One doesn’t often hear, in the US at least, about things that come from Wales. Much like the difficulty non-Americans (and quite a few Americans) have when told to name and place all fifty US states, most non-British folk often face the same challenge with Wales. It’s a place that tends to fall off the map.
To me, Wales is a place where a lot of the British TV that I enjoy is filmed (Cardiff is sort of the Vancouver of the UK). And it’s a place with a language made almost entirely from consonants.
I even have a little Welsh ancestry. My grandfather’s name was Llewellyn Elliott. That’s six L’s, folks. You gotta know it’s Welsh if it’s got that many L’s in it.
Wales also happens to the birthplace of one Rod Thomas., the singer, songwriter, DJ, and producer also known as Bright Light Bright Light. His debut album, Make Me Believe In Hope, released to much acclaim last year, is filled with catchy, anthemic, and lyrically strong pop music. Rod has opened for the Scissor Sisters and Erasure. He made his Seattle debut last summer at Nark Magazine’s Queer Carnival, part of Nark Magazine’s 2013 Pride weekend extravaganza.
Rod is the consummate connoisseur of 90’s pop culture. From previous interviews he’s done, you’ll find out that he chose his stage name based on a quote from Gremlins, and that his favorite band growing up was Ace of Base. I suspect that, if he’d grown up in the states, he would’ve had a Zack Morris poster in his bedroom, too.
I had many questions for Rod, and a little fanboy gushing, too. I needed him to explain, for instance, why I am apparently the first interviewer to ask him about his connections to another sexy Welshman, Tom Jones. And, more importantly, what’s Tom really like?
“Ha! I have no idea,” he admits. “I thought everyone knew he was Welsh, but when some people over here [in the States] have asked if there are any famous Welsh people and I’ve been like ‘um, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Catherine Zeta Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Anthony Hopkins,’ they’ve been like ‘oh, I didn’t know they were Welsh’. Hopefully it’s that, rather than that he’s hotter and more exciting than me.”
I’m sure that’s what it is.
“I don’t know what he is really like,” Rod adds. “Surprisingly for such a small country, we have never met.”
There isn’t even any mention of Tom on Rod’s Wikipedia page. Does he know he has a Wikipedia page, I wonder, and has he read it?
“I do know,” he exclaims. “Some of it is wrong. I actually finished my degree. I’m too geeky to drop out.”
There’s very little else in Rod’s Wikipedia entry that describes his personal life aside from the final paragraph, which is entirely comprised of the line: “He is openly gay.” No kidding. He tells me he had his first date “somewhere around” his 18th birthday, and that the times he’s listened to Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele number in the hundreds.
“I love that record so much,” he confirms. “I bought myself a white vinyl pressing for my 30th birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.”
So who, then, does a boy who loves Tori Amos have his most embarrassing childhood crush on, I wonder?
“One of the earliest I can remember was Jonathan Brandis, rest in peace, from Neverending Story II,” he confesses. “But I think with time that’s not an embarrassing crush is it? I used to really fancy Ulf from Ace of Base. They were my favorite band. I grew up next to a coal mine in a Welsh valley, I took what I could get culturally. But I still do listen to their album all the time.”
So really, he’s just a cross between gay, Welsh, Loretta Lynn and Daffyd from Little Britain?
“Or more like a singing version of Nessa from Gavin and Stacey,” he offers.
He’s the only coal-miner’s daughter in the village.
If being out, playing at prides, running gay nights, singing songs with lyrics explicitly about boys and using two male dancers in a video isn’t enough, then I don’t know. Maybe I am a rubbish gay!”
In at least one of Rod’s interviews, he’s complained about the lack of “an out gay role model who was honest, but not overbearing with their sexuality.” It sounds like there’s a story there, so I ask him if he had role models who were dishonest or overbearing?
“No, I don’t think they were dishonest,” he says. “What I meant was that growing up, I didn’t feel like the publicly out men. I didn’t feel as special, as confident or as theatrical as, say, Pet Shop Boys, Andy Bell, Elton John. I felt much more plain or everyday than them, and I didn’t feel like there was an everyday kind of guy who was out. You know what I mean? I think it’s great that Gaga, Adam Lambert, all the aforementioned, speak out for gay rights or make a stand as gay or gay-friendly artists, but I feel that people like Will Young, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer are equally as important for young gay men who don’t feel like stars. They’re mostly seen in clothes that many people could and would wear, so it underlines importantly that gay is not synonymous with theatricality, fashion or being out of the ordinary.
“But then I am also in love with Beth Ditto,” he admits, “who is a very important out gay figure. She’s fantastic, and definitely not a quiet one! Someone called me a boring gay once, and said that I should also be more vocal and make more of a noise about my sexuality. But then if being out, playing at prides, running gay nights, singing songs with lyrics explicitly about boys and using two male dancers in a video isn’t enough, then I don’t know. Maybe I am a rubbish gay!”
No one who’s been compared to Robyn can reasonably be called a “rubbish gay”, and Rod has been called “The boy Robyn in all but name.” He’s also been compared to artists such as Kylie Minogue and Erasure. Rod’s sound is strong and bright; surprising from someone so unassuming and demure in real life. Other reviewers have used the phrase “cry on the dance floor” pop, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Frankly, pop music is overflowing with schmaltzy, “everything is wonderful” songs, and needs more artists singing about picking themselves from their bootstraps in the face of drama and adversity, romantic or otherwise. Which Rod does with grace and aplomb.
Still, those are some pretty fabulous shoes to fill. I wonder if he feels those comparisons are justified?
“I know,” he confirms. “I better practice my strut! They’re amazingly flattering comparisons. That put a little bit of pressure on! I guess the vein of the music is a good comparison, especially with Robyn’s DIY focus. She was actually in the same tiny bar as me on my birthday this year, so we’re obviously destined to be compared or intertwined somehow right? I got to open for Erasure last year and it was a little life highlight.”
In addition to his own album, Rod has done some pretty cool collaborations, most notably with Del Marquis on his side project Slow Knights, and their album Cosmos. I ask him if we can look forward to more of that?
“Yes I love collaborating,” he exclaims. “It brings up so many new ideas you would never think of alone. My next single actually features a rather exciting collaboration for me, one of my favorite artists. But more on that in the new year. I’ve also been writing and producing with Bridget Barkan and that’s been SO exciting for me. She has a voice like nothing else. There’s plenty more collaboration in the pipeline, if everyone’s schedules work out!”
People are so obsessed with who else is around, and looking for new faces, new adventures, that not many people give things time anymore, in my experience. Like, who is exciting enough when someone hotter is going to pop up in a few weeks?”
Listening to Rod’s music, it’s hard not to feel how accessible it is. His music clearly has strong 90s influences, but also has an anthemic quality similar to more recent pop hits. His song lyrics take on familiar tones as well, although they seem to suggest that Rod has a somewhat tragic view of romance. How much of that comes from real life experience?
“Oh lord,” he exclaims. “I’m not that much a doom and gloom really! The more recent songs like In Your Care are about family ties actually, rather than romance. But let’s take An Open Heart, which is about trying to get someone to see they have a chance for something great, but they don’t appreciate what they have and always aim for something better. It’s loosely pinned onto the culture of Scruff or Grindr.
“People are so obsessed with who else is around, and looking for new faces, new adventures, that not many people give things time anymore, in my experience. Like, who is exciting enough when someone hotter is going to pop up in a few weeks? I write a lot about things that happen to friends though. Grace or Moves for example. Or, things I overhear on the subway, so it’s not all boo hoo diary stuff!”
Like a lot of artists I know, Rod receives his inspiration as much from the goings on of his surroundings as he does from his own personal experiences. Perhaps it’s even where the relatability of his music stems from.
“One from the new record called There Are No Miracles is about quite a few conversations I’ve heard on my travels,” he shares. “People waiting for luck to come find them. And Good Times is sort of about conversations East London party kids have sometimes about just doing their own thing, not being tied down, etc; kids who aren’t quite ready to give up on the shifting party life to have a proper boyfriend, or are still absorbed in being young and desired.”
So, then are things like Scruff and Grindr a cause of our “always looking for the next best thing” attitude, or a result of it?
“Maybe a mix of both,” he suggests. “I think there’s always been an audience who’ve wanted something like that, but it’s definitely meant that people have almost too many options or possibilities. Especially in big cities like New York or London. Some people think they’re great and have a blast, other people find that they make the cities suffocating because suddenly everyone knows everyone and you can’t meet someone who hasn’t already dated your best friend. I think I’m somewhere in between. I’ve met some genuinely interesting people in different cities using Scruff. But there is a point where you see people using them so obsessively that they pretty much sit in a bar and instead of looking at faces around them they’re looking at them on their phone.
“I actually think Scruff is great by the way,” he reveals, “especially for travelers who genuinely want to meet friends in places, and the rest.”
It’s hard not to wonder, of course, how much of what he’s hearing about in the subway isn’t really a reflection of his own whirlwind, jet set, musician’s lifestyle, living part time in London, part time in New York, with plenty of touring stops in between.
So what, then, is Rod looking for in a mate, his knight in shining armor, so to speak? What’s it going to take for him to take the plunge into a relationship himself?
“Well, he has a beard,” he confirms. “Someone that makes me laugh a lot, who I can go out and have fun with, dance with, and have adventures with, but also a Sunday brunch, hungover, and watch Romy & Michele or Death Becomes Her with. It takes a lot of humor, and a winning smile. And a good kisser. And I guess someone who also has a strong interest or a passion. I find people with drive very attractive.
It sounds to me like I’d be the perfect candidate then. Perhaps, I ask him, we should just go ahead and get married?
“Well, I wouldn’t want to make all your readers jealous,” he offers, “but let’s have a drink, eh?”
My readers will just have to deal, and meet their own knights in shining armor. Of course, Rod’s had plenty of opportunity to meet people here, having spent a lot of time in the US recently, in New York, LA, San Francisco, and Seattle.
“I loved Seattle when I was there, albeit briefly, so I’m excited to go back. I am very much in love with New York though. I have some really amazing friends there I feel so happy to have met. That city really brought me back to life and has inspired so much of the new record. I’ll be spending a lot of time in the States, but I’ll have to be away probably in equal parts for touring and the such. But I really love my time stateside.”
Speaking of inspirations, rumor has it that we can expect to see a new Bright Light Bright Light LP next year. I ask him if he’s able to confirm that?
“Yes,” he says, “there will be one next year. I’ve started slipping a few songs into the sets. I’m very excited to test the new material!”