Introducing: Black City Lights
  • TUESDAY, AUGUST 13, 2013

  • Posted by: Carianne Hixson

Working at a desk for eight hours isn't very exciting; in fact it's rather stifling. But the perk to this work setting is that you're allowed to listen to music. And in one particular case, Pandora delivered a song to me that I would never forget by a band that I would continue to follow because, as the story goes, that one particular song was not the only one that would eventually wow me.

A relatively new band on the scene, Black City Lights, consisting of Julie Catherine Parr and Calum Robb, hails from New Zealand and is currently touring on the West Coast celebrating the release of their debut album Another Life, proceeding their 2012 EP Parallels. In the process of satisfying my own curiosity to find out more about this duo, I thought I'd acquaint you all, as well.

But first, to share in my own experience, here is the song that grabbed my interest, "Rivers".




What's the relationship between the two of you? Where did you meet, how long have you known each other?

Julia: We met through a mutual friend about two years ago and now we're basically best friends. Calum was in the process of working on an EP and asked me to feature on a track. I was really flattered because I loved his sound and I'd never really considered making electronic/computer-based music so it was all so new and exciting. We realized that we had this sound that we both really liked and felt it had a lot of potential.

Calum started producing music and writing lyrics in 2010 - a pretty short lifespan thus far - what inspired you to start? How did you reach such a high level of talent so quickly?

Calum: I'd say high talent is pushing it. [Laughs.] It started with a few of my friends, who themselves made music in their own bedrooms, which in turn gave me the bug to make music at home, too. I have no formal musical training, but took the time to read a lot of online tutorials, and try and reference styles of music with certain techniques. Since I studied design a few years ago, I believe it's quite an easily transferable art form from one medium to another.

Also, your music videos are very well made, do you have a background in film production or it something you just enjoy and have become better at with time?

J: We received a couple of grants from NZ on Air to make the videos so the financial backing has definitely been a huge help. The video for "Rivers" was made in Wellington by a friend of ours Brian Hainsworth on a much smaller budget. "Parallels" was directed by a young filmmaker/photographer Marc Bertel who was based in LA at the time. He emailed us saying he'd love to make a video for us and we were a little suspicious at first but it certainly worked out well! Our most recent video "Offering" was filmed in Auckland and directed by Alex Hoyles. We worked together on the concept and managed to make a trip to Auckland to be a part of the shoot. It was a great experience and we love the final product.

C: We'd have the initial idea and would propose a story/theme to the director. This is the part we like to keep away a little, but still have a little influence. I like to see what a director can do with the ideas, to create something that's not just ours, but theirs too.

What are your backgrounds? Before getting into this whole band scene, what were you guys up to?

J: I started performing when I was 17 at all ages venues. I've been in a few bands (all very different styles) but I feel like recently I'm really finding my place musically. I also have a bachelor's degree from the NZ School of Music and it was three years of my life well spent.

C: I moved from Scotland to New Zealand in 2004 as a young 18-year-old. I studied design, worked in bars and cafes, and never really fully knew what I wanted to do till 2010, when I fell in love with making music. I'm now 27, and can really see an actual future in what I am doing.

I noticed that your new album Another Life (out now) has an ominous tone to it. Was there a specific emotion attached to this album that led it have that eeriness or are you guys just generally drawn to the darker side of things?

J: I'm not a dark person and I don't consciously try to make dark music, I just feel that it's so much easier for me to connect with music that has more raw emotion. A lot of my songwriting seems to come from my subconscious and at the moment seems to be tied to this '22-year-old struggle with identity', however I don't often think about the meaning behind my lyrics until the song is fully recorded and I've listened to it a couple of times.

C: Well, I think I've got quite a bit of a dark, twisted and messed up mind...so maybe that has transferred through to our music. Especially for this album we tried to keep a running aesthetic throughout, compared to the EP where we could play with ideas etc. We still could here, but maybe with a more grounded "dark" foundation beneath it all.

Who are some of your biggest influences right now? Who are some of your greatest influences from the past?

J: I've always been influenced by female vocalists - from Beyonce to Beach House. Some of the most incredible woman are the jazz greats, Ella, Billie, Sarah - I've learned a lot from them.

C: Slow Magic, Purity Ring, Grimes, Majical Cloudz, Clams Casino, Mount Kimbie, James Blake...too many. When I was a boy, I would listen to The Police, Kate Bush, Mike Oldfield and quite a bit of classical music. Pretty much anything my parents had on around the house or in the car. However, I remember the first album I fell in love with was Doves' The Last Broadcast, which was closely followed by Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights.

What genre of music would you say you guys fall under? Its such a culmination of things how would the two of you personally like to categorize your sound?

J: We've taken to calling it pop music with a dark twist. It can be so hard to place someone else's music, let alone your own.

C: That's a really hard one, especially as we don't want to be cornered by a certain "thing". We kind of make music for quite a broad pallet of tastes...pop?

Because a lot of your music is solely instrumental, do you find that the writing process stems from those creations or do you generally write your music beforehand and follow with instrumental production?

J: It's always the music first and the vocals second, but our album is way more vocal based than our EP was.

This can go off the record but, what are your astrological signs? Id be curious to know!

J: I'm a Scorpio! Maybe that's where my darker side comes from...

C: I'm not sure. I was born I mid-May though. If I had to choose, I'd be a Lemur.

When will you be in NYC so I can hear my favorite song played live?

J: We'll be there in October this year! So soon, so excited.

C: Yeah, we've just confirmed CMJ, and a few other gigs are lined up too.

Watch the music video for "Offering", the lead single off Another Life, which you can get here.

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