Pink Lightning treads new sonic ground in the Salt Lake music scene. Design by Joshua Joye
Standing in the living room of Eli Morrison’s Salt Lake home, one of the first things that catches my eye is his large and well-organized collection of vinyl records. Probably in the neighborhood of around 1,000 records overall—a quick skim reveals everything from Black Flag to Sonic Youth, as well as newer groups like Black Moth Super Rainbow. When I stop and take a closer look at the large section of Sonic Youth albums, Morrison notices, and he pulls out several rare, first-edition copies, such as the 1983 EP Kill Yr. Idols.
At that moment, I realize this cat isn’t like most people, let alone other musicians. He’s someone who doesn’t give a fuck about trying to make music that will be a hit on the radio, or even something that all the hipsters will talk about incessantly over coffee. Morrison’s goal is to push the musical boundaries of genres like blues, punk and rock, to create a unique, brand new sound, which he dubs “avant-retro.” With his band Pink Lightning, Morrison is staying on the same path he’s always been on, where there is no defined path, or as Morrison puts it, “There’s still beach sand that has not been walked on yet.”
Formed in 2007, Pink Lightning is a trio of 40-something musicians who have been around the local music scene for decades, and who have known each other for just as long. Morrison is on guitar and lead vocals, “Bad” Brad Wheeler lends his impressive harmonica chops along with some pedal steel guitar and vocals, and Josh Belka rounds out the band on drums, percussion and vocals.
Soon after forming, the band landed an opening gig, and they quickly released their self-titled debut album to promote at the show. The band recorded Pink Lightning live in one day, after Wheeler and Belka learned the songs the previous day. Despite the rushed process in the studio, the band remains pleased with that record, and describes it as just a “snapshot” of what they were at the time. With the album out and receiving praise, Pink Lightning began to play shows extensively all along the Wasatch Front. But about a year after the record came out, Morrison said the band was “headed towards a dead end,” as everybody had some “stuff” going on in their lives that needed to be dealt with. The hiatus lasted until a few years ago, when Morrison and Wheeler were hanging out and, as Morrison recalled, he told Wheeler, “You’re here and I’m here, we might as well play some goddamn songs.” With the two playing together again, new songs quickly formed, and Belka was brought back into the mix as Pink Lightning returned to the studio in 2012.
The new album, The Unbeatable Sound of Plastic, which comes out on June 28, was recorded with the same live essence of the first album, but this time around, Morrison took about five months to polish it up. The band builds on the same, unique style of the first album, which sounds as though Iggy Pop and the Stooges went on a weekend bender at a Texas bar with Jack White. The solid, new album features several tracks with a very accessible sound to them. For example, tunes like “Kitten Inside” and “Across the Line” contain some catchy melodies that would fit in nicely on any radio station like KRCL. The song “My Jungle” also stands out among the other bluesy tunes as the band dives into a psychedelic theme, with Morrison concocting some great, trippy sounds on his guitar. And while the first nine tracks consist of original material, one of the gems on the new record is the final track, which is an “illicit” 12-minute cover of the Bauhaus tune, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Recorded at Salt Lake Recording Services, Morrison worked extensively with engineer Brad McCarley “every Tuesday and Thursday,” tweaking and mixing the album. Once that task was complete, Mike Sasich then mastered the 10-track album. Wheeler described the recording process as he and Belka being “the ingredients,” Morrison and McCarley as “the bakers,” and Sasich as “the guy who put the frosting on it.”
The record is being released on the 8ctopus record label, which Morrison started back in 2007. The release of The Unbeatable Sound of Plastic marks the 26th release on the label. Aside from Pink Lightning, Morrison is also using the label as a way to release records from other bands he’s been in over the years, such as The Moths, Ether, Purr Bats, Pretty Worms, The Wolfs and Vile Blue Shades. Though Morrison doesn’t make money from releasing these albums on his own label, he takes pride in doing it anyway, and is glad that his music is out in the world, leaving footprints on unknown beaches.
The CD release party for Pink Lightning’s The Unbeatable Sound of Plastic takes place on June 28 at the Urban Lounge wih Breakers and Tupelo Moan. The first 100 people will receive a ticket for a free physical copy of the band’s new album. The limited edition run of 300 copies includes a booklet with lyrics to all the songs, along with some great artwork by artists Jason Pierson and Xkot Toxsik, and a surprise toy inside the package as well. If you never managed to see Pink Lightning the first time around, please get the hell out of your house on June 28, and come down to Urban to see a show that you’ll remember for a long time to come.