Going Their Own Way: Peaking Lights Talk
For a band that still feel so new, it comes as a surprise to realise that Peaking Lights have been exploring their winding musical path for around a decade. On the cusp of releasing their fifth album, the duo have spent the last ten years building a back catalogue of left turns, passion projects, and the occasional shot of perfect pop, letting their songwriter instincts playfully wander through gardens of wyrd electronics and medical grade dub. It’s a sound that manages the tricky feat of feeling both familiar and distinct- the familiarity coming from Indra Dunis’s ethereal vocal, a hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck tone that wouldn’t be out of place in a medieval folk lament, and the distinction emerging from the hazey palette on found sounds she – and husband Aaron Coyes- build around that vocal, submerging the lyrics in warm waves of echo and fuzz.
Having made their name on a string of indie labels including a stint on the ever reliable taste-maker Domino Records, Coyes and Dunis have decided to move their career on once more. Now they're fully embracing their DiY aesthetic by releasing an album on their own newly minted label, Two Flowers Records. Titled The Fifth State of Consciousness, the album – in the bands own words –deals with “dreams, strength, a loss of innocence, and seeking an enlightened state of being after overcoming life’s trials and tribulations…” We got on the phone with Aaron Coyes to work out exactly what this meant…
Hey Aaron – In your own words you’ve described the new album as about the loss of innocence – who’s innocence has been lost exactly?
Oh well, that’s kind of a joke, because as a band we’ve gone through a lot. We started off and were doing stuff on our own, then we started working with Domino, now we’re working on our own again – now it’s just back to us.
Is there anything you’ve done differently because you’ve gone solo?
Yeah! It’s made us focus a little bit more. We’ve recorded on our own, done the artwork on our own. It’s made us realise how much time it takes to do this! And we’ve had to fund it on our own. We’ve has to put a lot more energy into it. With this record I got a neat Otari MTR 12 which is like a mastering machine, and I started messing around with it – it’s about being playful with the tools that are available to us. We don’t have a fancy studio by any means– it’s a lot of junk and crap, but we try and use that stuff in whatever way we can to make sounds that are different to what you can make on the computer. Technology definitely plays a role in defining the recording process.
So I’m assuming that because you’ve gone totally independent with this album, you believe you can make a career out of music?
Yeah I think you can! There’s a lot of money in all the corporate stuff, but there’s also a lot of money to go round even if you want to control it yourself. We’ve only been around 10 years, which isn’t that long really, we’re not a big band, but we’ve always done what we like to do – whether that’s writing songs that are really long or whatever ahahaha… That’s really fun for us. That’s cost us in some ways, and in other ways it hasn’t cost us, but what we’ve learned is you have to do things yourself, you have to learn how to record things yourself and for this record we decided we wanted to put it out ourself. Just getting the resourcefulness of trying to find out how the whole thing works, without having those external aids. You can work with other people, but you don’t have to be controlled by them.
It’s hard to judge how popular more intricate dance based acts are in America- Are people coming over from the EDM boom to the deeper kind of electronica you’re involved in? Do they even care?
Well there’s so much dance music in America that comes from gay people and black people, and the white population over here only give a shit about dance music when it comes from white people. Even with rock n roll no one says Chuck Berry started rock n roll they say Elvis Presley, it’s so fucking backwards. People are divided. But there’s this Theo Parrish interview from a couple of years back where he’s asked about whether he’d ever tour with Skrillex or Diplo, and he’s like, ‘well hell yeah I would! Their audience is in their 20s now, eventually they’ll be getting into other stuff and I’d love to be able to help that process along…’ I dunno man, it’s so hard to say… Because even though there’s this explosion of people using technology to make music, whether or not people are gonna move onto something else good or just stay up in that corporate sound, I don’t know. Even the media, there used to be a cutting edge, but now they take money from corporations, and that’s what they write about. I feel like there’s less drive – it’s easy to get corporate money and to use that money to keep the product going. Ransom Note I feel is non-corporate
Ha, well we haven’t got any money!
But I feel like you’re writing about stuff you love – if you’re a media outlet given corporate money then of course that’s what you’re going to write about – you have to. But it’s made it much more difficult for smaller bands to get heard.
What I like is that you seem to keep doing your own esoteric projects regardless – like I saw on Facebook that you just did something called the Peaking Lights Family Band – what was that about?
Ha – We had like 13 of our friends join us – a bit like a drum band; it was 13 different drummers and percussionists. We had Onochie Chukwurah, Fela Kuti’s bass player- the one who helped develop the afrobeats sound – as part of it. He lives out here. We also had Rob Barber who was in that band High Places from years ago, Peanut Butter Wolf from Stones Throw… it was just a bunch of our friends who put together this group. They were all drumming and I was front of house dubbing it out. We did it for a Christian Dior fashion show curated by Michel Gaubert, they asked us for music, so that’s what we did- heh.
Did it work in a fashion context?
It actually ended up working. I was just doing the dub stuff – when we play live it’s like a dub set, it’s become that way over the years because it’s fun to do. I’ve been doing the solo shows as PLSD which is Peaking Lights Acid Test – the solo version of Peaking Lights – so I decided to do what I’ve been doing with the solo shows and dub out the whole group.
That kind of communal, loud drumming is such a feature of spiritual rituals throughout history-
There are so many different ceremonies that use drumming, I’ve been to Native American Pow Wows, I like to bring my kids, because a big part of the Native American Pow Wow is the drumming; the drumming is pretty incredible. I think there’s a similar emotional state you get from dancing in a club, it might not have all the guidelines of achieving a high in a spiritual state that certain ceremonies would, but there is still a link between spiritual ceremonies and your body being intoxicated by moving to a rhythm.
Now you’ve done this record we can assume with the kind of work rate you have that you’re already working on the next project?
Yeah we’re working on a soundtrack right now. It’s a film, but I can’t say what yet. Hopefully that will come out in like fall, winter of next year. And then also doing a couple of other projects as well – I started another solo project, I don’t know if I’m going to put it out myself, or where I’m gonna put it out. I’m doing some solo shows in Europe – playing at Glastonbury which will be pretty fun, I’m on at the Beat Hotel Stage, and a couple of other shows – it’s on a bit more of the dancey end, but super dubbed out. And I’ve got some weirdo stuff that’s yet to come out
It sounds like you've been keeping busy –
Yeah, yeah; I don’t do drugs anymore so I have to occupy myself in other ways!
The Fifth State of Consciousness is out now and available from the Peaking Lights Bandcamp here – and catch them on tour at one of the following dates
JUNE 24th : Glastonbury Festival – Pilton, UK (“PLSD” – AARON SOLO)**
JUNE 25th :Soupkitchen – Manchester, UK
JUNE 26th :Moth club – London, UK
JUNE 30th:Beursschouwburg – Brussels, Belgium
JULY 1 : Le Batofar – Paris, France
JULY 2nd: De School – Amsterdam, Netherlands (“PLSD” – AARON SOLO)**
JULY 3rd: Simplon – Groningen, Netherlands (“PLSD” – AARON SOLO)**
JULY 8th: Gagnef Festival – Gagnef, Sweden
JULY 9th:Korjaamo – Helsinki, Finland
JULY 10th: Tradgarden – Stockholm, Sweden (“PLSD” – AARON SOLO)**
JULY 11th:Loppen – Copenhagen, Denmark
JULY 12th: Kantine am Berghain – Berlin, Germany
JULY 16th: Benicassim Festival – Benicassim, Spain