The 99% Episode #11 With Night Lights
Indie and Pop-Rock band Night Lights bring international and dynamic into one. Making headway in the LA music scene, they bring together diverse backgrounds from Mexico, Japan, and Norway. Vocalist Mau, guitarist Yusuke, and drummer Dag met during school in Boston and now create dance-worthy music with heartfelt lyrics and catchy melodies listeners immediately love. Their spotlight has continued to shine since their single “Childish” made it to both the Viral 50 Global and Viral 50 US Spotify charts. Although Night Lights focus on making hooks to get listeners moving, their music often touches on existentialism, ideas of self, genuine feelings, and honesty.
Listen To Night Lights 99 Percent Podcast Interview Below:
Welcome to the 99% Podcast. We know that you’re from Mexico originally. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your upbringing? You’re currently based in Los Angeles, what brought you here and what inspired you to choose Los Angeles versus your hometown?
I had an interesting upbringing. I was born in Mexico in 1990 and about six years into life, my dad got a job with my grandfather to work in the United States so we moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. A really small, really great town for raising children; a one-horse town. Now it’s up and coming, I guess every little town in America is up and coming. Back in the day it was where people went for colonial Williamsburg, where Pocahontas used to live and where the settlers came. I was raised there and that’s where I picked up English. My first introduction to vocabulary and education was in English not in Spanish. I can speak Spanish because my family spoke that to me, but as far as languages came, education wise, I was reading books and doing homework and math and learning all these things in English. It was the language I learned to express myself in. Eventually when we moved back to Mexico I had to relearn all of the subject matter. Math, science, biology and history and Spanish. It’s very cool because I am perfectly fluent in both languages but for some reason the emotional language was English so when I did start writing music, it came more naturally in English. Unfortunately in Latin America, it’s very uncommon for a Mexican band, like a Mexican based band, to sing in English and make it in Mexico. The industry is very different back there. It’s kind of funny that recently it’s been very obvious to me, but I grew up listening to this band called Interpol, and they’re this Mexican American band, but they made it in the United States first and then brought it back to Mexico. I thought all my friends in America grew up with Interpol but it turns out no one knew who they were here, but they were huge in Mexico.
The music industry in Mexico is more alternative rock, and the pop is very different from American pop. We have a lot of crossover artists, like staples such as Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, those kind of Top Forty pop. As far as hip hop goes, and rap, it doesn’t exist. Kendrick Lamar isn’t huge down there, or Anderson Paak is huge down there, very different which has been really cool because my brain is plotting to go down at some point, and we can because we’re heavily rock and roll, and alternative, indie, so a little different. Even still, to make it in Mexico as an American band that has a Mexican representative as opposed to a Mexican band that sings in English. It’s a little different, so eventually I studied music in the United States, at Berkeley College in Boston. There was a long trail of things that led up to me studying there, and a lot of emotional and pivotal things that led me to want to study music. After I graduated, the cool thing about studying music is you start learning that there’s more to the industry than just being a singer. There are so many roles to be filled, there are so many people that are needed that it is possible to make a living out of music. You just might not be the superstar singing in front of thousands of people. There is that role, and there’s other roles to be filled which is cool. That put my mind at ease, and then when you graduate from music school you kind of start to have these musical hubs in the world that exist. In the United States it is Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York. Chicago is great and you can go to New Orleans, that’s great, but they’re kind of different little hubs. The music business isn’t there. The industry isn’t there. There are a lot of musicians there.
Let’s go back a little in terms of your initial inspiration to start creating music? Was it something you loved as a child, did you grow up around it, do you have a musical family? What was that initial spark that said to you, I want to make this my life?
I think all around, artists find solace in their artform. I didn’t grow up learning music, in Mexico they don’t have these programs in school for jazz band and you just learn music at a young age. I don’t know how it is in other countries but in Mexico, extracurricular activities have to be intentional and it’s not forced on by schools. School teaches you your classes and you go home after. Sometimes they might offer extracurricular activities but it’s extra and it’s a little different to American Schools; the arts program at least. I found my guidance counselor’s and my profits, my inspirations, my little corners to hide in, and the music I listen to. I found music to be the only way that I could make my emotion known to people. I had trouble feeling understood because I couldn’t really express myself, but I found that when I played the drums and played guitar, even if people didn’t understand my jumble of words and the fact that I couldn’t focus on one thing at a time, to know that thematically or in my lyrics, that somehow whatever I was feeling came through with the marriage of music and lyrics. I started finding solace in that. I started with drumming, turned to poetry after experiencing heartbreak when I was thirteen, I was a hopeless romantic. I was falling in love with girls ever since I was eight. It’s crazy how things change, but I guess it was medicine for me. If you ask anybody that grew up with me, at any time I was the kid with headphones on 24/7. I somehow convinced teachers that I would be more focused with headphones on, so in class, not while they were teaching obviously, but whenever we were doing assignments, I was the only one allowed to put my headphones on and listen to music to do whatever it was. Even in college I had headphones on all the time. It kind of became a habit, which is kind of sad. I kind of lost that passion for listening to music, but we can get to that topic a little later. It just was solace for me; nothing else made sense to me. I knew I wanted to make other people find a safe place in my music and create that place for someone else that they understood and allowed them to express themselves through my artform, the way I did through other people’s artforms.
Is that still true today?
Yes and no. I think I’ve taken another life form. Things change when you’re very intentional about being a writer and performer. I don’t think there needs to be that noble cause of why you write and making it in the music industry, but I think that there does have to be some sort of consciousness of the general popular style of music when you’re making things, that doesn’t allow you to just write whatever you want. You can, but now that I’m living off of this as a writer, not a music business executive or a music producer, just as a person that wants to be performing in front thousands and thousands of people. You have to be very conscious about if something is the packaging of your message. You can’t just make this crazy song up and then put it out there because it’s going to be on everybodies headphones. You have to be very aware of that stuff at a certain point, which is very sad I think, but it’s not that bad. We can find a way to package your thing, it’s fine, you just mold to it I guess.
On that point, what is it like being an independent artist? I’ve seen a lot of your stuff, you’ve just been on a tour with Night Lights, you’re creating new music, what is it like to be an independent artist? What are the benefits and drawbacks about being an independent artist right now, in today’s modern society?
[12:06] Night Lights:
The beautiful thing about today’s modern society is it’s really easy to make it into the music business. Not to make, it but to make it INto the business. All you have to do is put out music and you’re in. The competition comes from so many people in the industry, how do I stand out? Which is ironic because all I want to do is be what artists were to me, for somebody else. That’s all I want to do; I want to go around the world and help people by putting my feelings into words, that will hopefully make other people feel okay. For that, I need people to listen. For people to listen, I need to stand out. For me to stand out, I have to make something that is interesting to people. That’s when it gets hard because how do you know what’s interesting to people? It’s great to be an independent artist; you own everything, I don’t know how deep you want to go into how the business works, but the beauty is that when you put out a song, you own it. The labels don’t take 80% because there are no labels. There’s an interesting quote:
Being independent will always be great because you get to decide your music, your direction, your look, all these things.
I think more and more people are becoming more aware of branding, which is really important because it’s important to portray exactly what you want to be. There were artists who just wanted to write music and didn’t care about that stuff, but now a general consciousness has grown to independent artists that allows me to be my own artist developer. Labels are starting to become distributors. People that have connections to help you distribute your song better. With that in mind, as an independent artist you are basically doing everything the labels do, yourself. People with help have money you don’t have yet. You need money in this industry, to make money. You need to be able to pay your videographer, the editor, etc. That’s when it gets really cool because now people in bands are really good at videos and editing and being creative. To be an independent artist alone, if you’re just one person in the band, it’s important to surround yourself with people that are really good at doing something you can’t do. So you have that person that can help you edit video and that stuff. As a band, it’s cool because you share the weight and spread the responsibilities around. It becomes more effective.
You were one of the founding artists on Steereo. What are your thoughts on music technology and the opportunities it has given artists to be discovered? How do you think it’s shaped Night Lights career?
I think technology is amazing. It’s evolving so fast. I don’t think we’re able to process it all, yet. The development of music technology started like this; first there was radio and you weren’t able to take home any music. Eventually someone came up with a way of selling that and allowing you to take it home, and they created the vinyl, and they call that the singles. You were able to put 2 songs, tops, into every record. That was crazy that people could take it home, all they had to do was buy the machine. Even then, at that point, the way you found out about music is because people would play it on the radio, you’d like it and want to take it home with you, so you’d get the vinyl. Eventually, they came up with the E.P. which is a vinyl that could fit 4-5 songs which was crazy technology. Now I can listen to 5 songs in my home? What? Then the E.P. turned to L.P. where you could have up to 12 songs, I believe. Then CD players came out and MP3 players came out, and everything kept evolving. Now you don’t need to own any physical copy of anything, you can have it on the cloud. What’s great about that is, the radio doesn’t dictate who and what you have to hear. You can go look for your own music, your own style, and things that speak to you in your own way. Now, radio is still relevant because everyone still listens to the radio, but people are becoming more conscious because they are able to decide what they want to hear and what they like. And if they don’t like what is played on the radio, they can take their music everywhere.
On that point, if people hear you on the radio for the first time, what is it you’d like them to take away from your song in terms of message or feeling?
[18:00] Night Lights:
I’m just trying to be honest. I don’t want to pretend that I’m in love or that I have heartbreak. I want to be really sincere in where my head is at and in what I’m feeling. That’s not always romantic love, which has kind of taken over what musicians talk about. It seems like right now more than even, musicians need to be woke. There’s so much going on in the world that needs healing and I think musicians have always been in the forefront of that. I would like for them to take anything away that makes them feel something. I don’t want it to just remind them of a time that someone broke up with them. I want it to be them feeling so excited about being a person that can do something in the world when the world is all fire. We’re writing a bunch of different songs, one about pornography, which I think is a crazy topic because it spread like wildfire because of the internet, and it has become such a common thing in everyone’s lives yet it’s a destructive habit to get into. It’s very addicting and not enough people talk about it. So we wrote the song, “Two Dimensional,“ and it’s about pornography. I’d like people to listen and not be ashamed. I think a lot of people can connect to that song. Maybe they’ve felt it but they’re too scared to talk about it or say anything about it. Hopefully it starts a conversation. I just want to be honest, man. Honest songs are what got me through things. They made me think, reassess, cope with things and address other things, and look inside and be more conscious. I really want to do that for other people. Hopefully they can bop to it and dance to it, love it, and then also think and feel something. I want my songs to be provoking. Not aggressively provoking.
For our listeners who are tuning in for the first time and hearing about Night Lights, when you do listen to your track and your voice specifically, you hear that truth. I think you’re an incredible songwriter because you’re able to convey it in a very simple language that people understand, that resonates at a very high level for them. It’s been incredible and I have one last question for you before we start to wrap up. Fill in the blank: music to me is…
Can I answer with more than just one? Music to me is a livelihood. It is a joy, it is a nightmare, it is beautiful. Music to me is life itself, it has its ups and downs and it changes ever so wildly. Music to me is life.
I’m so glad you were able to join us and share your story. Can you give our listeners information on where to find you and the events you have coming up?
We are now NightLightsOfficial on all social media, and we are currently writing our next album, which we are really proud of. We are evolving our music and what’s coming next will blow your mind. As of right now you can hear all our past music endeavors and adventures, which was mostly our college days, and you can find it on Band Camp. NightLights.bandcamp.com. I hope our music makes you feel something special.