PEAKING LIGHTS: FROM ROAD TRIP TO RECORD LABEL
AC ID stands for Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis — but most people know them as Peaking Lights. They are a lo-fi duo who, when playing live, gently unravels the threads of an undeciphered mind with turntables and instruments. The band was created less than a decade ago while on a road-trip with very little cash as they drove from Spring Green, Wisconsin to Texas and made their way down to SXSW. With no other venues to play except the basements of MySpace friends houses, they booked multiple shows, burned several copies of their music and got on the road. Even though most of their gear was broken and they were collecting show money to get gas and food to get from one city to another, Indra still describes that road-trip and time in their career as “magical.” Now, five studio albums, several collaborations, and various tours later, they have established their own record label in Los Angeles, called, “Two Flowers.”
Conga Blue is Peaking Light’s latest release, and it’s part of a coming EP due out next spring. Indra’s hazy voice is mixed under a series of atypical analogue methods of production, (something that has distinguished them since their beginnings); and a softly tropical and deeply penetrating beat lies beneath. As a band made of mutual collaboration, they have embodied an experimental sound that bounces and expands to further places carrying an exquisite pace and rhythm that entrance one’s senses through dub movements and their very own lo-finness. At their studio, many kinds of rare production equipment can be found, including tape machines, synths, controllers and legendary recordings of the history of electronic & psychedelic music in a quiet atmosphere.
The band recently did a song called St. Therese- Little Flower in collaboration with Chloe Sevigny, how did that come up, creatively speaking?
Peaking Lights: It was this really cool request from Michel Gaubert and his partner Ryan Aguilar, they kind of befriended us a couple of years ago, and we’d always talk about doing a collab, so they contacted us telling us that they were organizing the music for this poem that Chloe Sevigny recited,and it was going to be a part of a perfume line they were doing a big launch party for. So they picked five different artists to take the poem that she had recited and make it into a music piece. So we did all the music for it, although some places were calling it a remix. It was a fun thing where we had to listen to her reciting those lines and figure out what kind of music would sound good with it, and Aaron actually had a dream (of an arpeggio and a bass line) right around that time where he kind of imagined part of the song, so he used that. Then I put in the keyboards, and we were able to create it.
What’s the writing process like for each single, and how does the selection of the titles come?
PL- INDRA: We write 100% of our lyrics, and pick the records/songs titles. I write a lot of the lyrics, but so does Aaron. There’s been some records where I think I’ve written more lyrics but our last album (Cosmic Logic) I would say it was half and half. And a lot of times what’s happened is that the longer we’ve worked together, the more our lyrics become like a joint, almost like sentence for sentence sometimes, it’s kind of interesting. Everything has become that way, we can actually finish each other’s thoughts sometimes, you know, I think it comes just from working together for a long time. There’s other songs where it’s one hundred percent me, or one hundred percent him, when we gotta just get something off our minds.
How much of an influence in the creation of Peaking Lights was the trip you did to Austin back in 2008?
PL – INDRA: We did start partially because of that road-trip. Aaron and I had just recently moved from San Francisco to Wisconsin, (two completely environments) and because it was just the two of us, (we kind of left all of our friends and other people we collaborated with in SF), we had to start making music together, as soon as we moved, pretty much. In March, SXSW was coming up, (we were in another band previously in San Francisco and our third member had stayed there, it was called “Rahdunes”, and it was an improvised noise-psychedelic project. We played whatever we felt like, sometimes I played drums, sometimes I’d play keyboard, or sing). We had gotten some shows for that band, and our bandmate was supposed to meet us in Austin, but since we had just moved to Wisconsin and we didn’t have solid work, we were completely broke, and I think we had under $100 dollars to get to Austin.
“We moved to Wisconsin in the middle of the winter, in January, and it was super cold (it was actually record snowfall, so there was approx. a hundred inches of snow). It was crazy, we rented this little apartment for $400 dollars, while in San Francisco we were renting a studio for $1400, and it was kind of underground, it felt like we were living in this little hobbit hole, you know, with all the snow around us. Aaron didn’t have a job for a while, and I got some temporary work just to get by, but you know, we didn’t have to work very much to make that rent.”
Setting Breakdown (one of your most known songs) as an example, how was its creation while Cosmic Logic was being made?
PL-AARON: That record was very experimental,you know, we always just have this kind of haze that we work with, like a smoky-lens filter or something over everything with the noise, so when we did that it was like “let’s strip everything back and try writing everything really clear”. Each part is written so you have what would be a chord but you have like three notes and a chord but instead of playing it as a chord, we took it like, let’s make three different sounds to the chord, so Breakdown was kind of the first one that we started experimenting with that.
What type of experimentation lies behind Breakdown?
PL-AARON: A lot of the sounds from that song,were like,I was sitting in the studio and was taking the tape machine (the type that Alan Watts did his tapes with), recording different sounds and then stopping them and starting them so, there’s all these different little sounds that I made, and mixed that into the structure of music, I used, for instance, a reggae rhythm for the kick drum, along with all the other sounds.
Who got to decide which would be the main singles for that record?
PL: That time it was not us who decided, it was the record label. They really listened to the album and picked out the ones they thought would the most marketable, also, part of that process (when they pick a single) is also having us work on making a video together, so then we did a video for Everyone And Us and Breakdown.
INDRA: I felt like the lyrics and the melody were something that maybe a lot of people could relate to also, through this feeling of being on the edge.
I agree! Even the length of the song seems to have been carefully crafted. Where does all the artwork of the records and singles come from?
PL, INDRA: Actually Aaron tends to be the one who visualizes the artwork for the albums. PL, AARON: I collaborated for a while with our friend in Seems Studio, working on taking different concepts and putting them together.KM: Which kind of
Which kind of concepts and tools?
PL – AARON: Well, I don’t really have the designing tools to do straight Photoshop, like when I did the cover of 936 but that’s all cut out from other records, like a collage, and then we just photographed it, so with Cosmic Logic I was relying on having Rob do the graphic design, although I had a lot of the creative direction. The thing with creative directing is that sometimes there’s only so far where you can go, you have to stop at some point. There was a lot of drafts and revisions. Same with Lucifer, which took a long time too, Robert Batty & Liv Poyavsky did that cover. That was pretty simple, I sent him the drawing, and we decided it’d be just the font. We decided we’d be doing it all from scratch.
When it comes to your Soundcloud personas, who is behind the curation of the content that often appears in the band’s profile?
PL-INDRA: It’s honestly mostly Aaron, he hash is radio show and plays around town,he is the deep digger. He finds stuff that I, – I mean, I have a lot of records that I love, but I don’t have the level of patience that he has to sort of dig through all the stuff that he does, you know, it’s kind of an obsession for him.
What’s your vision as a band right now?
PL: We are focusing on starting our own label, Two Flowers, and we’re starting releasing a series of singles which then we’ll make into a vinyl EP eventually.
How did Conga Blue get its shape?
PL: It’s a piece that Aaron started working on last summer and I added a few things and then put the vocals on, and then when the vocals came together it was just a cool result altogether.
With the new material and a newly established record label, what do you guys think about the direction of Peaking Lights compared to previous works and times?
PL: It’s a big deal for us because we’ve been working with a lot of different people, you know, with a bigger label and a whole team of people (Domino/Weird World people, and also we had a manager) and we kind of just let all of that whole team of people go; I think it’s the way future is for a lot of artists who’ve been doing it a while, to reevaluate and figure out how can “I” be an artist that supports themselves in this time when it’s actually pretty difficult, you know, in a lot of ways. There’s things that are coming up, new ways that you can make money as a musician, but you know, record sales is not the thing to rely on anymore, so we thought, since we’ve been in the business so long, we kind of know it in and out and we feel like starting our own label and putting out our music and also other people’s music just makes a lot of sense right now, you know, just have it all come back to the family. It’s exciting to just be in charge of your own business, and I mean it’s also like, we couldn’t have gotten here without all the help that we got so we’re very grateful for the experience that we’ve had but now we’re at a point where it’s a little bit scary too to just go out completely independently but we have a lot of people to work with and it’s going to be great.
Story by Karenyna Michelle
Photos by Sarah Charlie Benjamin
Styling by Nini Chitadze
Hair & Makeup by Karenyna Michelle