Interview: Light Asylum

The duo of Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello have been turning kids on to darker synth sounds for a few years now, with their single ‘Dark Allies’ becoming the de facto goth anthem for a new generation. Now, with their debut album set to drop May 1st on Mexican Summer, Light Asylum are poised to break hard this year. As both they and I hail from New York City, we share a passing acquaintance, so I was pleased to catch up with them during their brief stay in Berlin.

EB: It’s good to see you guys again. I think the last time I saw you was in Kutná Hora at Creepy Teepee last year, right?
Shannon: That was probably the only festival that we ever played, actually.
Bruno: At least in Europe. That was a fun festival though.
SF: We’ve been asked to play Drop Dead Festival but we were leaving Berlin before that was happening.

What’s been your most inspiring show in terms of bands you’ve played with?
BC: Clan of Xymox.
SF: Yeah that was awesome. We booked a show last year with them in Leipzig. It was amazing, because we booked it ourselves and I contacted them via the Internet. And I was like, “Oh wow, Ronny Morrings is on Facebook! Let’s see if we can make it happen,” and he said yes. They were amazing. Really sweet people. It was definitely one of the highlights of 2011 because we’d bonded, Bruno and I, over this band when we first met. That was great.

Shannon, I know you come from a very musical background. I saw you play with Telepathe a few years back and with !!! as well. But you, Bruno, I had a lot of trouble finding information about.

BC: *laughs* I started to make music around the late ’90s mostly as a keyboard on dance tracks and predominantly in New York City, because I grew up just outside of it. I did some soundtrack work, in particular Party Monster. It was basically the club scene in New York. A lot of those records you can’t find online anywhere because it was mostly white label, vinyl only. There’s a label called 8 Ball Records out in New York that put out some of my stuff in the late ’90s, and I was working with The Dreamies as well.

Do you have any plans to re-release any of this stuff?
BC: Yes, possibly. I’ve talked to some small labels about it.

Speaking of synths, isn’t Kraftwerk doing that big exhibition at MoMA soon? Will you be back in time for that?
SF: You think you can get us in on the list?

I think I’d have to be way more hardcore for that; my editor just got an email from Afrika Bambaataa asking the same thing!
SF: Yeah, we sat there with our laptops for hours trying to get tickets but they were gone in two minutes.

There’s also that Fad Gadget retrospective coming up as well. Why am I still not in New York?
SF: We got actually asked to do that, and we turned it down.

Why?
SF: I think we were busy – it was right around SXSW. But I think it’s a shame that MoMA makes the Kraftwerk event so small. People should be able to go see iconic electronic acts like them. It’s just crazy that in a city like New York they wouldn’t have it at a place like Madison Square Garden.

Exactly, and it would still sell out.
SF: Eight, nine times in a row it would.

Which night would you have actually gone to?
SF: Computer World, hands down.

There’s definitely a Kraftwerk influence lurking in some of your music.
BC: They are pretty much the originators of techno. I remember listening to them as kid and my brother used to DJ and play Kraftwerk around the house. I think Kraftwerk is one of those bands that people don’t even realize that they know them.

I’m very interested in how cross-genre and scene-breaking your music is. I hear it played in all sorts of places, from electro, to queer, to straight-up goth parties, to indie Urban Outfitters-y kind things, and I think that it’s fascinating how something with a dark aesthetic but a very broad reach can really just draw people in from everywhere.
SF: Okay, I’m just thinking about Urban Outfitters right now *laughs*. We played their showcase in Texas a week ago. But as far as being accepted by different scenes and parties, we welcome anyone and I think the music being dark is something that’s universal. I think some people want to pigeonhole us into some kind of particular scene, like goth or whatnot, but life is filled with darkness and so many people relate to it.

When I listen to your album I really feel like it’s trying to grab that light in the dark. Like this reaching towards something indescribable, sinister but still very shining.
SF: I think the album isn’t necessarily dark either, it has many themes. I think it’s the whole spectrum between light and dark.

I’m very drawn towards that sort of aesthetic. Maybe just because of coming from a goth scene, but as well coming from hip-hop, punk, and other multiple weirdo genres. I think that this kind of divergence from a stereotypical straight-forwardness is really important.
SF: I think that we get really good responses from crowds. We’ve been fortunate enough to open for some really good bands like LCD Soundsystem, Gang Gang Dance and YACHT. Like you said, right across the board. There’s been some kind of lines blurred where these kids or the people that we’re playing with might be more supportive at shows which might have more dance music. Well, our music is dance music as well, so maybe that’s where the commonality is. But take LCD Soundsystem, for example. We found their fans very accepting of us, even though LCD is more on the pop side in the structure of their songs. I’m really happy that our music inspires people to not be stuck in one scene and spread out a little more in their tastes in music. That’s cool.

It’s really beautiful to go to a party and hear ‘Dark Allies’ and then see everybody just pumping their fists in the air and chanting along to the lyrics – sort of the opposite of the dark mood you might expect. It feels strangely uplifting and optimistic.
SF: We try to make club anthems – something for people to pump their fists to and get inspired by. You know, move around and dance. That was our intention, so I’m glad that worked.

Daniel Jones is a music promoter and creator of the subculture reconceptualization & aesthetics tumblr Gucci Goth.