In the last decade, the rules of music have changed. The need for record labels and Artists and Repertoire experts has died out. As a result, music fanatics and artists alike are more willing and eager to break down genre barriers and explore an array of tastes, styles and influences.
It is no longer unusual for bands to cite The Beatles, Michael Jackson and James Taylor as equal inspiration; in fact, it is encouraged, with listeners seeking something new, out of the ordinary, and exciting for their ears to take hold of. Although the members of Waking Lights take pride in their indie folk classification, there is a lot more to the New Jersey troupe than its quirky instrumentals, honest lyrics and accents of violin.
The story behind Waking Lights began in the heart of this change, eight years ago, when lyricist, guitarist and lead singer Matthew Maroulakos met drummer Dana LaMarca. After Maroulakos moved to LA, the duo began building songs; Maroulakos constructed the skeleton of tracks, while LaMarca added percussion.
“We essentially demoed our first material 3,000 miles apart from one another,” Maroulakos explained. Through the power of the Internet, the musical pair built the foundation of the soon-to-be quintet.
Shortly following Maroulakos’ move back to the Garden State, his brother Tommy (keyboards) and Nicole Scorsone (violin) joined the band. Bassist Grant Zubritsky teamed with Waking Lights during 2010, replacing founding member Kyle McCammon.
During the band’s six years building itself in the New Jersey scene, Waking Lights has toured throughout an array of dive bars, beloved venues and on the roster of festivals like SXSW and CMJ. The Rabbit Hole, the debut work from the group, set their stance in the developing indie folk arena. Citing Okkervil River and Mumford & Sons as their counterparts, the Maroulakos brothers, LaMarca, Scorsone and Zubritsky, create a resounding passion as a band of artists and group of friends. While narrative Bob Dylan-inspired lyrics and overall approach were hard to ignore on the debut opus, the troupe also managed to integrate seductive R&B styling, spirited tinges of folk, and earnestly poetic vocals.
Now, Waking Lights has excelled to new, more eclectic heights with their self-titled EP. Boasting more rock and roll, Bruce Springsteen-inspired arrangements, the band is exploring a heartier sound, indicating that they are not only contemporary, but ahead of the musical curve.
Matthew Maroulakos took time out of his schedule to discuss the glue that keeps Waking Lights together, the current New Jersey scene, and what inspires the band’s musical and lyrical content.
Were there any specific artists that really brought Waking Lights together?
Dana and I use to go back and forth with Beatles records. But I think “art” in general is a guiding force among the band. Between the five of us, there is a common interest in the rebellious ideologies behind American folk music and Rhythm and Blues. That’s really what attached us and managed to keep us together.
What is your general strategy as a band? How does the writing/instrumental process come to fruition?
I think great artists master the ability to exploit relevant pop music and break as many rules, without losing the attention of their audience. I will bring a song to rehearsal or email everyone a demo. We’ll discuss parts and arrangements, working out what’s most appropriate for that song.
Every band member has a very clear idea of what their role is in the creation process, and how they contribute to Waking Lights. The best parts usually come organically, when there’s really no plan set in stone. Overall, I think we’re all just really excited about the music we’re making together and we want to share it with everyone.
You write the lyrics for Waking Lights. What drives you as a songwriter?
I think the inspiration generally comes from all aspects of life and everyday occurrences. There is a need and sense of urgency for me to create. I write about what I know, and sometimes, other people can relate to those things.
Are there any particular lyricists you take cues from in terms of your style and creative approach?
I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Carole King and James Taylor. I like to really experience the lyrics and have them truly impact me. I want the words to press hard on my chest and make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. However, lately, rather than focusing on a particular message, I’ve been experimenting with how words bounce off one another and the delivery, which is a more poetic approach. I’m also a big fan of alliteration.
There’s an evident growth from The Rabbit Hole versus the new, self-titled opus. What brought about the shift from indie folk to more rock and roll?
We are constantly growing as a band. We wanted to make a loud rock and roll record. Although that’s what we had in mind, it sort of grew throughout the whole creative process.
What did you hope to convey to listeners both lyrically and musically with the new album?
We recorded The Rabbit Hole by ourselves in my parent’s basement. It is this sort of “lo-fi” gem that we all really look back on with pride. With the self-titled EP, we wanted to create more of a sonically competitive record. We wanted to do things, make arrangements, and get sounds we couldn’t necessarily capture in a basement. We wanted it to sound huge and have it really envelop listeners.
Obviously, you guys were born and bred in the New Jersey scene. What are your insights on the current New Jersey and overall indie music scene? How is the overall support and camaraderie among your fellow musicians?
There’s a thriving scene in New Jersey and it’s really exciting that we get to be a part of it. Tiny Giants Artist Collective is a fantastic example of the kind of camaraderie in the New Jersey scene. New Jersey natives such as River City Extension and Old Wives have been supportive of us and what we do. I find the overall indie music scene somewhat overwhelming. There are a lot of great things happening in music today, but there also are a lot of strange things happening, too. It’s just a lot for me to take in sometimes.
In the age of Internet downloads, iTunes, YouTube and social media, how does Waking Lights remain relevant? Do you find it difficult to think outside the box and stand out against the flood of bands trying to get heard?
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in social media, especially in a time when technology and networking is so relevant and sometimes is vital to whether a band survives or not. But honestly, I think at the end of the day the music speaks for itself.
What’s in store for Waking Lights during 2012? Will you be hitting the tour circuit hard? Any plans for SXSW?
We are meeting with producers for the new record! The new material is all in a really good place, so we are really pumped to get things in motion. We feel these are some of the best songs we have written, so we’re excited for everyone to hear them.
In the meantime, we are releasing a 12” split with this fantastic group called Aunt Martha. Check them out at www.auntmarthaband.com. The split consists of the self-titled EP, pressed on a choice of black or white vinyl. The release date is set for March 3rd. We’ll be playing a release show right in our backyard at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ. We are pleased to have Those Mockingbirds and The Nico Blues on the bill, as well.
Besides that, we’ve been doing weekend one-off shows throughout the tri-state area. As for SXSW, everyone will just have to keep their ears close for announcements.
Waking Lights Area Appearances
2/6—Bowery Electric—New York, NY
2/19—Wayne Fire House—Wayne, NJ
2/24—Rockwood Music Hall—New York, NY
3/2—Langosta Lounge—Asbury Park, NJ
3/3—Mexicali Live—Teaneck, NJ