Interview: Jacob Berns of The National Lights

posted July 30, 2007

by Corinne
Photo by Patrick Scott Vickers

Jacob Berns of The National Lights

How are you?

Well, thanks.

How did you get involved in playing music?

I began playing the guitar when I was 8, taking after-school lessons from the choir leader of the parochial school I attended. Once the other students and myself had learned four or five chords, we started performing at weekly Mass.

I get the impression that The National Lights is primarily your baby, so to speak. Producer Chris Kiehne told me that, as of now, The National Lights is more of a studio project than a band. Can you tell me about the project?

At one point, the National Lights had the best of touring intentions. And I still do, to a degree. However, those who recorded on the album have moved to opposite ends of the country to work on their own, primary projects. Chris is in New York City completing his debut full-length, while Sonya [Cotton] is living and playing in San Francisco. Sonya just released her second LP, Out of the Ocean, which, incidentally, received a very complimentary review on PlugInMusic.com.

Are there any plans to take The National Lights from being more than “just” a studio band?

Sure. I have just last year moved to Richmond, VA, where apart from really enjoying the city itself, I have met some wonderful people who might help me perform some of these songs, hopefully sometime soon. There will definitely be shows, solo if not with a full band, between now and when the follow-up is released, at which time I plan on touring with a band to support the album.

What inspired the dark themes which run throughout the light songs of “The Dead Will Walk, Dear?”

Primarily what I was reading and watching at the time, namely Southern Gothic literature and ‘80s slasher films. Chris and I share a great love of horror movies, and incorporating elements of them into music that hasn’t always been so divorced from that particular subject matter made a certain sense. The desired outcome was a collection of songs perhaps provocative, though not as offensive as some listeners have interpreted.

Is there something in particular that fascinates you about blending sinister lyrics with soft music?

While writing The Dead Will Walk, Dear, certainly. For the new record I moved away from the murder ballad—sinister by nature—in favor of the shanty—ominous by choice. As was the case for The Dead Will Walk, Dear, the follow-up is thematic, its subject the sea. Not nearly as much blood, but some.

“The Dead Will Walk, Dear” is a speedy album; 10 tracks in 27 minutes. Why such a lean approach to songwriting?

I would say most songs benefit from a linear approach, lyrically, though not necessarily musically. In such cases, repeating a part of the story, as a chorus does, for repetition’s sake is not only superfluous, it is distracting. This trim structure results in shorter songs, especially when the narratives are concise to begin with.

What is up next, both for you and The National Lights?

Musically, I’m finishing writing for the new record. Pre-production has just begun, and if all goes to plan, recording will begin sometime mid-August. Non-musically, I am thinking about buying a pet.

Who are some underrated bands that you think deserve more attention?

Chris Kiehne’s Blood-Black Wings (formerly the Bland Allisons), Sonya Cotton. Not underrated as in they are undervalued by those who have heard them, rather their music merits more listeners.

What have you been listening to recently?

The Broken West, The Rosebuds, Rock Plaza Central, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch (habitually).

If you could have written any song, what song do you wish you had written and why?

“Moon River,” maybe. Audrey Hepburn sang it in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, my girlfriend is very fond of it, and depending on whom you ask, there’s a dog in there.

Anything you would like to add?

Thanks for your questions!

Thanks for your time!