Flashing Lights Come From the Ground Up

Flashing Lights Come From the Ground Up
For a band that has built up a reputation built on the energy and strength of their live shows, the Flashing Lights' latest offering may prove as challenging to translate on stage as it was to produce. Recording Sweet Release, their second full-length album on Toronto's Outside Music, became a staggering lesson in the fun and frustration of making music in the computer age. The result is a highly complex, multi-layered and heavily edited 11 song album peppered liberally with aural trickery and studio manipulation.

"The album is a lot more produced [than debut Where The Change Is], not so much even sonically, but in the way the songs are constructed, like the basic way bands generally go about doing it, that I know," says singer and guitarist Matt Murphy. While about half the songs on Sweet Release were created the traditional way — rehearsing, playing live, finding the right direction, then laying down the tracks in the studio — the rest were built from the ground up, working on bare bone sketches of songs and arranging them as their evolution came about in the studio.

When recording time came around, Murphy says, "no one knew any of the songs, all I had was the acoustic guitar and a click track. So we had to bring in [drummer] Steve Pitkin to play around my scratch vocals — something I just did to let them know where the song is changing — and then bass would be put on to that, and then we'd have to arrange it, sometimes we'd have to back and change the whole rhythmic structure a couple of times to get it right, because we were really finding our way in the studio." The learning from the ground-up process helps explain why recording started last July and the album is releasing in May.

The struggle to find the proper balance of what to include and what to leave out, how to arrange one particular movement or bar had the band (who, along with Ian McGettigan, produced it) confronting constantly shifting songs. "There were a lot of high-five moments in this process," Murphy notes, "because we would lay on a new harmony or a new instrument and the picture would change dramatically; I'm glad that in the end the mix kept [the songs] fresh for me."

The Flashing Lights already have a distinct sound both on stage and on disc, and Sweet Release never strays far from the band's basic flavour. "We sometimes feel that we have to count on band interaction and energy to keep people's attention, so now I think we feel really confident that we can just play the music and it can give us a break from all that. It sort of balances that side of our performance."