One of the many benefits of modern streaming services like Youtube and Spotify is that one gets to discover numerous underground bands without having to risk purchasing physical inventory in order to determine if the music lives up to expectations. Of course, one of the major pitfalls of streaming services also is that numerous bands end up falling by the wayside, and receive next to no money and exposure in the process. And so it happened to be the case with a little known three-piece Wisconsin band who I happened to stumble across on Youtube as I was looking for new and interesting bands.
Searchlights describe themselves as being a “post-rock” band, and whilst their sound does fit within the confines of the genre, unlike most post-rock which is usually glorified elevator music, Searchlights’ sound is a lot more soulful in comparison.
Whilst a band of Searchlights’ ability would have received a lot more exposure in the 90’s, a cursory glance on the internet ended up revealing very little information about the band, and it’s honestly a tragedy that so few people are aware of the band in today’s musical climate. Of course, with independent blogs and websites having the function of exposing new and interesting music, the lack of information about Searchlights only ended up spurring me to find out more about the band, and Searchlights member Lane Devereaux was more than happy to oblige by answering my questions.
Searchlights are a band hailing from Wisconsin, USA. Did all of the band’s three members (Lane Devereaux, Korey Krause, Mike Fienen) originally hail from the local area?
Mike grew up in southern Minnesota and spent a few years in Japan and San Francisco before settling back in Wisconsin. In those travels away from the Midwest, he spent years learning the Japanese style of taiko (playing in Gozo-daiko in Japan and San Jose Taiko in California, USA) which he merged with a Western drum kit specifically for Searchlights. Korey and I are both from Central/North-Eastern Wisconsin.
What was the inspiration for calling the band ‘Searchlights’ and how did the band form?
A searchlight’s purpose is to shed light and to aid in the search for something. The music does just that for us. So often music, specifically post-rock, aids in introspection, reflection, and serves as a soundtrack to everyday life. We hope our music illuminates the minds of our listeners. The band started as a side project for Korey and I.
Searchlights’ music is often described as being post-rock, but given that the genre is so varied, how would you describe yourself to those who have never heard of you?
We try to create a soundscape, inspired by the Northwoods of Wisconsin, that opens people’s minds in the same way as watching the moon rise through pines on a high craggy ridge or watching a storm form up over Lake Superior. With guitar and bass effects, diverse tempos, and a mix of Japanese taiko and a Western drum kit, we create a sound unique to Searchlights. Typically, we are considered an amalgamation of ambient post-rock and modern psych.
What is the process in terms of how Searchlights crafts its songs?
Usually either Korey or I come up with a general structure and melody, throw down a scratch track, and work on it independently for a while until we get a chance to jam it together. Mike came onto the scene when the first album was almost done, and so on ‘Magnetic North’ and ‘Cloud Traveler’, Mike added drums over the tracks, layering on an organic feel. For the other songs, we had programmed parts which Mike adapted to live percussion for our shows. Going forward we are all working together.
Who is the main songwriter and what themes do you draw inspiration from?
Mike doesn’t listen to post-rock very much because he wants to try and bring a new perspective. His inspiration is rooted a lot in the melodic jazz drummers – like Elvin Jones and Antonio Sanchez. Korey’s inspiration comes from writing music that triggers an emotion. If those feelings reach the audience then he knows he’s written a good song. I find inspiration in electronica, synthwave, post-rock, country guitar, and the four on the floor beats of EDM. It is a collective effort when we write new material.
Even though Wisconsin gave birth to Les Paul, and by extension, solid body electric guitar music, what is the music scene like in Wisconsin today?
The scene in WI is very much alive but you have to navigate around a pervasive cover band presence. Genre diversity is better in Wisconsin’s largest cities, but there is still a slight challenge when it comes to finding bands similar in style to play out with.
How supportive are bands of each other, and what band from Wisconsin would you recommend that people to listen to?
In creative hubs like Madison there is support inside individual scenes. Outside of those locations however bands are forced to rely on their own abilities to promote and set up shows. A couple of acts from Wisconsin we would suggest would be Northless and Lights Out Asia.
Your self-titled first album is self-produced and is available for purchase on Bandcamp where fans can pay whatever they want. What inspired you to forgo the benefits of working with the traditional music industry model – ie record label, distribution with major outlets – and go it alone?
Searchlights started out as a side project for Korey and I. The original intention was an intrinsic one: to produce a studio album and for the music to serve as a creative outlet; it was not focused on critical acclaim and popularity within the industry. However, after gaining a massive amount of unsolicited support, we decided to release through additional channels, create a live set, and self-produce a sophomore album with a dedicated drummer.
Self-production reflects the way the music scene works now. It is a pretty common way to get off the ground and was really our only option starting out. We’re excited to see where this next album takes us.
What have been the biggest benefits and pitfalls for taking this approach, and would you be opting to take a more “traditional” path in the music industry in future?
The biggest benefit by far is control, but that cuts both ways. We don’t have to answer to anyone about our sound or what we want to do, but that also means all aspects of the band from promotion to logistics to distribution are on us.
With bands operating on the fringes of the mainstream music industry finding it increasingly difficult to make money, how do you make ends meet? Do you have day jobs, and aside from your obligation to band activities, what else do you get up to in your day to day normal lives?
Mike is a research scientist but also spends as much time as he can in outdoor sports like mountain biking, bike touring, skiing, backpacking. Korey works a boring job Monday to Friday, but in his spare time always works on something in audio production. I’m a travelling construction equipment salesman who spends his minimal downtime backpacking, mountain biking, operating construction equipment and photographing the night sky.
When is your second album out and what can listeners hope to expect? Will it be a continuation of your already established sound, or would you be trying something different?
We’re still in the writing process for the next album. We hope it turns out to be a more mature continuation of the established sound. The biggest difference in the next album is that Mike is writing drums from the start on all the tracks. You can expect a richer depth in songs, coming from some faster tempos and more dynamic percussion merged with the same deep contemplative sound.
Finally, what are your future plans, and do these involve coming to play UK shows in future?
We are working toward getting out on the road more, finding similar artists to play with, and logging a Midwestern tour. While we have no plans to cross the Atlantic right now, we’d love to share our music abroad in the future. We promise we’ll start in the UK.