Who are The Dull Blue Lights?
The Dull Blue Lights are a band in between. Drawing from influences as varied as Motown soul, Nuggets psychedelia, and Jamaican rocksteady, the Philadelphia-based group’s definitive blend of cascading harmonies, screaming guitars, and relentlessly grooving rhythms lives somewhere between each one. The band calls this in-between sound Basement Soul.
Originally deemed The Snails, the group was formed in 2009 by singer and lead guitarist Todd Fausnacht and played in the styles of punk, blues, and rockabilly music. Fausnacht’s affinity for British rockers The Clash quickly pointed his attention toward Jamaican styles of music -- ska, rocksteady, and reggae. The band had begun establishing themselves as The Clash’s increasingly Jamaican-inspired would-be heirs by the time of their first large-scale release, 2011’s From Kingston to Memphis. That record, which Boston Ska writer Alex Chiasson called “more abrasive and energetic than almost anything else available in the genre,” featured a surprisingly cohesive blending of seemingly incompatible genres -- Clash-inspired punk, traditional ska and roots reggae, and Chuck Berry-esque rock n roll -- that would remain a defining trait of the band through its many transformations.
The Snails (soon to be The Dull Blue Lights) delved deeper into their Jamaican influences following From Kingston to Memphis with two EPs released in 2012, The Snails Meet The Heavy Beat at the Underground Echo Cellar (self-released) and The River (Stubborn Records). Their cultivation of Jamaican influence culminated in the 2014 double EP Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox Vol. 1-2, released on Asbestos Records. A deliberate exploration of traditional ska and rocksteady that also features the group’s characteristic smashing together of genres, the EPs were praised by reviewers as an example of “a relaxation in tone [that] gives way to a much more mature style of writing” (Boston Ska’s Alex Chiasson) and having “some strength in the songwriting and production that I [Reggae Steady Ska writer Jaochim Uerschels] haven’t heard for quite some time.”
While their records have been well-received, The Dull Blue Lights are best known for their electrifying live performance. Philadelphia radio personality John Vetesse called the band “an incredibly tight unit … that can walk that precarious balance beam between practiced performances and unhinged spontaneity.” Mathieu Perrier writing for Bucketlist Music Reviews explained, “If their recorded material has even a shred of the energy that their live show does, [The Dull Blue Lights] could very well be one of my new favourite bands.”
Having embarked on their first tour in 2012, the band has had ample opportunities to share its polished yet gritty stage show with audiences of all sizes at home and abroad. Their resume as The Snails includes the five-week Version City Tour supporting and backing King Django of The Stubborn All-Stars in December 2012 and January 2013, and six dates supporting Big D and the Kids Table’s 20th Anniversary Tour in April 2016, with a handful of self-booked tours of varying lengths in between. Their festival appearances include consecutive performances at the Virginia Ska Fest in 2014 and 2015, Montreal’s Pouzza Fest in 2016, and an appearance at the 2017 SuperNova International Ska Fest. The Dull Blue Lights have also made themselves at home in the booming DJ scene, having been frequent guests at Philadelphia’s Boogaloo Soul Revue, Guitar Army, and Bouffant Bangout DJ nights as well as BlueBeat DC.
One of the band’s favorite pastimes while visiting new cities has always been to recruit locals’ help in discovering the best local record stores, constantly on the hunt for rare 45s and must-have LPs. Their passion for music discovery eventually led them further beyond the search for deep Jamaican cuts and into the worlds of soul and psychedelic music. Their writing began to reflect this emerging interest into different sounds of the American ‘60s and ‘70s, and in August 2015, the band traveled to the Bomb Shelter studio in Nashville to work with producer Andrija Tokic on a full-length record in the style of what they would come to call Basement Soul, which was released in 2017 as The Dull Blue Lights, the band’s “debut” record under their new name.
“Basement,” the first single from their self-titled record, is a favorite among live audiences, and has received critical acclaim as well. Writing for WXPN’s The Key, Erin Blewett says, “[I]t features everything we love about this reggae/rock outfit: funky basslines, a perfect coalescence of two seemingly polar opposite genres, and of course the growling vocals of lead singer Todd Fausnacht,” and calls it, “the perfect track to get you out of bed on a Monday [m]orning.”
Having moved into a studio of their own after the release of The Dull Blue Lights, the band set out on an experimental journey in early 2018, and arrived at a wilder sound than ever before. Flinging the pebbly grit and spontaneity of the earliest psychedelic rock at the smoothest bubblegum pop, covering it with a dash of soul and a heap of fuzz, The Dull Blue Lights emerged from There Will Be Bleed Studios with their sophomore album, Apocalyptic Snow. Stretching the idea of Basement Soul perhaps as far as it will go, the record features harrowing turns into dreamscapes, gentle tilts into nightmares, and screaming, foot-tapping lullabies. Apocalyptic Snow is available to stream everywhere.
The Dull Blue Lights are Todd Fausnacht on guitar and lead vocals, Ben Parry on bass and lead vocals, Matt MacLeod on organ, and Josh Parry on drums.