Existential indie

The Spotlight Syndicate

Members of The Spotlight Syndicate ponder what Sartre meant when he said, “Existence precedes and rules essence.”

Members of The Spotlight Syndicate ponder what Sartre meant when he said, “Existence precedes and rules essence.”

Photo By David Robert

Cerebral, self-conscious dance music isn’t exactly a staple of the Reno music scene. But for those looking for an alternative to played-out, three-chord punk and ear-splitting house music, The Spotlight Syndicate, a local power trio, just might be your band.

The Spotlight Syndicate rose roughly a year ago from the ashes of This Computer Kills, an experimental collaboration between bassist Nick Delehanty, 20, drummer Jeff Baer, 20, and then-songwriter Jawsh Hageman.

“The Spotlight Syndicate is a lot more accessible than This Computer Kills,” Delehanty says. “I always felt like This Computer Kills was the black sheep of most of the shows we played.”

The band became an unconventional power trio after keyboardist Carolyn Van Lydegraf, 20, a friend and fellow student at the University of Nevada, Reno, was hired instead of a guitarist.

“When Jeff and I were trying to start a band, we did not set out with a specific direction,” Delehanty says. “We were just searching for someone who was fun to jam with. None of the guitar players that we came across fit our style, so we asked Carolyn, who’s been playing piano forever, to buy a keyboard and start a band with us. I think it was Jeff’s suggestion.”

The band’s first and only release …forget the static past… goes by fast, maybe a bit too fast, pumping out eight tracks in a little over 20 minutes. Throughout the album, Delehanty’s thick, bouncy basslines and Van Lydegraf’s industrial keyboards form methodical melodies over Baer’s dance floor drum beats. This formula buoys standout tracks such as “Mysterious Moxie.”

“I think ‘Mysterious Moxie’ [has] got the most hook, and I think lyrically it has the most meaning to us personally,” Baer says. “It was the first song we wrote, and while I enjoy the other songs I feel this is our strongest song on the album.”

The band cites such influences as the indie outfits Hot Snakes and International Noise Conspiracy, yet its mix of dystopian themes and danceable beats harks back to such post-punk club thumpers as New Order and Devo, offering listeners the option to either sulk or groove. Yet, band members say their audiences generally take the latter, defying the hipster brood that pervades most brainiac indie shows.

“This is the first band that I have been in that I feel people actually enjoy the music,” Baer says. “Our last Reno show was amazing, and we just returned from tour, and it was awesome to see people dancing and even singing along already.”

Although Delehanty, also lead lyricist, sings with a hint of both emo longing and punk sneer, the lyrics lack any dashboard confessions or tired mantras of suburban angst. Rather than exploring the usual, familiar rants against ex-girlfriends and strict parents, Delehanty takes a high-minded approach to songwriting, pondering the teachings of such philosophical heavy-hitters as Jean-Paul Sartre.

“Whenever I write lyrics, they take bits and pieces from whatever I’m into at the time," Delehanty says. "I had been reading a lot of Sartre, Searle and Camus when I wrote lyrics for our songs. Some are personal, some are influenced through books and film, but all my lyrics can be traced back to the state I was in when I wrote them. As far as themes are concerned, I say everything except politics. I’m not much for politics."