For a band that has been together a little under two years, Before the Bulb holds the stage presence and musical unison of a group of people who are seasoned beyond their years, and have always played together. The band in its entirety consists of Brian Svoboda (Vocals/Keys), Brett Omara (Violins/String Arrangements), John Willis (Drums/Percussion), Lehi Petersen (Guitar, Piano/Organ, Keys, Percussion, Melodica), Joshua Loun (Upright Bass), and Cody McAndrew (Guitar, Accordion, Keys). After talking to the band and learning that strings player Brett Omara was out playing another gig on Friday night before Before the Bulb went on stage at midnight at the 3 Kings Tavern in Denver, Colorado, it is clear that somehow, this band just works. So what is it that makes this band tick? Who are their musical influences? How did they start playing so well together in such a short amount of time, and how did they even become a band in the first place?
Brian Svoboda is a song writer, pianist and vocalist, and when he met violinist Omara at the Meadowlark at Monday night jazz jam, and two weeks later met John Willis in the same place, Before the Bulb, a project Svoboda had been previously working on, took flight. Later, Svoboda met Lehi Petersen at the bank where Petersen was a teller. Svoboda had heard that Petersen was a bassist and would go in to the bank to deposit $5 just to talk to him about music. He later asked Petersen to join the group. While the band was looking for an upright bassist, Willis met Josh Loun by chance, living at Burlington Heights. Cody McAndrew was discovered through an ad on Craigslist and the band was complete. Getting together for jam sessions in the basement, the music took form organically and without force to create the ever changing melodies that form the bands fundamental sound. Svoboda has always been an advocate for creating music through natural forms, allowing it to just happen how it’s meant to happen.
What is your biggest challenge as a group?
McAndrew: “I think it goes back to what you were saying [Svoboda] about how it was really produced when you first started and now focusing on the tamper, and the structure of the songs mostly remain the same, but we’re trying to get this group sound.”
Svoboda: “Yeah and I’m a firm believer in kind of guiding music, but not being an authoritative voice over it. You have a brief idea of what you want to bring into the world musically and then you let the music develop organically, I think that’s when the most interesting music is created. But where do we fit in the landscape of this music scene. It’s not an easy thing developing a fan base if there isn’t a built in music scene for your style of music.”
Willis: “Lately, our biggest challenge has been gear (group laughs). One of my cymbal stands broke tonight, the sound guy was off, the sound board, the keyboard, the this or the that……but we’ve played at different venues, super stripped down and raw and then we’ll play for a rock bar like the 3 Kings, so what do you focus on you know? The one thing we could do to have a common thread across these different styles of music is to have a solidified tamper.”
Well what are your thoughts about the current state of music then? What’s your opinion about the top 40 etc.?
Loun: “Whatever people are into pushes kind of what the corporations pump out, and like, they have the money so they have the say in what is broadcasted over the major radio stations. It’s all bought and paid for, it’s all product so it’s really hard to fight against that, being a musician and at the same time you’ve gotta play it but if you have something original to offer, you can beat it. It’s a harder path because of the opposition and of that top 40 and what that is.”
As McAndrew comes back into the room with shots for the band to celebrate a great show, Loun reflects a little more on how the top 40 defines our culture and how the music industry simplifies and formulates music into a package for us to just play; as opposed to not spoon feeding us and challenging the listener to find and understand what that artist intended with that music. The band cheers to absolute success and settles back in.
How did you come up with the name Before the Bulb?
That’s all Brian, the whole band says together.
Svoboda: “I think a lot about freedom of the mind, and what we are doing to that with the introduction of so much technology, specifically the screen whether it’s television, movies, cell phones, computers etc. You go to the bar and there’s like 20 TV’s on the wall and you can’t just converse with a friend without being inundated with all sorts of fucking bullshit. So it’s kind of this hypothetical wondering what life would be like “before the bulb” which is in reference to the tiny miniscule bulbs that make up screens, and you know, deeper than that life before the influx of technology. It’s not really meant to be like life would be better or worse it’s just this hypothetical wondering of what have we done to the freedom of the human mind.”
So what’s next for Before the Bulb?
Svoboda: “We’re making a record.”
McAndrew: “Am I going to do some of that?”
Svoboda: “Of course you are!”
McAndrew: “Even tonight, I figured out 3 or 4 changes I would make when I was thinking about recording. I have some songs that are super solid, others not so much, but…..”
Svoboda: “Yeah, you’re getting there.”
Petersen: “Yeah, he’s the greenie in the band, Cody’s the newest guy. He’s been, what a month, couple months, but incredible guitarist, super fucking talented and he’s had so much to contribute to this project, its fucking rad, he’s the fucking man.”
Svoboda: “And he’s got the ear, and that’s important…….”
How long have you been a band? You said earlier that you’re a new band, right?
Svoboda: “My project, I mean I’ve been writing these for 10 years. I’m probably going to rename my earlier shit to clarify. It’s so different and it’s not really fair to the people that are putting the time in now to define what before the bulb is.”
McAndrew: “I looked it up to try to get some licks down and I was like this is not even the same song, it’s completely transformed which is good, which is cool. That you wrote all of these songs with a certain vision in mind and that they can turn into something different.”
How do you feel about that as a songwriter Brian? Is that something that is hard to accept?
Svoboda: “Songs are not, I mean some people would say that the arrangement is solidified when it’s recorded and that’s the way it should be presented, but I think that’s complete bullshit. A song is fluid and it should be morphing constantly, you should be constantly adapting it to your audience, the people that are supposed to be enjoying it.”
Petersen: “Yeah I wanna say something about that real quick, is that you know, I have been in a lot of groups and played in a lot of bands, and this group is the first one where, I mean John will go in and record drums for a record that we’re working on and change fucking everything. I mean if there is anything that this group is, it’s that it’s always open to change. The first time we played together versus where we are now, and where we’ll be tomorrow, it’s fucking weird.”
When was the first time you played together?
Willis: “Well Lehi, Brian, myself and Brett all of us played together for the first time, what was it like, October of 2014?”
Petersen: “Yeah, I was playing the six string electric bass” [and it didn’t really fit]
McAndrew: “Well when you think about this sound, cuz I’m just like getting in grooves and like jazz stuff.”
Willis: “And we played our first show a couple months later.”
Petersen: “And then Josh came around, and Josh defines, well Josh and John define the fucking essence of Before the Bulb if you ask me. I mean Brian writes the songs he’s fucking gorgeous, I love him to death…..”
Svoboda: “I don’t know if we could maybe just not talk about that anymore……”
Petersen: “The drums and bass are the foundation.”
Let’s discuss who influences each of you musically.
McAndrew: “It’s so vast, but for me a band called Corrupted is really important to me, they’re a Japanese dude metal band, but they do acoustic stuff. It’s about creating landscapes through music and focusing on imagery rather than worrying about like choral structure so much, and sort of taking a song and just creating the element or atmosphere of the song, and bands that do that make me super stoked. There’s a local band [named] Chemist right now that’s really fucking cool. I listen to a lot of different stuff.”
Willis: “When I sit down and play the drums by myself, usually what I’m thinking about is a lot of jazz stuff. I like jazz a lot. To me, jazz drumming is the pinnacle; if you can master jazz comping rudiments and stuff then I think you’re doing pretty well for yourself, and those are things you can port over to other styles of music. It’s a cool thing. Miles Davis anything he’s done is awesome. John Coltrane, and Brad Mehldau. And also Brian introduced me the band The National and Other Lives; Other Lives is mind blowing.”
Petersen: “Nuclear Rabbit, Captain Geech & The Shrimp Shack Shooters, Jesus Slaves.”
Svoboda: “Paul Simon, I drove 8 hours to see Paul Simon, and it was worth it; it would have been worth it to drive 20 hours.”
Loun: “Charles Mingus.”
Spending the evening with Before the Bulb was laid back, exciting, and educational without a doubt. For a group of people who came together from such diversified and different backgrounds and walks of life, they so easily create and solidify the sound of a band who is in love with music and considers each other family. From Svoboda’s own “Jimmy Funk and the Breakfast Burglar” (the video that he so gracefully mastered the art of flipping pancakes in can be found on Youtube.com) to “Opera in the Whale,” Before the Bulb has discovered an exclusive and lively sound that is easy to dance to, sway with, or completely get lost in. Check them out for yourself. They play on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 11:45pm at Cervantes’ Masterpiece in Denver, Colorado http://www.cervantesmasterpiece.com/.