It's been a busy year of travel for Austin's Bright Light Social Hour. The group's intriguing blend of semi-psychedelic Southern rock and '70s disco-soul has taken them to every nook and cranny of North America in 2012, highlighted by big, triumphant performances at SXSW and Arkansas' Wakarusa festival.
Friday, Bright Light will squeeze in its second Houston show in more than a year and half of touring Fitzgerald's, adding to its tally of more than 200 shows in support of its self-titled debut since the album's release in 2010. (They shared a Warehouse Live bill with Houston's Tontons Labor Day weekend.) While the Hour has been living on the road full-time for months on end, bassist/vocalist Jack O'Brien isn't sweating the miles. He says they wouldn't have it any other way.
"We just spent the whole year on the road," says O'Brien while on break from band practice. "I think that's something we've always wanted to do, and it's great to see how much that's done for us. If I had to choose one moment, we opened for Aerosmith in Quebec City. That was a pretty easy one to remember. But really, just all the touring in general has been the highlight of 2012 for us."
As much as the band has enjoyed crisscrossing the continent, there are drawbacks to an itinerant lifestyle. With practice time limited, coming up with new material can be a major challenge, O'Brien says.
"It's very difficult to write on the road," he notes. "I think that bands more centered on one person's parts can get away with it, and I'm envious of them. For us, it's hard. Our writing process is very meticulous and slow. We'll do a lot of the fine-tuning live, but the writing has got to kind of be all four of us here in the practice space, for the most part."
And as soon as the year wraps up, the practice space is exactly where the Bright Light Social Hour will be headed. The band has already begun working out the songs that will make up its sophomore album and testing bits and pieces onstage.
Houston fans can expect to be treated to some of the new material on Friday as the group strives to separate the wheat from the chaff before hitting the studio next year.
"We've been working on some totally brand-new stuff that I think we're going to try out there, since we'll be doing very few shows before we go in the studio," O'Brien says. "You answer a lot of questions about the writing process, I think, by performing new stuff live. In the practice room, sometimes, it's not so black and white, but when you put it onstage, you can tell when a part doesn't have a good feel -- the crowd isn't feeling it, or you're not feeling it live.
"I will say that it might end up very different on the record whenever that ends up coming out, but we want to do our best to try as much of that new stuff out as we can."
One of the new songs the band has been tinkering with live goes by the working title of "Ouroboros," a reference to the ancient Egyptian symbol of a snake eating its own tail. O'Brien describes it as a hard, driving blues song with avant-garde jazz flourishes that could point toward a new evolution of BLSH's sound.
"Lately, we prefer more gritty stuff," he says. "The last few have been a little bit more stripped-down, gritty, slow, driving songs. We've been listening to a lot of kind of old soul, Motown, that sort of thing.
"There's a good variety in the stuff that we've got so far, though," he adds. "We've been mixing a lot more dance/electronic elements into it, but all played on real instruments. It definitely a mix."
Fans will have to content themselves with unfinished live versions of a few new songs for now. The band won't enter the studio until the spring, with a release date planned for the back half of next year.
In the meantime, the Bright Light Social Hour will get busy writing and polishing their material. And, of course, perfecting it onstage.
"In March, we're going to support Umphrey's McGee on a West Coast tour for two weeks, and then as soon as that's done, we hope to get in the studio and hopefully finish that by the summer festival season," O'Brien says. "Then for the summer, a bunch of festivals and a ton of touring. We'll release the album sometime in the latter part of 2013, and we'll just tour like crazy to promote it!"
With Ishi, 8 p.m. Friday at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, www.FitzLiveMusic.com.
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