White Light Riot on why the band is breaking up

White Light Riot on why the band is breaking up
Photo by Darin Back

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White Light Riot ready to rebound after record label dispute

"Bands are a very fragile, very ethereal thing. Almost like if you look at them too hard, they disappear," said the Cars' guitarist Elliot Easton in an interview with City Pages.  Such is the case for Minneapolis band White Light Riot. After seven plus years, the group has decided to call it quits.

Gimme Noise spoke with founding member and drummer Mark Schwandt before the band's farewell show at the 7th Street Entry on Saturday, September 15 to find out the reasons behind the break up.

Mark shares that at this point in their lives, that many of the band members were being pulled in different directions. "We felt it was the right time to go out instead of blowing up in some bitter breakup," he says. "I also think a huge part of it is that we're transitioning into the next step in our personal lives. We've just gotten all we could out of White Light Riot. We had so much fun, but we wanted to explore some new options. I do believe personal growth played a big part in us parting ways, but being stagnant is also a big part of it. Being stagnant is the easiest way to curb creativity."

The band's sound caught many people's attention early on in their career -- including the Minneapolis record label 50 Records, a label that had deep pockets. The group signed with them for their first full-length album Atomism -- a follow up to their EP The Dark is Light Enough -- a move that quickly turned sour.

"They had a lot of great people in place, but soon after we signed, we realized that we had different ideals of who we wanted to be and who the record label wanted us to be," he says. "People who were experienced and important started leaving the company, and the next thing you know, it was a fight of wills every time we met. We just felt they didn't have our best interest in mind, and they thought we were resentful of their opinions. We were all so young when we first signed to the label, and we've since learned so much about the business side of the music industry. We've also definitely learned what not to do, and when we're approaching any sort of business opportunity in the future what red flags to look for."

After some legal machinations, the band eventually left 50 Records and released their self-titled album in the spring of 2011. The album was three years in the making, and included some of the group's best pieces to date -- but it was met with mixed reviews. The polished sound was a deviation for a band that built Atomism around their signature indie Brit-pop. Perhaps objectivity on your own art is the most difficult thing a musician can grasp.

"I think we spent way too time on our second record, and we got way too much in our heads about it. The only thing I will say about it is I feel it's manufactured. That's because it is. It's manufactured in a way that we took the time and recorded things in different areas and made sure we got the right takes and right tones." Schwandt admits that he doesn't feel the album was perceived negatively, they just expected people to be as excited about it as they were.

"We assumed that people would have the same reaction to it as we did, because we were so stoked about it. In hindsight, I could see where people's comments were valid. It definitely doesn't sound like an 'indie band,' which is a fine line to walk. We could have alienated people with some of our new songs, yet at the same time, we might not have been able to reach a new audience had we not evolved."

In the year since the album's release, the band wrote new material with the intention of releasing an EP, all of which will likely remain as demos. "I had a moment the other day when I was listening to some demos we did for songs that never got recorded. I got pretty sad about it, just because I'm really proud of my fellow musicians, and I feel it's some of the best stuff we've written. Having to shut the door on them, you know, it's not a great feeling."

Despite this, the group is moving on to explore other projects. Mark has moved into the production seat and worked with The Color Pharmacy on their latest album, which includes White Light Riot's bassist Dan Larsen. Along with production, Mark and guitarist Zack Carroll recently recorded in Omaha at Connor Oberst's studio for their new band Usonia's new record. Keyboardist Randy Tomes has been keeping busy with his solo project, recently recording with Brett Bullion. The one to veer off the musical path that White Light Riot has paved is lead singer, and Mark's brother, Mike Schwandt, in his new band called Blue Blazer, an electronic project he started with Brian Casey.

A big part of growing up is learning to let go. Mark says, "When you get older, you mature as well. You're getting out of that element, and everyone wants to explore that part that they haven't explored yet. Maybe it was an area that White Light Riot couldn't do."

As if in premonition, the band wrote these lyrics for "Conduit" on their last album:

"I feel another year slipping on by
Lower my hands and politely step aside
Needing direction on the streets that I've roamed
I start to wonder if this is still my home
You say, you know
This is just how these things go
I say, I'm out
Casting shadows on your doubt"

White Light Riot will be performing their farewell show at the 7th Street Entry on Saturday, September 15, 2012 with So It Goes and The Color Pharmacy.
18+, $8 adv, $10 door, 8 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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