Interview: Old Light

Up-and-coming Portland band Old Light  is all set to play Nelsonville Music Festival on Thursday. Along with playing their first show east of Oregon, the band plans on releasing five cassette tapes this year, making it clear that they are taking off and refusing to look back. ACRN sat down with guitarist and vocalist Garth Klippert and talked about the reasoning behind the band’s seemingly odd cassette tape project and what fans can expect at Nelsonville.

How did Old Light get started?

Garth Klippert: (laughs) That’s kind of a long story. I don’t know how much time you have. But basically the short version is that I used to be a general contractor, and I built coffee shops here in Portland. A guy named Charlie who worked at one of the shops noticed that I would bring my friends from San Francisco in when they were on tour. They’re all in bands like Thee Oh SeesSonny SmithKelley Stoltz–these are all buddies of mine from a long time ago. After a while Charlie asked, ‘Do you have music of your own?’ And I told him that I did. So I gave him a CD of recordings that I had and he called me a week later and said, ‘Hey, I’m in your band. When’s practice?’ So he came over and he knew all the songs, and he played them all pretty perfectly. Then we were off and running. Eventually Charlie left the band and joined another band. But the story is the same. He’s the guy that started our band. And since that day when he came over, it’s just kind of been this thing that’s snowballed and gotten bigger and bigger.

How would you describe Old Light’s sound?

GK: People have tried to categorize our style–journalists or whoever. Usually people just take the part out that they understand best. Their descriptions are often limited descriptions. It’s just the part they understand, and then there are parts that they don’t understand so they can’t describe it. And I can’t describe it. I don’t want to describe it. I want to just do it. It’s confusing for people. You can’t call us a pop band or a folk band or a metal band or a rock band because we just consistently push through those things in a pretty self-indulgent way. We just do what seems like the right thing to do. And if that means that we bring in a Bossa Nova or a Black Sabbath riff, it’s just kind of because we follow the songs as they show up. We don’t know what the songs are going to turn into. We start out with an idea or an agenda, but an hour later there’s this other thing that’s taken hold.

I saw on your site that the band is currently working on a cassette tape project. Could you talk about that and the reasoning behind it?

GK: Our goal is to release five cassettes in 2013. This kind of dovetails with what I was just talking about. We have so much that we want to do. There are so many different directions that we get pulled. And the other thing about us–compared to other bands–we’re not in our 20s. We’re old. We’re all over 40. But we’ve also all been playing music our whole lives. It’s kind of like this thing where if we don’t do everything now, I’m not sure we’re going to do it. The time is now, basically. I have to be honest and give credit where it’s due though. I’m friends with all these San Francisco bands and over the years they’ve all come through town on tour and given me all the stuff that they’re making. I’ve just got piles of records from these people. And I’ll be honest–it really made me a little bit jealous. These are people my age. And Old Light took a look at itself a little while ago and said, ‘Hey, we gotta catch up.’ We have a lot of music we could be playing. We have a lot of stuff to figure out. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. So we came up with this goal of making five tapes. Again, it’s not for everybody, but we’re learning a lot. We’re learning about each other and about songwriting and recording. It’s just a great exercise.

So let’s talk a little bit about Nelsonville. What does this opportunity mean for Old Light?

GK: It’ll be a great experience because Old Light has never played east of Portland, Ore. We almost didn’t do it, though. We’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great opportunity, but it’s 2,500 miles away. What are we going to do?’ For one gig, it didn’t make any sense. But then we decided, why wait? Let’s see what we can do. We turned it into a two-week tour and we’re getting all the spots filled in. We’re going to be playing The Hideout in Chicago, we’re going to do Daytrotter, and an old friend of mine from New Orleans got us a show in Minneapolis. A whole bunch of things just kind of came together around it. So actually, we’re not just excited for Nelsonville, but the whole two weeks. It’ll be a great opportunity to go out and show people what we’re all about.

What can fans expect from this performance?

GK: Well, it’s high energy music. Our music was once described as an impenetrable fortress, which is really flattering. I would say we’re not going to hold back. We’re going to do everything we can to grab you by the shoulders and shake you around a little bit. Or a lot. But at the same time, we’re not mad at anybody; we’re not trying to pick a fight. We just dig energy. A lot of energy. At its best, we’re going to take you for a ride.

You can check out Old Light’s tapes here and here.

Originally published on

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