By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Well, it’s not like it has teeth…
Nevertheless, Los Angeles indie-alt duo Dark Side Of Light turned multiple heads earlier this year when they unveiled the visually suggestive music video for their single “Pull My Strings,” featuring an inter-dimensional being that simultaneously serves as an ode to the “Flower Portraits” painting made by feminist icon Georgia O’Keefe, with assistance from makeup artists Sven Granlund and Yazmin Vinueza.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with vocalist Nik Frost about what he and fellow bandmate Grant Conway have been up to lately and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Nik Frost – I think the fact that there aren’t really that many modern bands out there doing this type of music right now is an interesting thing to consider. When we were looking for new music, we found that there was a real deficit of cool stuff we were into, so we decided to do it “our own selves,” as Grant would say. It’s a very vibrant and exciting genre and I can’t understand why repeating the exact sound over and over again is interesting to people. It feels like we’re being lulled to sleep half the time with the new modern pop releases we’re hearing. We are trying to do the exact opposite of that. Music must have, at its essence, the ability to connect people deeply and emotionally. Sex, power and swag are not the only relevant human emotions worth promoting or feeling.
Music Bugle – What is the most challenging aspect of being a duo?
Nik Frost – That’s a really good question. I think most of the time, it winds up being an advantage for us, as everything seems to be streamlined. I’m not dealing with four different personalities. I’m dealing with one and he’s dealing with one. It’s an asset way more than a disadvantage. If you find the right partner in this type of situation, you capitalize on each other’s strengths and make up for each other‘s weaknesses. That said, you have to really like and respect each other. That is paramount to this kind of relationship working. Grant and I knew each other and respected each other’s talents for years before we decided to actually do a project together.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Los Angeles to someone who has never been there before?
Nik Frost – Los Angeles is made up of a lot of different cities that are all tied together through concrete, state and local parks and the freeway system. People don’t realize that some of the cities actually feel like small towns and some of them feel like big, excessively dangerous inner cities. Los Angeles is a place of contradictions. The first thing I do when introducing a new person to this vast city is take them to the top of Mulholland, where I can point at each little aspect, each part and explain where to go, where not to go, what is fun and what’s not so fun. I love this place and I ride its magical places, illegally through Balboa reservoir, through the cool, misty nights via Coldwater Canyon, out to the beaches of Malibu. Hot and heavy on the 210, out past Pasadena and into the mountains. Seems like we have everything. I’m proud to be a Los Angelino and I know Grant is as well, but damn, traffic sucks and hallelujah, it’s back!
Music Bugle – How did you guys get to decide the project name?
Nik Frost – I wanted something that represented and “felt” like the music and it was important that the name actually meant something. We were trying to escape the pain and anxiety of the pandemic and I found myself, at times, feeling elated within the music and forgetting what was really happening out there. Hundreds of thousands of people were and still are dying and once we had gotten past the first couple months of what felt like being in a horror film, we were as acclimated as one could’ve been considering and we started to work. We found ourselves in a little musical bubble with very dear friends making art, so to me, the name means that – no matter how bright it gets in the room, no matter how beautiful you think your life is, don’t forget where you came from, you come from nothing. You come from abject darkness. While you’re popping off beats and jamming to your own shit, remember – there are monsters outside. If they’re not coming for you, they’re coming for someone else. Be loving, assist people, be of service and remember – you are as alone as you choose to be. We all start off coming from a void, from nil and into everything, so remember – when you are basking in it, behind the sun, there is nothing. That is, The Dark Side Of Light.
Music Bugle – What was it like making the “Pull My Strings” video?
Nik Frost – Oh man… one of the hardest things I’ve done, ever. Also, one of the most rewarding. I had this insane idea and our team made it happen. Grant supported my crazy idea and off we went. The makeup, as wonderfully executed as it was, was very difficult to wear. It hung heavy on my face. I could not eat anything the entire day. The prosthetic hands made it impossible for me to use the restroom by myself. It was very humbling and very difficult and I could go on about the concept for hours, but it’s better if you experience it for yourself. If you haven’t seen it, please do and weigh in on the conversation. We appreciate your opinion and won’t judge your conclusions.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Nik Frost – That’s a complex question. In one sense, it allows us to take control of our own destiny and develop direct relationships with our fans, cutting out the middleman and practicing/developing a “direct-to-fan” experience. If it’s all about the fan and it absolutely is in pop music, then this is a really powerful dynamic. If you had fallen in love with an older band when they broke into popular culture, there wasn’t a way to contact them directly without actually stalking them. Now, with new artists coming up, there’s an opportunity for fans to text them/tag them via the many platforms that exist and if the artist is game, this can be quite enlightening for all involved. More established artists who want this relationship with their fans can jump in anytime and totally transform their careers. A good example would be the great Steve Stevens. While he has been in my creative world for years as the legendary guitarist for most notably, Billie Idol, I had the good fortune of working with one of the key players in Idol’s American debut, the producer and drummer/EDM originator – he was Giorgio Moroder’s “human metronome” for years, Keith Forsey, who closely worked with Stevens. While we were doing more of an electronic type of record, Forsey would always talk about bringing Steve in. Forsey saw that he actually understood the dance genre and how it applied to rock. For whatever reason, it never happened, but here I am, years later, friends with him online, learning about music from the man himself. We get to see this vibrant, intelligent man, discussing everything from music to politics all day long, answering his fans, enlightening us on what made him the artist he is. Absolutely fascinating and way more interesting than the standoffish artists who don’t say a peep. What’s the downside? Artist privacy, feeling like you’ll never be able to compete with “major label” artists who are part of the machine. Judging your work’s value against more “successful” artists who have more fans, influencers who don’t really “do” anything who have more fans than anyone, make more money doing nothing, etc.. We as artists are a sensitive kind and it can be hard to move forward when you feel so left behind. For artists like Grant and I, who aren’t “pop musicians” per se, there isn’t really a downside. We’re making music we love, not music for the masses. We’re doing this because we have to as creators, not because someone is asking us to feed the machine. Hit me up. I’ll respond when I’m able.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Nik Frost – I love abandoned, haunted places. The fact that people went to all of the trouble and expense to build something and then just left it behind reminds me of the impermanent nature of my life and ultimately brings me to think of the work I will leave behind. I’m so stressed out over creating what I believe to be great work, I have a difficult time disconnecting from it. DSOL is not about the music. It is not a “band.” It is an art experience for all involved. It is supposed to happen to you. When Grant and I are out of the recording studio, it’s not easy anymore. It becomes really, really hard work. We become writers, producers, editors, casting agents, etc.. Every song we create has a narrative and a music video/“mini featurette” to accompany it. We are blessed to have, in our “net,” amazing creatives who are involved, but we’re sometimes dragging other, newer team members along with us. This can be psychically and emotionally exhausting. Maybe they believe in the vision and want to contribute, but don’t fully understand the scope of what we’re doing. Maybe they totally get it, but the message is not something they are cool with. This was especially true of the “Pull My Strings” production. At first, no one understood the story I was trying to tell and how I was telling it, but eventually, when the drawing of my alien started to surface and a legitimate makeup team became involved, it all became “real” and people started to get it, but even after that, there were people who now understood everything, but did not want to subscribe to the vision. Remember, we are not signed to a major label and even if we were, they don’t have the money anymore to produce 13 music videos per record, so here we are. No one can save ya…
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Nik Frost – Well, the whole project emanates from the pain and suffering/the isolation and panic we felt during its onset and into what they started calling “The New Normal.” For the first five to six months, I couldn’t write to save my life. I didn’t want anything to do with music. I had no joy. I was scared shitless for my family, friends and for myself. When it felt like this was something that might not go away, we started to acclimate and speak to each other as musicians and creators. It felt like there was a tremendous amount to say about all of this. I remember speaking to my dear friend, manager and confidant, Tom Vitorino about it. He was just as grief-stricken as I was and aside from the tragic human loss of life we saw taking place, we also both realized that if the music business hadn’t been decimated before this nightmare, it was pretty much dead after this. Everything had been canceled. He’d lost millions in bookings. We were told that venues we loved, some that have been around for 100 years, were going to go out of business, permanently, to become vacant, abandoned. All of the people who worked in the live music aspect or our business were going to be financially devastated, as well as the artists who already have so little, so I guess we were trying to create some kind of a lullaby, something soft and warm to hold onto. I found that singing in falsetto, which I’ve always loved to do, really suited the project, so I did. We were also listening to a lot of 70s yacht rock in an effort to lighten up the mood a little bit and that absolutely informed the sound.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Nik Frost – “It is better to be a flamboyant failure, than any kind of benign success,” – Malcolm McLaren. I had the pleasure of being managed, produced and mentored by the great agent provocateur while he was in his older years and I was just a little nugget. As a youngster, I happily lapped up every kernel of knowledge he was willing to bestow upon me. Luckily, I had an older brother who was a punk and a huge fan of the Sex Pistols and had subsequently collected all of Malcolm’s records, read books on him and knew exactly who he was. He made sure I did too as soon as he’d caught wind I was working with him. McLaren’s positions on the inauthenticity of our culture ring truer today than they ever did. Not only are people unoriginal, they are “more important,” more famous than ever, performing on platforms where lack of originality is not only praised, it is pushed to the forefront of our cultural experience. Young, potential artists, are thwarted from developing an authentic vision of their work by being taught, for instance, that doing the same dance, over and over and over again – on TikTok or whatever – to the same song, over and over and over again, is a true path to “success” – and success means nothing other than “more followers” on whatever platform you decide is important for you. That is not success. It is entry into a black hole of boring, benign, nothingness, hence the new video we produced for TikTok, “Bloody Robots And Bone Machines:” We will embrace TikTok and the new “portrait mode” portal on YouTube, in an effort to push our message of individuality, inclusion and the potentially limitless, artful nature of humanity to the forefront of our next campaign – “Don’t do someone else’s dance, do your own fucking dance for God’s sake!” Make it beautiful, make it crazy, let your freak flag fly. No matter what, be who you are, you are beautiful. Here’s another quote I’ve always loved – “Every man and every woman is a star,” by Alastair Crowley. Now, let me update that one – “Every man, every woman, all of us in between, we are stars.”
Music Bugle – What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Nik Frost – The wonderful relationships I have forged with my fellow humans, family and friends – and I only work with friends. I cherish them, I honor them, I’m lucky to be a part of their lives. I hope I bring them joy, I hope they feel safe and secure when they’re with me. I am truly blessed and I appreciate you taking the time to focus on this project.
*Photo Credit – Eden Tyler*