Brightr: Ebbs and Flows of Emotion [Interview]

We spoke to acoustic melody-master Brightr about his new album, the emotional songwriting process and the supportive punk rock scene that’s helped him along.

Interview by Sarah Williams.

Earlier this year, solo artist Brightr (otherwise known as Laurie Cottingham) released his second album Two Sides. It’s an intricate, moving acoustic record, which launched with a little help from Lockjaw Records, No Reason Records and Penultimate Records.

Although he describes himself as gloomy emo-pop, I consider Laurie to be an expert in weaving bright, hopeful acoustic tunes, in the same family as City & Colour or Newton Faulkner before Radio 2 picked him up. Two Sides is a welcome follow-up to Year One; it’s a beautiful, soulful and positive record.

We had a chat with Laurie to celebrate the release.

You’ve recently released a brand new album Two Sides. How does it feel to finally share it with the world?

It feels great to finally be able to get the record out in to the world. These are songs I’ve been working on and obsessing over for far too long (tweaking and changing… and overthinking) so to finish recording them was a huge emotional purge for me. To release them is an entirely different, more exciting time.

How have your real-life experiences impacted lyrical and musical direction of the album?

Heavily. Every Brightr song is very personal, but the songs on Two Sides are without a doubt the most honest and close-to-my-chest subjects I’ve ever spoken about in song form. So much so, that I’ve had to take time to tame the flood of emotion when I play them live, so as not to flood the crowd in teary spit. These songs are blunt, honest and painful, but ultimately it was good to release the feelings attached to them into songs.

What aspect of Two Sides are you most proud of?

I like that the record ebbs and flows, with peaks of brightness and melody, alongside troughs of gloom and notable sadness. Even though the subject matter is really difficult and painful in these songs, I like that I somehow managed to evoke some moments of light and hopeful resolve. I’m also really happy with the track Vs and how it breaks up the other songs by being different to them and kind of standalone, but almost like a bridge between the two sides of the record. 

What was the most challenging part of writing and recording Two Sides?

Every part of the writing process for this record felt challenging to be honest. I was forever second-guessing myself, as my poor wife and family can vouch; forever changing sections, words, keys, with an overarching sense of nervousness and anxiety. These songs are the hardest I’ve ever written because I needed to get them right in every sense, so I would honestly say that every moment was challenging for me.

Recording, however, was an incredibly fun and creative process. Returning to work with my long-time friend and musical muse Matt O’Grady was it’s usual fun time, with a bit of hard work thrown in to get the job done. When you find the right recording engineer/producer the process of recording becomes so fluid and easy, so the recording side I guess added the lightness and joy to Two Sides to mirror the bluntly honest graft of the writing process.

The acoustic style of your album is somewhat incongruous with the punk rock scene that you’re well received in. How did that connection come about?

My love affair with the punk/hardcore community began a long time ago, long before I decided to pick up an acoustic guitar and write gloomy jams. I played in noisy bands and toured a whole bunch through my teens/early twenties, but it wasn’t until I began working with Gnarwolves that I really found my place within it. My time spent with those guys working behind the scenes reignited my passion for making music and that’s when Brightr was born.

I pride myself on building friendships and strong bonds through my musical life with everyone I meet, from sound engineers, to other bands, to record labels and of course those that support my music as fans. It’s always been more about being part of the community and working to strengthen and further the community to me, rather than personal gain. I love how far the UK and European scene has grown recently, with brilliant bands, labels and promoters/festivals paving the way for the next generation, long after I hang up my strings. 

What style of music were you most obsessed with as a teenager, and how does it differ now?

To be honest, my music taste now is pretty much the same as my music taste when I was younger. I had a brilliant journey of discovery with music, where rather than picking up and putting things down, I would get in to something new and add it on to what I already had.

I listen to everything from punk/hardcore/metal through to the most disgustingly poppy pop music, from jazz/soul/classic funk to the blackest of black metal. Different music for different moods. Funnily enough though, the one thing I don’t listen to a lot of is acoustic solo music. There’s no real reason for that, other than that I guess I just haven’t found as many people in that category that blow me away enough to listen for more than a fleeting moment.

Which bands have you most enjoyed watching live recently? Is there anyone we should be keeping an ear to the ground for?

I’m biased because they’re some of my best friends in this world, but I have loved watching H_ngm_n, All Better, Woahnows and Darko recently. Incredible live, with the greatest songs. I also think if you are partial to a solo musician with powerfully beautiful songs you need to be checking out Mike Noegraf, as well as the mind blowingly amazing Julien Baker.

How did the name Brightr come about?

I wanted to have a name that was almost completely opposed to the music I create, so decided to call myself Brighter, but while working on some initial graphics I accidentally left out the E, loved what I saw and then realised that ultimately the misspelling is kind of the embodiment of what I am trying to create musically; brightness, alongside sadness with a misaligned element of potential hope… orrrrrr maybe I just can’t spell.

You’re based in Newport. How do you feel your location has influenced your music? Is there a supportive environment for acts that are starting out?

In the past few years since releasing my debut album Year One I’ve found a new home in Newport, a safer space to express myself and write, that allowed me to be so much more honest and reflective on issues I’ve never been able to write about before. So, I guess in that respect I felt a positive influence from my surroundings. There’s not a huge local scene here anymore, but there are some great local venues still working hard to bring touring bands in to the city and to support the local acts bursting through, notably Le Pub and Bunkhouse in Swansea, great venues with great ethos.

What are you ambitions for Brightr in the future, both long and short term?

In all honesty I feel like I’ve achieved all of the things I set out to do with Brightr at the start, but I just kinda tag things on as the years go by. I would love to play 2000 Trees Festival, Reading/Leeds Festival, Glastonbury. It would be lovely to finally get noticed/have some airplay on major radio in the UK.These are things that would be cool, but not essential. Really I just would love to carry on touring as much as possible, seeing my existing friends and continue to make new friends through music. As long as I’m having fun and making my family proud not sad through my involvement in music then I will always be here and Brightr will keep being a thing. 

If you’d like to check out Brightr for yourself, you can do so over at Spotify and FacebookTwo Sides is available to purchase from Lockjaw Records.

Interview by Sarah Williams.

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