Knowing when to say the right thing is an important quality, but so is knowing when to be silent. German psychedelic duo Pretty Lightning have always sung the right words at the right times, but for their fifth album Dust Moves they felt it was better to let the music do the talking. And lo and behold; it loudly speaks to our collective imagination, perhaps even more strongly than a record with lyrics ever could.
Whether its the slide guitar Western ride of Glide Gently, or the Tommy Guerrero-like desert caravan trip Gewgaw For Beginners; every song on Dust Moves tells a different story that you can experience with your eyes closed, filling in the images that take place where usually words may have been.
Pretty Lighting‘s approach is a gentle, subtle, layer building work, where they seduce you into their song’s small little environment in such a vivid way that it feels like you can live there for a while. Most of the sounds are linked to rhythm and blues and old time western folk, but Pretty Lightning manage to meld them together in such a way that they become their own little entities.
Being a vocalist myself I find myself often sceptic of instrumental music, but I feel that this distrust is not justified here. Pretty Lightning has pulled the vocals out of their music, but they put the listener in the front seat in stead. In the setting Dust Moves offers it therefore feels all the richer, and never like something is “missing”. It’s the real great instrumental works that can do that.
Once again I found myself in the privileged position to be in contact with the band. (Former) singer and guitarist Sebastian Haas was willing to introduce the band and answer my questions…
Hi guys, super stoked to talk to you! How have you been the past pandemic period?
S: Hi, in general and according to circumstances, mostly ok. Like the “it could be much worse” sort of ok. None of our friends and families was or is seriously ill due to covid.
Music wise it was obviously worse, it actually still is, but that applies to every band and artist, I guess… Personal conditions unfortunately force PL to take social distancing even more seriously and we have to hold back a bit longer. But it’s getting better, slowly, I hope. I mean, of course it sucks, and even if it could be much worse, I’m sure everyone has been tired of it for a long time.
Can you introduce yourselves and your band to the Weirdo Shrine audience?
S: Dear Weirdo Shrine reader, my name is Sebastian and I like animals. I also play guitar and (used to) sing in Pretty Lightning. That’s a band started out as a garagerock duo over a decade ago, has drifted more into psych territory and recently recorded an album with some instruments they had never been using before.
So, Dust Moves! A first instrumental album! You felt like music speaks louder than words? What motivated you to leave out vocals altogether this time?
S: No, it doesn’t speak at all, and that’s what it’s all about. Not that I do not like voices, I do, but vocals or lyrics can also have what it takes to ruin a song, depending on the personal mood or likings, of course. It happens from time to time, when you’re really enjoying the music and as soon as one brings in a story by singing or talking it’s somehow killing the vibe. It just doesn’t fit to the mood that you otherwise find in the sounds. Sure, this is totally personal, maybe rare and vocals and lyrics can be great, so it’s not a question of loud or quiet, better or worse, it’s just different and that’s what we wanted to try out this time. To me, the fun in instrumental music is caused by the flow it can initiate, a movement but without a fixed direction. Metaphorically speaking, it can provide a blank canvas and maybe some paint tins, the rest is up to your own imagination. Describing instrumental music as boundless may sound cheesy, but due to the lack of words or stories, it feels less specific at least and this leaves room for your own ride. Maybe like sounds for dreamers (cheesy, again!). I´m sure that there are others who can find similar journeys in lyrics etc., this is just our own humble approach trying to talk about what we didn’t want to say with lyrics. Another motivation was that I find it easier to enjoy listening to our music without hearing my own voice.
What change did you notice about yourselves going from the previous album Jangle Bowls to Dust Moves? It’s quite a step! Can you identify the trigger that started this change?
S: It actually didn’t feel like taking a big single step at once, more like some sort of process. We’ve already had instrumental songs on our previous records, very few indeed, but we’ve been playing around with the idea of an instrumental record for a while. After 4 records we felt like it was time to give it a shot and we had already collected plenty of ideas and material over time. However, most of them didn’t make it on the album as we wrote new stuff that formed the final album as a whole. I think this record turned out more consistent and that’s one thing we do like about it. That also was the initial intention and going instrumental just made sense to us.
Personally it had me thinking of Tommy Guerrero’s music at times, which I adore! Who are your favorite instrumental artists, and why?
S: I only know Tommy Guerrero from hearsay and have never listened to his music, but there are lots of instrumental artists we like for sure, I list the first names that pop up in my mind now:
On the guitar-heavy side:
75 Dollar Bill, because the rhythms are crazy.
Marisa Anderson, because being an amazing guitarist without being annoying is a rare gift.
Earth, because it feels restrained and wide open at the same time.
Bobby Lee, because it choogles.
On the electronics:
Emerald Web, because synths and flutes fit together well.
Orphan Fairytale, because it sounds so charming.
Phantom Horse, because I know one of them personally.
Syrinx, because I don’t know anything similar.
Zomes, because a little goes a long way.
Steven R. Smith, because I don’t know where to start.
France, check it out, you’ll understand.
What is the biggest difference in approach about writing a song without vocals?
S: You don’t need to worry about lyrics. That can be a relief, especially in times you don’t have much to tell. Still, you’re putting out something, musically, but it doesn’t matter what you were thinking or what you mean, if you mean anything at all, it’s up to the listener. Now I already have the picture of the blank canvas in my mind that I mentioned before. Besides that, I think it’s more about exploring and expanding sounds, less like writing songs.
You are from Saarbrücken, that always strikes me as quite a remote place, what are the advantages and disadvantages of living there? And do you think it influenced you as musicians?
S: Yes, Saarbrücken isn´t London or Berlin, that´s true and not each of the bands you´d like to see stops by, but still there´s something going on (in case there´s no pandemic going around…) There are bands and people who do shows and art and stuff of course and it´s also well located, very close to France and Luxemburg. But even if I´m sure that your surroundings have an impact on what you do or how you do it, I can´t name anything specific in relation to our city. Friends definitely inspire us, and sometimes they don´t have to live nearby necessarily to make an influence. But still, it´s good to have likeminded people around who gather when anything cool is happening.
Pretty Lightning has always been a duo, right? Have you never felt like taking along other musicians? There are for instance more instruments on the album than could be performed live simultaneously, aren’t there? Will PL always be just the two of you?
S: Yes we’ve always been a duo and it always felt right, this was never in doubt. But your question about the number of instruments is well justified and it’s also something we had to discuss recently, so we’re prepared. To sum up: even on the previous records there were songs that only emerged during the recording sessions, when it’s easy to evade the limitations of being only two people. Some of these songs can’t be played live in our duo lineup, not in a satisfying manner at least, so we dropped them from our live set, means we’re used to recording songs that we can not play live. But these were only a few songs per album, so it didn’t really matter. Now, with this new record, it’s different. None of these tracks could be performed as a duo, not in a way that would make sense to us. But even with an adequate amount of musicians we could hardly imagine playing this album live. Dust Moves is rather seen as a recording project. What we could imagine is including some parts or fragments of this record in our live set, to add a bit of that vibe. But that’s something we’re still working on and I don’t know where it leads…
In this connection I have to think of a show I’ve attended a few years ago. I don’t want to name the artist here, but the debut record was absolutely stunning, still is, not only because of the songs itself, but especially because of the sounds and the production. It doesn’t sound “expensive” or “big”, but creative, weird and sometimes mind blowing and that was such a crucial part of the whole album. So I was really wondering how they’re going to perform this live. Unfortunately, they didn’t do it very well, not because they were bad musicians, but because these songs really shine in this extraordinary production of the recording and I’d bet it was part of the overall writing process from start to finish, but impossible to translate to a live set. I don’t want to claim that Dust Moves has such a crazy production, but it reminds me of that experience and confirms that some records are not meant to be performed live. But who knows, maybe we change our minds some day. Never say never.
Apart from that, we are also in Datashock, which is a rather loose collective of friends playing improvised, experimental krautpsychfolkwhatever, sometimes with up to 8 or 9 people, so it’s not always just the two of us.
What are your immediate future plans? And how about for the longer future? Any dreams you’d like to share?
S:We’re looking forward to the release of Dust Moves and hope some people will enjoy it half as much as we did while recording it. And as much as i’d like to answer your question, the past two years didn’t help developing confidence in future plans. Dreams, ya, sweet dreams…
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?
Thanks a lot for your time!
Thanks for the talk, the pleasure was ours.