From Hinge to Mercy Studios

Lighterless on their new project

The only thing more fun than an interview is an interview with a kitten. I sat down with emerging rock duo Lighterless (and their drummer’s cat Grash) to talk about their genesis as a band, their current project, and everything in between. Though Lighterless is only about five months old, their history is much longer and much more hilarious. I became aware of Zach Lamb’s (vocals, guitar, bass) existence through a series of since-archived covers posted on Instagram during the height of the pandemic, and I’m not the only one to discover him this way. In fact, he owes those videos his friend, drummer, and bandmate Avalon Vallejo. After Vallejo had followed Lamb for quite some time, their actual connection was made through none other than the dating app Hinge. He says, “I downloaded [the app in December], and I put in my bio ‘[looking for a] relationship or if you’re wanting to start a band, hit me up.’” The two then connected and met up, and the rest is history. 

Lighterless recently made their way to Mercy Sound Studios in New York City to record two singles. These songs, and the record on which they will eventually appear, is being produced by none other than Gordon Raphael, best known for his work on The Strokes’ debut album Is This It. Though Raphael is always looking for new talent and the two had met briefly before at a concert, when Lamb sent him a demo, he considered it “just throwing it out there, because he knew he wanted to record [with him].” The writing process for that song was one I’m sure a lot of modern songwriters can relate to: scrolling through the Notes app until something sticks and then adding guitar. Though the duo are primarily “there to have fun and make music along the way,”  the results are still something to marvel at. Lighterless makes most of their music just by jamming, but it takes a special connection to have that same chemistry in the studio. Some of the bass was improvised during the recording process, something which only works so well because Lamb and Vallejo are on the same creative wavelength. The link between their musical visions  has only strengthened since they first met. Though the two eventually hope to add some members in order to play live, they’re determined to keep Lighterless as a duo. “It’s hard enough to find even one person who shares your vision, let alone three or four,” Lamb says. 

Lighterless working in the studio. Photo by Elizabeth Tosson.

The first single “Blood Sports” makes the band’s political stance very clear. “We [want to] be direct on what we believe, [on] what we stand for, and not do what our idols are doing,” Vallejo emphasized. The song, which is currently being mixed and set to release on June 28th, touches on the complexities of being a kid without a sense of national or cultural identity. “Blood Sports” is heavily influenced by Lamb’s personal experiences in that realm, as well as political and dystopian literature like George Orwell’s famed 1984. The band’s inspirations are clearly heard on the track, everything from Queens of the Stone Age to My Chemical Romance and Green Day. Lamb cites his experience playing on stage with Billie Joe Armstrong during their 2021 Hella Mega Tour as the reason he chose to actively pursue being a musician. He says that performing for a crowd was “something he needed to do again,” and he hasn’t stopped since. Lighterless is far from his first project, noting that he’s been in and out of bands since he was 13. Though he’s had success in the past, he thinks that Lighterless is the best band he’s been in so far. The duo’s passion is evident both in conversation and on the track. Vallejo’s drums stuck out to me particularly, especially after learning that Raphael “knew he was [going to be] good” after only hearing him play a fill. According to the band, the drums were finished after just two takes. Clearly, there’s some power in playing barefoot. 

Vallejo at the drum kit. Photo by Elizabeth Tosson.

Though it seems that the recording process was enjoyable overall, especially when it included naps on the studio couch for Vallejo, there was one specific moment that sticks out to both myself and the band. Naturally, the idea of baring your soul in a studio with Gordon Raphael is anxiety inducing, but this was especially true for Lamb. Vallejo says that the producer took them both out for pizza after doing the instrumentals for “Blood Sports” in an effort to calm him down before recording vocals. He picked the softer of the two singles to start with, because it seemed less daunting. What happened next was an unexpectedly cathartic moment— I imagine something similar occurred when Gerard Way first did vocals for “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville.” Vallejo explains, “maybe it’s just because he’s my best friend and the song is really emotional, but [when he sang] I was about to shed a tear. I was about to cry in that studio.” He describes sitting on the couch while holding onto their friend for dear life, and that everyone was awestruck with Lamb’s performance. After hearing the recording, I can understand why it got that reaction. It seems to me that both members are each other’s biggest fans, always simultaneously dumbfounded by and entirely confident in the other’s ability both inside and out of the studio. 

Lighterless behind the studio desk. Photo by Elizabeth Tosson.

 Despite getting their name from a Microwave song, Lighterless is far from a cover band. With clear influences and fresh takes on emo and beyond, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Their chemistry is undeniable and they’re very down-to-earth, making the duo an approachable powerhouse. After having both chatted with them and heard the demos, I’m beyond excited to see what’s coming next.