By Morgan James
It’s the one year Coachella-versary for Will Sturgeon’s band, brightener, in which they showcased keen musical talent and a mod soundscape to an audience of tens of thousands from all over the world. Between playing the internationally acclaimed Coachella Festival and brightener’s win at the Tachevah music festival just before, Will’s career was skyrocketing at record pace. How does the band follow a year of competition wins and worldwide festival recognition? By keeping the ball impressively rolling with the brand new album release of Headroom, a successful California tour, and a handful of nominations for CV Music Awards including Best Band and Best Male Vocalist, of course! The Coachella Valley would expect no less from Will Sturgeon, who not only fronts the band, but manages it, and even wrote and recorded Headroom himself in the humble confines of his own bedroom studio.
If you follow brightener you know that their first album Hummingbird took 6 long years to come to fruition and that Will used professional producers, engineers, and studio equipment. While the compilation is definitely a worthy example of the singer/songwriter’s emotive objectives, Will chose the more intimate approach to the recording process with Headroom to speed the process and keep the songs “fresh” and relevant of mind. Will even ambitiously scheduled the band’s tour in the same month of the album release for the same reason. For the first time having a strong, consistent live band including Raefer Finnegan, Elias Texel, and Michael Santella backing the consummate musician, brightener has grown from an acoustic singer/songwriter coffee shop feel, to a full, lively, enterprising presence with an even brighter future. I spoke with Will Sturgeon about the full band dynamic, behind the scenes of brightener’s recent tour, and about the making of their most recent music video “Habits.”
MJ: How have your personalities and friendships translated while on the stage performing your music live and while touring?
WS: “Well at this point we’ve been playing as this unit pretty heavily for 8 months now and things are going really smoothly onstage. A few of us are still relatively new to performing on a regular basis so we’re trying to figure out how to make ourselves the most comfortable while onstage. Two of our guys are soundmen on their day jobs so Michael made sure our cables onstage were more organized than any other indie band I’ve seen (he was obsessed with finding some tape before each show to tape down all the wires). We’re all fairly easygoing, so there’s not much tension in the van, unless Raefer is driving…. But the music is really fun and upbeat to play, so no matter what’s happened in the van with our friendships before the show, the music always puts us in a good mood and playing the music live is what makes it all worth it. We’re not the most showy of bands onstage, we just wanna play the music and play it well and jam out with each other.”
MJ: You recently completed a California tour. How did it turn out and how did you spend your time in between shows?
WS: “Tour was so great! It was not my first tour, but I think most of the other guys’. I had been so stressed out with the planning of everything for the three months leading up to it that it was so nice to just have to do one thing per day – drive to this place by X time, and then play a show. If I could do that for longer I would. It was a short-ish tour, and we were just in the groove by the time we were back home. Luckily everything went smoothly and we don’t have any disaster stories from tour – just a lot of inside jokes that are probably not appropriate for publication. California is a different beast to tour than the east coast, where all of the cities are max 2 hrs away from each other, so most of our time was spent driving between shows. We went to a few thrift shops, Elias got a great shirt. Nothing too exciting, which I guess is good for touring but bad for storytelling.”
MJ: Tell me about the music video for “Habits”- how was the shoot concept created and why is this song special to you?
WS: “We made the music video for “Habits” with Arslane of Hoopla EIO, a local artist. It was pretty low-budget and he had a great vision about walking through the same room over and over, which I think loosely ties into the theme of Headroom. Arslane is a student of music videos and shot it in a way that is specific to him and helped keep the feel DIY. We filmed it with the help of the Coachella Valley Art Scene, who helped us make some props and the set design, so we’re keeping it local and showcasing the local art scene. It was fun to film, even though we did it on a tight timeline. We had a pizza delivery guy show up and threw him in one of the scenes, but unfortunately that didn’t make the final cut. We actually shot it outside, though we meant for it to look like it was inside. The song is special to me because it’s about trying to live life healthily, which is something that is very relevant to me on a daily basis and I think could apply to anyone. I also think it’s just a fun jam and happy the song came to me! It’s like the thesis statement for my life for the past six months.”
The album Headroom dropped on Apr 7, 2017 and you can find it on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, Google Play, Bandcamp, etc.