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19 Apr 2016

He's Gotta Wear Shades: Brightener's Will Sturgeon Is Flying High After Playing Coachella, Making the Tachevah Finals

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Until recently, brightener was flying under the radar in the Coachella Valley music scene.

Then brightener advanced to the finals of The Desert Sun’s Tachevah competition. And then the group was added to the first-weekend lineup of Coachella.

Add in the fact that a new album in the works, and brightener’s Will Sturgeon is definitely on the rise.

During a recent interview, Sturgeon discussed how he came up with the band’s name.

“I had been putting out a bunch of solo stuff for years on the Internet, and there was a period of time when I had an active YouTube following from all over the world,” he said. “At one point, I released a solo record under my name, and some Turkish fans commented on my page and said they called me brightener, because I brightened their day. I kind of liked that, and it meant something to me. So I just went with it.

“It’s kind of a solo project, but right now, I have a band that’s solid. The writing and recording is generally my thing, and I wanted to have a name that could kind of evolve and have a band. I didn’t want it to just be about me. It allows me a lot of creative freedom.”

While Sturgeon has that band of musicians backing him now, he recorded his previous record, Hummingbird, almost entirely on his own, playing every instrument.

“When I was a teenager, I had a Mac, and I had GarageBand; I started writing songs, and I would layer instruments on top,” he said. “I’ve been playing piano for years, and I picked up guitar and drums in middle school jazz band. So I know how to do it all, and I really like the process of arranging and recording. I’ve been doing that for almost 10 years.

Hummingbird was more normal. I went to a studio and worked with a mixing engineer, but it was very small process, because only two people were involved (along with) a couple of friends of mine. … It took me so long, because when you work by yourself, you work on your own schedule. When you work with one other person, it takes forever. That record, from the beginning to recording to the release, (took) almost two years, which drove me crazy, because the songs were four years old at that point, anyway.”

In May, Sturgeon will release a new record.

“I went back to my roots. They’re recordings that I feel are authentic and fresh to me, as opposed to the other album, which was a bit more stale because of the process,” he said. “… I really want to get to a point where conception of the song, recording of the song and release of the song is as fast as it possibly can be. That’s partially in response to the last record.”

One of brightener’s former members is Nick Hernandez, who at one time was the frontman of CIVX. Sturgeon said Hernandez has remained supportive and even helped Sturgeon put his current band together.

“Nick is currently starting a new music project, and he was really busy with work. He left the band after we played the 111 Music Festival. He was really great and hooked us up with our drummer, who lives in Pasadena and who comes out here whenever he can to rehearse,” Sturgeon said. “We got our bassist from our drummer, and it feels like a family now.

“It’s hard to keep a band together for brightener, because in Los Angeles, where I was living for a while, all the friends I had there were professional musicians. I’d have them play with me, but because they were professional musicians, they needed to get paid; they couldn’t do my thing exclusively. After coming out here … this is the city of events, where we get hired for events, and we get paid, which is incredible. That’s an income source I never had. I can pay these guys in the band, which is really nice, but they don’t do it for money, which is even better. But I want them to know they’re appreciated, and we split whatever we can.”

Sturgeon explained that his writing happens in spurts.

“I need the time to write, and I go through waves of being really busy or not too busy,” he said. “It’s hard because right now, I don’t have a full-time day job. That’s actually how I wrote this past record coming up, because I had a job that supported me, and I didn’t need to do all these crazy things for money. It just goes in phases, and right now, I’m super busy.”

As for advancing to the finals of Tachevah—on Wednesday, May 18, at The Date Shed—Sturgeon said it was surprising that the band advanced, although the process to get there was a little bit … well, annoying.

“I’ve been in the desert for the past Tachevahs and didn’t have an active band,” he said. “I didn’t really want to throw my name in the hat, because the first step is annoying all your friends online to vote for you, which I don’t like to do unless it’s something you really should do. This year felt like the right time, and I was very surprised that we made it into the Top 10. … Tachevah has been very good to us so far, and we advanced to the semifinals at Pappy and Harriet’s. I got to be onstage with people I loved, and that was super sweet and legitimizing, in a sense.”

Sturgeon has played a role in another up-and-coming local group: He is producing The Flusters’ upcoming EP. During a recent visit with Doug Van Sant, frontman of The Flusters, he played me a track from the EP and praised Sturgeon’s abilities to help the band members rewrite or add to their material. Sturgeon said it’s been great to work with The Flusters.

“Given I do all my own arrangements, I’m my own producer,” Sturgeon said. “Producing another band has always been a dream and a goal of mine. This is the first project for me to start with, because they’re really guitar-based surf rock, and I was in a surf-rock band in college. I understand what they really want, and I think we got some really good takes in the studio. … Doug was looking for another outside perspective, because they’ve been living for the songs for so long, and I know what that’s like. I care a lot about songwriting, and I spent about a month with them in their rehearsals, and if I had a suggestion, I’d throw it out there. A lot of the songs have become more concise, I’d say. That was the goal. It all sounds so colorful, and it’s been really awesome.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/brightenermusic.

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