Highland Park’s Black Hi-Lighter has the city of Los Angeles in their sites for 2014 as they work to return spectacle to musical performance. Like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, Black Hi-Lighter are looking to take audiences out of their heads for the hour that they own the stage. With a Republican-political-pundit-
Rabbits Black: How did you guys come together?
Mark Reback: It was James and I at first. I go way back with him about 10 years ago – first band was called The End of History. Then he moved away and we kept in touch…
Dave Wright: And you guys were sending demos back and forth.
Mark: Yeah, and I was like what demos you got? And I would put drums and bass on them. and then right when we were getting close to having an album he moved back to LA which made things easier. [Eric’s] wife and my wife are best friends and he heard “Blonde Beasts of Prey” […] and it was the three of us and it totally clicked. And then James was like, “Well I think my trainer Dave plays bass…”
Rabbits Black: Where does the name come from?
James Poulos: In 2006 I was reviewing documents on one of these huge merger cases in DC. As I was going through this bottomless pile of documents every day my mind would wander. So my notepad I kept by my keyboard was full of these weird sayings and snippets from things I saw or thought I saw in the documents. I’m not sure what exactly put the phrase “black hi-lighter” on the notepad, but one day it was there.
Rabbits Black: Eric looking at your past work -engineering and producing for Lucinda Williams, M. Ward, Elvis Costello – a garage glam band seems to be a departure for you. What was it that attracted you to this project?
Eric Liljestrand: It really started with that song “Blonde Beasts of Prey”. It’s so…obnoxious in a way, its a rock-in-your-face rock song. Career-wise, I was always largely a rock player, I was always in a rock band, playing rock. But then my engineering and producing career immediately went into the avant-garde like, on day one; and I ended up in downtown New York with Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, David Van Tieghem and that crowd. But that’s not my center. So once [Black Hi-Lighter] started playing it was, “Oh, here’s a rock outlet.”
Rabbits Black: What was the path each of you followed into music?
James: I started teaching myself guitar in high school. For me it was all about songwriting and self-medication. When I started to realize law school was not what I hoped it would be, there was a lot of reaching for the guitar. One day my upstairs neighbor knocked on the door. I tried to apologize, but she heard me singing and playing the song that eventually became “Blonde Beasts of Prey,” and within a week she had introduced me to Mark, gotten a band together, and made herself our manager. She was the music director for Rolling Stone. It was pretty intense.
Dave: It was always just kind of a fun thing for me. I never really took it that seriously, it was just a pastime release. When this project came along it was the most amazing burst of enjoyable creativity.
Rabbits Black: What has your experience in LA’s vast music scene been like?
Dave: There are nights where you have to work to draw people in. There have been times where people are hanging back in the shadow and James will say, “No, up here!” And they come.
Rabbits Black: How has your experience in Black Hi-Lighter compared to those in your other musical endeavors?
Mark: It just clicked. We all just get along. In bands there’s always some jerk, or someone’s got a drug problem, or someone doesn’t share the same goals – and we don’t have that. It’s like there’s no weak link.
Eric: We had a sound right out of the box. It’s that magic thing where it’s like it doesn’t sound like me, doesn’t sound like [Mark}, doesn’t sound like James – it sounds like Black Hi-Lighter!
Rabbits Black: What’s in store for 2014?
Mark: Definitely James doing more of his Bowie/ Freddie Mercury thing. We have the smoke and the lights and we’re trying to bring back that cool “performance” aspect.
Eric: It’s hard to take the audience somewhere if you’re really just standing there.
Mark: The new album is coming out in, probably May. The next month or so is just going to be us shaping the songs as a band. We’re going to do targeted jaunts to New York, maybe SXSW, San Francisco, San Diego. We’re really going to try and take it to another level in Southern California. When you become big in LA other people will pay attention.
Rabbits Black: Bite The Bullet has been a critical darling. A machination of garage-lit ‘70s glam. What are you looking to do this time around?
Mark: Dave got a Moog (synthesizer) for Christmas so we’re going to work that into the sound. One of the things we’ve been talking about is freeing James up a little more to not be chained to his guitar all the time, and this’ll help I think.
Eric: Just opening up the palate a bit.
James: I didn’t just grow up on the 90s, I grew up in the 90s. So the 70s aspect has always been there, but it wasn’t really formative in the way that music of your own youth is when you first hear it and it’s first out, it’s total novelty at an impressionable time. There’s no way of being sure that will ultimately come through in the new material, but that’s the headspace.
Rabbits Black: You talk a lot about music being this, lightning rod for and an exorcism of, sadness. Was there a particular experience that set you writing?
James: A handful of them. Nothing unique to me. You grow up and you discover it’s hard to communicate some things to some people. Music for me at least is a way of jumping over all that bullshit. Music makes me feel like I’m not having a one-way conversation. It’s not a diatribe or a monologue.
Rabbits Black: James, politics or music?
James: Guess which one I’d do on a desert island.
Rabbits Black: You’ve mentioned the need for a frontman to project a serious degree of self-importance. A big component of your music is also the fun and levity of it all. How do you reconcile the two?
James: It has to be that way. Kurt Cobain used to have a sense of humor. Andrew WK is an utter clown onstage, but the content of his music demands complete commitment. Think about Freddie Mercury or Bowie or even Mick Jagger, these people were not unaware of the paradox of theatricality. You’re on a fricking stage. Rejecting seriousness, rejecting levity — those options aren’t available. You need both, and so does the audience.
Rabbits Black: As seasoned musicians what is it like playing shows with other bands who are just starting out?
Mark: We opened up for Free Energy…and yeah, it was a little noticeable, because they’re all in their mid-twenties. But it’s all about the sound and performance. It doesn’t really matter how old you are if you’re bringing the good, you know what I mean?
Check out the video for their latest single to see what BHL is all about!