Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights Readies Its Major Label Debut

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So maybe it's not surprising when Nadel candidly expresses his excitement about the band's future—completely devoid of the pause that label types like him so often employ when discussing bands and their prospects.

"I'm very confident," he says. "We're gonna get there with these guys. Real bands like this find their way."

What's interesting about the deal Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights signed isn't that the label's thrown a lot of money behind the band (it hasn't; Pardon Me was made for $20,000) but that the label just seems to dig the idea of the band as a whole and actually wants to support it.

It's hardly the old major label cliché: In preparing Pardon Me, the label introduced Tyler to various songwriters and producers, but never forced anything on him creatively. Tyler adamantly insists that this is the case—and there's evidence to back him up.

On certain songs on Pardon Me, Tyler shares songwriting credits with various members of his band. But his name is the only constant in the liner notes. In fact, only one name not from the band appears: Rich Robinson, guitarist and songwriter for The Black Crowes (including "She Talks To Angels"). Tyler and Robinson collaborated on one of the disc's most incendiary and catchy, albeit lyrically sophomoric, tracks, "Hot Sake." Robinson offered to produce the disc, too. Instead, the band recorded Pardon Me in 17 studio days spread out over a month spent in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce (John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Cage the Elephant) with the goal of bringing its visceral onstage sound to tape. It was a reactionary move of sorts: The band was already sick of locals jokingly referring to it as Black Crowes Light.

"We don't want to be puppeted by a label," Tyler says.

For better or for worse, Tyler thinks about those things. A lot. He reads reviews—including a blog post that compared his band to the Black Crowes, which he checked on his phone as he was sitting next to a founding member of that band. He doesn't want to be compared to anyone else, although he admits that there are many borrowed elements in his songs. But they're classic elements, he says. He throws the word "timeless" around a lot.

"The goal," he says, "was to re-introduce a classic way of thinking. To make rock 'n' roll relevant again. To make a modern-sounding record that has the attitude of a classic record."

The recurring lyrical theme to Pardon Me is about finding one's inner rock 'n' roller. "I've gotta know/what's gonna move your soul?" he pleads in the opening title track. It's a noble aim, but one that recalls another outfit—one Tyler has toured with. If there exists one artist whose catalog boasts a higher percentage of songs about rock 'n' roll than Jonathan Tyler's, it's Kid Rock—yet another artist with whom Tyler's songs have been lumped.

"All those comparisons? If anything, it's a compliment," Pinckard says. "Whenever anyone's saying that you're comparable with all these other great bands, that's got to be a good thing."

But, backstage before the House of Blues gig, Pinckard, whose wailing guitar gives the band much of its feel, admits that he has a hard time classifying his band's genre.

"I have no idea what kind of music we're supposed to be," Pinckard admits backstage at the House of Blues show. "Your guess is as good as mine. Is it rock 'n' roll? Is it R&B? Blues? Southern rock? Whatever."

It's a fair question. Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights' songs have a classic feel, sure, but hardly one that seems to fit any specific radio format. It's not alternative rock. It's not country. It's not even alt-country.

But that's another thing Nadel and Atlantic like about the band's promise: "To me, the biggest records are the ones that don't fit to formats. This band appeals to all different ages and kinds of people."

"You really can't put a label on them as far as what they do," Herron agrees. "You can put influences on them, but you can't put a sound on them. I think they have huge crossover appeal."

When "Pardon Me," which the band performed for national television audiences for an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! that aired on April 8, gets its radio push from the label in June, that appeal will start to be determined.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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