Q&A: New, up-and-coming artists Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights
From the SXSW Festival to an upcoming rock cruise, Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights are springing up all over the music map. Their debut album, “Pardon Me,” will be released at the end of April.
We caught up with Jonathan Tyler as he was out on the road to talk about the new album and the band’s lives as rising stars.
State Press: You guys joined F-Stop Music in 2008. What’s your experience been like at F-Stop so far and what has it been like working with the great producer Jay Joyce?
Jonathan Tyler: It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been really good. F-Stop and Atlantic really helped make a lot of things happen that we wanted to happen. We get connected with great artists, like designers and photographers. [They also] hooked us up with really great people like Jay Joyce. Jay and I met in New Orleans and we hit it off from the first time that we sat down and talked. We wouldn’t have been able to work that out financially if we didn’t have Atlantic and F-Stop. The opportunities that they’ve given us have really helped us do bigger, better things.
SP: You’ve got some pretty strong pipes … impressively powerful vocals. You sing with a lot of attitude and spunk, and it’s fantastic. It also makes it easy for listeners to recognize your tone. How did you get into making singing your career?
JT: I started singing back in high school, about 10 years ago. I didn’t know that I would do it forever when I was 16, 17, 18 … but I think whenever it came time for me to decide what I was going to do with my life, I leaned toward what I loved doing. I like doing the thing that I love and getting paid for it.
SP: You’re kicking off your television debut on Jimmy Kimmel’s show on April 8. So you’re working in all these different types of environments … in a television studio doing the musical guest spot, on a boat for a music cruise and then on stage at regular gigs. How do those environments differ for the band?
JT: Sometimes it’s different from venue to venue. Even if you’re at a bar, it really depends on the atmosphere of the room and how the people are feeling. When you’re on a boat, everybody’s laid back and on vacation, which makes it really easy and fun because everybody’s already feeling good when they come to the show. When you go to a bar and you play, it may take about 30 or 40 minutes before the crowd’s ready to really engage. It [varies] from night to night. As a singer and a front man, you just have to pay attention and be aware … it’s just about being able to feel the energy in the room and engage people.
SP: The new album “Pardon Me” drops on April 27. What’s the general message your band is trying to get across on this new album?
JT: We’re just trying to make simple, good music — just good songwriting that’s easy to understand and kind of classic. I don’t think there’s anything out like what we’re doing, and I don’t think there has been for a while. I think the people are ready for what we’re doing. The music on the radio is very watered down and there’s not a lot of depth to it. I think people want more right now, so that’s what we’re trying to do with this album.
SP: Let’s talk about the standout track, “Devil’s Basement.” The bluesy vibes of the harmonica, plus the mean guitar licks and the smooth harmony of the backup vocals give the song a really intriguing sound. It’s got this great dark tone to it and it sets a vivid scene instead of telling a cheesy love story. When you wrote that song, was there a place that you guys can relate to that’s something like what you pictured the devil’s basement to be?
JT: It was a metaphor. The song is about addiction and about the hold that it had on us for a while, me specifically. I wanted to capture the feeling of what it felt like to me through music and portray it and take the listener to that place. We tried to mold the music around it and take it to that dark place. It’s definitely one of our favorite [songs] to perform live.
SP: On the topic of touring, you guys are on the road right now. Being on the road is a different experience for everyone, depending on what you make it. For Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights, what’s life like out on the road?
JT: We’ve been traveling and touring so much that it’s almost like our home. We’re like gypsies, we travel so much. We live out of hotels. We’re really good at staying sane. We’ve had to learn. But every show is different. Some of them really stand out, and sometimes it’s a harder night, and we have to really work to make [the show a] really good [experience for the crowd]. It’s kind of our home away from home out here.
SP: You just played a few gigs at the SXSW Festival, and in June you’re going to huge amounts of exposure by playing at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. As an artist, what do you feel are the upsides and the drawbacks of playing a gig at a festival?
JT: One of the upsides is getting to hang out with all of the other bands and meet new people. The thing about Bonnaroo or Austin City Limits or any of those festivals is that there’s a lot of competition. It’s not like a regular show of ours that people would come to where we have the whole night to set the stage up however we want and play as long as we want. It’s kind of like those festivals are thrown together. So there are really no thrills to it. You get up on stage and play for 45 minutes or an hour, and it’s good because there are lots of new people to hear you who are really into music. They go to listen to music for the whole weekend. It’s good to get in front of those people. Those are the listeners that we like. That’s the best part of it.
SP: You’ve opened for AC/DC and you’ve toured with Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd — and you even just confirmed some dates with ZZ Top. As a band, that makes you pretty qualified and it’s getting you exposed to some pretty big names. Those artists worked with you just in terms of tours, but as far as song writing goes, do you have any plans or hopes for future collaborations with other artists?
JT: We wrote one of our songs on this new album with Rich Robinson from the Black Crowes, so we’ve already started doing that a little bit. We’d love to write with other artists, [but] it’s one of those things where it has to be the right environment to write a song. It has to feel right. You can’t just plan it. It has to happen on its own.
SP: Aside from touring, what’s next for Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights?
JT: What we’re going to do all year is get [the new] album out there and promote it. That’s really it — touring and playing, that’s what we’re doing.
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