To me, The Bigger Lights are one of the bands that make my local area proud. From getting signed to Doghouse Records to creating their latest record entirely DIY. That latest record, Battle Hymn, received a great review from me and showed off what the band had been truly capable of creating. The band agreed to spend some time answering questions right before their first of two record release shows in their hometown of Vienna, Virginia. Some of the topics discussed were the reception to Battle Hymn, what happened with Doghouse Records, the reasons why the band reinvented their sound, lyrics on the new record, the future of The Bigger Lights, and much much more that you can read below.
Firstly, can you introduce yourself?
I’m John Kendall Royston, and I play guitar and keyboards in The Bigger Lights.
You guys just released Battle Hymn. How has the response to the record been?
It’s been great. It’s been amazing. Self releasing a record is always a little bit scary because you don’t know how many people are going to hear it or what people are going to think of it, and especially for this record we decided to really reinvent ourselves from front to back and to not only reinvent ourselves but reinvent the way we make music by taking all of the control back in to our hands and doing everything ourselves in a bedroom. It was really risky, and definitely a little bit scary to do, but so far the kids have been really really really into it and the reviews have been really good so far. We’re satisfied as long as people are enjoying the album I think we did our job on it.
Why did you guys as you said decide to totally reinvite your sound? Was it simply opportunity or did you feel the need to progress?
Progression had a lot to do with it, but to a certain extent we have always been a bit of an underdog as far as this independent music community is concerned. We signed, but not a lot of people knew we were signed, and we released albums, but not a lot of people heard those albums, and to a certain extent you start to wonder after you do all this work why it’s not catching the way it should. For us, I just feel we strayed a bit off course from what we started out as. We started out wanting to be this rock band that challenged ourselves musically a little bit more and gave ourselves a little bit more room to be experimental. Somewhere along the line you start catering and pandering to the opportunities that you’re getting. We were a little dissatisfied with ourselves. It’s not to say we’re not proud of the music we did during our Doghouse years. The pop records we did, I think they’re great pop records but I think we needed a reinvention at that particular time for ourselves and our own sanity and our own challenge. We really felt at this age we needed to try to do something completely self contained and different and really just shake it up.
Did you guys decide to leave Doghouse or were you “dropped” from the label?
I think it’s really important to be really really really clear and fair about what happened with Doghouse. They’re great people and I think that everybody that works at the label is brilliant. They’re all really smart and talented human beings. The decision was ours to leave Doghouse. A lot of it came down to that we didn’t really feel that for whatever reason we were getting the places that we wanted to get. That we were getting the things out of our own career that we wanted to get and the only way we really knew how to take steps in a different direction was to cut ties with a lot of things that we were comfortable with and knew. Doghouse did a lot to support our band and I know for a fact we wouldn’t be anywhere remotely close to where we ended up without their help and support. I think we just got to a point where we needed to do it ourselves again. We started a totally DIY band and now we’ve come full circle back to being that. We sort of wanted to have control over all of our own decisions and our own art again. That’s nothing against them, but it’s something that we felt we needed to do.
Do you feel Doghouse held you back as a band?
I wouldn’t say that they actively pushed us. They were always actually very receptive to anything that we wanted to do. They let us make the music we wanted to make, they encouraged us to do things to better ourselves as musicians, and they put us in some good opportunities throughout the period of time. They didn’t say that we had to be a pop band and dress this way. I think it’s more that when you’re in that signed world and you have the kind of tours that are a certain type of tour, the marketing avenues you have open to you are these certain kind of marketing avenues, there’s this self pressure to conform to that to make the most of that opportunity so you feel like you’re getting these chances to reach the most people we can than like for the right chances for who we are. It wasn’t them trying to change us in any way, we just felt like the situation was causing us to sort of change ourselves.
There was definitely a change in the lyrical topics on Battle Hymn relative to the older work. Was that change forced or was it something that came based on changed experiences? How did the change fall into place?
It was actually very natural. I feel like one of the things we really did on the full-length record that we weren’t proud of is that lyrically we diluted ourselves a little bit. Most of us graduated before we even started the band. A song like “Jessie” , I think is a good pop song, but it got to the point where it was a little bit weird for us 28 year old men to be singing that song. Then again, there are songs on that record that I think are absolutely songs I would have put on the next record. “Somewhere Out There” was up to a maturity and developmental standpoint. Lyrically, it said something. “Always” , was a very mature song and “So Crazy” was a really personal piece that I stand by. Somehow I think the lyrics were a little bit diluted on that record to appeal to a younger fanbase. In keeping with all these big decisions we were making to try to be ourselves and make the most natural we could. Even Chris to a certain extent worked on the lyrics on this record for the first time. The three of us really just allowed ourselves to write about our lives and our experiences and about the things that we were feeling. At the time we made the record we were feeling angry about a lot of things. That’s what happened, we just let ourselves go there and if nothing else we can look back on the record and know that was definitely a snapshot of what we felt at that time in our lives.
Battle Hymn was announced just a week before its release date. Do you think that helped or hurt the sales and exposure of the album?
I want to say that it was a pretty premeditated thing, but it wasn’t. It was pretty impulsive actually. The record was about 75 to 80 percent done when Ryan left, and at that point we had to take about a month to figure out what we wanted to do and whether we even wanted to finish making the record or whether we felt it was done. We just had to reassess our position and we ultimately decided that we had put so much into this music and so much into making this album that it would be unfair to ourselves and to the people that have really supported the band not to put this material into the world. We maybe impulsively decided that as soon as it was done we were just going to put it out there and let it be. We did it independently, what else were we going to do? We don’t have a need for a three month setup time. We weren’t going to get in AP magazine or SPIN magazine as an independent band. We’re really realistic about the opportunities. We know that social media was our number one arsenal and our biggest weapon, and social media has a very short shelf life. You can’t really push something on social media for too too long before it begins to bore people so we decided to announce it at the week point and try this hyper condensed roll out plan. I haven’t really seen the numbers. To be honest, I don’t know how well it’s selling. I haven’t even checked. Pardon my French, but I don’t really give a shit. I’m happy with the record. It’s out there now and we’re proud of that.
The album was only eight tracks long. Was the reason for having a shorter album the lack of label support and money issues, or was that all that was written for the record?
We actually wrote about 25 songs for the album and the original version of the record was going to be 12. There are three or four more tunes that are various stages of completion that were going to be on the record but weren’t picked for the final track list. When Ryan left, everything kind of got thrown into a spin cycle during that reevaluation process. We had to decide what was best for us. Some of the peaces were going to put out on the record we just decided we didn’t want to put out in this collection of music anymore. We wanted to hold them back for whatever reason. Whether it’s to release them later as something else or as b-sides, who really knows. But we just decided that amongst the twelve we were going to do, considering we weren’t really going to be able to tour on the record or anything we wanted the album to be a cohesive piece. These eight were the most cohesive, and the other four sort of deviated further in other directions. Plus eight is cool, it’s progressive. Keith Urban is doing eight song records now. It’s kind of going back to that. It leaves people wanting a little bit more.
What are your plans for the upcoming months?
Some of us are moving to Los Angeles. Chris is at home with his wife. We’re going to do some cool multimedia for the record. We’re thinking of doing a cheap independent video for one of the songs. We’re going to start trying to target one of the tunes to XM radio. Sadly we probably aren’t going to be playing live too too much because we’re all scattered all over the country and we had to sell our van and our trailer just to kind of get out of debt and to be able to move forward with our lives. There will be some cool stuff in The Bigger Lights. We still plan on making music together and putting it out, and if a great opportunity comes along, we’ll always approach that when we get there, but as for our goals, it’s just to be best friends with each other and make music we believe in and if we make something we really believe in we’ll put it out. If we don’t, then we won’t.
Are you happy with how the band has turned out so far?
I mean long story short, we started the band five years ago. Who knows what could have happened. While I don’t think the band necessarily quite received the push that it deserved from the business, I am really proud of what we accomplished amongst myself and my bandmates. We really built something from nothing and we got to do some things that we always dreamed of doing. We signed two record deals. We toured the country 18 times. I never thought I’d be able to do that when I was a 13 year old kid picking up the guitar for the first time. We released four records and the last one we made it entirely ourselves in a bedroom and kids seemed to like it. So I think in the grand scheme of things I think absolutely I’m proud of the accomplishments. Even if we never did anything else from this point on you can be proud of it. We can be proud of what we did.
Any final words?
A huge thank you to everyone who’s supported us for our career. It’s really really meant a lot and we hope that as we continue to kind of explore the new Bigger Lights the people will be continually supportive. Battle Hymn is out and just as a PSA so to speak, the record was a 100% DIY initiative meaning we did the entire thing ourselves front to back. Anyone that buys that record, that money goes straight in to making it so we can make more music some time in the future. Definitely check out the record and if you like it, it would mean a lot if you picked up a copy of it on Bandcamp or iTunes.
Again, I'd like to thank John and the rest of The Bigger Lights for allowing this interview to happen. The entire band is full of some extremely genuine guys, that are passionate about their art to no end. Their new record Battle Hymn is absolutely fantastic, and one of the largest musical growths I've heard in the last few years. You can stream and buy the record on the band's Bandcamp page here, as well as fan them on Facebook here.