"Daptone [Records’] newest imprint, WICK, has been established to create the kind of records that fans want from a truly Rock "N" Roll record label. Using the same recording techniques that have made the likes of Daptone Soul legends Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Charles Bradley, Daptone’s House of Soul has been developing a sound as exciting and authentic as anything you’ll hear on the airwaves today. WICK Records will be a go-to destination for fans of Rock "N" Roll and the release schedule will include quality archival releases, along with the latest swingin’ combos," Daptone's newly-formed sister imprint, WICK Records wrote within a powerful mission statement affixed to their Soundcloud page; "Follow Me Down," the lead single from New York-based greenhorns THE MYSTERY LIGHTS, was amongst their first batch of inaugural releases, along with well-received 7-inch "Too Many Girls/Too Tough to Bear." I first, rather unknowingly, got in touch with Daptone co-founder Neal Sugarman through a Bandcamp message sent on a whim and in turn, the band's publicist, Wendy at Tell All Your Friends PR a few weeks back; thus, leading up to this very interview with founding members Mike Brandon & L.A. Solano, I've had the opportunity to relentless spin THE MYSTERY LIGHTS' critically-acclaimed self-titled WICK Records debut, which I would best liken to an unholy mixture of post-2000's Garage Rockers The Strokes and Classic Rock forefathers The Rolling Stones. So, sit back, crack open a beer, fire up a few hot dogs, pop open a lawn chair, and delve into this inclusive all-bases-covered (sorry, for yet another baseball pun) interview with L.A. Solano & Mike Brandon!
The Witzard "Rock Curator"
I. Your Jonathan Toubin-penned press bio notes that "Mike Brandon and L.A. Solano have been in many different versions of The Mystery Lights under assorted monikers since their teens;"about how long would you estimate The Mystery Lights have been a loosely-formed band? What were a few of your previous and since abandoned band names?
Mike Brandon: We date back [about] 10-15 years. We started the band in high school. The first name we had was The Numbers, but it was too close to The High Numbers (pre-The Who), so we shortly after changed it to The Mystery Lights, which [surprisingly] wasn't taken! It was perfect, rolled off the tongue, and felt right. L.A. originally brought the name to the table. He pulled out a piece of paper with the name drawn across it and there it was: our new name.
II. How did The Mystery Lights ultimately end up aligning with Daptone Records' newly-formed Rock imprint, WICK Records? How did you become so lucky to get in on the ground level as their first signed act?
Mike: They came to a gig of ours last summer or the summer before that, can't quite remember. After the show, they approached us and invited us to check out their studio in Brooklyn. Being huge fans of everything Daptone does, we immediately accepted the invitation. We went to the studio and bonded heavily over our extremely similar taste in music, [particularly] Garage Rock. Real raw, soulful, fuzzed out, nasty tunes, mostly from the 1960’s. We listened to tons of records and talked a lot about why we like what we like, seeming to all have the same opinions [and] likes/dislikes. It felt right. So, they told us about this idea of starting a Rock "N" Roll subsidiary, and asked if we wanted to be the first on it and make some records together. We said "yes" with no hesitation, of course. Now, we are family and plan to make lots of records together! We feel very honored to be working with them and look forward to a long road ahead with the Daptone family.
III. Have you always been fans and supporters of Daptone Records' genre-reshaping output... if so, what would you then, likely list as a handful of your personal favorite releases?
Mike: Everything they do is pure bliss. To name a few of my personal favorites: Make The Road By Walking by The Menahan Street Band. Thomas Brenneck is an absolute genius and his bands are always so tight and talented. No Time for Dreaming by the amazing Charles Bradley. Also don't want to forget Lee Fields [& The Expressions], Sharon Jones, Naomi Shelton— the list goes on... There’s actually a Daptone comp. I’m very fond of called Daptone’s 7-inch Singles Collection, Vol. 2. I’d say that’s on the top 5 most listened to records of mine. Every song is a gem. [It's] a good representation of what Daptone is all about.
IV. We, here at The Witzard, I'm proud to admit, pride ourselves on regularly covering a seamless fusion of Hip-Hop and Rock "N" Roll. Have you fellas ever (or would you ever) seriously consider recording a Hip-Hop-minded, emcee-assisted 7-inch or 12-inch?
Mike: We love Hip-Hop, so we would absolutely be into that! I’ve actually thought about doing some "Hip-Hop," sort of more similar to the way Adrian Younge produces and composes. That record he did with Ghostface Killah, 12 Reasons to Die is unbelievable, start to finish! I also really loved his [collaboration] with William Hart from The Delfonics, I honestly listen to the Adrian Younge Presents: The Delfonics album 3-4 times a week, no joke. Big Hip-Hop fan— Too $hort, Easy-E, Brotha Lynch Hung, Run-D.M.C. Wu-Tang Clan, Immortal Technique, X-Rated, Blowfly... the list goes on and on.
V. How exactly would you describe your 1960's retro-futuristic sound debuted across The Mystery Lights and its companion pre-album 7-inch, for someone who may not have heard your music? I would personally be inclined to say it exits somewhere in between The Rolling Stones and The Strokes!!!
L.A. Solano: We still love a lot of the music that initially got interested in making our own music. One obvious one that gets brought up a lot is the Nuggets compilations. We still love those recordings, but we were also obsessed with 1977-era Punk from New York when we got started. The usual 60’s San Francisco hippy Blues/Psych/Folk stuff left a big mark on us, as well. That was a good jump off point, as well as the British Blues coming out around the same time to the older Delta Blues players who inspired that generation of musicians. We love Post-Punk, Krautrock, and Jazz, and really anything that is raw, genuine, and interesting. We do not really try to confine ourselves to a genre, but it comes out a certain way based on how we know how to play and based on our loose approach. We do not necessarily aim for perfection and embrace a less restricted [approach] to our own music. It's just the way we work that allows for more improvisation (and also has to do with lack of practice).
VI. For those who may still be unaware, would you care to explain the overall concept/treatments behind your first two released music videos, "Follow Me Home" and "Melt?"
L.A.: Our buddy Rob Weird came to us with his vision for "Follow Me Home." He wanted to capture the NYC without the usual cliches you usually associate with New York Rock "N" Roll. It was a quick and rushed shoot and we were lucky to have a good friend, Ricky Powell (street photographer) agree to act in the video. Rob Weird is an old pal of ours and really loves burn-outs and bongos, so we just rolled with his vision for the video. "Melt" was also thrown together between tours and features our old friend Bob Gamber of The Vinyl Revolution in Monterey, California. He is the coolest dude and has always supported The Mystery Lights since our early days. We thought it would be cool to have him in the video. L.A. shot and animated [it] just before our European tour.
VII. How would you say The Mystery Lights sound has evolved and progressed since the release of your "Too Many Girls/Too Tough to Bear" 7-inch to your recent self-titled WICK Records debut?
Mike: The 7-inch was a lot cleaner. The full-length is definitely dirtier and a lot more raw-sounding. That single was a sort of test run with WICK, where we took a step back and wanted to see how they worked. You can hear the difference on the LP, where we were a bit more vocal about the sounds we wanted. We wanted to get closer to the sounds we were getting from our own home tape demos and Wayne [Gordon] (co-producer/engineer/WICK co-founder) really helped us achieve a happy medium between the sounds we thought we wanted and more polished, yet uncompromised aesthetic.
VIII. What would you most likely cite as a few of your greatest influences (be it bands, artists, albums, genres, etc.) during the writing and recording of your recent self-titled debut?
Mike: We are inspired by so many different styles of much that it’s really difficult to narrow down exactly what had a big influence on the record, but to name a few I’d have to say there are definite inspirations by Dead Moon, Television, Country Joe & The Fish, Billy Childish, [and Bob Marley &] The Wailers. All heavily inspired us.
IX. Although this might admittedly be self-imposed "career suicide:" my first two purchases to go along with my late 90's Walkman were Jagged Little Pill and a Mariah Carey CD (I know— utterly terrible). Do you guys happen to remember what your first CD or cassette purchases might have been and how did they unintentionally end up affecting your musical career?
Mike: Oh yes, for me personally, AC/DC's Back In Black and Poison's Look What The Cat Dragged In, particularly the song "Talk Dirty to Me" ...These made me want to start a band and are some of the first [CD's] I can really remember purchasing. Then, of course, there’s the Best of Bowie album and Nirvana's Nevermind album I [can] specifically remember going to the store and purchasing. Some of my firsts.
L.A.: I remember buying the Chumbabawamba tape, [Tubthumper]. Not sure why, but that one sticks out as one of the earliest. Kevin [Harris] was a big LFO ("Summer Girls") fan and I think he still is.
X. I recently read a Rolling Stone interview wherein Mike Brandon asserted that "[Daptone's] approach to recording is exactly what we would hope for in a record label... real deal, all analog, all tape; there's not one computer in the studio whatsoever and they do everything live." Would you care to briefly elaborate on WICK/Daptone Records' typical recording process(es)?
L.A.: We had been recording a lot of demos at home to 4 and 8-track tape machines and had been enjoying the results. We have always been unsatisfied in professional studio settings, so it was a nice change to find that Daptone shared a stripped-down approach. We pretty much tracked the record live (to 8-tracks) and it really forced the band to be on point and to make decisions on the spot. It's a fun and sometimes harder way to work, than to just overdub everything and helped us capture a live sound on record. It was nice to be able to work in a way that was familiar to us, yet have the benefit of Daptone’s techniques to get the sounds just right.
XI. Did you fellas have a chance to work with any of Daptone's revered in-house roster of session musicians— The Dap-Kings, The Budos Band, Antibalas, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Menahan Street Band, El Michels Affair, The Sugarman 3, etc.— during your recording of The Mystery Lights at Daptone's infamous House of Soul Studio?
Mike: Neal Sugarman sat in with us a few times during the session. We almost got him to play some sax on a track! We would absolutely love to [collaborate] with some of those guys, of course and hope to do so in the near future.
XII. Now that you've effectively released your self-titled WICK Records debut, what's in store next for The Mystery Lights?
Mike: We are currently on tour now with The Night Beats. We’ll be crossing the U.S. twice ending the tour [at the] end of August. As soon as we get back, we head to Europe to play Oslo, and then the Modern Sky Music Festival in Helsenki August 26-28th. Then, come September, we play the Meltasia Festival in the Catskills at some [abandoned] zoo (can't wait for that). Then, we get back in the studio and begin immediately working on album #2! Also, there are plans to go back to Europe in January, but other than that, our biggest next step is churning out another 45 to promote the next record. Gotta keep 'em coming!