Localized: Tiny Lights and My Dead Ego – April 2010

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Photo: Sam Milianta

There is no excuse for missing SLUG Localized on April 16 at Urban Lounge. The line-up includes Lindsay Heath’s newly minted post-classical project, the ethereal, unearthly drones of Tiny Lights and opening band My Dead Ego. Five bucks at the door, be prepared to be floored.

Lindsay Heath
Lindsay Heath– Composition, guitar, vocals
Cache Tolman – Bass
Kim Pack – Violin
Amy Marquez – Guitar
Moey Nelson – Vocal Harmonies
Camilo – Drums

Pop quiz, name as many female drummers as you can in the next 10 seconds … Ok, time’s up. Does your list include: Janet Weiss? Hannah Blilie? Paloma Romero? Maureen Tucker? Sheila E.? Sandy West? If that list doesn’t include Lindsay Heath, you should really take a cursory look at the liner notes of your favorite SLC band’s album. Chances are Lindsay Heath is credited somewhere in there, if not behind the drums, then elsewhere in the production. Don’t feel bad if your list isn’t too extensive, Heath herself would have a hard time creating one. When I asked if her inspiration to pick up the drums at a young age was a reaction to the (seemingly) low percentage of women playing the instrument, she says, “That actually did have some play into wanting to be a drummer in metal and things like that. I liked being an example of someone that bent gender stereotypes, especially in the community I grew up in. I did like that attention for a while. Then it became this novelty that I wasn’t into. I’m just a drummer. I’m not the girl drummer, I am just the drummer.” So, it makes sense when Lindsay Heath cites Dave Grohl over Samantha Maloney.

Lindsay’s life-long mastery of the drums has helped stake her claim as the go-to girl for percussion, contributing to wildly successful local acts such as Redd Tape, The Tremula, Vile Blue Shades, Mushman, Musclehawk, Delicatto, her semi-solo project Kid Madusa and the list goes on. The list also oversteps geographic boundaries with her contributions to NYC-based musicians Sybil Buck and Valerie Geffner. This year, however, finds Heath staring down her musical past, re-treading ground that came before many and existed side-by-side with some of her louder, heavier projects. “With this project I have come full circle, some of these compositions were written close to 10 years ago. A lot of them have been works in progress,” she says. When asked why these songs are just seeing the light of day now, Heath said, “I never felt like they were done justice and weren’t ready to be recorded. I had never been satisfied with any of the recordings that I had. I finally realized that I was on the right foot in the very beginning with the classical music. I realized strings would be the best way to go.”

This mysterious new project is so simple it can seem radically experimental. Heath is dropping any moniker and performing under her given name. “I feel I am in a place in my life where I want that raw vulnerability. That is something I am trying to cultivate in myself and in my person and it is happening musically and artistically in the songs,” she says. With this newfound emotional transparency, Heath prefers to engage the songs at face value instead of pigeonholing them into a certain genre as she did in the past. Heath says that in her former projects, “I definitely wanted the songs to cause a reaction. I wanted them to be as accessible as possible for everyone. But, I realized I was doing the songs injustice by doing that. They are what they are. I think with the name change it is really parallel to what I am doing with the songs, stripping them down.” She warns, “I don’t think I have any songs that are under six minutes.”

Don’t let the picture on top of the article fool you—this is all Lindsay Heath. Each song is written and composed by Heath and then played by a cast of recruited accompanists that act as an outgrowth of Heath’s musical vision. She explains it as such, “I’ve arranged a group of professionals. Cache Tolman is my stand-up bassist, Kim Pack is playing violin. I’m giving Cache my left hand, giving Kim the upper range, and I am working with a cellist who will have the mid range.  I write all the guitar and I do lead work or mix rhythm and really simplified percussion.” This new project is more prone to footnote Erik Satie and Arvo Part than Nirvana and Sonic Youth, but, in the musical landscape of Heath there is little difference between sprawling noise rock and classical compositions. “The obsession was always the music and the sound itself. The life of it, whatever it is, just bled into me, I didn’t see any separation between the music and myself, as cliché as that sounds,” she says.

This new project announces a kind of cycling back to what drew her into music in the first place. A new beginning of sorts. She even wore lipstick for the first time ever in preparation for the photo shoot and interview. Not that I’m flattered or anything.

Tiny Lights
Andy Cvar – Guitar
Bryan Holbrook – Bass
Mike Gonzales – Drums
Matt Hill – Guitar/vocals
Terrence Warburton – Guitar/vocals

Tiny Lights grew out of guitarist and singer Matt Hill’s desire to do more with less. His idea was to create a band that stripped the auspices of rock and roll down to the brass-tacks of straightforward rhythm and chord progressions.  “Our songs, honestly, are super easy and really simple. To rehearse them over and over—you really dig into the details, almost every note becomes important,” says Hill. The idea is that when you are unfettered by complicated moves that take mental concentration to master, simple compositions become jumping-off places to create largely improvised soundscapes buried under a floating wall of reverb-drenched guitar drones. “In meditation, that constant repetition of movement, thought or oration starts to take on different allusions. And honestly, that is how it is for us. We will take off on the end of ‘Froggy’ and it just goes and goes and there is this moment where I am like, ‘I should probably stop it,’ but then it just opens up,” Gonzales says.

While all members are set on creating open-ended, three-guitar explorations around unadorned compositions, the talents of the members of Tiny Lights are not squandered on experimentation. All vets of the SLC music scene, each member boasts an impressive resume.  Hill has played in projects ranging from The Furs to performance art ensemble, Godstar Experience. Guitarist Terrance Warburton has played in almost every influential band in SLC from the Purr Bats and Red Bennies, to the Vile Blue Shades. Guitarist Andy Cvar played in Tom Greenwood’s revolving-door experimental group Jackie-O Motherfucker in Portland. While bassist Bryan Holbrook and drummer Mike Gonzales split time in The Plastic Furs and Comedown while moonlighting in the Tiny Lights. The proficiency and pedigree, evident in the projects left in their wake, aid more than hinder Tiny Lights in their self-imposed minimal aesthetic. Hill explains, “Honestly, before I even started talking to these guys about what the sound was going to be, I thought I was just going to get some amateur musicians to play really simply. So it worked out perfectly, I don’t really have to explain any of the details to them. The sound is understood and comes together naturally…It would be one thing if any one of us were poor musicians who couldn’t remember how to play a D-Chord. But we all have that much within us.”

Gonzales’ drum set-up speaks to their insistence on tearing rock and roll to its very essence. Consisting of a single tom, a recently acquired snare and a tambourine, his primitive arrangement achieves what Hill calls “a primal thud,” a straight back beat that eschews the macho propulsion of the typical bro-rock band and allows Tiny Lights three guitarists to explore the spaces in between. Gonzales insists, “Phil Rudd (drummer for AC/DC), the best drummer ever, never played a fill. Straight back beats.”

When asked what affect these droning, hypnotic soundscapes have on the audience, a ripple of laughter erupts around the table. Warburton yells, “Boooring!” mimicking an audience patron at their latest Urban Lounge show. Audience disapproval of Tiny Light’s expressionistic drones extends beyond mere catcalling and enters the realm of truly impressive acts of sabotage. During their last show at The Woodshed someone cut the lock off the electrical box in the men’s bathroom shutting off all the power to the club, effectively ending their show that night. They were only 30 minutes deep. While they are quick to add that these audience reactions have been exceptions rather than the rule, cutting through a crowd’s thick skin of jaded expectations and creating a passionate response is something to be proud of.

Tiny Lights pride themselves in creating music for the sole purpose of expression, rather than something that is immediately commoditized. All members agree that the experience of getting lost in the ephemeral barrage of noise is more important than entertaining or pandering to a crowd’s taste. Hill says, “My hope for someone that might enjoy it would be along the lines of hypnotic. For me, it is totally like that on stage and in practice.” When asked about the occasional grating between the band and the audience, Gonzales says, “There is always going to be that because we are going for something that we have always wanted to do rather than what we thought would make us band of the year.”

With the triumph of modernism has come the blasé acceptance of pretty much everything and anything considered avante garde. The shocking has become the new standard, the once offended bourgeois are now flocking to outsider art galleries and are glad-handing music considered unintelligible noise a generation back. So, in this post-G.G. Allin artscape, what does a band have to do to elicit a genuine response? Miraculously, Tiny Lights have found a way to gain the respect of, and in many cases, raise the ire of concert patrons. All you have to do is play loud, slow and long. Really long.

Tiny Lights are playing Friday April 16 at the Urban Lounge with Lindsay Heath. Come, but leave your bolt cutters at home.


Photo: Sam Milianta Photo: Sam Milianta