post-rock” and I really like that description. For those not familiar with post-rock, it’s a rock sub-genre that’s generally instrumental, heavy, epic and complex. That’s what we sound like sonically, but we write pop songs.
Who or what would you list as your main influences?
Martin: It’s interesting in the band now because we all like different artists, but one of the styles of music we all enjoy is post-rock. Broadly we are influenced and excited by solid pop songwriting, and bands that push boundaries.
Mike: And massive pedal boards.
A number of your tracks have been used in ads or on TV shows. Have you actively pursued that area, or have other people approached you?
Mike: These came about because I used to work for a production company, and a few unique chances to submit tracks for consideration for ads came along. After doing those, we were approached to do a few individual tracks for an Aston Martin documentary, which was was kinda cool. Cars and guitars go well together.
Are you looking at getting more of your work exposure in that way? Are you the new Moby?
Mike: We’re always on the look-out – our sound will always be at home on any kind of soundtrack. We can always pull the instrumental card with things like that – they’re really fun to do. Very different to writing pop songs.
Martin: I think a lot of our songs have a cinematic quality, and I would definitely like to hear Third Light tracks used dramatically in TV/movies.
Is it weird hearing your work in an advert, or seriously cool?
Mike: I love it. It’s very satisfying. It starts to make you think how music can be applied in different ways.
Unusually for a modern band, you boast a number of instrumental tracks in your back catalogue. Is that something you see the band continuing, or do see your selves focusing more on vocal tracks as time moves on?
Martin: We’ll definitely continue to write instrumentals. There have been rehearsals where we’d have an instrumental track developing and talk about adding vocals, but often realise there’s no point as it’s already a good song. Adding vocals doesn’t make it any more ‘valid’ and often just adds unnecessary clutter. It’s worth noting that the melodies in our instrumentals are still memorable and catchy – every time I hear our album title track, which is instrumental, I can’t get the bloody riff out of my head! These songs all fit together, the instrumentals and the pop-rock stuff, which is crucial. It’s a balance.
Mike: I think we’ll always try to keep the balance. I can’t see us releasing an instrumental album anytime soon though. It’s a funny combination in a sense, but I think it creates something really unique - the new album is a prime example of how we go from catchy hooks to some sprawling, string-laden arrangements.
You released an EP – Iodine – back in 2007. How was that received?
Mike: Iodine was a different time for the band, as we weren't really sure of our overall direction. It sounds quite quaint in comparison to our current sound, and was recorded on a really tight budget in about 4 days. I’m not sure what we expected from it actually, as it kind of reflected how we weren't really comfortable in our own band skin at the time. It was almost a recording for the sake of recording. Not a fair representation of us, but at the same time, I’m really proud of it, as we learnt a lot from the experience – mainly that we wanted to do things our own way from then on.
Your debut album – Built By Machines – is out in 2010. Is it a good feeling to finally have a full length recording in the bag?
Mike: It’s not quite in the bag yet, as we’re still mixing – but it is very exciting to have a full length album coming along, yes. The songs on the album have been around for a few years now, and it’s great to finally give them some closure with this album – we can finally do some justice to how we originally conceived them.
Martin: Since I first picked up a guitar I longed to make an album. There’s something so complete about an album, a piece of work in itself. I’m really pleased with how the album’s turning out and I can’t wait for people to hear it.
Do you enjoy the whole writing and recording experience?
Martin: Absolutely. When DJ brings a melody to you like that of the “Time To Shine” chorus and he says, “what shall we do with this?” – it’s hard not to enjoy that. As a co-writer you can’t ask for more! And Mike, as our producer as well as our guitarist, has a recording process that is so laid-back it’s hard not to enjoy. Rather than being pressured for studio time, we have all the time in the world to make sure we get everything right.
When did you start work on Built By Machines?
Martin: From a writing perspective, some of the tracks were written years ago. The band has existed since 2005 so there’s a lot of songs in the catalogue. We’ve isolated 11 that we feel offer a real cross-section of the band as it is now. So in that sense it’s been years in the making. In the more practical sense of actually recording it, we released “Leaders And Followers” as the first single off it a year ago. That was the start, the first recording finished. But Mike wasn’t satisfied with it’s sound sonically, so we went back to the drawing board and refined the process. Mike produces the album around his paid production work so it can be slow-going as he’s a busy man!
Mike: We also have so much more control this way – we can really make the record we want to make.
How does it compare in terms of style and quality to the EP?
Mike: It’s another world. Not even the two songs that have been re-recorded for the album sound anything like the EP versions. Quality is a different level also – again it’s having the time to do it the way we want, rather than being constrained by limited studio time.
Where do you find your writing influences? Where do you look for inspiration?
Martin: I honestly don’t know where DJ gets it from. He’s one of those ridiculously talented people who can just be walking down the street when some unbelievable melody will pop into his head. He also has a knack of christening songs with really dark titles - “I Know Where The Bodies Are Buried” is one he’s working on now I think. And probably all he’ll have is a cool title, a wicked melody and a loose chord structure when he brings it to me to work on. And I use that as my inspiration to help him, I try to lyrically match the title and mood of what he has so far and structure it accordingly.
Is there a single story behind the songs, or are they all standalone tracks?
Martin: There is a story actually! A very loose one which is open to interpretation. It will be hinted at in the album sleeve, we’re going to have fake newspaper clippings which, read in the correct order, will outline a story of technology gone mad. A bit like a Michael Crichton novel.
How does the writing process in Third Light work? How would a typical song be created?
Martin: When we wrote “Time To Shine”, we tried a different method than we used to have, where DJ would bring the bulk of a finished song to rehearsal and we’d jam it out. He’d had this old song of his in his head whilst he was away on holiday, so when he got back he played us it. It was called “Gun For Christmas”. It had a fantastic signature riff and a belting bridge, but the verse and chorus were nothing special. So DJ and I took it apart and rebuilt it, changed the key, and I christened it “Time To Shine”. The bridge became the massive chorus on our new version.
Mike: It’s the Third Light factory line. DJ strums some chords with a vocal line, Martin will pitch in some structure and lyric ideas, Rich will give it some form with some proper beats, then I add the polish with frills and weird sounds whilst recording it. Simple.
This is very much an album of the digital age. How much of your album is ‘human’, and how much is actually ‘Built By Machines’?
Mike: Well it’s all performed by us, let’s put it like that. That’s very important, as you can really take automation too far. However, as far as instruments go there’s very little mic-ing up going on. The vocals are about the only thing we actually recorded with a microphone, which is bonkers when you think about it. The drums were always going to make or break it, as bad drums will just ruin it. We never had the option to record the drums acoustically, so we got creative! It’s all from an electric kit with some great sampling triggers. The neighbours loved us for that. Whilst we would have loved to have the London Philharmonic Orchestra in my spare room, we had to make do with a keyboard and samples – but if I do say it myself, you’d be forgiven for thinking we had them crammed in my Teddington studio!
Do you have any favourite moments on the new album?
Martin: Yes – as the opening song, the instrumental title track, burns away, the bass slides from the last note to the first note of the second song, “Faster Than Fiction”, which is a faster number. We play them together like that live, too. I also like how the most furious track on the album, “The Dark Goodbye”, comes to a crunching stop and then almost immediately “You’ve Got It All To Lose” chimes in, and that’s as close to a ballad as we’re going to get.
Mike: The drop to the E at the end of “Public Display of Disaffection” was always going to be the chord. It’s always the big finish in our live set, and it’s no exception on the record. Absolutely massive, right at the end of the album. It goes ballistic. There’s some great orchestration on that track also.
Are you planning a big tour to promote the new album?
Martin: We’re hoping so! We’ve got a lot of shows getting lined up in and around London and our profile is being raised quite a lot now so a tour is the logical next step if this keeps up!
What is one of your live shows like?
Martin: It depends where you catch us. If we play a bill with poppier bands our set will be mostly pop/rock stuff like “Time To Shine”. But if we’re booked with alternative or post-rock bands we’ll probably do one or two instrumentals as well as the heavier stuff like “The Dark Goodbye” and “From Small Acorns Grow Big Trees”.
Any question you love being asked that I’ve missed? If so, what’s the answer?
Martin: Mike likes to talk about the night Third Light met me, as he met his fiancée that night too. And it’s a great story. But I like the question about what our most embarrassing moment is, because then we get to talk about DJ falling over during the first song of our set at the Wandsworth Palais. It was terribly funny!
What are you up to once you’ve finished answering these questions?
Mike: I have an appointment with Pro Tools!
Martin: I’m going away to visit my girlfriend’s family in Ireland for a few days actually, we’re flying out tonight. They live on a beach, I hope the weather’s nice!
Anything else you would like to mention?
Mike: “Time To Shine / You’ve Got It All To Lose” is out on June 14th and we have a launch show scheduled on June 11th at the Spice of Life, Soho. Free copy of the single for all attendees! Find us on Facebook for more info: http://www.facebook.com/thirdlight.
Martin: Thanks Jon!
Thanks again to Mike and Martin for their time. Keep an eye out for the new Third Light single, plus their new album, and try to catch them live some time soon!