Peaking Lights are a hard group to pin down. Their music is both experimental and palatable. They love dub. They cite cult filmmaker Kenneth Anger as an influence. They are married and have a kid.
Maybe these random facts about them that come off like a series of non-sequiturs is part of the reason why their hypnotic and engaging sound seems to spring forth from nearly unrecognizable places. Maybe it has nothing to do with it. Peaking Lights may not even know themselves.
To suss out as much as we could, Aaron Coyes of the duo chatted with us on the eve of a Brooklyn loft show about the constantly evolving process of crafting their sound, the awesomeness of Black Ark recordings and how music can act as a snapshot of the soul.
I heard it only took you three days and 200 dollars to record 936. Was Lucifier also recorded quick and cheap?
Not really. For Lucifer, Mexican Summer let us take over the studio for three weeks. They also provided us with an engineer to work with. So it was definitely a different type of budget. The way we went into this record was sort of like a concept record actually. We wrote most of the record in the studio minus the rhythms. It was actually the first time we’ve had the ability to work in a studio of that quality to record an album from start to finish.
What was it like to write most of the songs in the studio?
Just not trying to find a space that you can be in really quick was cool. Also being able to have things really separate. Beyond the rhythm track, everything was recorded separately. And just being able to mono track everything down the line was all different.
Do the songs come out of a jam?
They do come out of a jam but we usually prep these with very loose rhythm structures before going into the studio which are all recorded at home on tape and with other program machines. So when we went back into the studio we kind of re-recorded them with more definition. Then we will jam on the rhythm section.
Are Indra’s lyrics also improvised a similar way?
I think often times they start off just as sounds and then become words eventually.
Your records are often characterized by including heavy elements of dub and even reggae on them.
Dub is definitely one of the earlier forms of psychedelic music that either of us were informed by. We also really like the “womp” of the low bass as well. A lot of the Black Ark recordings, especially the earlier ones, are just so heavy. Plus, I think we just appreciate the openness on those records to experimenting in the studio especially with the engineering, and love how it all just builds off this groove.
Your music occupies this interesting space where it seems to present it’s experimental nature and present in an accessible way.
I think that comes out naturally. It’s just a balance we like to keep. We want to maintain that initial spark going and not just let it burn out. I think we will always be open to experimenting with different styles, different ways of recording or working with different people. It keeps things really interesting for us that way.
Lucifer seems to be a much brighter album and is slightly more dance-oriented. What drove you towards that sound?
I think that also happened naturally as well. A lot of the stuff we’ve been trying to conceive in “Marshmallow Yellow” or “Summertime” gave us more of an idea on how to work for an element. With Lucifer we tried to continue that by working other elements in. I just think that by constantly trying to ask ourselves, “how do I add this” and then trying to do that is important. There’s an idea that a photograph captures your soul. I like to think that so does recording music.
Do you think that the amount of access we have to music has an effect on the sound of Peaking Lights?
Definitely. I think it’s pretty exciting actually that people have that access. I can’t even begin to conceive what bands are going to sound like in 20 years. It’s going to be freaky. I actually had a friend say the other day, that they were bummed about the state of music because no one has made anything that had really freaked them out. I thought that was interesting that we might not have anyone right now who is freaking people out like the Beatles freaked out our grandparents.
How did your mixtape series come about?
We had a record store and a clothing shop and we were doing mixtapes a lot back then with actual cassette tapes. Then our computer got stolen and it had one of those sound cards so we started using the computer to make mixes. This is a little bit after 936 came out. Then Jack from Domino was like, “why don’t we put your mixes these online.”
I think the goal is partially to showcase some our influences but also to put music out there that people might not have heard before. We’ve been trying to keep it really eclectic and have them not be just one kind of style.
You mentioned Kenneth Anger as an influence on Lucifer.
Well, I actually went to film school and he was someone who really influenced me at the time. I just think that a lot of his work is so important even with things like the formation of videos on MTV. It’s really magical work the way he was able to play with montage and archetypes and images. And I feel like, for us, this idea that the light of the camera from filming has a way to change our perception of reality is a really cool idea.
So would you say you are trying to do something similar in your music?
In a way. It’s just the openness of trying to see what is out there and what we can do. For example, I don’t think our band could have existed in the ’90s or in the ’80s. To maintain the way we are, it is so important to have access to so many different things.
In a sense you are saying that Peaking Lights is a product of the time then.
Definitely. Not that the band wouldn’t be able to exist if the world drastically changed or something, it would just take on another form. I think that both of us are both very conscious of our environments.
Speaking of time, what does the future hold for Peaking Lights?
I think the both of us are itching to record again and work on some new stuff to be honest. If we had been able to spend more time in the studio I think we would’ve been able to come out with double record because we had such inspiration during that time but fortunately, that inspiration is still there.