Who Are…Little Daylight

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 08.13.13 in Who Is...?s

File under: Electronic pop with a human heart

Personae: Eric, Matt and Nikki

Tunnel Vision

Little Daylight

Thanks largely to their remixes of songs by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and other indie bands that don’t ordinarily embrace dance beats, Brooklyn’s Little Daylight built a formidable internet buzz before they’d played their first show. Now longtime friends Eric, Matt and Nikki have an EP on Capitol Records featuring their blog-supported hits “Overdose,” “Name in Lights” and “Glitter and Gold.” Combining programmed elements with old-fashioned instruments, this well-educated trio is currently writing songs for their 2014 debut album, but will soon be touring in the fall. Don’t ask about their drug history: Their only overdose was on love.

On their name:

Nikki: It’s a fairytale story by George MacDonald about a princess who has a spell put on her — her moods are controlled by the moon. We responded to the idea of Little Daylight being something kinda cute and whimsical but can be kinda dark and serious.

On the band’s beginning:

Matt: We started because we had originals we wanted to record. The three of us felt like we had the same sensibility about what they should sound like. We took a studio up to a lake house that a friend of ours had lent us, and while we were there we decided to do some remixing to get some production ideas down without being too wedded to anything. We released the remixes first because the originals we were still working on; we’re somewhat perfectionists about that stuff.

On near-instant success:

Eric: The remixes — especially the Edward Sharpe and Passion Pit ones — probably got around partially because of the original artists and partially because of the remixes. And when we put out “Overdose,” it was good timing: The blogs were already paying attention to us. All we did was put it on Soundcloud.

Nikki: It got to No.1 on The Hype Machine, which was the work of the blogs, obviously, who helped put us on the map.

Matt: We’ve been lucky that a few of the blogs took an early liking to us because of the remixes. For anyone observing, it just looked like we were remix artists, and I think those people were all pleasantly surprised when we put out our originals.

Nikki: South By Southwest was our first and second live shows that we ever played, so it was a trial by fire. Luckily, because of “Overdose” there was enough word spread that people were coming to see us.

On how remixing shapes their own music:

Eric: When we do remixes, the song is already written, so it’s all about production — reinterpreting the song that another band. So in doing that as an exercise, we figured out where we all met in the middle with production, and after the course of three or four remixes, it started to have a signature sound, where we were able to approach our own songs in the same way. It gave us training wheels.

Matt: The song isn’t completely written when you approach a remix; you have the option to change things as you see fit. That ended up being a big part of how we write our songs, too. They go through an initial output phase, where we get it down and then usually take a break. Whether we mean to or not we almost end up remixing our own work.

On prior activities that also helps define Little Daylight:

Eric: One thing that’s important for both Matt and I is that there was a period when we were creating experimental electronic music without expectations. That got us some skills although they don’t come out in obvious ways. When we’re in the studio a lot, we go off on tangents that stem from that experience of doing experimental stuff that wasn’t trying to be pop songs.

Matt: I went to Brown [University] with a lot of people doing video and graphic art and installation art. [Eric went to UPenn and Nikki attended NYU.] That kinda stuff has informed Little Daylight in a filtered but very significant way. The three of us are thinking about not only the music, but how the music is going to look when it’s being performed, what our images say about us, the poster artwork down to the font; we’re very detail-oriented. Visuals are important to all three of us.

Nikki: We do our own artwork.

On their division of labor:

Matt: Everyone has an assumption of what we each do: Eric and I, because we’re guys, do the production; Nikki, because she’s the lead singer, is doing the top line, and then coming in at the end to sing when we’re done producing. But it couldn’t be more different than that. We each do everything. It’s been funny to see the stereotypes people hold and how universal they are.

Nikki: When we’re playing live, Eric plays bass, Matt plays guitar and synths, and I play synths and sing and we have a drummer.

Eric: But in the studio, it’s kind of free-range. We set everything up, lay all our instruments out, and when inspiration hits, you grab and go. Guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion — anyone could pick them up and perform. Even the vocals, up until the point where the song is getting to be finished, are open to any of us. And that’s very important to us, that we not limit any person to doing one thing or another and not doing other things.

Nikki: We’re an oligarchy.

On creating their “Overdose” video in the immediate wake of Hurricane Sandy on Manhattan’s electricity-challenged streets:

Nikki: We had the idea that it would be really cool to go out with a camera and see what happens. We invited couple of friends who are DPs and went driving around the West Village and Soho, where it was still pretty dark. We didn’t really have a plan. We just turned on the music on our iPhones, and started dancing to it. We were on a completely dark Bleecker Street, and there’s a really bright light in the background, an emergency light on this major thoroughfare. It would’ve cost millions of dollars to create a situation like that.

Eric: The police passed by us a number of times. Finally they pulled up next to us, and said in a very strong New York brogue, “You guys better watch out and not get hit by cars or something.”

Nikki: The other interaction we had that was really funny was that someone bicycled by while we were shooting and said, “Check your white balance!”

Eric: Only in New York or L.A. would somebody harass you by talking about video production techniques.

On their influences and relationship to pop:

Eric: A friend who doesn’t listen to that much pop music asked me if it’s a formula we’re trying to emulate. And I said that if you don’t love what you’re doing it’s going to be apparent immediately. We love pop music. We also love a lot of other stuff, and I think that love of music in general is what makes us make these tracks what they are.

Nikki: People listen to our stuff and compare us to Blondie. I sometimes hear echoes of Tom Petty in some of the songwriting, and I love both those artists.

Matt: We’re working on this thing for the album that’s heavily electronic, and for some reason it reminds me of Fleetwood Mac. It doesn’t sound like Fleetwood Mac, but we love Fleetwood Mac, and maybe it’s seeped in on some weird, left-turn way.

Eric: We’re working on something that reminds me of one of my favorite albums that has nothing to do with pop music, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. We listen to indie rock, classic rock, reggae, experimental electronic stuff, and we’re all big fans of straight-up club music. We all like to go out dancing sometimes and that’s the right music for that. We’ll come into the studio after having a late night and wanna turn the kick drum up a little bit.

Nikki: We’re really into classic songwriting. All of our songs, you could strip the production away, turn it into a different song and still retain a classic element to it.

Eric: Pop music these days is very much about bold choices. The bass is in the forefront more than it ever has before. We like loud things.

On their ultimate musical goals:

Eric: I think we’re trying to make good, classic-sounding songs where the verses, the choruses and bridges have an overall horizontal and vertical integrity to them. The same way Bob Marley relates to Aphex Twin is that their songs have a flow that is natural and beautiful and give you the chills when you get to the climax of them. We just wanna do that with every track we do.