Sunday, September 26, 2021

Interview with Black Light Animals

After several years and the release of a single and EP, the Kansas City band initially known as Instant Karma! have rechristened themselves Black Light Animals and have released their outstanding debut album Playboys Of The Western World.  I recently interviewed lead singer Cole Bales about the name change, the new album and alot more.

The band was originally around for several years under the name Instant Karma! before you changed it last year to Black Light Animals.  Can you give me a bit of a band history and also why the name change?

Sure, Cody (lead guitar player and co-writer) and I started Instant Karma! up in High School for a talent show where we played a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. There were three guitar players on stage and no bass player because none of us wanted to be relegated to bass. I'm pretty sure we didn't win.  From there, Cody and I bonded over our shared love of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Band and started playing covers at a local bar every Thursday night, including one memorably bad and ill advised instrumental cover of “Black Dog”. We eventually started writing our own tunes and sprinkling them into our cover sets, heavily inspired by songwriting teams like Jagger/Richards and McCartney/Lennon. We released an EP and a 45 on Sunflower Soul that got a little bit of attention, but we always realized in the back of our minds that we would have to change the name. For one, we were third in line in the search engines behind the John Lennon song and some pretty entertaining "Instant Karma Fails" videos, but we also felt that we had grown out of a name that we had come up with on the fly for a High School talent show, and we thought this record would be the perfect time to turn a corner. 

The album notes say it was recorded in a series of basements.  Can you elaborate on that?

I can! With the exception of one song on the record (“A Ballad”), this entire record was cut and mixed in our former drummer's basement. He moved houses in the middle of recording, hence the basement(s). We had never really been fond of our experience in studios and feeling like we were on the clock of an engineer that would rather not be there. So, with our collective interest/experience recording at home, we decided we would do this album DIY. 

Can you tell me a little about your songwriting process?

Honestly, since we started writing songs when we were 16, very little about our process has changed. One of us usually brings in a chord progression or melody, maybe a full hook, and Cody and I flesh out the lyrics together. Then we bring it to the band and usually completely turn it on it's head arrangement wise (the bass player, Branden Moser, is a genius at arranging.). Typically we're very "first take" in nature when it comes to performances and melodies come pretty quickly, but the lyrics, especially on this record, were the painstaking part. Cody and I would spend hours just chatting before we'd even attempt to dive into writing.  

I absolutely love “Dark Fantasies” with it's twists and turns.  I don’t really have a question about that song, but is there anything enlightening you can tell me about it?

Thank you! "Dark Fantasies" is definitely a favorite of ours as well. That was actually the first song we wrote for the record and it pretty much set the stage for everything else vibe wise. Cody and I basically took two completely different ideas for songs and merged them together on this one, which is probably what gave it it's schizophrenic feel. 

While “Montage” still fits in with the other songs on the album it’s also set apart from them with it’s reggae beat.  Can you tell me about where that came from?

“Montage” started from a jam session that we had that I recorded on my phone. When I went back and listened I thought the groove was too cool not to end up a full song. Plus, I've always really dug some of the dub stuff from guys like Lee Scratch Perry, so this was also just an excuse to play around with that. 

The album closer “Burning Cathedral” is very stripped down compared to all the other songs.  Was there any reason you went that direction on that song?

We briefly toyed around with having the full band come in halfway through on this one, or having some kind of string section, but I think ultimately the rest of the album was so dense that it made a stronger statement to keep this one bare. 

Your songs have a real cinematic quality to them.  Have you had anyone interested in using them in films or on TV?  You would've been awesome as one of the band's playing in Twin Peaks. 

That's high praise! I'm a huge David Lynch fan, especially of the last season of Twin Peaks, so that would obviously be a dream. So far we haven't had any takers, but I did hear that David is working on a new project so...fingers crossed. 

There is alot of depth and layers to your sound.  Is that difficult to pull off live?

That is definitely something we've had to contend with. We really didn't want to consider whether or not we could play the songs live when we were writing and recording them and it's definitely something we are paying for now. But, due to the pandemic, most of our live shows were put on hold and it's given us plenty of time to figure out how to get the vibe across with a 4 piece band, and I think we are finally finding our footing. 

I read some things that mentioned the album being released July 3, 2020, but then it says it was released on August 20, 2021. What happened there?  Was anything re-recorded for this latest release date or is it the same?

We had basically gotten tired of waiting to release the record and did a soft release last July, but the pandemic put the kibosh on any chance of touring or getting any vinyl pressed. But now that things are slowly opening back up and we have the record on vinyl,  we decided that we would do a proper release. We also added a remix of Halo to the digital album. 

Did the band come up with the concept for the “Halo” video?

We did! We have never necessarily loved the idea of music videos that just revolve around the band looking cool, lip syncing to their songs, with their hair blowing in the synthetic wind. So, we decided to do just that, but to have the masked killer basically act as a proxy for our feelings about those kinds of music videos. It fit well with our self-deprecating sense of humor and also allowed us to tip the hat to some of the Giallo influences that inspired the record. 

I love the “Love & Mercy” cover you did last year.  Can you tell me a little about that?

Thank you! That song has always meant a lot to me, and after the death of George Floyd we were angry and wanted to say something, but didn't know how we could meaningfully add to the conversation. Recording this song seemed fitting and therapeutic to us in some way. 

How did the pandemic affect the band?

Like most touring artists it completely upended our plans. We were fortunate enough to all have day jobs to keep us afloat, but we had just quit touring for a year to make this record, and as soon as we were ready to come up out of the basement and show it to the world, the pandemic hit. 

Things are still pretty hard to work around with the pandemic.  What kind of plans do you have to help support the recent release of the album?

We've been playing some shows locally, but we are hoping to get the album out on the road this Spring. But, as you said, booking shows is still very much a fluid situation right now, so we are just waiting to see. 

I read that one of your old Instant Karma! songs, “Shine On”, was used in a Sling TV commercial.  How did that come about?

The label that we released that tune on, Sunflower Soul, got us in with a licensing/sync company and companies have taken a liking to that song. We've had that song played in commercials for everything from TCM to a THINX Period Underwear commercial, which has been entertaining. I still think our crowning achievement might be getting the Instant Karma! tune "Give Me Freedom" licensed for a Cheech and Chong commercial. 

You and Branden are also in The Freedom Affair.  Are there any other side projects that any of you are involved in?

We've all just started sharing a studio together so we have a lot of production projects in the works. Right now, we are backing and working with Jass and Geraldine Glenn, both incredible artists from KC. Branden and I also cut a 45 with some members of The Freedom Affair called “The Chase”, as Los Santos Caballeros. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

I think we've pretty much covered everything. Thank you for the great questions, and thank you for listening to the record! 

(Black Light Animals - Facebook)

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