INTERVIEW: LIGHT ASYLUM

So this summer we got to witness one of Light Asylum‘s astounding live shows, and to finally meet our long-time pen pal Shannon Funchess. We did this little interview that would have probably gone on for much longer had the band not had a flight to catch. Funchess talks record label business, some exciting collaborations and more.

NC: *The first question is miraculously missing from the recording, but apparently we got tangled up in a conversation on troubles with record labels and stuff. “Shit bands have to deal with”.
SF: The band obviously finds a small indie label, it’s not like some major label throwing a bunch of money at Light Asylum at all. We’re still very much an independent musical artist outfit, whose roots are deeply ingrained; and our aesthetics and our musical – for lack of a better word – morals, are based in the underground. We’re interested in reaching as many people as we can, and not, like, fame and fortune. The music that we make is not mainstream, and not mindless. Unfortunately, as underground artists trying to come above ground, or reach more people than just our little community in Brooklyn, New York, we had to sign with a label that promised to distribute our music in multiple formats, such as vinyl, CD and digital download. For the most part, what they did were the digital downloads, and vinyl – very limited. And the CDs are close to none, that’s like a dying format… But anyway, I don’t think any artist needs or has to sign with the label with the means and technology in this day and age. If you know how to upload your music and you can find a way, a middle man, to sell your music on the Internet, then you basically build your own audience, your own fan base, you sell your shit on whatever, CD Baby or Big Cartel, your T-shirts, your CDs or whatever. You don’t really even need a label. A label is going to press vinyls for you in quantities more than like 5000 copies or whatever, and you can basically DIY. Back to where it was in the 90’s, when it actually mattered. Small labels like K-Records or Kill Rock Stars, or – at the time – Thrill Jockey, etc. I know that I said that the label that we signed to was an indie label, but it’s kind of more like a “major indie” label posing as an indie label. The label itself has money. The distribution outside of America is actually like a larger label, like Universal, in order to reach a larger audience.
NC: When I wanted to order that special edition vinyl, they were only selling it from the US and the shipping cost more than the record itself…
SF: The special edition record? The band only got 50 copies! The record was sold out before our record release party. We didn’t have enough records to sell to our fans in New York, which is where we are from, where we started, where our fanbase began. So it’s not a fair deal. It’s hard, because you want to reach as many people as you can as an artist, but at the same time, even with an indie label, you’re kind of shaking hands with “the man” at some point.
NC: It seems like it took you quite some time to find a label?
SF: Which was, I guess what was supposed to happen, naturally, because no other label that approached us actually offered us a deal. Mexican Summer was the first label to approach us and offer us a deal that made any sense, that we thought was going to be artist-friendly and creatively and artistically we would have license… We actually licensed the record to them, not sold the record to them, you know what I mean, so in ten years the record is ours again, as of the day it was released. As well as the EP, and unfortunately, there was no press for that. But in the industry apparently there is no press for EPs. If your record is not more than eight songs, even if the record was ten songs and each song was only one minute long, it’s not considered a long-play album and therefore you will get no press, no interviews, no nothing.
NC: By “no press” you mean that the label doesn’t try to get you any exposure in the major publications?
SF: The label doesn’t try to get you placement in magazines, ads for your release, no interviews from magazines, no radio play. No bloooogging…
NC: Hey!
SF: [Laughs.] Our first recording was an EP, and our songs are kind of long, around 5-6 minutes, which is not long enough to warrant having any press. They didn’t tell anybody that they released it. Guess it was like – Oh, we’ll just press like 500 copies of this and let’s say we put it out. And they’re just going to stamp it and say “Mexican Summer”, bam, like that! And they’re going to own it for ten years. But they didn’t have to do anything for it. We recorded it, we mastered it, we produced it, we mixed it, we did everything, and then we handed it to them, along with our fanbase and everything that we built, and they took it. Maybe we were a little bit naive to think they were going to do press and actually, like, push it. To them, it wasn’t worth it. It’s not like a full-length record. We also expected of them to help us, as one of their artists, to ship it ahead of us. Otherwise, we have to carry it in our suitcases and we incur the costs in baggage fees, and the airlines are straight raping people in baggage fees. We should invite a friend every time we go on tour to carry one of our bags, it would be cheaper that way – to pay for a flight for someone to carry all of our merch – than it would be to send our merch to another country. OR have them press it in another country, but they’re not doing that.
NC: Which actually seems quite simple.
SF: Quite simple. Are there no record plants in Europe? I believe there are.

NC: You guys have built a strong reputation as a live band. When working on the full-length record, were you trying to, sort of, capture that live sound?
SF: I actually think that the record is a little more produced than we intended, even though we produced the record ourselves. We wanted this producer, Flood – the same producer who worked with bands like Depeche Mode and The Smashing Pumpkins, to produce us, but he wasn’t available. But who knows, maybe the next record. Our approach is, as far as making a record sound like a live record, we didn’t intend that, that’s just how we started. We started out as a live band.
NC: …Yeah, unlike a lot of bands nowadays.
SF: Well, we are definitely a bedroom band, but not with laptops, we have keyboards and other setup, and it’s really expensive to have a practice space in New York. I have a practice space, so I asked Bruno to join the band in 2009, but I started the project in 2007 as a solo project and a departure from playing in other people’s bands and backing them vocally, or lending vocals to recordings of my friends’ projects. Once that happened, that was the Light Asylum that was meant to be. We played shows like four or five times a month, just to get it out there – to let people know that we were around, that we had a sound that we wanted to introduce, and to get back to our community. There were so many musicians… And now, there are so many more bands, like moving to Brooklyn just so can they say they’re from Brooklyn. Because there’s energy there. Like, anybody who moves to New York, they want that energy and that inspiration… The same reason I moved to New York. Brooklyn, the area where we live, came up as quite different from when we moved there though. But still, yeah, we pummeled Lower East side of Manhattan with Light Asylum just so that you could find out about us, you know, so that we could eventually leave New York and tour. But New York is in our heart for sure. We love Berlin and everybody thinks we’re from Berlin, but we’re not. We still live in New York, we just go to Berlin in the summer because it’s easier to tour Europe, it’s just more cost-effective.

NC: You played with Laurie Anderson at Donau Festival this spring. How did that come about, and how did it end up?
SF: It was great, it was amazing. That came about because CocoRosie were the curators of the Donau Festival this year, and they approached Laurie Anderson, and they approached Light Asylum about doing a collaboration for a live performance, improvised performance. And both Laurie Anderson and Light Asylum were very enthusiastic about it, and so it happened!
NC: Have you practiced at all?
SF: We met her once. We had to meet her, and we really wanted to, and it was great. We went to her studio in Manhattan, and brought all the equipment that we would normally play with the Light Asylum set, and she had all of the equipment for her set. We just jammed for an hour, and we ate lunch, and that was that! [Laughs.] The day we were to play together we did a line check and a couple of hours later we performed together for the first time in front of an audience. And that was it. It was an improvised set and it was great.
NC: Speaking of collaborations, I understand that you are going to appear on the new The Knife record?
SF: Yes.
NC: Umm, that sounds pretty exciting!
SF: It’s amazing. Super amazing. I met Olof of The Knife in Berlin last summer, and he just asked me if I wanted to do something and I, of course, said yes. And then, this spring, over a couple of trips, we got together for however many hours I could spare in the studio with him and Karen. We recorded what we could. That particular track that will come out on the album in September was also a collaboration with Emily Roysdon who is a visual artist – she wrote the lyrics. Karen and I sang the lyrics and created the melodies along with Emily as well, and Olof and Karen produced the music.
NC: Looking forward to hearing that.
SF: Yeah. I have to go though… Sorry!

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