The three piece band from Sydney known as The City Lights have been around a few times now, they released their debut EP back in 2004 and then followed up in 2007 with El Sol, an album that received rave reviews, plenty of radio play and saw them sign with Ivy League Records here in Australia and Bittersweet Records in Spain. They toured a lot in both countries as their tunes spun through our speakers but then nothing for five long years, as different members of The City Lights did tours with other bands.
Their third album, I just go to believe which will be released September 14th has actually been recorded twice now, but The City Lights scrapped every song but "without people you're nothing", which vocalist James Roden put down to just not being ready, saying "It's been a very long time coming, our last album came out in 2007, so it's been a bit of a crazy long gap, and we're very relieved that it's finally out.
It's taken a lot longer than it should have, because we went in thinking we we're probably more prepared than we were and that we had more time in the studio. We thought if we needed to finish a verse or two that we could just do it in a studio, but that actually just doesn't work unless you're like the Rolling Stones or something and have unlimited time. It's just so tedious for everyone to sit around and just wait for someone to get their parts right and it's just not the best way to record. So sometimes we would have really good takes of certain parts, but one instrument or the vocal part just wasn't gelling. It was just wishful thinking that we would finish in the studio and it didn't work. One song survived and that's actually on the album and that's because it was ready to go, it was the first song we'd written for it, so it was the oldest of the new batch".
The band have gone for a stripped back and natural sound on this album, that with it brings the feel and sound of a live show and reminds one of an era gone by, and the kinds of bands that The City Lights are influenced by like, The Clash. Roden said, "we weren't trying to figure out what kind of amps, or microphones that people use or anything like that. Put it this way, when it was just the four of us in the rehearsal room, we like it just as it was and I'd record it on my phone, take it home and it just sounded great. We just didn't want to make the mistake where everything a band do good live is sucked out in the recording, it just gets too much and gets to become too clean sounding and we don't like that, and we've , made that mistake in the past and we didn't want to repeat it.
With such a big break between albums, and a revolving door of band members, the questions of fluid membership and the long break between drinks had to come up with Roden saying "We've had an enormous amount of members just coming and going which is all really complicated. Not because of any fights or anything like that, but because the band has been made up of a lot of members of different bands, and me and my brother are the only two constants. I won't lie to you, it is difficult and it is part of the reason for the delay, there's no doubt about it. That's the nature of the band though and you know that going in to it when you start getting people involved that are in other bands and sometimes they're even overseas, and it's difficult. Everyone has to work so you have the difficulty of people getting time off or having to spend their weekends recording or rehearsing. We end up spending too much time just organisng things rather than just getting in a room and doing what we love, which is playing together so when we do actually do that, we really enjoy it. But there is no doubt that it plays a big part in the delay. I think a lot of people in bands would relate to that, unless they're in the very small fortunate percentage where you're a full time musician."
Having been signed in Spain since the release of their second album, the band have spent a bit of time playing their too and have found their music going down an absolute treat, "I think we play better in Spain, I think when you're completely unknown before you arrive, I think there's something very liberating about that. So the reaction was very good there, there might be a difference, but you see bands in Australia that get incredible reactions. I think it was more us that plays a bit loser which we want to bring to Australia. When you go on long tours too, you become very good and very tight and you become better. Whereas, if you're only playing sporadically, which we have done sometimes, then gigs can be hit and miss. So I think when we haven't had a great gig here and people haven't reacted as well that that's our fault, we haven't played well and we haven't rehearsed enough, and with 6 members coming and going you'll have to forgive us on occasion" Rodden said.
Being signed on two labels on the opposite side of the globe hasn't made the financial side of the business any easier on them though, and like many bands out there, they find themselves working a job to pay for their love of music. "We're in the classic position of most bands these days, where and I'm not whingeing, but because records don't sell, I cannot imagine us making any income, so the band have to fund it, which is fine we have, we've paid for it and we don't expect to see any money back, that's just the situation now. Live it probably cost more to get around the country than we earn. So it's purely for the love, that's what the reality is, that's what happens when things are free " Rodden said, as he was adamantly and passionately pointing out that he wasn't whingeing and doing what he does for love, and he made that pretty honest, in the most honest way possible, but like many people in the creative world, they are being adversely affected by the idea that so many creative products should be free.
Saying, "for some reason a lot of creative jobs are seen to be open slather and for free, you know when people talk about fair trade coffee and things like that and will happily pay extra for a decent wage, but they'll happily download and steal songs. Of course there are grey areas, I mean we all used to record albums and share them with friends, but if it's all stolen and it's all free, I just don't know why on earth people expect these things to be free, I just don't understand it. I do get that it's not a black and white argument that there are a lot of subtleties, but people just need to take a step back and occasionally buy an album, or at least come to our gigs if you're going to steal our albums. For the most part though, most bands except for the very top ones are doing it for free.
There's no one making us do it or anything though. We just want people to hear it though, so I'm not trying to put up a barrier or anything, I'm just saying that the reality is that we won't make any money. The reality is that no one is making us do it, you do it for a lot of selfish reasons, because we enjoy it and we are asking a lot of other people to listen to it and talk to us. So it's not all benevolent on our part, we really hope there are songs that people enjoy and that's why you release it, otherwise you'd keep it to yourself. We could do all the things we love and enjoy and we could rehearse and record, but you're taking an extra step when you say, I'd like other people to hear it, both for other people's enjoyment and because we get something out of that and we hope they enjoy it. We just hope we can continue what we do and keep playing live and we hope people enjoy it enough to buy it, but really we're just happy with some kind of existence in that world".
The penultimate issue in Sydney music scene was how we decided to end the conversation to keep the passion and the fire going, and scratch our heads together as we wonder what the fuck is going on in the mind of some publicans when they decide to gut a beautiful venue and make it a bar full of television with no bands, with Rodden saying; "I think newer bands aren't letting it affect them as much, they're organising rooms and parties themselves and I think that's fantastic. I think a lot of venues are pretty lame too, they just haven't been looked after, or they've destroyed the original bar that made it great in the first place. So many bars in Sydney have just been turned into television warehouses, I mean fucking hell. It's sad about venues, the Hopetoun was a fantastic pub and I don't even know what happened to it, it's boarded up.
I find it all very confusing, when great good old fashioned bars that look great are ruined, that to me is torture, it's like tearing out the opera house. That's my culture and I know it's not seen as the right class or lowbrow, or whatever, I don't know what people see it as really. It was the same for years, houses would move in next to venues and then they'd complain and get them shut down because it's too noisy that's like moving in to the toaster at the docks and complaining about all the traffic. But people don't blink an eye when they shut down my culture and what I do. Some venues are destroyed by people moving in and not appreciating what is there, but other venues have destroyed themselves, they've gutted them and put up a wall of televisions, so no wonder people go to warehouses and start their own bars and clubs. The whole venue issue, I just find it incredibly confusing, it's not as simple as saying, yeah those poor venues, half of them destroyed it themselves, it's not a popular view because we're supposed to be sympathetic but I just think we should leave these old pubs alone.
The City Lights Tour Dates
Friday 14th September 2012 - Green Room - Sydney + The Slow Push.
Saturday 22nd September 2012 - Beetle Bar - Brisbane + The Slow Push.
Saturday 10th November 2012 - Old Bar - Melbourne + The Bowers.