Not your typical folk, indie pop band, Bern & The Brights are out there to show you just how much hard work will pay off. The New Jersey quartet recently signed to the independent recording label, StarBeat Music, and are awaiting the release of their latest EP, Work, the group’s label debut. I recently caught up with Bernadette Malavarca as the band was driving down to Delaware for a gig, and our conversation is below:
So your new EP, Work, comes out on Oct. 2. How stoked are you for that?
We’re very, very excited. We’re psyched because it’s been a while since we’ve recorded and it’s our first label release, which is exciting for us. So it’s good, October is a good month to put it out. We have a busy month coinciding with that. We’re going to be in CMJ. It’s seven songs; it’s a maturation from our last release.
How does it differ from the last release?
The last release was a two-song single. The one before that, Swing Shift Maisies, we were less experimental in the studio and it was closer to what exactly we do live and as close as possible. It was our point to make a close representation of that. As time has gone on, and over the last 18 months that we’ve been playing as a four-piece rock band—we used to have a violin player—it’s gotten more electrified. We also got more comfortable in the studio and took a few more risks, explored some sounds and changed the energy of everything—allowing ourselves to play more with arrangements and production—so it’s more of a studio record than what we’ve done as a band to date.
How did you get involved with StarBeat Music?
The girl Star [Morales], the co-owner of the label, she’s had a blog for some time and that predates the label. For the few years that we’ve been a band she’s followed us and covered us at different times so we got to know her through that circuit. About a year ago they started StarBeat Music and it just seemed to make sense. It’s kind of the next step for us and the next step for them looking to broaden our horizons. Plus, we have a relationship with Star. We like her taste and we got to know her well. It seemed like the right collective of people to join forces with.
It’s pretty awesome that you guys are going with a label release because I know a lot of bands are veering off on the more DIY path lately.
There’s different levels of that. We are a very hands-on band, and freedom is very important to us. There’s definitely labels that have a similar sensibility and respect artists very much. I think when you start to get into major label stuff the nightmares you hear about are definitely true. It’s all the more important to establish yourself before that time ever comes—if it ever comes—because you want to have your own legs. We feel that we can do that while being attached to StarBeat. They get that and it’s really about artist friendly vibes, and we’ll keep our freedom and stuff. We’re on the same page that we can do that and grow together.
Are more releases to come through them?
We don’t know yet. It’s definitely a possibility, it’s all so new. We’ve been concentrating on all the work, no pun intended, to finish Work. But it’s certainly a possibility and how everything goes.
How would you say the recording process for Work was different?
There are parts of it that [are] definitely the same. We record much of the tracks; the first basic rounds everyone plays live together. That’s the basis of every track, the band playing together. It wasn’t like drums played, then bass played and then over that initial layer we’d go in and put the overdubs. I think that it’s different from the past recordings because we spent a little more time on that second phase of adding overdubs or redoing things, introducing more layers of electric guitar—you’re going to hear a lot of that on this record. We also brought in instruments that we don’t always play live but works on the recording, and a lot of records do this. Bands will have a song with horns maybe on the choruses or added percussion. We spent a lot of time adding to the orchestration of the songs, and I guess it differs because we spent more time.
I think the first couple recordings were produced faster for various reasons—we were just eager to get something out when we were first starting as a band. Our last single, our vinyl single that came out last year, was released on Record Store Day, so [we] felt a strong excitement to celebrate that day and we sort of had a whimsical desire to put those two songs out. The idea to do that rushed the rest of it, not that it sounds rushed, but with this record we took our time. We didn’t have a strict deadline as we were finishing it up. I think you’ll hear that.
It’s great that you guys were able to keep a little cooler and work to get that sound you wanted.
Yeah, we tried and, you know, you can never finish something if you never make a decision that it’s done. That’s sort of the nature of art; you can just sit there and work on it forever and ever and ever, of course. But we concentrated hard and we tried hard, and I hope we keep trying in the future to grow and just do a good job. And learn from everything we’ve done in the past and apply those lessons.
You said you added more to the orchestra on this release. What was your favorite part to add?
I guess we have some keyboards on there. That’s kind of a favorite. That’s new to us too and I think it’s something that we’re going to keep exploring. I’m not sure where it’s going to go yet. But we welcomed in artificial sound. We have those MicroKorg keyboards that started us off getting interested in that. It’s got lots of different sounds and we used that to color the record, and that’s exciting. It’s something we want to do more of. We have some horns for one of the tracks, and that’s exciting too. Of the two? The keyboards, at least to me personally.
You said before you guys were playing CMJ this year. Do you know when yet?
We’re playing several dates. We’re still confirming the final list of places, but it’s more than one show that week as part of the festival.
What’s in store for the rest of the year?
We’re going to be working the release. We are working on a music video. I don’t know for sure when it’ll be done, we’re making good progress. If all goes well, that will be debuting in the fall sometime after the release though sometime in November.
What’s your favorite track off of Work?
I think right now, and this might change, I’m really pumped about “As Long As I’m Alive.” It’s just a really upbeat tune, it’s real energetic and the message is simple. I guess sort of basic; it really frames the music. As long as I have music the rest of my life, I’ll be fine—as long as I have my freedom, my friends and music. It’s so simple and true and this overarching theme that will probably relate to all the songs in some way and also to the band. I think sort of umbrella and good feeling is a nice introduction to people who don’t know us yet, which is exciting. It’s just upbeat. I think we need upbeat stuff because it’s a downer in the world these days.
What are some of your favorite local venues to play?
Our home base is Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair. It’s kind of this plain old Irish bar, and they have a big room with a stage. Everyone’s really friendly. That’s where we’re having our release, it’s our hometown show. We’ve played the Rockwood Music Hall a bunch in the past, and that’s a great time. Maxwell’s is another one of our favorites.
Can you tell me a bit about the release show?
It’s going to be on October 13 at Tierney’s Tavern, and the bands that are joining us are Plastiq Passion and the other band is called The Micks. Plastiq Passion [are] a really fun party punk band, and they’re going to kick things off. Then we’re going to play and then The Micks, who are sort of a cross between a mellower energy of us and the excitement of Plasiq Passion, are going to take the night out. It’s going to be really fun. We’re going to have a DJ there as well, my friend DJ Amanda. She has a regular stint at Hell’s Kitchen in Newark, and in between everything she’ll be spinning some good music. It’s a 21+ venue policy and doors are $8.
Check out Bern & The Brights on Oct. 13 at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair for the release of their label debut, Work. For more information, visit bernandthebrights.com.