A chat with Bright Light Bright Light about twelve of his favourite 12"s
Pop's nicest man Bright Light Bright Light, aka Rod Thomas, has a new EP out this week featuring friend and upcoming talent, Elton John.
Not only that but he's also recently finished his second album, 'Life Is Easy', which will be out at some point in July.
To celebrate all this, the other week Popjustice invited itself round to his flat in Hackney (obviously) for a new regular feature that will probably never happen again based on popstars chatting about their twelve favourite 12" records.
He also took this opportunity to played a selection of new songs from his album.
This is a photograph of those songs in a playlist.
If you would like to hear some of the music in that specially-curated playlist you can hear a tiny bit of the excellent 'There Are No Miracles' below.
Armed with a plate of biscuits (FUN FACT: Rod doesn't eat chocolate) and lots of tea, we had a chat about how the songs and albums he selected have influenced his life, inspired his new album and helped him forget that time someone shat all over the floor of the McDonalds he worked in.
Dubstar — 'Disgraceful'
"I'm obsessed with Dubstar. It's really embarrassing but I've got everything they've ever released. When I was really young on their website there was an email address for Steve from Dubstar so I emailed him and we started chatting. I did a midi cover version of one of their b‑sides! When they broke up I emailed saying it was a real shame and would he mind if I sent him a couple of sleeves to get signed. I sent them and it took him a while so to make up for it he sent me a CD‑R of songs no one else had but the band and now me. I thought that was the most amazing thing anyone could have done. That was way beyond my expectations."
"I've listened to 'Disgraceful' every week since it came out in 1996. I first heard 'Anywhere' when it was Number 31 on the Top 40 countdown and I'd never heard of them before. I looked them up and nowhere near me sold it but the next single was 'Not So Manic Now' so I got that and then the album afterwards. I went back and brought all of the other formats and fell in love with them. It was really pop but really morose in parts. Songs that are really dreamy and really kitsch but not shit. The lyrics are really interesting and really well-executed. I liked the colourfulness and fun of the artwork too, at a time when most indie bands just had really shit press shots of them stood in front of a wall."
Emiliana Torrini — 'Love In The Time Of Sceince'
"I was at a friend's house watching MTV and I saw the video for 'Easy' for the first time and I really liked her voice. When I was growing up in Wales I was quite geeky and used to look up albums on those discography websites and I found her album and bought it. I used to work at McDonalds at the time, which was bleak, and every night after I'd finished work at about 1am I'd come home and listen to this album from start to finish with a piece of toast and a cup of tea. It would help me relax after a horrendous shift. In fact, once, someone shit down the walls of the women's toilet."
"Anyway, I relate to a lot of tones and sounds on this album because I grew up next to the coast as well, and it did sound like something that was made on an island or by the sea [Emiliana is Icelandic you see]. It sounded really full of soul and heart. I listen to it all the time and it's probably in my Top Ten albums of all time. One track on it, 'Sea People', inspired me to write 'Debris' on my first album."
Eternal — 'Always & Forever'
"I remember hearing 'Just A Step From Heaven' when I was 11 and thinking it was just the coolest track. I hadn't really heard much stuff like En Vogue on the radio, so I was listening to Atlantic 252 and they were playing 'Just A Step From Heaven' all the time. But Atlantic 252 used to fade the songs in and out so I never really heard the whole song, and so when I bought the single I was like 'fuck, it's amazing!' I got really obsessed with them and I really loved 'Crazy' too."
"My favourite bit of 'Crazy' is Louise's bit at the start where she goes "this is why". Amazing. That might have been the only bit they let Louise do. I thought the arrangements on this record and the songs and harmonies were super cool and un-British. But it sounded really full too. I was really fooled into thinking this was some sort of superstar group. I don't think any of my friends liked them — I was pretty much flying solo with this to be honest. I remember going out to buy the 'So Good' single and you know you used to have CD1 and CD2, well CD1 didn't have the radio edit and I had to get my mum to drive me back to Woolworths to get me the right one. We were both furious."
Billie Ray Martin — 'Your Loving Arms'
"I just remember hearing the production on this song and thinking it was super cool for a pop song and her voice is quite unusual. I remember listening to the rest of the album and realising BT was involved and this song was produced by The Grid who I really liked at the time as well. I think 'Your Loving Arms' is amazing."
"It's one of the most gorgeous and euphoric songs. It was that real Robyn crying-on-the-dancefloor sort of moment, where it's about working out whether something's hurting you or making you happy. People still seem to love it too."
Röyksopp — 'Junior'
[Rod couldn't find the vinyl version of this one hence him holding a compact disc.]
"I obviously loved their first album and I actually worked their second album when I worked for a record label, so I've been following them for a very long time. When this album came out I couldn't believe how gorgeous it sounded."
"The production is really incredible — it's so incredibly put together, especially listening to it on headphones. It takes you off into this crazy world where things are flying around your head. It's such a clever record. The songs are great and the vocalists are really well chosen and it really made me think about getting other voices involved on my album and how you could play around with different people's tones and it made me work a lot harder on mixing and production and where I place things on a track."
"This one really made me rethink what I wanted to put into a song. I wanted my album to sound like it wasn't made on a computer — I wanted it to have a heart and so much of what's on 'Junior' has that. I like the fact that they create a sort of network of people, so Robyn reappears over and over so it feels like a little family. They actually care about these people and that's what I've tried to do on mine too."
Frou Frou — 'Must Be Dreaming'
"When I was a student I thought I might be a music journalist. I used to write for my student paper and one of the first things I was allowed to write about was the Frou Frou single, 'Breathe In'."
"I loved Imogen Heap's voice form her solo record before that and when her voice popped up on this I was like 'oh God'. It was a nice way of realising how a different sonic landscape can really tease out different qualities in a voice. She sounded a lot more confident. I also loved Guy Sigsworth's production and the combination of these two people made a really incredible album and it's one that a lot of people mention. It's a real fan album."
"I used to follow Guy's remix stuff and production and I've got the same PR as Alison Moyet in the States and he sent me her album and I was like 'this sounds like the second Frou Frou album' and then I found out Guy Sigsworth produced it so that made sense. You can recognise his production a long way off."
Angelo Badalamenti — 'Twin Peaks OST'
"I love it. I probably got into Twin Peaks quite late, probably at University. I just love Angelo Badalamenti's sounds. A lot of the synth pad sounds I use on this album were very influenced by him and by a lot of the music he did for the Dario Argento movies."
"I really love the drama in the music — I love that it's so over the top but in a really enjoyable way. It doesn't sound cheap or shit, it sounds really sentimental and really affecting. It can be hard to do that with imagery. The minute the episode starts or this album starts I'm in a completely different world."
"I grew up in a valley with pine trees and mountains all around me — there was nothing around apart from a sawmill and a coal mine. It was quite scary where I live when it's dark, so it really spoke to me in terms of the setting. A lot of the arrangements are quite sparse and there's a lot of build and I really enjoy the journey it takes you on and so I wanted a few songs on my album to be like that."
Björk — 'Vespertine'
"I love this album so much but the reason I've chosen it here is because all of the other ones I've got of hers are on the wall!"
"I remember when I first heard this record it didn't sound like anything else I'd bought. It's so cool and it's a world from start to finish that you get so encompassed by. Her voice in this really pared down landscape compared to her other stuff just made me think 'fuck, you're a real artist'. Of course she was an artist on those other albums, but I can't even fathom how these songs were written. The songs with a much looser structure — I just don't know how a human being could have composed them. At what point in a studio do you start with that? It makes no sense to me. Songs like 'Unison' and 'Hidden Place' have had an influence on my album in that some of it's quite sparse but there's still a pop hook there too. Plus it's a bit more fragile and layered too."
"Mind you, my one will sound shit next to this. (Laughs) Plus the cover's amazing."
Kylie Minogue — 'Enjoy Yourself'
"Here she is! This is the only Kylie album I've got on vinyl but 'Hand On Your Heart' is one of the best songs. It's so good. I love the confidence of it and it's really fun."
"It reminds me of a time when you'd hear it all the time on the radio and it was fun and everyone loved it — there's not as much of that these days. Now that you know how much effort goes into pop it doesn't seem as fun. Back then those power houses made pop, put it out and didn't really discuss. Now with The X Factor it's sort of de-mystified it all and taken the joy out of it, so I love this period of pop music where everyone seemed like a popstar."
"It was one of those albums that made people dance and you could forget about homework and jobs. It would bring everyone together too. The first time I heard Kylie was in my grandmother's car and she was picking me up from school and going to get some chips. My cousin had brought it and she just left it in my gran's car and we were just listening to it down the M4. I didn't give her much time until I put that tape on and realised how catchy and well put together those songs are. There's nothing wrong in these songs and that's amazing. I really love her."
Grace Jones — 'Slave To The Rhythm'
"I first was aware of Grace Jones watching Vamp, the film. I thought of her as this terrifying creature which I kind of still think she is but I love the humour in a lot of what she does — how campy it can be but also how iconic and groundbreaking it can be as well. Not many people can do both things. No one can really challenge the fact that she's redefined a lot about fashion and music."
"Look at the cover — it's so cool. I love her delivery on all the songs — the confidence and the sass. I think I heard 'Slave To The Rhythm' first at the time but I didn't really pay attention and so I got into again when they did that Love To Infinity remix in the '90s. I loved the production on that."
"In a similar way to Kylie, she's everything you want in a popstar. It's like different versions of sexy, different versions of confident, different versions of playful and they're a really nice flip side to each other in very different musical worlds and challenging what pop can be."
Depeche Mode — 'Ultra'
"This is the first Depeche Mode album that I actually remember listening to. I remember hearing 'Barrel Of A Gun' on the Chart Show and watching the video and just being like 'fuck, this is so dark and brooding'. But it had such great pop production. It didn't sound like anything that I'd bought before."
"I love the singles from it and 'Home' and 'Useless'. I think it's quite cleanly produced and very sharp and I really enjoyed that it gave his voice space to shine."
"It's just a really cool album. The songs stand out and are quite raw and singular."
Ace Of Base — 'All That She Wants'
[He's holding a tape in this one because the vinyl is quite literally stuck to the wall.]
"Look at how cheap this cassette is. It's a pixelated image of not the lead singer of the band. This is the first cassette I ever bought and I remember lots of friends I met two or three years later, this was the first cassette we all bought."
'I remember we'd all sit down with a pen and paper and press play and then pause and then rewind and write down all the lyrics. I thought when they said "gentle voices" that they were saying "dental voices talk to you". Why would a dentist talk to you?"
"Anyway, this was always on the radio and I'd go into Woolworths and it was always at Number One so I just bought it. It was one of those songs that everyone seemed to have bought. I have no idea what's it about but I try and sneak it onto Christmas compilations by saying it's about the Virgin Mary, who wants a baby of her own. I very much doubt it's the original meaning of the song. It's so catchy and it changes between major and minor and you don't notice that happening. It's really smart. It's such numb delivery. The number of records they've sold given where they came from and where they were is amazing. I have the album too. I love that album a lot. 'Fashion Party', 'Dancer In A Daydream', 'Living In Danger' and 'Young And Proud' are my favourite songs off it."
Vlimey. Cheers Rod!