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Sunday June 16th 2019

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A Bright Light in a Dark Time

By Savannah Evanoff

The Bright Light Social Hour won’t ask for anything it isn’t willing to give in return.

The Austin-based psychedelic rock band’s latest album, “Jude Vol. 1,” was birthed in the death of Alex O’Brien, the former band manager and younger brother of lead singer and guitarist Jackie O’Brien. On the record, the band explored its most vulnerable side and, in turn, encourages listeners to do the same.

“It’s OK to be vocal about what you’re going through; you’re not alone,” O’Brien said.

“The only way you’ll find the people that understand is by being open and sharing. Having the courage to do this difficult thing of being vulnerable and sharing this uncomfortable story—it’s looking for help and offering help all at once,” he continued.

Even the songs that aren’t about Alex are about Alex, O’Brien explained.

Alex was the band’s manager for several years until he developed a sudden, severe case of bipolar I disorder. The band members had a painful front-row seat as Alex suffered through it.

“He was super brilliant and such a hilarious, life-living guy and went totally crazy,” O’Brien said. “He would be in these manic stages—he paid a taxi driver several thousand dollars to drive him to D.C. so he could talk to the director of the CIA and convince him to stop doing things. He would go through these really horrible, depressive states.”

In January of 2015, Alex committed suicide.

“He was very convinced that it was not going to get better,” O’Brien said. “He was very open about it, but he ended up taking his own life right outside of our studio.”

The tragic unfolding took place as the band was starting to write “Jude Vol. 1.”

“A big theme is wrapping our heads around it all and being able to have the strength to continue without him, who was really like a guide for us, a leader,” O’Brien said. “The songs go between being with him in his time of passing and the aftermath as well as life when you’re a bit scared to move on.”

The album cover features a photo O’Brien’s mother took of Jackie and Alex as children in Puerto Escondido, Mexico—where they spent summers with their grandparents.

“We found that picture and [Joseph Mirasole], our drummer, really loved it, so he did all the psychedelic overlay on it,” O’Brien said. “If you flip it over to the back, Alex is removed from the photo. It’s ethereal purple, like something is taking him.”

In the past few years, the members have found a way to cope. They discovered the SIMS Foundation, an Austin, Texas, organization dedicated to connecting musicians with mental healthcare.

“We found an amazing band therapist and personal therapists who helped us grieve,” O’Brien said. “And then the music helped us grieve a lot, especially now that we’re playing it all live. It feels therapeutic.”

While the record is still a continuation of the band’s earlier album, “Space is Still the Place,” they took a few major left turns, O’Brien said.

“We’d never really written any music that was really—in any way—personal before,” O’Brien said. “This new one is a lot more about our lives, our relationships and our losses.”

The sound differs, too.

“Audio-wise, it’s less spacey, less psychedelic,” O’Brien said. “There’s still a lot of that in there, but there’s a lot less effects on the vocals. We wanted it to be a person speaking more directly to you rather than a signal from another planet.”

Some of the songs, such as “Lie To Me (Große Lüge)” and “Open Borders” give a glimpse into the band’s commitment to political activism.

“’Open Borders’ was written by Curtis [Roush], our guitarist,” O’Brien said. “In Texas, we’re just a few hours from the border, and all this building is happening really close to us. That’s a call out against it.”

O’Brien loves how music brings attention to real issues. The band’s name is based on a quote about activism and its ability to shine bright light in the dark corners of society, he said.

“It’s very easy to make up our minds beforehand when we hear people speak, about what you think about them and what they might say,” O’Brien said. “With music, the message is a lot more sneaky. It can actually be a lot more powerful that way.”

They have also lived up to their name in the more literal sense, O’Brien added. Mirasole created an “amazing” new light rig with LED strips and projected animations.

“It’s very dynamic,” O’Brien said. “At times softly intense and at other times very explosive.”

The band has developed a theme of ending its set with “Give to Me Words.” But, again, it won’t ask for something it isn’t willing to return.

“That song itself is a bit of a prayer to the end of times, acknowledging that we are here for a limited time,” O’Brien said. “As a writer, it’s asking for a message that can help someone else but also to find a message from someone else that can help us not feel so alone in the face of impermanence.”

THE BRIGHT LIGHT SOCIAL HOUR
WHAT: The Bright Light Social Hour with FayRoy
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 11
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $12
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com, thebrightlightsocialhour.com