The Blinding Lights is back and this time Harrington is all-in
Six years ago, we met The Blinding Lights and its leading light, Jeff "H" Harrington, when the group – which started out as a solo project – released its first CD.
Seven years after that first disc, an EP, called "Sanctify," has followed and we caught up with Harrington to ask about what's changed over that time that has led him to not only keep The Blinding Lights going, but to quit his day job and devote his energies to music full-time.
OnMilwaukee: Since it's been so long, why don't you remind OnMilwaukee readers about your background.
Jeff Harrington: Our family owned an old beat down saxophone when I was growing up, so I started on that. I really didn't like playing saxophone though. Blech. I do appreciate listening to someone else playing one though! I started playing bass in college, and I've been involved with music ever since. I always like to be playing with at least one band that's exploring the deep roots of American music. Right now that roots band would be the classic funk / R&B / blues band Nectarine, which I lead.
I'm also currently playing with alt-country band Alex Ballard and Sugarfoot, and with the kirtan / harmonic chant artist Bhavani. I'm recording and producing a CD for Bhavani this spring, which I'm really excited about. It's a really cool mix of styles, blending the mysterious beauty of ancient Sanskrit chants with funky American pop and R&B. In addition, I'm going on year five of putting together a Bob Dylan birthday tribute at Linneman's, where we play one of Dylan's classic albums in full. This year we'll be playing "Blonde on Blonde" on May 27.
And tell us about The Blinding Lights. Is it just you or is there still a band?
I'm very grateful for being able to work with a lot of incredible musicians. The CD features Carmen Nickerson and Dave Schoepke, who both also work with Willy Porter, Ragani, Jim Duwel, Theo Merriweather, and many others. The live band includes Benny Rickun, Jeff Jara and Dan Johnston. I play with those three guys in other bands, as well. They are definitely musical brothers. The live band and studio band will finally be merging on the next CD.
Does having The Blinding Lights allow you to explore different styles and sounds more than the other projects?
Yes, there is complete musical freedom in The Blinding Lights. I think the uniting factor is that all of it has a catchy pop sensibility, but our music incorporates all kinds of styles, such as alt-country, pop, R&B, chant . . . anything goes. I like how Sting says that pop should be a "mongrel dog" – a space where any exciting ideas can be introduced.
This record seems a bit more varied than the previous one, is that a factor of the big gap between them?
Yes, it has been a while! Not sure what took so long. Personally, I was definitely interested in expanding the palette to include more colors. It was fun to explore keyboards and guitar effects more, as a couple examples. It's so fun when the ideas are flowing. Someone would come up with the idea to add harmonium to a track, for instance, and then that would lead to the idea of adding doumbek, and so on.
Both discs were made with Dave Vartanian, who has a pretty amazing resume (Violent Femmes, Crash Test Dummies, Live, etc.). What did he bring to the records you made with him?
Dave working in the studio is like Han Solo flying the Millennium Falcon. He knows what he's doing! Meanwhile, The Blinding Lights are kind of like Chewbacca. Dave works at warp speed, but always produces fantastic sounds, and has an incredible ear for tempo and intonation and slight rhythmic subtleties. It costs a little more to work with Dave, but in my opinion it's completely worth it. He knows how to get world-class sounds and he will always bring out the best in you, and his proficiency with everything ends up saving you a lot of hours. He seems to know how to deal with every situation, at this point.
Will you keep working with him in the future?
I will definitely keep working with Dave. His knowledge and experience is vast, so there's a lot left to learn. I'm looking to get into producing and engineering myself, so I'm really grateful to learn from someone who is so accomplished.
You've said you're planning on making a life change and leaving your career behind to focus on music full-time. Has that been a challenging decision? Why now?
Well, a steady diet of spiritual tomes and Facebook quotes has gradually led me to a place where I have the courage to go off exploring in the musical wilderness. I feel ready to heed the call and leave the comfort of my nice, safe, conventional medical physics career. I'm sure I'll run into some flying monkeys and talking trees out there, but hopefully it will mostly be good. I've been involved with music now for a long time, but there's still so much more to learn and explore. I love it more than ever. It's very inspiring and exciting. It just gets more and more meaningful and fun. I'm mainly hoping to do producing and engineering, but I'm open to whatever happens.
Does this mean we won't have to wait 7 years again for a record?
Yes, prepare for an onslaught of new Blinding Lights music!
CD release party
The Blinding Lights celebrate the release of "Sanctify" with a CD release gig Friday, April 7 at 9 p.m. at Club Garibaldi. Alex Ballard & Sugarfoot and Sidecar Monkey open the show.
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