Discovery: Parade of Lights

Published February 6, 2014

ABOVE: PARADE OF LIGHTS. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHRYN HANCOCK

Parade of Lights’ guitarist, co-songwriter, and lead singer Ryan Daly wanted Michelle Ashley to play keyboard for his band so badly, he spent two years pursuing her. Meanwhile, when signing to a label, drummer-songwriter Anthony Improgo made creative control over the visual design aesthetic of the band a top priority. If anything is clear about Daly and Improgo from speaking to them, it’s that they are determined, fiercely passionate about what they do, and probably musical soulmates.

When the band Polus disbanded in 2007, band members Daly, Improgo, and Randy Schulte went their separate ways. What was a letdown at the time became a sort of blessing for the musicians when they reunited a few years later as Parade of Lights: wiser, more focused, and more certain of the kind of music they wanted to make. The band makes danceable indie rock that draws influences from ’90s shoegaze bands, making alternative electro-anthems that might garner comparisons to Imagine Dragons, early MGMT, and M83.

Improgo and Daly recorded their most recent EP, Born to Live, Born to Love, after a conscious decision to delve deeper into the pair’s creative recesses, disregarding label and industry pressure. We talked to the gents about shoegaze rock, being fired, greeting success, and what it means to be a 360-degree artist in 2014. We’re also pleased to exclusively premiere the New Division remix of the band’s song “We’re the Kids,” below.

HOMETOWN: Los Angeles and Las Vegas

BAND MEMBERS: Anthony Improgo, Ryan Daly, Randy Schulte, and Michelle Ashley

ON THEIR MUSICAL MARRIAGE: Anthony Improgo: I used to live in Silver Lake, I’ve just been in Vegas for the last maybe three, four years. But we met in… 2006, Ry?

Ryan Daly: Yeah, 2006.

Improgo: We just kind of bonded over like-minded bands and stuff, and we started a band called Polus back in 2006.

Daly: Ant and I have always been very in sync when it comes to music. We have very similar taste, and we bonded over a lot of shoegaze music. Late ’80s, early ’90s stuff, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, but we really bonded over this band called Failure. They were a ’90s—I’m hesitant to use the word grunge, because they weren’t grunge, they’re more rock, they actually called themselves “space rock”—but they took a lot of influences from shoegaze bands. Anyway, we have a lot of common ground when it comes to what we want to achieve, but once we figured out, let’s write what we want to write, it was easy to be fairly prolific about it, and really come up with a lot of music.

Improgo: It’s pretty cool too, because honestly I’ve been friends with Ryan, for probably seven or eight years and we’ve never really fought. We’ve had disagreements with ideas, but like you said, we’re in sync. [laughs]

FALSE STARTS AND NEW BEGINNINGS: Improgo: We kind of did the run of playing clubs in L.A. The story goes, we opened up for a show at The Troubadour, it was me, Randy [Schulte], our bass player now, and Ry. We were a three-piece back then. First song, Ry kind of twisted his leg a little bit weird, and he dislocated his knee on stage. We had to call paramedics and everything. And it was a sold-out show, and it was good, the crowd was really cool; we sold a lot of CDs that day. That being said, we were kind of out of commission for six to eight months. You know, Ryan recuperated and we were all kind of broke, so we just took touring gigs to survive. So Ryan and I kind of put that band on hiatus, and we toured for about three years. In 2010, we were just itching to get the band back together, and he had this lyric in one of his songs that said “parade of lights,” and I said “Whoa, that would be a great band name. Why don’t we use that?” So basically that’s when that first iteration of Parade of Lights was born, around then. We went through a bunch of lineup changes, we reconnected with Randy again, and with Michelle, who’s our keyboard player now, we hooked up with her probably in the last eight months. This iteration of the band has jelled a lot.

ON PERSISTENCE: Daly: Well, I sort of stalked Michelle for about two years. [laughs] I was at this random outdoor mall, and there was this band playing outside, and I remember it being really hot that day, and then I saw her. I was like, “Wow, this girl looks really cool.” We were sort of in limbo with our current lineup at the time, and we had been writing a lot of music that we weren’t really excited about. Ant and I decided to take a step back and reassess what we were doing, and dive in and do it our way, do it properly. So that led to us reassessing our lineup and everything, but we were looking for people. Literally days after we had this conversation was when I ran into Michelle and her band playing. I noticed from the crowd, “Wow, this girl’s actually really good, she’s shredding.” [laughs] Watching her play was really cool, and her whole look and her vibe was awesome. I asked someone there what the band was called, and I went home, immediately went on Facebook and sort of stalked her and sent her a message. At first she told me, “Wow, I really dig the music and stuff, but I’m really committed to this band.” While we didn’t really want to hear that, it was actually a good find because it shows that she really does commit to what she does, and she takes it very seriously. In turn, that made me want her to play for us even more. So I left her alone for a little bit, and then literally every few months I’d hit her up and be like, “Door’s still open!” Because Anthony and I on the side were working on this EP with songs that were this new kind of direction for us, so we had to find a band. I was very persistent. Finally, a mutual friend of ours ran into her at one of her shows, and they ended up having a conversation about how we still needed someone, and she was like, “All right, you know what? I want to do it. Let’s do it.” And so my friend told me she wanted to do it, and she called me, and then the first show she played for us was at The Wiltern opening up for Fitz and the Tantrums, and it was like 2,000 people or something, and she was like, “Wow, this is great, this is exactly what I want to be doing, honestly.” And obviously there are going to be ones that aren’t that big, but basically, we did that show and then it was set in stone pretty much after that. Now we’re one big happy family.

DESIGN MENTALITY: Improgo: I think nowadays, you have to be a 360-degree artist, unlike in the ’80s and ’90s. By trade, I do graphic design, and Ryan is a great photographer. We started in Polus and we were a full band and we toured, and then in 2010 it was just Ryan and I, and then we got Randy, so the core has been us two, but we do all of our visuals online—our lyric videos, our Facebook posts, our print flyers, our microsite and everything—ourselves.

Daly: Shirts.

Improgo: Yeah, shirt design. Because the marriage between design and music is so close. Let’s say he’s working on a demo or something. I’ll get that track so that it can inspire me in my design for typography. It’s great moving forwards, because Astralwerks has been such a great label to work with. They allow us to do all these things, unlike a lot of the majors out there.

Daly: I’m just into photography, but Anthony has a pretty dense visual arts background.

Improgo: But the thing is, Ryan, you can draw. I can’t draw, I’m just good at computers.

Daly: Yeah, I’ve always been a little more hands-on, like with the camera, and drawing and stuff, but when it comes to computer stuff, Ant’s the man.

Improgo: I think Ryan is more of a traditional artist in the sense that he sees a frame and goes “Ooh, that would look great.” I’m a techie, so I’m more of a digital artist like, “Ooh I know what to do, I know how to manipulate that in Photoshop and Illustrator and Vectorize it.”

SHAKING OFF THE PAST: Daly: I think we sort of kind of got stuck in demoing for labels and writing songs to please other people. It took us a long time to realize like, “Wait, this sucks. We’re not happy doing this.” We weren’t listening to our music and feeling really, really proud of it. So that’s when we took a step back and said, “Let’s do what we want to do.” As soon as we did that, and started working on Born to Live, Born to Love and started putting our songs together, that’s when we realized we were doing something that we were really excited about. When we released that, we got a response like we’d never had before. It totally validated what we were doing, so we decided to push even further in that direction and trust our instincts and go with our guts, because if we don’t, it’s going to be transparent and lifeless. On the first EP, we worked with producers. On Born to Live, Born to Love, we worked with a producer on a couple of songs. So on this new EP, we decided to go even further in that direction and we cut out everyone else. We decided, we do all the visual stuff, we do most of the audio stuff, let’s bring everything in house and turn it into a well-oiled machine, where it’s fully contained. On this new EP, we didn’t say no to any internal ideas that we had, we really pushed and tried to create something that we would like to listen to. Without being selfish about it, of course; we love songs that connect with people. But I think the marriage of all those things is what we really tried to do on this record, in addition to producing and recording it ourselves. With help here and there, like we did drums at a studio in Las Vegas with a good friend, things like that.

MUSIC OR LYRICS? Daly: Mine’s music. Absolutely music.

Improgo: For me, there are two types, right? There’s the person that is grabbed by the lyrics first and then they start listening to the music, I’m more like Ryan. I listen to the music first and if the melody is really good, then I’ll understand the lyrics and I’ll just get the chills.

ON THE SURPRISES OF BURGEONING SUCCESS: Improgo: I think it’s just people thinking the music is good. Ryan and I have been through the ringer. We’ve demoed for labels, we’ve gotten told “You guys aren’t rock stars,” and all that.

Daly: I almost got fired. [laughs] Unfortunately, but, clearly that didn’t happen.

Improgo: They didn’t get the vision, you know, that’s basically it. The whole reason for Born to Live, Born to Love, that EP was us wanting to write something that makes us happy, because if people don’t react to it, labels, people… At least we’re happy.

Daly: “Golden” is a pretty big deal for us, because it’s just getting a lot of unsolicited attention. The whole Olympics thing is obviously massive. That song was never written for that, we never sat down like “We need to get this Olympics commercial!” At first we didn’t even know what “Golden” meant, and that was just the word that came out. Then we built the song around that idea of sort of letting yourself shine. I think, to echo what Ant said, the most surreal thing about all this is seeing people respond to our music and going “I love this!” or “I can connect to this.” Some of our favorite bands are shoegaze stuff, but I love U2, and they’re probably one of the most successful bands on the planet. So to have a universal acceptability is a huge thing for us. It’s really cool to kind of see that.

Improgo: Sometimes when people will compliment us, I’ll call Ryan like, “Is she lying?” [laughs] “What’s going on?”

PARADE OF LIGHTS WILL RELEASE A REMIX PACKAGE FOR “WE’RE THE KIDS,” FEATURING THE ABOVE REMIX AND OTHERS, ON FEBRUARY 11. THE BAND WILL RELEASE ITS GOLDEN EP MARCH 25 ON ASTRALWERKS, AND IS TOURING THROUGHOUT THE SPRING.