If you’re from the Gold Coast, you’ll have heard of The Lamplights, or The Lamps, as they refer to themselves. A two-piece that grew organically to its current five-piece composition, twice-nominated for an Australian Songwriting award in 2011 and full to the brim of talented musicians with an interesting outlook on life and music.
But they tend to fly under the radar a bit, these Lamplights. An online search will easily lead you to the band’s website, but there’s not a lot of other information about these guys readily available. Frontman Ryan Gittoes and guitarist Jason McGregor joined me at the Dust Temple for mandarins with their children, to rectify that lack of information.
With one year old daughter Cedar on his lap, Ryan gives me a potted history of the band, which formed in 2009 when he met Ash Perrow. “Then we met Jason, and then we just kept finding other cool people to play music with,” he said. He’s pretty laid back. Shows up in his stage garb (collared shirt and tie) but shoeless.
“Then we had a gig at the Soundlounge and wanted a rhythm section. Mattie (Barker) came and played – I’d known him for a few years – hadn’t seen him play but knew he COULD play. I said I’d drop the album around and he said he got one from the café over the road and it’s all good.”
“So no-one has heard him play, he’s a mate of mine, everyone met at my place a few hours before the gig so we could run through everything and we are going through the first couple of songs and he’s got no idea what’s going on. He had picked up our EP and hadn’t heard the album at all,” Ryan said. But they spent the next two hours running through the tracks (this is literally an hour before the gig) and he pulled it off and the rest is history.
The Lamplights released their debut and self-titled album in 2011 and followed it up with What Love Is in 2012 which they toured nationally, but they’ve been rather quiet since that time.
Ryan explains the “life” kind of got in the way. Founding member Ash Perrow also moved on to other things.
“Ash said he was going to leave the band, gave six months warning,” he said. Ash was very much the manager he kind of set the dates and was very organised in that sense. So when he left…” he trails off. I have a laugh, because I know exactly what happened. All of a sudden they were just a bunch of guys who loved playing music left with trying to sort their schedules out between kids and work and gigs.
“From the very beginning we said we are not a destination band – we’re not trying to get anywhere, make record deals, tour constantly,” Ryan said. “We love playing music, but we also have families and commitments that are important to us as well.”
And then, he says simply, life happened. He lists marriages and mental health, solo journeys, babies. Yep, life.
“I’ve never forced music, never said I should write songs, it’s a process that happens, that unfolds, so coming back and then regrouping, getting Scotty French on board, getting a new manager, all of these things that needed to happen, they happened naturally.”
“There’s a saying that what’s real never dies – and I kind of feel like that with The Lamps. There’s something there because there’s a magic that happens when we do play together. There’s those moments where I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
It’s at this point, where Ryan is telling me about the genuine friendship that exists between all five band members that Jason McGregor joins us with his two children, aged five and seven.
“We’re not bullshitting, this is not an act,” Ryan says about his band mates. “We’re not holding it together trying to put a show on. We genuinely care about eachother. They’re great men,” he said.
Three of the band have fulltime jobs that involve music. Ryan works part-time caring for people with disabilities and running group activities and Mik Easterman is a carpet rep by day, drummer by night.
It’s Jason’s partner Monique Crib who manages the band. They call her The Monager.
“My partner and I have a little entertainment business. I play guitar for a bunch of people – touring acts and shows around here. Pretty varied. The good thing about having The Monager is that our calendars work together a lot better than they used to,” Jason said.
So, with the band’s changed lineup and a new manager, can we expect some new music anytime soon? Both lads chime in quickly. It’s a resounding yes.
“We’ve set a date for release this year, probably for an EP,” Ryan said. “We’re writing now, just letting that process unfold.”
I ask if it will be a different process without Ash and they agree it will. Ryan says he’d be disappointed if it wasn’t. “That’s the evolution of playing together,” he said. “I think now we are kind of starting to even work out roles in the creative process – not that they’re set in stone – it’s kind of more structured organic.”
That sounds vague. I ask for an example. “One of the things Jase and I do really well is that I can hear the music in my head but not necessarily be able to play it on the guitar. But I can sing the guitar parts to Jase and he can do it on the spot. So we can kind of create music – the music in my head and Jase can sculpt it right then and there,” Ryan tells me.
Jason says it’s a streamlined process but that doesn’t mean all the songs make it. They go on to tell me about a new process they use to create music. Actually working on the creative process itself. Ryan explains: “We’re in the studio and there’s five of us and what I said is that one person tells every single other person what to play.”
“Then everyone did that – and you’re learning not just what is in their head – but how to verbalise what you’re hearing – and that’s a skill,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t about the songs, it was about the process. Even I felt a bit more empowered,” he said, as he continued to explain that process of directing music.
“It’s like a culture of confidence,” Jason continues. ”They’re all good players, they all serve the song. It’s hardly ever where it’s like meh…”
Jason and Ryan continue telling me about their current status. They have two or three songs that would stack up for their upcoming EP and there’s a heap of things that haven’t been nurtured purely from a time perspective. As the conversation unfolds it becomes pretty clear that these guys are excited about the new energy around the band and this evolving creative process.
Just two months ago, The Lamplights held what they like to call a relaunch at The Soundlounge to acknowledge that they’ve had some time away and it was well attended. They’ve been buoyed by the support they’ve had at other gigs that have followed.
“I kind of feel like what I love about the Lamps and what I love about music is that it is a community building thing,” Ryan said.
Also looming large is the Gold Coast Folk Festival – I ask if they’ve played the event before and Ryan and Jason share a look. “We’ve been booked a few times, but we’ve had some clashes. Like we’ve been semi-booked and we’ve had to cancel,” they tell me. I say that I hope they’ve going to do something to pay back the organisers. Will they give those new songs a go?
“Definitely some new songs,” Jason said.
“There’ll definitely be some good vibes. The thing I love about playing to the community and what we really stand for is connecting with people. It’s one thing to play a show and you’ll play your songs and people will like them – but it’s another thing actually connecting with people and making them feel that they’re part of it – I think that’s something that we’ve done,” Ryan added.
We run through some other historical Lamplights activities of note. There was the children’s song, The Hopping Mouse, nominated for an Australian Songwriting award. Ryan tells me someone yelled out for it to be played at the Soundlounge recently. It’s a kids’ song guys, time and place. They tell me about being recognised in out of the way places because of that one song. Ryan says if he had his time again he’d have released it under a separate entity, The Nightlights. Cool idea.
And then we move on to Jason and his experience taking out the Australian Fingerstyle Guitar Championships. I’m a little embarrassed to have to ask what that even is. “You basically take a song, say it’s got a bassline, rhythm and melody – well you find a way to play them all at the same time,” he makes it sound easy.
We talk about the time they headlined Rock The Gate here on the Gold Coast – a benefit for coal seam gas campaigners. I ask if they have any special connection to those campaigns trying to halt coal seam gas expansion and Ryan says smartly, “yeah, I drink water.”
“CSG mining is real,” he continued. “It’s really important that our water is protected and people’s voices are heard in saying that we don’t care how much money you make off it, how many jobs it’s going to create. This is our planet, the filtration system for our country, the land people use to grow your food. Are you fucking serious?”
It’s hard not to like Jason and Ryan and when they tell me the rest of the band are also fine men, it means it’s hard not to like The Lamplights.
They say lovely things about all of their bandmates, but their newest members gets an extra mention. “It’s not just what Scotty French can play – it’s how he’s affected everyone else. He’s very, very talented and multi-faceted. Scotty French is an enigma (smothered in secret sauce adds Jason) and anyone who knows him will know what I’m saying. He keeps his cards close to his chest and he’s the most humble.”
Jason says there’s a big trust mentality amongst the band. “I have musical goals I want to reach personally but I sometimes think in life it’s a bit scary to walk through the doors in front of you,” he said. “But with these guys, it’s always a good experience.”
“The Lamps come in swells – there’s a set and we ride it and it’ll die out and then we might not be playing many shows or whatever,” Ryan said as we wrap things up.
“But there’s a swell coming now. Everyone’s like, yep, alright,” he said. “And we are gearing up.”
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The Lamplights play Gold Coast Folk Festival, 19 September. Also on the bill are Perch Creek, Women in Docs, Thrillbilly Stomp, Ewan McKenzie, Owl Valley Bluegrass, Felicity Lawless, Quattro, Kiara Jack and the Jills, Pitt Family Circus, Black Rabbit George, Ash Perrow, Sarah Frank and more. The event runs 19 – 20 September at Country Paradise Parklands. More at goldcoastfolkfestival.com.au.