By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
I just find that I learn more and more from the reality of stuff and how you should, like, take it," says Bright Channel's Jeff Suthers, philosophically, his forehead furrowed in puzzlement. "You can get too wrapped up in stuff and take it way too seriously."
Upon listening to Bright Channel's new self-titled and self-released disc, you might get the crazy idea that the group does indeed take itself way too seriously. Recorded by infamous angst junkie Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, the songs are seriously bleak, seriously epic, seriously eerie...seriously serious. Imagine a sawed-off Mogwai crammed into a supercollider with Closer-era Joy Division. Picture long shadows, cold steel, exit wounds, anesthesia. Think grim.
And the trio's live act doesn't dispel that aura of smothering murk. On stage, Shannon Stein stands stoic, shoulders hunched as if under the weight of some unimaginable guilt or gravity. Her bass lines aren't strings of notes so much as gulps and pulses of matter, the meat of a star fed through intestines of circuitry. Meanwhile, Suthers, his guitar drooping nearly to his ankles, coos like a narcotized Ian McCulloch and enshrouds the surrounding air in a fog of dry-ice noise. In the center, drummer Brian Banks pummels out a rhythm as tidal as it is tribal, a lunging, syncopated thrum that pulverizes all sense of solidity or civilization.
Heavy, for sure. But serious? You wouldn't know it by sitting around slurping beers with the three of them in the basement of the hi-dive on a Thursday night. Off-stage, they're more spastic than spacey, more goofy than aloof. Stein is curled up on a couch, grinning shyly, while Banks sits next to her, eyes bulging and intense. Suthers perches his lanky, gangling frame on a bar stool as precariously as an acrobat on a high wire. With a series of quick jabbing gestures and sloshes of Pabst, he resumes his spiel on the nature of perception and reality.
"It wasn't true," he exclaims. "There was just this rumor floating around that some rep from Matador Records was flying out to see one of our shows. It was probably just somebody out there saying, 'Let's fuck with Bright Channel.' But that's okay. At this point, I would feel disappointed if we didn't put our album out ourselves, because we've had that goal for so many years."
Founded in 2002, Bright Channel might be a relatively new band, but its past stretches back to Pueblo at the end of the '80s. There, Suthers and Banks met and bonded against a backdrop of punk rock and small-town boredom. "We actually went to rival high schools," Suthers recounts. "I was one of the rebel mutants who realized there was some cool shit at Brian's school, like new-wave girls and wild bonfire parties out by the railroad tracks. So we started hanging out together."
In 1990, Suthers began playing in an outfit called Plunger. When asked what kind of music it made, he laughs and launches into a description that sounds almost too good to be true: "We had this weird, satanic, classic-rock, circus-y, punk-funk kind of sound. We did a mean cover of the Sesame Streettheme song." Plunger sputtered out a couple of years after Suthers moved from Pueblo to attend CU. Banks, his roommate in Boulder at the time, wasn't playing music at all. As it turns out, the two future purveyors of atmospheric gloom rock were way too busy one-upping Steve-O to worry about getting serious with their music.
"When it comes to the Jackass-type stuff we used to do, the list goes on and on," Banks recalls fondly. "We used to play Nintendo, and whoever lost would have to get shot by a BB gun, point blank, in the cheek."
"We also used to have a sport called hosing," Suthers adds. "We had a hose tied into the tree of our front yard, and we would jump off the roof and swing on it. We invented all these skateboarding-type moves, like the Midget Drop. Me and the drummer of my old band were at this crazy nine-keg party once, and we were going back into the house, when all of a sudden this midget walks up to the edge of the roof and just airs off of it into a bush. We were just dumbfounded. As we walked by, we saw the bush shaking and making this noise. The midget was completely submerged in the depths of the bush. We went inside and didn't even talk to each other for twenty minutes. We were like, 'What the fuck just happened?'"
"That's the type of shit we used to do for fun," Banks affirms. "Those were the salad days."
But even after a long day of condom-snorting, backyard boxing and hammering nails into his nostrils, Suthers still had energy left over for rock. Volplane came together in 1996, an ethereal, ear-bursting ensemble that brought Stein into the fold. A heavy-metal refugee from Casper, Wyoming, the bassist met Suthers when she got a job at Rob's Music in Boulder, where the pair is still on the payroll. After Warner Bros. fruitlessly flirted with Volplane, the outfit morphed into Pteranodon, a much more free-form and ambient affair featuring just Stein on organ and Suthers on guitar.