Dancing In The Dark

22 May 2012 | 6:21 pm | Chris Familton

"I’m happy there is this dark wave going through the mainstream music at the moment and I think it was foreshadowed by vampires, horror movies."

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If you've heard Light Asylum's first single, Dark Allies, and thought you were hearing a new song from The Sisters Of Mercy, you wouldn't be alone. The deep foreboding intonations strongly resemble those of The Sisters Of Mercy's Andrew Eldritch and, combined with the similarly shadowy electronic music, it feels like a gothic redux from the '80s. The fascinating thing is that the singer is in fact Shannon Funchess, who has played with a multitude of bands since the mid '90s and more recently collaborated with TV On The Radio, Telepathe and !!! before meeting Bruno Coviello and finding the perfect avenue for her dark and intense songs.

Dark Allies was the centrepiece for the In Tension EP that came out in 2010 and introduced the duo as a refreshingly bold and aggressive take on what can often be cold and introverted music. Though the EP was critically well received, it was still early in the development of the band and now two years later, with numerous shows and new songs, they are feeling much more confident about taking their self-titled album to a wider international audience.

“We signed the EP deal with Mexican Summer to license one full-length LP and part of the deal was that they had to put out the EP and in those first few months, they did pretty much that but there wasn't a lot of press behind it, as apparently no one really cares about reviewing EPs. We're doing all the press work now with this record, introducing the sound of Light Asylum to the world and hopefully they'll go back and discover the EP,” says Funchess.

In this day and age of so many bands forming and then releasing albums in a short space of time, Funchess was determined they would take their time, enjoy the process and follow their instincts when it came to recording and releasing the album.

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“It feels like the natural time for it to come out because that is the way it happened. With the mood the music industry is in, it is a good time for artists to be making music that they want to make rather than conforming to anything. Everything is so fluid and open right now with the internet and everything. There is a lot of weird energy and darkness happening in the world right now and I think our music speaks to people somehow. It resonates with them in these times and so there is no rushing it; we treated it really organically. We weren't hunting down label deals or anything. Mexican Summer came and offered us a deal and it seemed like the right thing for us.”

The formation of bands is always a fascinating process. Is it luck, fate or a strong sense of knowing when the mix of personalities is just right? For Light Asylum the connection was forged from an intense road trip that resulted in both a friendship and a shared understanding of what each of them would bring to a musical collaboration.

“There was a friendship formed just before the music. We met while on tour with a band called Bunny Rabbit and Bruno was playing in that band on guitar and also touring in a mini van across the US as his solo project. I just got invited along for the ride as I was in between tours with !!! so I thought, 'I've had a month to kill, why not go on tour with these kids?' Over those thirty days Bruno and I had a lot of time to get to know each other on long drives through the Midwest to the next show and we realised we had very similar tastes and an interest in making music. Two years prior I had formed Light Asylum as a solo project, but it took a few years to get together with Bruno in this incarnation. I had a show booked and didn't want to play the older material, so I asked Bruno to play and we decided to write new songs from scratch. We only had a week to prepare for the show. In that time we basically wrote Dark Allies and Shallow Tears plus some others we don't play anymore. We ended up with a twenty-minute set, but from that first day in the practice space we were sharing high fives over the stuff we were writing together. We wanted to write music that would make people move and make them feel part of it. We were getting into the music in the rehearsal space and hoped that others would as a result.”

Despite most of their music being created by two people on machines, there is a primal emotional quality to Light Asylum's music that feels much larger than the sum of its parts. Funchess views these perceived limitations as offering the duo more options in terms of how the band operates and the strength of the personal interaction between herself and Coviello.

“We don't see it as a restriction. The more people you have in a band, the more you have to worry about and organise. As much as I love power trios like Nirvana and The Wipers, I love the economy and both the space and the intimacy of just playing with one other person. In saying that, we will definitely need some evolution in this band. We might end up with guitars on stage or a bass player or live drummer. It is something we are open to for sure.”

The dark mood and emotional richness that stems from the band's industrial, primitive synth and new wave influences shares similarities with other contemporary artists like Austra and Zola Jesus. Funchess sees their style as part of an identifiable movement in popular culture over the last decade.

“There is a wider global camaraderie, but everyone is just trying to do their own thing and create their music; something they love to do. I'm happy there is this dark wave going through the mainstream music at the moment and I think it was foreshadowed by vampires, horror movies and for sure media were pushing it along, but now darker music is finally reaching the light of day in a world that is saturated by glossy pop music. The music industry is so fashion now, it is almost like a fashion or a trend is being created with a little bit of music sprinkled around it. There is a lot of friction and pushing and pulling in the world and what you get is new music emerging, even though at times it can be a bit nostalgic.”

Funchess spent her formative years in Seattle growing up on a diet of new wave pop and post punk music before moving to New York in 2001 to further her own musical aspirations. That geographic and cultural shift was an important one as the environment of the Big Apple played a strong role in refining her vision for Light Asylum and her determination to achieve it.

“I've always been a fan of bands like Sisters Of Mercy, Front 242, The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode and even Nirvana and others, so if I was still living in Seattle I would be playing the same music as we are now, but not on the same level and with the same consciousness. I was trying to do that there but that was why I moved, to take on the challenges to make it in New York. Trying to make it here is so hard so you try a lot harder and have to be more confident. So yes the music is definitely the by-product of the artist's environment.”

Light Asylum will soon be appearing at Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House and Coviello is a firm believer in the importance of the band as a live entity. The duo are looking forward to heading to Australia and are confident that, as they've found in other countries, if the venue suits the band and the audience are up for it then everyone will have a great time.

“There are similarities depending on how well the audience know our music. In London people are starting to get the music and sing the lyrics back to us, which has been happening here in New York for a while now. We feel there is a similar vibe in all of our audiences though if everyone likes our music and is into it live. We hope you have a great sound system there in Sydney. This incarnation of Light Asylum formed as a result of having shows booked and wanting to do the best possible show so our live performances are really important. People can expect to definitely feel us in the room.”


In both popular and fringe culture the dark has been rising steadily over the last decade and it is showing no signs of retreating back into the shadows. A fascination with death, ghosts, the dark arts and melancholy have always been important signifiers of all art forms, yet this current trend in novels, Hollywood movies and in many musical genres is tantamount to a gothic renaissance.

At the mass consumption end of the scale, much credit must go to films like the Harry Potter and Twilight series for kicking off the current trend. They set the scene for the current popularity of TV shows like True Blood, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story with networks embracing death, blood, evil spirits and serial killers. If the theory of art reflecting society is anything to go by, then the financial turbulence of recent years is surely a factor in the current popularity of these shows.

Musically the heyday, if not the origins of goth, can be traced to the early '80s and bands like The Cure, Bauhaus, The Sisters Of Mercy and Joy Division. Many of the groups dismissed the goth tag, much preferring to be called post punk as most emerged from the late '70s UK punk scene, yet their music shared tendencies of claustrophobia, rumination on the dark and morbid side of the human psyche and with visual images that embraced very little colour; there was generally a look to go with it. The sound those bands created has filtered through to acts of today, some 30 years later, whether it be the darkwave electronica of Light Asylum, Zola Jesus and Austra or guitar bands like Ceremony, The Horrors and Interpol. Most interestingly the cross-pollination with synth pop, shoegaze and dream pop has allowed new versions of the goth/post punk to emerge.

Every music scene is based on action and reaction, so in this age of pop where everything is increasingly saturated in synthetic gloss it is only natural that those with a disdain for manufactured happiness and are more inclined to embrace melancholy will find music like this to suit their tastes. Of course, how we label any type of music and group its fans is just a symptom of our propensity to categorise things, but the fascinating thing about the current taste for the dark side is the extent to which it has permeated the mainstream and doesn't look, if you'll pardon the pun, like giving up the ghost anytime soon.