If you meet Rod Thomas, the charming Welshman who is the electropop mastermind behind Bright Light Bright Light, don’t ask him about that name. Yes, it was inspired by the 1984 horror comedy classic Gremlins. Yet two records into a promising career – 2012’s Make Me Believe in Hope and 2014’s Life Is Easy — you can forgive him any annoyance that meets the unsuspecting journalist still inquiring after his unconventional namesake. (For the record, Queerty did not bring it up.) His American Spring Tour in support of Life Is Easy brings him to San Francisco’s The Independent on April 10 and the Bootleg Bar in Los Angeles on April 11. Queerty spoke to the engaging, openly gay performer on a variety of topics, from his friendship with Elton John, the life of a touring independent artist, and more. Though not, it bears repeating, the origination of that name.
Queerty: You recently wrapped up your world tour opening for Elton John and are about to go out with him again in the U.K. for a month. How’s it been?
Rod Thomas: It’s just crazy, and a lot of fun. The audiences reacted a lot better than I thought they would. When you’re the opening act of someone like him, no one really goes to see an opening act for him.
Did you have any bad experiences?
No, it was amazing. His audiences range so much in terms of background, age, sexuality, gender, financial position — he’s one of the only people that straddles that entire spectrum. There’s such a wonderful mix of people in that room there’s always somebody you can connect with. I got such good feedback on Facebook and Twitter and so did the records. There was a lovely warmth in the room, and his team looked after us like family.
His taped introduction for you was quite touching.
It’s very hard to stay straight-faced in the presence of that because you feel … I never expected to have any contact with him. He didn’t tell me he was doing it. It came on, and it was absolutely insane. So amazing. It helped a lot with sales, and people following on social media and presence and awareness.
What does that do to help the cause of Bright Light Bright Light?
Rod: It’s a good question because a lot of people will ‘like’ stuff though they won’t necessarily interact, but people were engaging more with photos on Instagram and people posting stuff. Each social media has the same handle, brightlightx2, and there was a shift in terms of engagement. It wasn’t like I had 100,000 more followers, but I’ve seen people that have had that who haven’t noticed any difference in sales or reposts or whatever.
But you did?
Yeah. Sale in the venues go towards the Billboard charts in America, so I entered around 80 on the New Artist chart before the tour. I went back in at 81 at the end of tour.
We’re playing pretty much the same set in both of them, so there will be tracks that I didn’t play last time I was in California and fun tracks from the new record. San Francisco, when I played there last it was for Folsom and it was just me, two singers, and a track. This time it’s with a band.
Will there be surprises, like the covers you pull out for radio performances; for example, your version of Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger”?
Not like that, but yes.
Make Me Believe in Hope was an electropop version of a Joni Mitchell album. Life is Easy has such high energy and is so much fun, yet when you strip away those sounds, the record is realistically melancholy. It came from a time of great change for you: you had left London after the end of a relationship and relocated to New York to change the way that you worked. Now that you’re staying there for a while…
I hope so.
Are you thinking about the next record?
Yeah. It’s made me think about what new things I can bring. Lots of things happen in life and there’s lots of things that pique your interest. I don’t want to listen back in 10 years and realize that I’ve written the same song five times. I’m trying to be aware that I want to be a little bit esoteric, I guess.
You’ve traded as an independent artist up until now, but is there a major label signing in the future?
There might be, and I would like that. I haven’t avoided major labels because I have a problem with them; it just takes a while to find the right family sometimes.
Do you think an artist-friendly label could do for you what they’ve done for Sam Smith?
Yeah, I just haven’t the right one yet!
The paradigm’s shifting for gay artists. Sam Smith and Adam Lambert have had number one albums. Others have done well.
Tegan and Sara.
Right! They’ve been Oscar-nominated. Is that level of success a real possibility?
I’d like to think so. I’m going to work hard and, whenever I think that anything is impossible, I remember that Elton has given me such a chance. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and he doesn’t help people out of pity.
Twin Shadow. I think he’s the best artist around right now. All three of his albums are incredible, his stage show’s amazing, his band is so good, he’s a brilliant front man, and I really think that watching him play is raising the bar for new non-mainstream pop artists.
Elton John sang on “I Wish We Were Leaving” from Life Is Easy. Who’s on your collaboration bucket list?
Twin Shadow! I’d love to work with Röyksopp. Who else? John Grant. I’d love to do something with him.
Now that you’ve moved to New York and you’ve been working for your career to get to a better place and get your music heard, has it impacted your life as a man and your relationships?
Let’s just say that when you’re on tour for over half of the year, it’s not exactly anyone’s ideal. A relationship ended, pretty much because of that.
How do you handle it, not just as a performer, but as a human being?
There’s no real way to deal with it. It’s part of what I do. If it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out.
To a point, yeah. I spend a lot of my time fighting for things, ’cause I’m my own manager and I was my own booking agent up until quite recently, so there’s a lot of negotiating and being strong and standing up for myself and all the stuff that comes with forging your career path. I think I’ve probably started to look for less confrontational people. I felt, maybe, better about myself in the last year than I have before, so maybe I’m looking for somebody…it’s difficult, because I’ve never really looked for anything that specific in someone.
You just spark to whomever?
Yeah. I’m drawn to lots of different types people, which is the nice thing about travelling ’cause you get to meet so many different types of people, and not hook-ups or whatever. You see how different people are and how funny people can be, and that there’s different types of being funny and of being successful, different types of being serious. You can always be surprised by someone. You travel across the world and can feel disenchanted for whatever reason, and then you meet someone that completely catches you off-guard with a sense of humor or an outlook and it reminds you that there is still a lot to be discovered.
Looking beyond the fact that you’re travelling all the time, what do you bring to a potential mate? What is it about you…
Oh wow! Okay. We can end on that
I don’t know. That’s a hard thing to say without either it being purposely coy or sounding like a cunt. I think I’m quite funny sometimes, so at least, if nothing else, I’ll make you laugh.
Check out his exquisite video for “I Believe” below.