The buzz starts here
Bright Light Fever heads east in search of fame, fortune and Wu Tang style
“We’ve got $800 and a van, so we’re ready to go,” said Bright Light Fever bassist Matt Ferro.
Matt is anxiously awaiting the band’s trip to the Austin, Texas, music festival South by Southwest. It represents the culmination of a whirlwind 15 months that have witnessed the signing of his brother Evan’s band, Bright Light Fever, to Island Def Jam subsidiary Stolen Transmission; his recruitment into the band; and the October release of the debut album, Bright Light Fever Presents The Evening Owl.
Every year the Austin festival helps launch a handful of buzz bands, such as last year’s breakout act Arctic Monkeys. The Placerville quartet is hoping to be this year’s golden child, but the band also is using SXSW as a pretext for its first extended tour.
“We’ve got 17 shows, and we’re going to go 4,000 miles,” said Matt, who’s still looking to fill in a few open dates. “We don’t have an agent, so we’re booking it ourselves.”
Bright Light Fever actually broke up and Evan had joined Matt’s band, Supermodel Suicide, when he got the call from Stolen Transmission. Label co-founder Sarah Lewitinn (a.k.a. blogger Ultragrrrl)—once an assistant editor at Spin and My Chemical Romance’s first manager before they were signed—received Bright Light Fever’s demo CD through a mutual friend and began courting Evan.
“I was obviously really apprehensive at first, afraid my brother was going to get taken advantage of,” Matt recalled. “He had probably turned 18 when he got that call. He had already heard from a couple record labels that had seen him, because they were good and they were young. I told him to take it with a grain of salt for right now and see if they really are interested. But they kept calling and talking to him. So I felt like I shouldn’t try to help too much with the decision at that point.”
After some debate, Matt and Supermodel drummer Robert Torres joined Evan and bassist Dan Suave in a remodeled Fever.
“We had so much fun playing together [in Supermodel Suicide] and [Evan] felt the same way,” said Matt. “He needed a second guitar player, and he needed to find a solid drummer. We had one with my old band, so we basically split those two bands up, formed a different one but kept the name.”
In March of last year they began recording with the Bronx’s Joby Ford at Sacramento’s The Hangar Studios. The band’s tightly wound post-punk has a jagged, dance-y bounce like a particularly agitated Pixies or Bloc Party if they’d grown up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Tense numbers such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Liver,” writhe with dark energy, slashing guitars and a staccato rhythm highlighting Evan’s dispassionate croon. When he sings, “we turn a cheek on the obvious / we’ve got to eat to live and stay this way for us,” his cynical sneer is echoed in the album’s steely production. Matt describes The Hangar as an old converted warehouse and former music space that looks a little like a gymnasium, and contributes an open sound that colors the album’s dour, haunting tone.
“We definitely wanted a live sound,” he said. “I also think, though it sounds pretty cheesy, but when we were in there, it was like the very end of winter and it definitely put a vibe on the record.”
Matt has no problem ceding frontman duties to his brother, claiming he prefers guitar. “He’s a better singer. What are you gonna do?”
The oldest son of six children from an artistic family (mom’s an artist and dad’s a drummer), Matt says playing with his younger brother has been a learning experience.
“He plays circles around me,” Matt admitted, laughing. “He’s taught me a lot. I moved out of the house and came back 10 years later, and he was miles ahead of me. … Every once in a while I’ll bring something in that’ll be used, but he’s still young and has more in him. I sometimes feel like I’ve used all my riffs.”
When the band finally gets to Austin, they’re hoping to run into RZA again. They caught up with the Wu Tang member and noted producer while in New York this summer.
“All the bands on the label were in town—we’d never met each other—so the people at the label and all of us were hanging out eating and drinking, and he was in the bar. We just invited him in, and he hung out for a while. It was really cool,” Matt said. “It wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary. He wasn’t a sore thumb that’s for sure.”
It’s just another of the horizon of possibilities stretching out in front of Bright Light Fever.