By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Brightblack Morning Light is about a vibe.
The Alabama-bred duo's laconic folk-psych-soul is foggy like a Phish concert, sliding down droning, somnambulant grooves coated in Muscles Shoals funk lighting a velvet night sky. Inspired by the Staples Singers' Southern gospel and My Bloody Valentine's narcotized textures, Brightblack Morning Light's spacey, slowcore R&B writhes beneath drifting intonations that are more meditative mantras than lyrics. Like Spiritualized gone native in some one-horse Southern backwater, there's a primitive, untouched majesty to their sound.
The only white child in the rural lower Alabama community where he grew up, singer/guitarist Nathan Shineywater moved to Birmingham when he was 10 years old and found himself shocked by the level and virulence of the racism in his new environment. (His high school football team's mascot was a confederate general.) A nature child, Shineywater later moved out west, living in Humboldt County, California, smoking some of America's finest herb and learning about environmental activism from friends in Earth First! and Greenpeace.
After four years out there, he returned to Alabama armed in knowledge.
"But there was no environmental mind frame going on there," Shineywater says from a California roadside, where he was enjoying a 4:20 toke. "Sadly enough, it didn't feel like the civil rights movement had kept progressing. It seems a lot of people are just content to get a Cadillac and chill out."
The trip did allow him to reconnect with (future) keyboard player/vocalist Rachael Hughes, who was playing in his old band back home, but, generally disappointed with what he found, Shineywater went back to California. There, he lived in a teepee at the Point Reyes National Seashore and organized a series of concerts in the wilderness, featuring San Francisco artists such as Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and Vetiver, among others.
"Rock clubs are always loud and full of drunk people," Shineywater says. "So we started calling this festival the Quiet Quiet Festival. People would come and everyone would mutually agree that we would just listen. Listen to music and have an attention span."
Will Oldham played the first show in 2002, and the next year, he asked Shineywater to open for him on tour. Shineywater called Hughes, and thus, the band was born. The duo would record music as Rainywater and Brightblack before settling on their current moniker for their self-titled 2006 album.
Last month, they released their follow-up, Motion to Rejoin, which offers similarly languid, nocturnal, groove-heavy rumination. The album was home-recorded with only the electricity provided by four roof-top solar panels, as Shineywater sought to walk the talk.
"It was time to make the lifestyle I was thinking about seep into as many different aspects of the process as possible. To not be removed or disconnected under any circumstances from the cyclical nature of things," he says. Cloudy days were simply occasions to think more about the music or take a hike into the wilderness.
But Shineywater complains that his nativist aspect is being misconstrued by journalists.
"It's not necessarily living in the country or dropping out," he says. "There are all kinds of assholes that drop out and kick around the country and don't help anyone or anything, including themselves. That's not it at all. I'm just talking about how we can progressively engage and go, 'Stop. Wait a minute. What's going on with this design?'"
Shineywater—who claims the mushrooms that grow on cow patties everywhere in southern Alabama are the state's greatest contribution to his musical makeup—hopes others will take agency in the fight against Babylon. Writing in response to an additional e-mail query, Shineywater poses the philosophical question at the heart of his music: "What if all we need is already here, living around us, free? Why don't the animals talk to us? [Do] they think we aren't trustworthy?"