Talking with the duo that makes up Flashlights – Ethan Converse and Sam Martin – we were huddled down at the Hi-Dive’s “green room” chatting about this freshman outfit in Denver before their opening gig for ManCub, another duo who is breaking ground in Denver’s expanding electro pop and dance playground.
Since the two met over a year and a half ago, Sam and Ethan have continued to plug away, figuratively and literally, on making a style of ear candy that evokes the unconscious desire to move the body and mind in various configurations.
After sending a number of demos into the atmosphere, Flashlights’ sound caught the attention of the Binary Entertainment label in Los Angeles via a post on Twitter. Co-founder Josh Legg liked what the dance act had to offer and an email later, things were underway to add Flashlights to Binary’s roster.
“Thing is,” Ethan explains, “I got our record deal on the table on the same day that I was fired from my job for doing too many ‘music, band things’ at work.”
The duo signed the contract after meeting both Josh and Kyle Petersen at the band’s first SXSW earlier this year, where Flashlights performed four shows including Loose Control, the Reverb party, plus a Eye in the Sky art collective gig through some friends they have in Austin.
Reflecting on their time in Austin and that Eye in the Sky party, Ethan says with a shrug, “There were a lot of really good bands playing there, but it was kind of a last minute thing so we got the 1pm timeslot where everyone is still passed out and hung over.” Laughing, he continues with a ‘bright side’ tone, “But we got some free food out of the deal.”
For Ethan the first Sx experience was overwhelming. But Sam seems to take the experience in stride. “I think once you’re there, you’re there and nothing else matters. It’s like it’s own world.”
Ethan adds, “You can’t go anywhere without hearing drums. We were loading in between 6th and 7th Street, right in the thick of things where we were going to be playing a show. And at one point we were looking at each other, ‘Are you hearing this?’ It was like 1,500 drummers were playing right in front of us. It was insane.”
“I liked it though,” Sam continues. “Just walking down the street and seeing so many of my favorite artists just hanging. Being able to just say, ‘What up?’ in a casual environment, have a conversation. So what they say about it rings true.”
Keeping things rolling post-SXSW, and with the contract signed with Binary, Flashlights released the debut EP, Hidden Behind Trees, digitally in June, an ensemble of recent tracks and songs that date back a year or so.
For Sam, it was the winter of 2010 that helped to get the creative juices flowing. “There were a couple of weeks where it was just insanely cold. So we hunkered down and just wrote and wrote and wrote.”
Not all of what they wrote made the cut. Ethan feels that these most recent songs – “Holidays,” “New Hampshire,” and “Glowing Eyes” – are the ones that really started to set the duo apart and establish their band’s music foundation.
“We’ve always had this formula where he’ll have a loop or a beat, then I’ll bring in the vocals and may add a beat to that,” he says. Referring to the “Holiday” track that’s a perfect addition to a Last.fm summertime playlist, Ethan explains, “Some people have said they get a sense of escapism.”
Sam chimes in, bringing back the weather’s musical influence, “It may have been subconscious on our part because we were stuck in a basement in negative 20 degree weather.”
Maybe that could be why bands in cities like Montreal or Chicago seem to emerge from the caverns, after the icicles have fallen from the roofs and the snow has melted for the last time, with fresh new tracks for a seasonal excursion. A trip for the eardrums. Indeed.
Noting “Holidays,” the sounds evoke scenarios that emulate the song’s title; an open café bar with large fans swirling above while people enjoy each other’s company, laughing and stirring straws in colorful cocktails as the waves crash on the beach nearby. “New Hampshire” falls later in the season, as the vocals transform the air into a crisp and cool melody and the musical electrons transform the landscape into beautiful shades of golden brown and Burnt Sienna.
As the temperature rises, Ethan admits it is a bit more of a challenge to concoct notes, tones and lyrics in the confines of an underground room, “We’re trying to write our second E.P. and it’s so hard to focus when it’s so warm outside, and the last thing we want to do is be in that basement.”
The guys agree that since their song writing process has evolved in the last 18+ months, it’s become easier to emerge with quality pieces of music that will make it to the second E.P.
Along with their formula for creation as a team, Ethan and Sam established their individual roles for Flashlights early on, with Ethan taking on promotion, booking, and contributing to beats and vocals, while Sam focuses on mixing and molding the bits and bytes of clay into a finished pieces.
After the Underground Music Showcase performance on Sunday, July 24 (9pm) at Club 404, the next big date for the duo (complete with a moonlight walk, candlelight dinner) is August 5, where the Flashlights vinyl version of Hidden Behind Trees makes its debut. This move to the spinning sphere format came about through their lighting guy, who also runs Morning Pony, a short-run vinyl pressing and CD duplication company.
“We picked up a vinyl player for the house right when we moved to Denver in September,” Sam says. “It’s this big, old console and it sounds like shit. But it gives every record that vintage sound, the crackle lo-fi sound. It was really cool because over the last nine months everyone’s been collecting records.”
Then Ethan notes, “It’s really fun to notice that little detail about the record that you didn’t hear on the digital [version]. And then you hear it on the vinyl and it actually makes sense. You think, ‘Oh, okay now I understand what they were trying to do.’”
And it’s those little sound quality nuggets, the ability to render the music at a higher level on vinyl versus digital, that got them excited about taking Hidden Behind the Trees to pressed, 12” disc of clear purple goodness.
Ethan points out the business aspects that many artists have wholly embraced, “People are buying vinyl. No one buys CDs. So if you have a CD you’re giving it away.”
This vinyl release will coincide with Flashlights’ first-ever west coast tour, where the configuration sans drum kit, guitars and accompanying pedals enables the band to travel light. “We can fit everything into the truck of our Hyundai,” boasts Ethan.
“It gets 33 miles to the gallon and we’ve calculated it all out,” Sam says, feeling very proud of their frugal touring style.
With all the money they’re saving and raking in from merch sales, the boys will have plenty of dough to make their rock and roll adventures and return with stories that would make Charlie Sheen blush. Loose plans were made to regroup post-tour so I could hear their about the torrid accounts of the road.
Sam smiles wryly, “Are you open to all the stories?” Did Hemingway love to cocktail?
If you’re in Denver for UMS or living in one of the towns on the course of the tour, you too can play a walk-on role in the Flashlights saga in the making:
8/5 Denver, CO – Marquis w/ R E A L M A G I C, Force Publique, Whygee
8/8 Salt Lake City/Park City, UT – TBA
8/9 Boise, ID – Visual Arts Collective
8/10 Spokane, WA – Mootsys
8/11 Seattle, WA – Comet Tavern
8/12 Bellingham, WA – TBA
8/13 Portland, OR – TBA
8/15 San Fransisco, CA – El Rio w/ James & Evander, Yalls
8/16 Fresno, CA – TBA
8/17 Santa Barbara, CA – TBA
8/18 San Diego, CA – Tin Can Alehouse w/ Steffaloo
8/19 Los Angeles – LOT 1 w/ Steffaloo
8/20 Los Angeles, CA – TBA
8/21 Phoenix, AZ – Trunkspace
8/22 Albequerque/Santa FE, NM – TBA