By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Christopher Rigel wishes he thought more like a novelist.
"I'd say the written word is just as big an influence for me as the musical side of things," says the Light Travels Faster frontman. "Ginsberg, Burroughs. I love the way Vonnegut structures things. Now, that — his way of composing a novel — is like what I want to be able to translate to record an album."
Fortunately for Rigel, his bandmates share a love of literary compositional structure. To that end, the three of them — Rigel, bassist Todd Spriggs and drummer Kyle Fuller — have combined and applied cerebral, layered and thematic elements to Light Travels Faster's sound.
"Especially on recorded versions of the songs," Fuller continues. "There are many different intricate parts that come into play. You're definitely able to hear more of a cohesive nature between the different parts. There are still separate entities, but they work much better together now."
The group's considered approach to songwriting and recording can be heard on its new four-song EP, ...with friends like these. A followup to its 2007 freshman EP, After the Black of Baca County, this latest effort marks an evolution in technique. "It's more like layering and guitar work," says Spriggs. "It's more of a bigger sound," Indeed. While the fingerprints of influences like Modest Mouse and Sonic Youth haven't disappeared completely, Light stakes out more original territory on the new release. Here the band's dense, textured and harmonically rich sound melds an ear for compositional continuity with a sense for poetic pacing. Rigel's guitar playing finds new depth and tones in alternate tunings, while Spriggs's bass lines float effortlessly across the non-traditional phrasing and Fuller alternates between punctuated, powerful drum lines in certain sections and soft, suggestive cymbal accompaniment in others.
Rigel's lyrics, meanwhile, boast a theme that stretches across the entire EP. All of the tunes hint at soiled personal connections, of relationships gone bad and personality flaws that corrode the best-intentioned attempts at friendship: "I'm keeping my mouth closed/system overload/and it feels like/I could likely/explode," Rigel sedately coos in "How to Avoid Apologies." The sentiment quickly becomes intense and angry, as the band bursts into a faster pace and heavier sound for lines like, "I could have shouted/shouted even louder."
"The whole concept behind every song," Rigel reveals, "is about really terrible people that I've known, or really terrible aspects of my own personality that I'm not proud of."
A change of scenery no doubt helped foster Rigel's introspection. In 2007, prompted by the stifling lack of a viable music scene in Amarillo, the north Texas town where he and Fuller formed Light Travels Faster and released a record at the beginning of the decade, Rigel moved to Denver and started playing music with Spriggs. Fuller joined the pair shortly thereafter. "Suffice it to say that Amarillo is not a very productive place for a musician to be," Rigel observes flatly. "There's no scene. No dynamic."
"Or fan base, for that matter," adds Fuller.
After the two moved to the Mile High City and joined forces with Spriggs, establishing themselves locally proved relatively simple. Spriggs, who had previously been a member of such acts as All Capitals, already knew his way around the scene. "That made it easy to start lining up shows," he notes. "I started lining up shows before Kyle moved out here. I think ten days after he moved up, we had our first show."
The band re-recorded bass tracks for Baca with Spriggs and re-released the EP locally and digitally. But while the newly reconfigured unit quickly started making its mark on the scene, making progress on the second EP wasn't quite as easy. Two of the tracks that appear on friends ("Friends Like These," "Better Company") came together rather effortlessly, while the other two ("How to Avoid Apologies" and "I.F.S.") took quite a bit more work.
"At the time that we started the initial tracking for the other two songs, they weren't finished," Rigel recalls. "They were just bare-bones guitar parts, essentially. It was kind of backwards. They weren't written and then recorded; they were recorded and then written. They essentially had titles with no lyrics."
The long gestation process was also the result of a more careful and studied recording process. Where they'd been limited to sixteen recordable tracks on Baca, the guys had unlimited ability to add different layers for friends. It was a freedom that drew out the creative process and made the members more selective about what they added to the album. "When you're recording something, you really want to try to get it the way you want before you lay it down," Fuller explains. "Sometimes it comes out naturally."
While recording friends, the band likewise became more selective when it came to playing shows locally, opting for performances where they shared chemistry and cohesion with their fellow headliners. "Our mindset has been more selective than playing out a ton," Spriggs points out. "We're setting shows up farther down the road, lining them up with bands we go well with. Being more selective and working with the bands more — it just kind of leads to more cohesive shows. I think being selective really pays off."
Although there's already plenty of material written for another recording, the band is taking a measured approach to its next project. "It will go faster than this last one," Fuller says, "but there's still no way to tell how long it will take." What's more, the act also plans to stick with the EP format for future efforts — not for a lack of material, but in the interest of composition and storytelling.
"I really like when, across a full-length album, there's sort of a storyline or a theme that echoes throughout the whole thing," Rigel concludes. "And I don't trust myself enough as a songwriter to take a theme and run it across ten or a dozen songs. We're putting together some short stories rather than a novel."