Bishop Allen's latest LP Lights Out showcases its penchant for memorable hooks and earnest lyricism. After a little over a decade of crafting indie anthems featuring soundscapes reminiscent of power-pop ballads and twee-glazed finesse, Bishop Allen continues to expand its aesthetic in a way that defies predictable clichés. After a little over a decade, the group is still making listeners swoon. One listen to Lights Out and it's obvious why.
Courtesy of Secretly Group PR // Credit: Matt Petricone
In advance of the group's show at the Firebird on Wednesday, we spoke with band member Darbie Nowatka about its members move from big-city Brooklyn to smaller Kingston, New York, the final track on Lights Out and future collaborations with her husband and fellow bandmate Justin Rice.
Dianca Potts:The cadence and lyricism of Lights Out expands on a sound fans are familiar with. Emotively, what would you say differentiates the tone of this album in comparison to earlier releases?
Darbie Nowatka: I think each Bishop Allen album captures a time and a place. For me, Charm School feels very much like being twentysomething and living in New York City, and Lights Out feels more like being thirtysomething and leaving the city behind. There's an ambivalence to it: It looks back, but not with nostalgia. In some ways it's a little more road-worn, a little wearier, but also a little wiser and more grown-up. It's got some sadder moments than other records, but it's also weirdly more danceable.
Which songs, from Lights Out and earlier releases, are you looking forward to playing?
It's always exciting to play new songs, so I'm looking forward to playing anything and everything from Lights Out. And I'm always trying to convince Justin to put something from Charm School on the set list, and it looks like "Busted Heart" made the cut this time, so I'm excited for that, too. Our live set is way more raucous than our records. Everything's a bit faster and a bit more chaotic, and it's always super lively and fun. Can't wait.
Since making the move from Brooklyn to Kingston, how have your surroundings impacted your onstage presence and sense of place?
We played our first show in five years last night. It was here in Kingston at a packed city-wide block party on Wall street. First shows are always strange: Everything sounds and feels so different onstage than it did in a room, and it takes a bit of touring before things are under control. Outdoor shows are even harder because you can't hear much of anything on stage. Despite all of that, the show was a blast. The crowd was incredibly supportive, and all of our friends from town were there. And that support is what's amazing about Kingston. Everyone here has a pioneering spirit, and everyone sticks together. When we left Brooklyn, we were afraid of feeling isolated, but after a few months here, we realized we didn't miss it at all.
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What was most challenging for you with Lights Out?
Justin really writes the songs, and I'm more of a sounding board. I helped vet ideas, helped dispense with bad ones and helped edit and refine a lot of the lyrics. Because he was writing a book, Christian didn't have as much time to work on this record as he has in the past, so some of what he did fell on me. Also, we recorded everything in our attic studio, and since our house has a pretty open floor plan, there was no escaping the noise. So definitely one of the hardest things about recording was living with it constantly. It's always that eleventh guitar take.
The final track of the LP is haunting in the best of ways. For me, it very much so feels like a song about love, about being alive. Its placement really serves as the perfect closer for the LP. What about the narrative of "Shadow" is most quintessential, most evocative for you?
Originally, Justin tried to sing "Shadow." It became clear, though, that it was probably better suited to my voice than his, and while we were concerned that having a woman sing it might come across as anti-feminist -- "I want to be your shadow" -- we tried it with me singing, and it just made sense. I like that it's a song about unattainable closeness with someone you love, and about the frustration that impossibility entails, but that it's also beautiful. It's got a lovely melancholy at its core.
You and your husband have done a few side-projects in the past. Are there any future side-projects in the making? Are there any specific projects you'd like to explore after tour wraps up?
We've been working on Bishop Allen monomaniacally for a while now. It takes a big push to get ready for tour, especially after five years off. There's a lot of rehearsing to do, and a million little details to attend to. So we haven't had much time for anything else. When things wind down, we'll probably get to work on another Last Names record. And I'll get back to designing and making jewelry, paper goods and other curiosities for my shop, Field Guide Design. That's what I spend most of my time doing when we're not on tour or recording. Oh, and collecting vintage clothes for my shop Lovefield Vintage! I just started selling at some handmade and vintage markets and I'm loving it. Justin is a huge help! He helps me carry all the racks and pick out the guys clothes. We're a good team.
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