Julia Brightly and Misty Roses

A friendship in sound

May 17, 2014 · 5 min read

Misty Roses were formed in late 2002 when a mutual acquaintance introduced me to Robert. We really clicked musically and after just a few sessions we had a whole set of songs we were quite pleased with.

When it comes to producing music on a computer, I’m a strange mix of expert and luddite. I have a lot of experience with computers and have spent a lot of time playing music, but have had almost no actual education or training on sound itself. By this time, I’d graduated from a digital 4-track to using a computer to record tracks and manipulate samples. The songs we wrote sounded remarkably good in a sense, but they definitely lacked a certain something.

We played our first show in February 2003 at a Buddhist cafe in the lower east side of Manhattan. We were supporting an act called Goldfish, consisting of Robert’s friends Barbara Gogan and Steve Wright. I definitely lacked confidence at this point — I remember turning my guitar down as low as possible for fear of offending anyone.

Everyone was really supportive though. Not long after this, Steve began to produce our music with the view to making an album. To say this transformed the level of the music would be a massive understatement. Our first three songs were predominantly sample-based, quite ingenious in their way but slightly clinical sounding. The injection of warmth and life that came from Steve’s production filled us with excitement for the future.

The album seemed to be mixed in no time at all, and we held a final locking down session at Barbara and Steve’s apartment in the East Village. My main memory of this session is from when we were listening to the song ‘Hurricane Lamp’. The guitar solo was evidently not good enough. “Let’s record it again,” said Steve. I remember nervously stammering “Who’s going to play it,” and Steve saying “You are”. Who did I think was going to play it? And I did play it. It wasn’t bad. But the alternate take on which Steve played his own version was much better!

We did a handful more shows and began to get a feel for who were were as a band. A few days after our show at Luxx in Brooklyn, I moved back to the UK. Paradoxically it was on our subsequent recordings that the musical collaboration really flourished. It was slow, but it flourished.

We were offered a support slot on a major tour in the UK and my confidence grew a bit. Moving continent does strange things to your head, and the music I was coming out with was completely different from the lush, soft sounds of the first record, in which I was really just trying to grab my favourite bits of records and freeze them in time. Robert and I were both keen to experiment more, and in particular introduce more of an instrument-led approach. A lot of sampling and reprocessing remained in place — this was simply how I’d learned to compose music — so it remained as part of our signature.

Around this time, our second release, Monster Zero, came out. It was a kind of transitional recording with two new original songs accompanied by some remixes, a cover version. The synth Steve added at the beginning of the title track sticks in the mind.

Villainess didn’t come out until 2009 but was essentially the result of all the music that had been brewing since I moved to the UK. Robert, Steve and I worked tirelessly on the record, but since we were so far apart, it was necessarily in bursts as opposed to the eruption of creativity that had produced Komodo Dragons. The production culminated in an intense final session in Greenpoint in 2007.

The most stark production impact was on the song ‘Perfect Sunset’. This was an eerie, backwards sample-laden theme that I’d written not long after coming back to the UK. I think it would be fair to describe the original take as wishy-washy. The final album version is a spaghetti western-inspired masterpiece, with Steve’s lead guitar stealing the show.

The title track, ‘Villainess,’ was transformed with ‘Be my baby’ style drums, while ‘Nicht Plus Ultra’ became arguably our best track after the Steve treatment, with flange effects, an incredible drum part, and a level of polish and shimmer that still makes me tingle.

We did carry on recording music. “Miss Catherine” is unreleased but wonderful. “Puce Woman” was transformed from a paronoid mess into a piece of psychedelia with charm.“Queen Cobra” was bossed by Steve into a hard-rocking anthem.

Steve became Julia in 2009. We always had a nice time when we met up. This happened only occasionally; Julia led a full life, moving to California and continuing her career as a successful sound engineer while writing and making radio shows.

The thought of making music without having Julia to listen, comment or augment it is hard for me to deal with. I hope I’m able to take some of her focus and high standards on and apply it myself. I know that some great things will have rubbed off on me. But I also know for sure it won’t sound the same.


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