Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights' debut album, 2007's Hot Trottin', put the heavy roots-rock world on notice that they had a boy who wouldn't be "learned" on their hands. Touring relentlessly and taking every gig that came open helped the Dallas band build musical calluses that led to 2010's Pardon Me, a request in title only.
That disc proved Tyler and the Lights as adept at metallic barn-burners as Lenny Kravitz-style ballads; it wasn't a mere Black Crowes tribute, as some scoffed. The band has probably been in Houston six times since at least 2007, drawing new converts with each show. Thursday they hit Fitzgerald's with newfound local heroes The Beans, a crowd favorite at least year's Houston Press Music Awards Showcase.
Chatter: You and your band are road dogs, it seems.
Jonathan Tyler: We are definitely road dogs. I remember coming home after our first extended tour, dying to sleep in my own bed, itching to catch up with all my buddies and dreaming about eating anything besides a Big Mac. After a few weeks home, I was calling my booking agents begging to get me out of town. I think once you disconnect from a routine, you either love the disorder or hate it. Lucky for us, we all love it.
C: When we look at those older bands in the '60s and '70s and their touring careers, we have a sort of romantic look at the road, the girls and the fans.
JT: Everyone likes to think that touring is one big party after another, with sold-out shows filling in the downtime. In reality it's a ton of work. We spend countless hours in our van, sleep in hotel rooms every night and sometimes play to crowds that don't care about us unless we play "Free Bird" (which we never play).
The good things about touring are different for all of us. For me, it's about living off the grid. Paving my own way. Never being told what to do. Meeting eccentric people all over the country. Above all, making music. As for the women, we all have beautiful girls we are faithful to.
C: What is going on with Booker T? You recently posted on Facebook that you were working with the R&B legend.
JT: We got together one day while I was visiting my girlfriend in L.A. to hang out and jam. We started working on a song, then got caught up talking about his comings and goings with the Drive-By Truckers, Willie Nelson and synthesizers, oddly enough.
At some point I pulled out "Rainbow in Your Eyes" by Leon Russell. I left before we finished the song, but we're planning on working together again in the future. I told him if he ever needs a backing band to give us a call. We'd love to jam out "Green Onions" with him.
C: People say that rock and roll is dying every year, but what do you think?
JT: I hear that often, and believe it is partly true. It's not something I really worry about, though. Styles and trends are constantly changing. One day people like skinny jeans, one day they like loose-fit. It seems to me that these days it's hip to be square, and the majority of bands that "rock" sound like Nickelback.
So we don't necessarily fit in with the current state of music. But neither does Tom Waits. The only problem is trying to find other bands to tour with. But to answer your question, I don't think rock and roll will ever die. It will change forms and evolve just like everything else.
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C: Is constantly being told it's dead or dying probably what is keeping it rolling?
JT: I don't really know. It's like survival of the fittest or supply and demand. If people want something, I'm sure there will be plenty of people putting on the uniform to sell it to them. But I'm not interested in cashing in on a trend or hype. I play the style of music I play because it's what moves me, and thank God people show up.
C: What new music can we expect from the Lights? What is informing the new material?
JT: We're working on new material now, tracking demos and testing songs out live. I want the record to sound more raw than our last. I'm a huge fan of the Exile on Main Street or Beggars Banquet Stones, so we'll be pushing for that.