Light Asylum duo Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello tell Chris Familton about their formation and the philosophy behind their industrial and primitive synth based music.
If you’ve heard Light Asylum’s first single Dark Allies and thought you were hearing a new song from The Sisters of Mercy you wouldn’t be alone. The deep foreboding intonations strongly resemble those of Andrew Eldritch and combined with the similarly shadowy electronic music it feels like a gothic redux from the 80s. The fascinating thing is that the singer is in fact Shannon Funchess, who has played with a multitude of bands since the mid 90s and more recently collaborated with TV on the Radio, Telepathe and !!! before meeting Bruno Coviello and finding the perfect avenue for her dark and intense songs.
Dark Allies was the centrepiece for the In Tension EP that came out in 2010 and introduced the duo as a refreshingly bold and aggressive take on what can often be cold and introverted music. Though the EP was critically well received it was still early in the development of the band and now two years later, with numerous shows and new songs, they are feeling much more confident about taking their self titled album to a wider international audience.
“We signed the EP deal with Mexican Summer to license one full length LP and part of the deal was that they had to put out the EP and in those first few months. They did pretty much that but there wasn’t a lot of press behind it as apparently no one really cares about reviewing EPs. We’re doing all the press work now with this record, introducing the sound of Light Asylum to the world and hopefully they’ll go back and discover the EP,” says Funchess.
In this day and age of so many bands forming and then releasing albums in a short space of time Funchess was determined they would take their time, enjoy the process and follow their instincts when it came to recording and releasing the album.
“It feels like the natural time for it to come out because that is the way it happened. With the mood the music industry is in it is a good time for artists to be making music that they want to make rather than conforming to anything. Everything is so fluid and open right now with the internet and everything. There is a lot of weird energy and darkness happening in the world right now and I think our music speaks to people somehow. It resonates with them in these times and so there is no rushing it, we treated it really organically. We weren’t hunting down label deals or anything. Mexican Summer came and offered us a deal and it seemed like the right thing for us.”
The formation of bands is always a fascinating process. Is it luck, fate or a strong sense of knowing when the mix of personalities is just right? For Light Asylum the connection was forged from an intense road trip that resulted in both a friendship and a shared understanding of what each of them would bring to a musical collaboration.
“There was a friendship formed just before the music. We met while on tour with a band called Bunny Rabbit and Bruno was playing in that band on guitar and also touring in a mini van across the US as his solo project. I just got invited along for the ride as I was in between tours with !!! so I thought ‘I’ve had a month to kill, why not go on tour with these kids’. Over those thirty days Bruno and I had a lot of time to get to know each other on long drives through the Midwest to the next show and we realised we had very similar tastes and an interest in making music. Two years prior I had formed Light Asylum as a solo project but it took a few years to get together with Bruno in this incarnation. I had a show booked and didn’t want to play the older material so I asked Bruno to play and we decided to write new songs from scratch. We only had a week to prepare for the show. In that time we basically wrote Dark Allies and Shallow Tears plus some others we don’t play anymore. We ended up with a 20 minute set but from that first day in the practice space we were sharing high fives over the stuff we were writing together. We wanted to write music that would make people move and make them feel part of it. We were getting into the music in the rehearsal space and hoped that others would as a result,” explains Funchess.
Despite most of their music being created on machines by two people there is a primal emotional quality to Light Asylum’s music that feels mu8ch larger than the sum of its parts. Funchess views these perceived limitations as offering the duo more options in terms of how the band operates and the strength of the personal interaction between herself and Coviello.
“We don’t see it as a restriction. The more people you have in a band, the more you have to worry about and organise. As much as I love power trios like Nirvana and The Wipers I love the economy and both the space and the intimacy of just playing with one other person. In saying that we will definitely need some evolution in this band. We might end up with guitars on stage or a bass player or live drummer. It is something we are open to for sure.”
The dark mood and emotional richness that stems from the band’s industrial, primitive synth and new wave influences shares similarities with other contemporary artists like Austra and Zola Jesus. Funchess sees their style as part of an identifiable movement in popular culture over the last decade.
“There is a wider global camaraderie but everyone is just trying to do their own thing and create their music, something they love to do. I’m happy there is this dark wave going through the mainstream music at the moment and I think it was foreshadowed by vampires, horror movies and for sure media were pushing it along but now darker music is finally reaching the light of day in a world that is saturated by glossy pop music. The music industry is so fashion now, it is almost like a fashion or a trend is being created with a little bit of music sprinkled around it. There is a lot of friction and pushing and pulling in the world and what you get is new music emerging, even though at times it can be a bit nostalgic.”
Funchess spent her formative years in Seattle growing up on a diet of new wave pop and post punk music before moving to New York in 2001 to further her own musical aspirations. That geographic and cultural shift was an important one as the environment of the Big Apple played a strong role in refining her vision for Light Asylum and her determination to achieve it.
“I’ve always been a fan of bands like Sisters of Mercy, Front 242, The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode and even Nirvana and others so if I was still living in Seattle I would be playing the same music as we are now but not on the same level and with the same consciousness. I was trying to do that there but that was why I moved, to take on the challenges to make it in New York. Trying to make it here is so hard so you try a lot harder and have to be more confident. So yes the music is definitely the byproduct of the artists environment,” believes Funchess.
Light Asylum will soon be appearing at Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House and Coviello is a firm believer in the importance of the band as a live entity. The duo are looking forward to heading to Australia and are confident that, as they’ve found in other countries, if the venue suits the band and the audience are up for it then then everyone will have a great time.
“There are similarities depending on how well the audience know our music. In London people are starting to get the music and sing the lyrics back to us which has been happening here in New York for a while now. We feel there is a similar vibe in all of our audiences though if everyone likes our music and is into it live. We hope you have a great sound system there in Sydney. This incarnation of Light Asylum formed as a result of having shows booked and wanting to do the best possible show so our live performances are really important. People can expect to definitely feel us in the room.”
this interview was first published in Drum Media