- Posted on Feb 28th 2011 7:30PM by Arielle Castillo
Parental intentions often backfire -- especially when they're aimed at kids with serious artistic streaks. Such was the case with James Cicero. When his strict ex-military father outlawed instrument playing in the house, the Chicago-area native practiced piano on the sly, forming a band as soon as he left for college.
Spurred on by the DIY scene in DeKalb, Ill., where he attended school, Cicero eventually formed Light Pollution. The group has since settled in Chicago and revamped its sound, trading folk for expansive, feel-good music rooted in shoegaze and neo-psychedelia. Chatting with Spinner, Cicero discussed the band's early days and the evolving sound of its new material.
When did you officially start playing as Light Pollution?
The drummer and I started playing under the name Light Pollution around 2005, during our sophomore year in college. We played around the college towns for years, switching up the lineup a lot and switching up the sound a lot. We started as more of a folk kind of band, but then we all moved to Chicago and changed the lineup. That's where we've been the last two or three years.
How influential was your time in those college towns?
When I started going to school in DeKalb, there was amazing DIY thing going on. But that all kind of fell apart in recent years, with everybody moving and whatever. About the second week of school, I saw flyers around campus and started checking out shows and fell in with all the other musicians in town. The scene was all way off campus; it was all house parties and there was a communal DIY practice space. The scene was all weird-beard folksy stuff and experimental pop bands.
A lot of the people in the scene weren't even in school in town. Half the people were there because they dropped out of school, and half of the people were there because they moved there knowing what was going on in the moment. I think we were the only band doing what we were doing there. We had a horn section and strings; we had a lot going on. We had maybe six or seven people onstage in the early days, but for the past three years, it's been four people, so it's a very different band.
At what point did you decide it was more prudent to strip down the lineup?
It happened with this last album ['Apparitions'] that we put out in June. When I was tracking that record, the drummer and I rented this warehouse. The band was falling apart, kind of, so we just reformatted based on that. More than anything else, we realized it would be impossible to get all those people on tour. We were also getting tired of folk music; I didn't feel like there were many possibilities with it.
A lot of the descriptions of your band now use the word "shoegaze." Do you feel that's accurate? Do you listen to a lot of those bands?
That's fair for that last record, definitely, but we've kind of been moving more into a straight-up pop sound at the moment -- a lot more focused on pop structure. As far as the shoegazing stuff we were doing, we let it run away from us, almost. We were getting too much into layers. We keep changing our sound.
What do you think would most surprise people about the new material you're writing?
It's a lot catchier, honestly. It's very hook- and chorus-oriented songwriting.
Last year was your first time playing SXSW. How was your experience there in general?
I went down there the previous year with a couple friends and ended up doing an acoustic show somewhere. Doing it last year, I figured out it was going to be a clusterf--- no matter what happens. No matter how many people are planning things out to a T, things are going to go wrong. That's to be expected, I think. We did, like, 12 shows last year. It was like, play a show at noon, then you get to the show you're supposed to play at 3PM, and the guys say, "Oh, you can't play 'til 4PM," even if you have another show at 5PM. But that's just how it goes.
Do you think playing that many shows in such a short span of time helped raise your profile?
I really don't know how much SXSW helps anybody, but if you're going to be down there, you might as well do as much as you can, you know? We're really excited about our last record, and for the new record we're working on. It'll also be nice to run into every band we've toured with.
Catch Light Pollution's SXSW Set on Thursday, March 17 512 Rooftop (408 E 6th St.) 8:25PM.
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