Before this interview, Brightside guitarist Matt Williams had never drank tea. Not “never,” as in never in a long time, but NEVER. However, by the end of our recent chat in Squirrel Hill, he and his charmingly uncharming bandmates made it obvious that being outliers has always kind of been their thing.
Since its 2010 inception, the Pittsburgh quartet has never felt like it truly meshed well with the city’s DIY scene — comprised mostly of punk and traditional college indie bands. Its opaque conglomerate of emo, indie-pop and alt-rock never fully clicked with the following of now-defunct DIY label Broken World Media either, despite theoretically fitting nicely alongside acts like Sorority Noise, Deer Leap and The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die.
However, despite numerous pseudo-breakups that the band now calls “silly,” Brightside still dropped two full-lengths, an EP and a B-sides comp within its first five years. It was playing near-weekly shows at Mr. Roboto in Bloomfield, and in 2015 it toured the country with TWIABP and Foxing. On paper, it looked like the band was poised to continue climbing the ladder to success; in reality, that wasn’t the case. In August 2016, just more than two years after its promising sophomore record, Now and Loud, dropped, the band broke up, this time indefinitely.
“I think a lot of things didn’t happen with Now and Loud that we expected to happen,” Williams says. “We couldn’t get tours.”
“The bigger issue was that nobody listened to it,” adds drummer, Dylan Essig.
“We were really stoked on it musically and it didn’t come across that way to the masses,” bassist Steve Luteran says.
Williams attributes a lot of the band’s difficulties to the sound that was popular at the time (2013-2015) — a sound that Brightside simply didn’t match.
“When we started writing stuff, everyone was still really into Title Fight, and everyone wanted to sound like Title Fight,” he says, referring to the emo/indie scene that Brightside was lumped into due to its location and attachment to Broken World, the label that put out all of its releases. “We make pop music.”
To an extent, he’s right. Vocalist Matt Vituccio’s nasally, lackadaisical falsetto is acutely reminiscent of Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch — an influential vocalist for many of Brightside’s contemporaries — but Brightside was playing with jangly, new-wave passages that swelled more like post-rockers Prawn and bopped like the lightly sweetened A Great Big Pile of Leaves; they didn’t explode or wind aimlessly like the gigantic riffs of Built to Spill. In fact, Essig says that the band was aiming for Vampire Weekend and Fleetwood Mac territory with Now and Loud, which are bands that are completely outside the frame of reference for most emo kids.
“We were always complimented,” Williams says. “It wasn’t like we were not allowed to be in the scene. . . We could book house shows and smaller venues but we wanted tours with bigger bands.”
However, after taking a year off to re-assess their individual lives, Brightside’s members are making their modest return.
“We’re taking this reunion very slow, which is fine,” says Vituccio. “We don’t wanna overwhelm ourselves like we have in the past.”
For now, the reunion consists of a return gig at Mr. Roboto on Oct. 25. However, the band hopes to finish its long-awaited third LP within the year, and hopefully take it on the road from there.
“We’re at the point where we have a fresh start and we’re gonna be a band again,” Williams says. “As long as this album doesn’t suck, then I think it’s gonna be good,” he says with a wry smile, disappointed with his tea (“it tastes like grass”) yet excited for a bright future.