Longform

Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights Readies Its Major Label Debut

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After the band's Saturday House of Blues show, another Atlantic rep, Mike Snow, who runs radio promotions for the company through Texas and much of the South, expanded on the label's excitement.

"There's been a lot of internal talk about who gets to spearhead this project," he says while the band drinks and celebrates its show just a few seats over in the venue's Foundation Room. "People are really excited about this band. We think there are maybe four or five singles on this record."

Already, Austin's rock-formatted KLBJ 93.7 FM has picked up on "Pardon Me," playing the song in regular rotation. Come June, when the formal push for airplay comes, Snow hopes stations such as Dallas' KEGL 97.1 FM will follow that lead. Then alternative stations like KDGE 102.1 FM will fall in line. Then maybe pop stations. Who knows?

Given his O.A.R. background, Nadel doesn't mind waiting.

"It may take one year, three years, or five years," he says. "For me, that's the best approach for building an artist. We're not in a rush. The band's not in a rush."

Or are they? When asked, The Northern Lights, which now include backup singer Mo Brown (who joined the band shortly after Hot Trottin' was released and, fun fact, is a published novelist under the name of Camika Spencer) and new keyboard player E.J. Norris (whose first performance with the band came at the CD release show), show some glee.

"The exciting part, for me, is when you take the CD out and you look at it and there's that Atlantic stamp on there," says bass player Jay. "Led Zeppelin was on there. Ray Charles. That means a lot."

Pinckard, meanwhile, talks eagerly about the road that still lies ahead: "I want to get up to that next plateau," he says. "And just explore around a little bit, you know? See what's out there."

But with Tyler, you get the impression that he'd almost rather wait.

"Would I like this record?" he asks when pressed about his thoughts on his major label debut. "I mean, I have a pretty high standard of what I'd buy. But I would. Of course I would. I'm proud of what I do. But I don't think I've done my best work yet."

When talking about what the future holds, unlike his bandmates, Tyler doesn't seem as wide-eyed. He talks about the fact that some of his bandmates already want to move to Austin or Los Angeles, but he wants to stay in Dallas.

"The people in L.A.—I don't really get along with them," he says. "I just have high hopes for Dallas. I don't know why."

He talks about his favorite local bands. Name-drops a couple of them, even, like True Widow: He loves the drone in their psychedelic-based sound. He says he was trying to go for that a little bit when writing "Devil's Basement," a country-psych blend that also stands as the most alluring—and maybe out of place—song on Pardon Me. It's a direction he hopes to keep exploring sonically, probably on the band's next record. If only because maybe it isn't what people expect of him.

Because, for all his rock 'n' roll swagger, Tyler is staunchly averse to being considered a cliché. So much so that he refused the first four cuts he saw of the music video for "Pardon Me," which debuted last week on the band's website. There were too many poses, he says. Too many shots of him and his band mates coolly and dramatically taking drags from their cigarettes. He doesn't want to come off like every other rock band.

"None of the stuff on the radio resonates with me," he says almost defiantly. "It all just comes off as so plastic. And we're not going to be middle of the road. People are either gonna love us or hate us."

Well, maybe not hate.

"The big thing," Pinckard adds when asked his hopes for the project, "is that they have an opinion."

Back at the House of Blues, Tyler and his band, surrounded by their fans, seem to feel more comfortable about their place—even if, they admit, they aren't quite certain about what milestone they have supposedly achieved or where it is they're supposed to think they're now headed.

Maybe that's why the pre-show routine on this celebratory evening felt no different than any other.

"There's not like an exact plan to follow," Tyler says. "If you want to stand out, you just go out and try to do something different."

"It can go one of three ways," Jay says in the final moments before his band leaves the green room to take the stage. "One: It stays as is, and we keep making upward progress. Two: The album comes out and just completely flops. I mean, as good as we think we might be, who's to say that anyone else thinks we're great? The third way is that we're the next Kings of Leon. If I had my pick, of course I'd pick that."

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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