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Where to even begin?
The Mystery Lights is comprised of some of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. They can only be described as true-blue rock’n’rollers, and they don’t mess around when it comes to creating exceptional music.
Their self-titled album was released just last month and is already one of our favorites of 2016.
Each track is its own piece of artwork, with alluring guitar riffs, sultry vocals, and hard-hitting beats. They somehow have created the perfect concoction of 1920’s blues and 1980’s NYC punk rock; take some Jimmie Rodgers, swirl it in with a young Iggy Pop, pump it full of passion with a pinch of recklessness, and you’ve got The Mystery Lights.
Though their self-titled album just dropped last month, The Mystery Lights actually have a long history. Started initially by Mike Brandon (vocals/guitar) and LA Solano (guitar) in Salinas, California, the band had high hopes, but life put the project on hiatus.
“California got slow and boring—it’s great but we needed something else,” Brandon tells BTRtoday.
Brandon then moved to NYC, with Solano soon to follow, and the two decided to resurrect the band. They put light back into The Mystery Lights.
Now, they have Alex Amini playing bass, Kevin Harris playing Farfisa (electric organ), and most recently, Zach Butler on drums. In fact, Butler was found only three days before The Mystery Lights left for their current tour. Brandon admits they were both taking a risk; Butler chose to travel with a bunch of strangers and the band recruiting a mysterious drummer, but so far it has worked out beautifully.
Currently, The Mystery Lights is on tour, hitting places all over the U.S. When BTRtoday spoke with Brandon he was on his first and only day off, driving down the road with his girlfriend Breanna Barbara (also a brilliant musician), and was looking forward to getting a little bit of relaxation in before getting back on the road the next day to play Philadelphia.
“The crowd was wild and the opening band, The Nude Party, were really really good,” Brandon explains. “Everybody just seemed ready to party that night.” He adds that they’re nowhere near done with this tour.
Nowadays, The Mystery Lights are a Brooklyn-based band, living in Ridgewood, Queens. A convenient location for them since the label they’re on, Daptone Records, is not too far away—which includes a studio to record in. He admits that with this past album, they choose tracks that were more on the soulful side, since Daptones works mostly with soul musicians.
Their record release party was only a couple weeks ago at Rough Trade Brooklyn. However, it was a long time coming, since the tracks for the album were actually recorded live at Daptone’s almost over a year ago.
The inspiration for the album comes from all over the place. It’s difficult to narrow in on specifics, Brandon expresses, but the band shares a common background of being raised on garage rock, psych, blues, and punk—so that might have something to do with it.
Since a young age, Solano, Amini, and Brandon have been playing music.
Brandon was initially the drummer for The Mystery Lights. He grew up playing on the drums, and gradually transitioned to bass, then guitar. When he started The Mystery Lights he was also in a Misfits cover band. The Mystery Lights were having trouble finding a lead singer, but after seeing one of Brandon’s cover band’s show, they asked him to sing. Since then, they’ve been on the prowl for a drummer.
Also, you wouldn’t be able to tell, but Harris only recently learned how to play keys. Brandon explains that Harris joined the band after attending several of their practices to sketch them in action. They put him on keys and he has been blowing minds ever since.
He’s also the brilliant mind behind the breathtaking album artwork.
“He took what he heard in the songs lyrically and tried to blend it into the rock that the hand is holding,” Brandon describes about Harris’ album artwork. “I think it turned out really cool.”
Brandon declares that his favorite song to play, on stage and in general, is “Candlelight”—a smooth, yet dark and mysterious kind of song, where the lyrics and the melody accompany each other flawlessly. “It just sounds right to me when I play it live,” he describes. “When that song comes around it feels good.”
The Mystery Lights’ live shows are a must-see event. You not only get an in-person experience of their pure rock’n’roll, but they’re also pros at entertaining and keeping the audience on their feet.
Every show is unique, filled with its own quirks and improvised situations. Brandon says his favorite parts of playing live are the mishaps. When chords get unplugged, guitar strings snap, and equipment gets knocked over, he loves it all.
“The real creativity at a live show within the energy is the imperfections and the mistakes that come along with the performance—it makes it more fun,” Brandon explains. “Things breaking and just how we’re able to handle it, it’s always entertaining to see how people react to situations like that.”
Their liveliness is definitely a big part when it comes to The Mystery Lights—they poor out their souls up there on stage.
When we asked Brandon to describe their essence using one adjective he got stuck between “energetic” and “spontaneous.” He claims that as soon as the shows feel regurgitated or too practiced to him, that’s when he’ll stop playing music.
“I like to keep it as fresh as possible,” he answers. “I don’t ever want it to be perfect, I want it to always be a mess.”
And what a beautiful mess it is.