It’s difficult to write about death in a way that isn’t morose or dispiriting. The subject, long turned over by artists of all kinds, is inherently sad. But on Chasing White Light (eOne Music/Fast Plastic), The Lonely Wild reflects on death in a way that is both accepting and uplifting. The album, which follows the Los Angeles group’s 2013 effort The Sun As it Comes, was born last year as frontman Andrew Carroll was faced with the death of his wife’s grandmother. “When that happens to people you know and love, you often pause and reflect on people you’ve known who’ve passed away,” he notes. “And then the topic started coming out in songs naturally.”
“Scar,” a folksy indie rock tune, was one of the first songs to emerge during that process. The reflective track recounts the passing of Andrew’s childhood friend who died after they’d grown apart. “That was a moment of pause for me,” he says. “You wonder what could have happened if you were still part of that person’s life.” The rest of the album followed easily. “Snow,” a soaring, vintage-tinged number, raises questions about life and death, eventually conceding that there is no afterlife and that’s okay, encouraging the idea that you should live for now. “Running,” a song that offers the album its title in its lyrics, traces similar themes. It acknowledges the white light you supposedly run to upon death, but also sees that light as a metaphor for whatever you’re chasing while alive. It asks the listener to live in the moment and follow the thing that compels them.
Once written, these songs were transformed at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco. Working with Vanderslice marked the band’s first experience with a producer on an album. He had a huge impact on the sonic landscape of Chasing White Light, affording the musicians the opportunity to use antique instruments like harpsichord and cello, as well as analog synthesizers and electric organs, and recorded the entire album to tape. Instead of recreating the band’s demos, Vanderslice forced them out of their comfort zone, encouraging each song to evolve into its best incarnation. It was a deeply liberating experience for the band.
“We weren’t following a checklist of tracks to record” Andrew explains. “We listened more closely to the songs to hear what they needed and what sounded best. It totally transformed the songs. Recording to tape really helped shaped the performances. We didn’t pick everything apart. It’s raw. There’re mistakes in there. It was more about capturing a performance and that live energy and the emotive quality of the music, rather than making something polished and pitch perfect.” He adds, “We got a little weirder with the instrumentation and let the songs speak with unique voices. We didn’t want to fall back onto any one genre.”
The Lonely Wild’s touring experience also impacted the album. Over the past few years, the group, which formed in 2010, has performed with Damien Rice, Apache Relay, The Lone Bellow, Lord Huron, Laura Marling, Phosphorescent, Dwight Yoakam and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and at festivals like South by Southwest, First City Festival, Echo Park Rising, Cask and Drum Festival and Jubilee. The band has sold out nearly a dozen shows in their hometown of Los Angeles, and expanded their live show to feel as dynamic and exciting as possible. On Chasing White Light, the musicians wanted to bring that sense of exhilaration to the recording. “There’s a sense of urgency to this record that we didn’t have on previous records,” Andrew says. “It’s much more immediate. Some of that comes from the theme, but a lot comes from playing shows a lot. We turned into a louder band.”
In the end, Chasing White Light comes to some sort of acceptance. You will die, but that doesn’t have to be mournful or disheartening. It encourages you to stay in the moment and follow your own bliss, rather than live for some future promise of an afterlife. It’s a musical journey that leaves you uplifted and encouraged, even as it considers one of life’s darkest subjects.
“This album doesn’t dwell on the despair of it all,” Andrew confirms. “It’s about looking at death for what it is – something we all go through at some point. It’s that great mystery and no one really knows what happens. You’re never going to know until you get there. And you have to come to terms with that. Through writing these songs I’ve come to accept it and not totally fear it. And I hope our fans can too.”