Brightner’s last full-length record, Hummingbird, was largely acoustic. Headroom, Brightener’s Kickstarter-supported follow-up, is quite different.
Returning home after a brief tour, Brightener will celebrate the release of Headroom on Friday, April 7, at the Art Pop Gallery in Palm Springs.
During a recent interview, Brightener mastermind Will Sturgeon talked about the successful Kickstarter campaign, which recently surpassed the $7,500 goal.
“It’s been going well,” Sturgeon said. “I did a Kickstarter a couple of years back for the first full length, Hummingbird. I prepared a lot for it and was very successful. We’ve hit over our goal, which is incredible.
“Artistically, it took me six years to record that record (Hummingbird). That led to a sense of really wanting to be immediate with the next one. I really loved doing the Kickstarter thing last time, and I didn’t have funding coming from anywhere else, so that made it easier to produce the record. … It’s been a lot of work in that I’m preparing for the album release and (was) planning our first tour. I wanted to do it in the same month so that there was a lot going on for us.”
Sturgeon played everything on all the tracks on Hummingbird—and that’s the case again with Headroom, even though he now has a band behind him that includes Raefer Finnegan (bass), Michael Santella (guitar) and Elias Texel (drums). His sister Abigail, music-school classmate Aman Alem and former CIVX bassist and Kayves frontman Nick Hernandez are among the musicians who have backed him during live performances in the past.
“I actually did everything myself on this album as well,” Sturgeon explained. “The recording of this album has been over the course of the past couple years. During the recording, I got a band. But the recording has been in my room and on my laptop. When I did the last album, I thought I should go into a studio and do it the right way, but it took so much longer, because there are more people involved, and you have to work around other people’s schedules. The mixing for the last record took a year. The process is a lot faster when I make all the decisions myself. It’s a process that I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. Elias did play drums on a couple of these tracks, but otherwise, this record is all me again.”
Sturgeon insisted he’s not pushing the rest of the band aside.
“I think they do want to be involved, although I think that it’s clear that I am doing it this way because this is the process that works for me, and I’ve explained to them my rebounding from the last record to this record,” he said. “It’s not to exclude them, but nobody knows more what I want than I do. I can spend three hours in my room after midnight, and it’s just a much easier process for everyone.
“We did record a couple of songs at Pink Satellite Studios up in Joshua Tree as a band a couple of months ago, courtesy of Tachevah, given that was part of what we won last year. That was a really fun experience to record together as a band. A couple of the guys in the band had never even been in a recording studio before. I’m always looking for ways to include them, while at the same time honoring the process of recording that works for me.”
Sturgeon said the energy level of Headroom is the main difference between the new album and Hummingbird.
“Hummingbird was much more acoustic, and this one is a lot of synths and a lot more electric guitar and drum-propelled songs,” he said. “I think it sounds pretty good. I don’t know if people are going to be able to hear the difference. To not record in a studio, there might be some loss of recording quality, but I think this record feels better, and that’s more important, in my opinion.”
Sturgeon said he’s happy with where Brightener is at right now.
“In college, I was in a band called The Smiles, and it was like a surf-rock band,” he said. “I played bass and sang. Where we are now with Brightener, it reminds me of that era of my musical life. … It seems like a natural evolution, and it’s exciting for me to explore more synth-based and upbeat stuff. I went through my acoustic singer-songwriter phase, and I’m not in any rush to return to that.”
April last year was also a crazy month for Brightener, after winning the Tachevah music showcase and being selected to perform at Coachella.
“I loved Tachevah, and it’s a great platform, especially for us, and it’s a great benefit for the local music scene,” Sturgeon said. “But one of the biggest weird things about it is that you’re not used to competing with other bands. A little competition between bands is not generally in the musician’s psyche. Maybe it’s the reason musicians are musicians, and athletes are athletes. It was weird to compete, and I’m not a very competitive person, so it was a stress on all of us. It just felt weird interacting with the other bands, many of whom are our friends, with one of us moving on and the other not, even though everyone puts in the same amount of work and is super-talented.”
Brightener is touring outside of the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles for the first time. The week-long tour took the band to San Diego, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.
“It’s our first tour. We self-organized it, which was really hard,” Sturgeon said. “I haven’t done a lot of booking outside of the valley or Los Angeles, so it was definitely a challenge to figure out how to play shows. We found a lot of shows, which is really nice.”
Brightener will perform at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 7, at Art Pop Gallery, 1566 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.