Brightblack Morning Light - Biography
Slowed down, psychedelic folk-rock duo Brightblack Morning Light formed in 2002, in Humboldt County, California, the epicenter of marijuana production in the state. Alabama natives Nathan Peters (guitars/vocals)—more commonly known as Nathan “Nabob” Shineywater—and Rachael “Rabob” or “Rabinyah” Hughes (Fender Rhodes/vocals) toured with indie rock figure Will Oldham (Bonny “Prince” Billy) and released a split EP with Billy under the moniker Rainywood. Laid back and funky like old molasses with tinges of soul and acid rock, the team toured and released as “Brightblack” with the ’04 LP ala.cali.tucky (2004 Galaxia) amid a resurgence of interest in the folk-rock scene by a new generation. Worldwide notice in the band lead indie label Matador to sign BML and release self-titled label debut Brightblack Morning Light (2006 Matador), which features the addictive jams “Everybody Daylight” and “A River Could Be Loved.” Their follow-up, Motion to Rejoin (2008 Matador), chilled out even farther on tracks like “Hologram Buffalo” and “Oppressions Each,” and the wholly original album climbed to an astonishing #24 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. Motion to Rejoin made numerous best-of lists for the year as the band toured the country in its support. Brightblack Morning Light is still touring and recording.
Shineywater was born in Alabama in 1976, and claims to be the only child of an outlaw and a nurse. He sang in local church choirs before eventually jamming at coke parties in the ’90s. He was looking for something more from the Alabama scene (or lack thereof) and befriended folk-punk polymath Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who would become a major figure in Shineywater’s career. Nathan moved west to Humboldt County to study furniture-making, he says, but dropped out after making the realization that the industry used old-growth woods. The intellectual mountain-people of the region catalyzed a new worldview in Nathan—he became more ecologically and politically aware, which is reflected in his band’s future music. Shineywater’s environmentalist and democratic values incorporate alternative energy and living off the grid. He went back to Alabama and asked Billy to play Humboldt, and Billy in turn asked Shineywater to join him on a tour of the region. Shineywater has admitted to stealing gas the entire drive west to make the tour.
While Shineywater was living in a tepee at the Point Reyes National Seashore, he met up with Rachael Hughes, a friend of his from back home in Alabama who was working at Point Reyes with AmeriCorps, on coho salmon restoration. Touring under the name of Rainywood in 2001, the two joined Oldham in those early shows for the Alabama Green Party. The tour led to a vinyl Oldham/Rainywood split EP in 2002—Brother Warrior/Cornflower Blue—on Palace Records. Cornflower Blue performers are listed plainly as Nathan Peters and Rachael Hughes.
Now operating under the name “Brightblack,” the two recorded LP ala.cali.tucky (2004 Galaxia) with percussionist Noah Wilson. Paul Oldham joined the crew on bass and production, with pedal steel guitar performed by Glenn Thompson, percussion and vocals by “Nevada City” Morgan, and Will Oldham himself also showing up on vocals. That same year the band started the Quiet Quiet Festival, booking freak folker leaders Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom in a small bar in rural Bolinas, California. Then came another split EP by Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Brightblack called Pebbles And Ripples (2004), which was released without a label on CD. Ripples was recorded by Mikel Garmendia, Paul Oldham, and Tusitala De Las Olas and was released to coincide with the Bonnie “Prince” Billy/Brightblack 2004 Summer Tour. From the album, “Love Me Tonite” crawls along on slide guitar and Shineywater’s near-whispering vocals, yet the song builds.
That same year, Revolver magazine issued a notable sampler, which included Brightblack’s “New Mexico,” as well as songs by Banhart and Vetiver. In 2005, the recently reformed Slint invited “Brightblack” to play the boutique but influential UK festival All Tomorrow’s Parties. It was at this festival that Matador caught wind of them, and asked Brightblack to record. By April of that year, Brightblack Morning Light was formed with extra players Elian Reitz (percussion), Andy MacLeod (trap kit), Mariee Sioux (vocals) and other guests involved. Shineywater and Hughes recorded their eponymous Matador debut in 2006, near the Southern California town of Idyllwild. The album was written/recorded sleeping under the sky without walls or roofs—the two core members were already living in tents due to a lack of funds and an environmental ethos. They wanted natural light and flowing water—and the natural influences are jarring when compared to the tenor of the popular music at the time. Brightblack Morning Light is languid, meditative and fun, the exact opposite of label-mates like the tense, terse rockers Interpol. Tracks like “Star Blanket River Child” and “Amber Canyon Magik” exhibit a gifted ensemble that exemplifies the meaning of restraint. Legendary vocalists Ann McCrary and Gail West are featured, with Paz Lenchantin on bass and Elias Reitz on congas. Trap Kit player Magic Andy MacLeod backed both Hughes on the Fender Rhodes and Shineywater on guitar. All songwriting credits on the album are accredited to Shineywater, and other unorthodox instruments such as rattle gourd, seed capsule shakers, trombone, tabla, clarinet, wurly organ, and bells are interspersed. Demonstrating the band’s crossover potential, the release was nominated as one of Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums of 2006, while being hailed as the 36th best album of 2006 by Pitchfork Media. Matador put out the promo “Everybody Daylight” on vinyl and twelve-inch, and the band toured in its support. The duo also found time for a cameo on Vetiver’s To Find Me Gone (2006 Dicristina Stair).
For their 2008 follow-up, Shineywater and Hughes moved to a mesa in New Mexico and lived in an adobe pueblo. They home-recorded on solar panel-generated power over several months, working one track at a time on a four-track, shifting it into Pro Tools and back. They added horns and other tracks by visitors as weather permitted. Pump organ, Mellotron, Orchestron, and celesta were played by Matt Henry Cunitz, with percussion by Otto Hauser, trombone playing from Matthew Davis and Hughes handling the arrangements. The soulful with gospel and blues-tinged Motion to Rejoin emerged in the autumn of 2008 to positive reviews. Hughes’ Rhodes piano with Shineywater’s Silvertone guitar and Hohner’s clavinet are expertly played on druggy, moving tracks like “Hologram Buffalo”—a track where the vocals don’t even kick in until a minute and thirty seconds. “Oppressions Each,” with its gospel chorus, stems from a personal incident of Shineywater’s, a 2002 beating by the San Jose Police Department. Part of an anti-war demonstration, he ended up in jail on Valentine’s Day. Motion to Rejoin received 8.2 out of 10 points from the notoriously prickly Pitchfork, and was voted among the top ten LPs by the UK’s Uncut magazine. Brightblack Morning Light toured in promotion of the record through February 2009.
Incidentally, Shineywater says his relationship with Hughes is and always has been platonic.
Young freak folkers Brightblack Morning Light have combined the gospel, country sounds of their native South with the mind-altering folk and acid rock consciousness of the piney, wooded West. They are part of a larger movement of freak folk in the 21st century brought about by indie rock icon Will Oldham (Bonny “Prince” Billy) and others—the most popular of which include Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Highly instrumental with an emphasis on artistic freedom as well as an open mind, Shineywater and Hughes see themselves as part of a renewed, Earth-centric consciousness to which they’ve wedded virtuosic talent and crystal-clear artistic vision. in 2011 the band released a digital record on iTunes called LIVE Journal One Instrumentals.