Bright Light Bright Light’s one-man band comprised of Rod Thomas serves up songs that anyone can dance to. With nu-disco elements mixed in, Thomas marries the perfect artistry of upbeat sounds with lyrics that previously illuminated struggle.
In preparation of his forthcoming EP, Tales of the City (out July 7), Billboard is premiering his track “New York Pretty.” To celebrate the song’s release, we talked to Thomas about his move to New York City, what it’s like collaborating with Elton John and how RuPaul’s Drag Race inspired the track.
Why did you decide to move to New York?
I had been living in London for nine years, and I had put out one record already and I thought that living somewhere different would be healthy for the writing process to get a different perspective on things. I had been to New York a couple of times and I just completely fell in love with it. I knew people like the Scissor Sisters because we had toured together, so I had a a few friends there and something about the city really connected with me — I was just really drawn to the city. I had my visa at the time, and I thought, ‘Let’s see how it goes.’ It was a bit of an experiment — and it just seemed to work.
What do you love about New York?
I love the people is the main thing really. I think there’s an incredible energy to the people in New York. They work pretty hard, but they play really hard. They celebrate people that find success in what they do, which is something I find really unique to New York. I’ll go to shows and I’ll go to plays and I’ll go to all these events and you’ll see other creatives going to them. They’ll pay to support their friends without even being asked to.
Is there anything you hate about it?
Showtime on the subway — you know what’s going happen. That’s about it. I like the grime of the subway, which a lot of people complain about. I find that means you can see where New York was about 20 or 30 years ago.
How has the change in setting impacted your music?
Most people feel at some point like they’ve outgrown a place or they want to try something new and some people feel like maybe they’re in the wrong place. Particularly in my generation, you see on movies and in different places people doing crazy things with their life, and you’re like, ‘I want to do that!’
I think, after a while, I felt like I wasn’t quite in the right place and then I arrived in New York and in that moment. Everything felt a little bit better, like if you have sunglasses on and you take them off and you see the actual color of the sky. That’s how I felt when I moved to New York. So, that song is really celebrating the moment where you’re like, ‘Wow. I’m finally in the right place and I finally feel like the best version of myself.’”
You’ve recently had some success in the charts — your last three singles hit the U.S. Dance chart. How did that feel?
It’s so unexpected for somebody like myself to make any kind of impact on an American chart. I never thought that I’d ever really achieve that. It’s super cool to have hits on the dance chart. As somebody who is pretty much totally independent, I think charts have always seemed really far out of my reach, so to see those sort of things happening is super cool. It’s nice to know that if you work really hard, you can finally connect to the right audience and make some kind of mark.
This next EP is a companion to your album Choreography, which had a lot of collaborations. What was it like working with Elton John?
It was through a friendship really that we ended up collaborating. Elton became a very good friend over a number of years. I think if the personality matches, it makes sense to work together, and that’s the nicest form of collaboration where you’ve got a common ground and you can make something that you feel is really good that you both really enjoy. That’s my favorite way to collaborate.
You’re premiering your song “New York Pretty.” What did you have in mind as you worked on it?
I think I was inspired by RuPaul Drag Race. I’m a giant fan of RuPaul and his entire career. I love the idea of the thing of that moment where you’ve finally done something, and worked hard at it, and you’re like, ‘No! Do you know what? I’m going to prove to you that I’m capable of doing what I want to do.’ I wanted to write the song [around themes of] self-empowerment and recognizing that you worked really hard for something and you’ve… achieved it.
I was having a really quiet week in my apartment and sometimes it’s kind of easy when you’re not touring or you’re not doing that much to feel listless or sort of redundant. And then I just thought of everything I’ve in the past five years, and I was like, ‘Actually, I’ve done alright, ya know?’ I wrote it as a reminder of myself that I achieved a lot of the things I wanted to.
What sound and mood did you want to capture with the song?
I wanted it to be, like, the song you put on when you walk out of the subway and you want to strut through the streets… where you don’t care about anybody in your way and you just want to bask in that sunshine, walk down the street, and feel your moment… It’s just like, ‘Good morning!’ You’re like, ‘OK. Whatever you got, throw it at me.’
I just hope it makes people smile. Something that will make you smile, feel great, put a little attitude in the walk. I hope you’re shaking your ass a little bit as you’re walking down the street in the morning.
So what’s next?
I’m kind of a prolific person, so there will be a ton of new music coming up. I’ll be working on stuff for the next year or so to come, so there’s going to be plenty of new material every couple of months until I pass out from having done too much.