Meet Lights On, a San Diego fivesome that want nothing to do with scuzz rock

“It’s a nod,” says Mike Kamoo, drummer for San Diego angular rockers Lights On, about his city’s Music Awards and their previous two-years-running nomination. “I mean, I don’t expect to win,” he tells me with a smile backstage at LA’s Club Nokia just after their opening slot for Peter Bjorn and John.

The born-and-bred So Cal five-piece are no stranger to the industry’s workings. One of their earlier bands Stereotypes played with The Buzzcocks and Spoon and another, separate 60’s garage rock outfit Bad Apples, took the guys, six years ago, on a European tour.

Kamoo puts food on the table from knob twisting at his own studio, where the band has recorded for eight plus years through previous incarnations. “We experiment a lot in studio,” says singer Tim Hines, about the current Lights On project. “[Though] it’s not like we go in there and watch the clock.”

“He (Hines) will write a song that morning, and it will be recorded by the afternoon. Stuff does happen pretty spontaneously,” Kamoo says of the studio-ownership benefit.

“The band started with the two of us,” Kamoo tells me, gesturing to Hines, “I have a studio, it was a recording project, and we just kind of got it off the ground.” Currently the band has released one five song EP, 2008’s Waiting For The Heart To Beat, yet, have close to 20 other tracks recorded. They formed in 2006.

“We have a lot of songs that we need to release, b-sides if you will. “[We are] looking for a label, reserving the songs for hopefully a decent [one] to come and pick it up. If not, we will just do it ourselves,” Hines says of debut LP territory.

Lights On formed were nominated for The San Diego Music Awards as 2008 and 2009’s “Best Electronic” and “Best Pop Band” categories respectively. They have mini-toured with Sweden’s lo-fi Loney Dear (Sub Pop / Polyvinyl), welcomed summertime sell-outs at Silver Lake’s Club Spaceland and were hand-picked by Peter Bjorn and John to open the trio’s special birthday set (the night I spoke to them) in Los Angeles. Hines called that night’s gig “amazing.”

Well beyond the age of most of their San Diego contemporaries, “it’s a little over inflated, but it’s good, lo-fi garage pop I guess you could call it,” Hines says of the SD scene, Lights On, describe their sound using a wealth of reference.

Kamoo simply calls his band “very layered,” and “all over the place.” The room erupts in laughter when I mention their press kit’s sonic description of a pairing between “Echo & The Bunnymen and Animal Collective.”

Hines comments by saying they do have a layered keyboard sound, but that it’s “always changing” they are always “metamorphosizing” the sound. Continuing, he lists his influences: “some days it’s straight, post-punk garage stuff, (he cites) Television, early Echo and The Bunnnymen [or] Joy Division–very rigid and angular. Then some days it’s a lot of keyboards and 50’s and 60’s (sounds), The Kinks, stuff like that.”

Looks like we might just have to wait and see when Lights On decide to toss us all a full-length. The band has a few shows in December and January in San Diego, followed by the usual band-fare; touring, SXSW, another 5 song EP, and hitting the studio again.

Until then, Hines assures us that his band won’t go getting buzzed-out on us like fellow SD bands; “I don’t want to do a record that sounds like the Beach Boys on a cheesy four track.”

“Lo-fi scuzz rock?” I ask.

Correcting he says, “Lo-fi shit gaze.”

–Matt Draper

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