Jason Smith’s bedroom pop project, Night’s Bright Colors, is situated in North Carolina. Since its inception in 2003, NBC has independently published eight albums and several EPs that incorporate elements of indie pop, electronic, folk, classical, ambient, and experimental music, with an emphasis on an expansive idea depicting the passage of a single night in a mental facility. The “Progression of Night” series begins with Love In The Asylum, a title drawn from a poem of the same name by longstanding melancholy and insomniac Dylan Thomas, and continues with First Set Fire To The Stars, Late Night By Lamplight, and Late Bloomer.
The quartet contains traditional song patterns alongside more somnambulant and experimental aspects, as well as a diverse palette of instrumentation courtesy to the series’ various musical guests. The series is a vast exploration into the nature of redemption, with lyrics using wordplay and shifting perspectives to depict a fictitious protagonist’s struggles with memories, loss, dreams/hallucinations, and trauma. It was originally modeled on classical symphony form, with themes and textures reprised, referenced, and revisited throughout the four albums.
Check out the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: I started Night’s Bright Colors as a creative outlet soon after getting a 4-track tape recorder (yes, it goes way back!). I just could not believe the magic of the multitrack layering of instruments and textures. Of course, these days you can do a whole album on your phone while you’re stuck in traffic but at that time, that is all I wanted to do, all the time. I had a lot of musical ideas and melodies and this really outsized ambition of creating a series of interrelated concept albums that formed a continual narrative. I was also working a low-wage, unfulfilling job with ungodly hours and desperately seeking some identity away from that.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: I started guitar and piano early as a self-taught musician but eventually realized to finish this project I needed to develop further. After a lot of struggle, I went on to get a degree in music with a concentration in recording. At school, I had access to much better equipment and the music theory and history really ended up influencing this project in ways I never imagined.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS’?
NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: The name comes from a misheard lyric in the song “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon (“They give us those nice bright colors…”). I had just finished the first record in the series and was about to send it off for a pressing and I still didn’t have a name for the project. I’ve had insomnia for most of my life and I do most of my creative work at night so it seemed to fit. Strongest musical influences would be the DIY movement of the 90s and 00s – Elliott Smith, Elephant 6 bands, etc, The Pixies, and early Britpop. I also love classical and ambient music and try to incorporate those influences as much as possible.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: That’s a tough one because throughout my musical development I’ve been pulled in opposite directions. On one hand, I really work hard on melody (preferably with an intricate harmonic support) and on the other, I’m drawn to the atmosphere a solo texture or tone can create. A lot of my songs blend the two, actually, so traditional pop song structure tends to go out the window. The albums I grew up with and love the most always seemed to have little interludes, instrumental or ambient snippets alongside the verse-chorus offerings so maybe that’s where that comes from. Lyrically, I love word play and symbolism. I definitely subscribe to the Dylan Thomas belief that the actual phonetic sounds that the words make are as important as their meaning.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as Indie? NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: The DIY artists I mentioned earlier (and others) were huge inspirations not just aesthetically, but they were presenting their own musical perspective completely untouched by the industry. It was an encouragement that we all have agency in achieving our own dreams, without the constant pressure to reach someone else’s idea of success. Initially, I just wanted to be a guitarist in someone else’s band. I worked really hard at becoming as technically proficient as I could be so I could contribute to someone else’s project in some way. I did have a lot of song ideas, but really struggled to complete even one song. I genuinely believed I had nothing of value to say. I’m not a naturally gifted singer so that seemed impossible as well. It was hearing these artists that over time convinced me that all perspectives were valid and that comparison in artistic expression is just pointless.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment? NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: I think the beauty of music is that it’s a canvas on which any of those things you mentioned are just as valid as the other with the ultimate goal of human connection. What the artist hopes to express and what the listener takes from it are often at complete odds, yet the value of that connection is undeniable. For a long time, I tried to keep my songs as ambiguous as possible, partly out of insecurity, partly out of just an inability to express what I wanted. I also really loved the mystery of early REM and the idea that the listener completes the intended meaning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely gotten more specific about things and see the value of being as direct as possible in certain situations.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future? NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: I am so grateful to have music as a resource. I can’t imagine what it is like not to have some creative project that has an internal set of ideas that I am continually questioning, refining, and processing experience. Even if it has no value to anyone else, it has really helped me learn so much about myself and how I think. I believe that we are all creative beings and I would love that for everybody (doesn’t have to be music, obviously) something you can develop independent of any external influence.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process? NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: Typically, I’ll find something on guitar or piano that I like or sounds interesting or suggests a counterpoint. It really is then just a question of development, I’ll play it over and over, record it, overdub ideas, try to expand it, etc. but most importantly, I tend to obsessively think about it away from my instruments/home studio. That is usually when the imagination takes over and I don’t feel limited by my technical ability. I just try to imagine what should come next or what the texture should be. After enough time, I’ll go back and try to mimic what I imagined. If the melody hasn’t suggested a subject by that point, I always have a running list of phrases, words, things I’ve heard in conversation etc. that I go back to find a starting point.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far? NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: Like everyone, my life has been touched by trauma. I definitely haven’t always had the tools to deal with it. For a long time, I didn’t even call myself a musician. I had a strong belief that I hadn’t earned it or didn’t deserve it. I think my musical development has not only been a way for me to process trauma and insecurity, but also a metaphor for my journey to expression and self-acceptance.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
NIGHT’S BRIGHT COLORS: When I finished the last song of the last album of this series. I’d lived with it every day for so long, I didn’t want to believe it. I kept second guessing everything, indefinitely. And then one day, it just changed and my mind was really calm about it for the first time I could remember and I just thought “it’s enough”.