Champaign's Headlights formed out of the ashes of another great Champaign band, Absinthe Blind. Both bands specialized in pretty music, but Headlights' sound is definitely much poppier. From the gorgeous vocals of Erin Fain to the wonderful arrangements by Tristan Wraight and Brett Sanderson, the music found on Headlights' debut album, Kill Them With Kindness is overall a wonderful listening experience; the music doesn't overwhelm your ears as much as it opens and folds and reveals itsself in an amazingly kaleidoscopic manner. It's a cinematic record that will leave you wanting more. The band is also a nonstop touring machine, too; they spent nearly two years on the road supporting a limited edition 4-song EP before they got around to releasing an album. Here, Tristan Wraight tells us a little bit about the band's formation, their motivation, and their plans. (We also had a brief conversation with Ms. Fein, but the tape unknowingly ran out midway!)
How's the touring going?
It's great! We're having a good time. We're out with Decibully, another Polyvinyl band.
Tell me a little bit about how Headlights formed.
We all went to school and played in bands together around Champaign-Urbana. Erin and I played together in bands for years, and Brett played in a few bands with me, and ultimately we realized we were definitely interested in making music together as a full-time thing. Most people aren't into that, because it means a lot of sacrifice. You don't get the normalcy of life, or a good job, or a relationship, or whatever it may be. Over the years, we got whittled down to three, and it's really cool, because it's made things very efficient, and we can work hard and be focus. Basically, it's all about us being able to go on the road together and play shows.
Were you also in Absinthe Blind? (Confirms) I loved that band. Absinthe Blind spent a lot of time working and recording in the studio and not a lot of time on the road, but Headlights is the polar opposite, spending months on the road with very little in the amount of recorded work. Is this a reaction to the way things were with Absinthe Blind?
Yeah, it is, kind of. We learned a lot of lessons in Absinthe Blind—a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Primarily, we learned that anyone can sit around and make a really good record. You can even fake it and make a pretty good sounding record. But to actually make any progress as a band, you have to go out there and play your music for as many people as you can. A lot of people function under this terrible misconception that you can just sit, make seemingly great songs, then if you wait for whatever to come along, then it will come to you, and it just doesn't work that way. I suppose it might work every once in a while under really weird circumstances, but we aren't the kind of people to sit around and wait for something good to happen. We are going to try and make it happen for ourselves. I think we learned that in Absinthe Blind, because it was…it was a band we loved and cared about, but we didn't have any clue how to work and progress. We learned that in order to rely on being a musician, you actually have to be a musician! (Laughs) You have to be out on the road, playing your music.
So did you make a decision to say, "Hey, let's write some songs, tour them for six months or a year, and then record them?"
Yeah, that was very much the conscious decision we made. We have a goal to tour as much as our bodies can handle.
There are elements of your music that remind me of Absinthe Blind, and that's natural, considering the songwriting source. Yet there's a rougher element, one that Absinthe Blind definitely lacked. As you said earlier about avoiding getting caught up in studio work, after spending all this time on the road, by the time you recorded these songs, were the recordings basically live recordings?
Yeah, a lot of it was. Then we'd think about it and add or take away things. Erin and I were both primary songwriters in Absinthe Blind, so I'm sure that a lot of musical flavors have carried over into Headlights. We wanted to have a more direct approach to songwriting and simply making good pop songs. We love layers and atmospheres, so we wanted to throw all of that into the mixing pot and come up with some relatively focused music. I think we achieved what we wanted, but you can never be sure.
You have to set those things aside and not worry about it.
Yeah, definitely, you have to follow your gut instincts.
So are you a lot happier with Headlights than with any of your other bands?
Yeah, very much so. We're all in a really good place with life, both personally and professionally.
Well, we have CMJ coming up in the fall, and as always we have a lot of touring on our schedule. We're planning to make it over to Europe for a while. We did almost 200 shows just on a four-song EP, so…we'll probably be on the road for a while for the new record! (Laughs) We'll try to give it as much of a chance as we can. We all have pretty low expectations and a lot of optimism, too.
Since you spend so much time on the road, do you do most of your writing on the road? Do you carry a recording board to capture ideas, and then build from that?
When you're on the road, you're always in a state of movement, and as such, a lot of ideas happen, but they just kind of go into your subconscious and float around in there for a while. You go out on the road for a while and when you stop, you'll discover that you have this backlog of ideas. If you're lucky, you can have a creative explosion of ideas when you get off the road. This summer, we took it off, and we wrote a bunch of songs that had been swirling around for some time, and we tried a bunch of different ideas. It's kind of hard to do that when you're on the road, other than when you're in the odd hotel room or if you have an afternoon off.
When will we see some of these new songs?
We're doing a split with Metal Hearts on Suicide Squeeze. They're some of our best friends. We did a tour with them this past spring, and we really love them. That should be out in either January or February, so we're excited about that.
It's nice to hear of a band that's having fun out on the road.
Yeah, man. Life is good; we're with some of our best friends, and we're chugging away, doing what we love to do. We're lucky people.