It’s been nearly three years since Brief Candles released their first, self-titled album. During this time, the dreamy shoegazers have been busy. After relocating from Peoria to Milwaukee, swapping instruments, hiring a new drummer and touring across the country, Brief Candles has returned with a new album that brings back many of their familiar faraway sounds.
“When our bass player, Drew (Calvetti), moved to Milwaukee with his girlfriend, the rest of us decided to give it a shot,” said Jen Boniger, guitarist and vocalist. “Kevin (Dixon, guitar/vocals) and I had been itching to move, too. Besides wanting a change of scenery, there are very few venues in Peoria. It sounds pretty simple, but there was actually a ton of discussion and planning involved.”
After the band lost a guitar player, Dixon, who previously played drums, moved to guitar, and new drummer Jake Bohannan joined up. The four musicians seem to have finally found their right roles, and the connection shows on their new album They Live, We Sleep.
“It’s almost a different band on this album,” said Boniger. “So while we still sound like Brief Candles, there are definitely some differences in songwriting and style. The guitars are intentionally noisier, more keyboards, more backwards loops, and so on. Also, the songs seem to me a little poppier than our debut. And believe it or not, we intentionally turned up the vocals quite a bit. But it’s the usual muses of self doubt, general dismay with the modern state of the world, of music, and so on, that drive the writing.”
Despite the amped vocals, thunderous drums and harmonic keyboards, Brief Candles still remain true to their shoegazer roots, their dreamsicle songscapes flowing on with all the distortion and grace of My Bloody Valentine and other more underground groups.
“I don’t know if anyone has completely nailed down what shoegazer actually is, but it’s strange because at the same time, you know it when you hear it,” said Boniger. “I think the early bands were inspired by ‘60s psychedelic pop like the Byrds and the Creation, but they also liked new wave bands and noise bands like Sonic Youth. Like most scenes, it’s difficult to say why it worked so well, but it did and I’m glad. There are a lot of great bands now that are obviously influenced by that era – bands like Electrogroup, M83, and the Doves – that seem to understand it, but they don’t repeat it, either. I guess my hope for Brief Candles would be that we are doing that, too.”
Taking the great sounds of past bands and mixing them to make your own sound is a challenge in any genre, but especially with such a distinct and, in a sense, narrow sound as this one. Boniger realizes the difficulty of this standard, and at the same time, realizes that looking at the situation with sarcasm can reveal a different and complex perspective.
“It just seems silly to come off like you’re revolutionary when you wear your influences on your sleeve like we do,” said Boniger. “However, I wouldn’t necessarily call us pure revivalists – we do listen to a variety of music from a variety of time periods. Like any band, it’s the combination of our four tastes and personalities that make us unique – so I guess everyone’s unique. Bands are like snowflakes – some just look a little bit more alike than others.”
For They Live, We Sleep, the band decided to switch modes again and engineer and record the album themselves.
“The short answer to why we recorded ourselves is money,” said Boniger. “While we were happy with the quality of the first record, it did feel rushed. We traveled out of town to Great Western Record Recorders (owned by former Hum member Matt Talbott) to Westend Recording in Kansas City, and studio time adds up quickly. We really wanted to take our time recording these songs. We wanted time to experiment, and we didn’t feel like we were getting that when we were recording demos, so we took some of the recording money and bought equipment.”
Besides writing and recording, Brief Candles have also spent the past few years touring, experiencing great little shows and some experiences that they hope not to repeat.
“As up and down as touring can be, it is what we want to do,” said Boniger. “When things are going great, you never want to go home – meeting great people, seeing incredible bands, and hanging out in different cities. But then you also play with bands that aren’t cool, or you get into a bad situation, and you ask yourself, ‘Why are we doing this again?’”
“To me, SxSw was very much like mixing the lines of Great America with the delusion of Los Angeles: a rock and roll trade show which is less about music and more about connections, networking, gimmicks and exhibitions,” said Boniger. “You’ve probably gathered that I didn’t dig it, and you would be right. I can see how it does have advantages for some bands and why people do like it. But to do it again would require drastically different circumstances.”
So where and when do the Brief Candles prefer to play?
“Since Kevin and I both work third shift, that makes early evening (breakfast) the best time to play,” said Boniger. “An hour after you wake is also, coincidentally, the best time for a beer – so it works out well.”