Hether Fortune and Body of Light Catch Up (Again)

A conversation so nice, we had to record it twice!

Back in July, I recorded a conversation between Hether Fortune (CREEM writer and multidisciplinary artist, formerly of the post-punk band Wax Idols) and the electronic duo Body of Light (composed of Arizona-based brothers Alex and Andrew Jarson). It was a really great talk — Hether asked astute and interesting questions, to which Alex and Andrew gave thoughtful and charming answers — so of course, Zoom glitched and disappeared the file as soon as we got off the call. Lucky for all of us, lightning struck twice and their second conversation was just as good as the first. Below, you can finally read the three chat about the origin of Body of Light, the state of music journalism, the new BoL album, Bitter Reflection (out now on Dais Records), and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Hether Fortune: The brothers Jarson. We meet again.

Andrew and Alex Jarson: [Laughs.] What’s upppp.

Hether: Can’t believe we lost the entire first interview. I’m gonna have to do some creative writing to bring it all together. 

Andrew:Just use AI.

Hether: Yeah, I’ll ask Chatbot what an interview between us would be like. Chatbot will be like, “I do not know the people you are referring to.” [Laughs.] You’re in Vegas right now, yeah? Tour just started?

Alex: Yeah, last night was our first night. It’s a West Coast run that goes until the 12th or 13th? Can’t remember.

Hether: We’ll have your people throw those dates in at the end. Do you guys remember how we met?

Andrew: I think it was at the Church on York in LA in 2014. Some big show a bunch of bands from Ascetic House and Posh Isolation played.

Hether: Ah, yes, the Danish Invasion. It’s crazy how during that period of 2013 to ‘16, there was this mass convergence of underground artists from LA, Phoenix, NYC, and… Denmark.

Alex: [Laughs.] Yeah. And the Denmark thing happened because of that first Ascetic House European tour we did, that was Body of Light when it was still just me and Marshstepper. So me, Nick Nappa and Jes [Aurelius] went to Denmark and played a show at Mayhem. That’s where we met Loke [Rahbek, co-founder of label Posh Isolation, Croatian Amor, Lust for Youth, Sexdrome, Var] and all of the Iceage guys. Then they came out to Arizona and we booked shows for them, took them to the desert to shoot guns and shit. It blew their minds, I think.

Hether: I don’t think people really understand how much lore there is with Body of Light, Ascetic House, and that whole scene. I mean, real heads know, but the lore is extensive and was really influential on a wider cultural spectrum. Alex, you co-founded the label Ascetic House with Jes — how did that start? 

Alex: Well, Jes and I went to high school together, but we didn’t really connect until later, in our early 20s. At the time, I was really into the hardcore scene for a while in Phoenix, but I remember I dropped acid at this one show and suddenly realized how gross and macho everyone was. It really freaked me out. I was like, I have to get out of here. After that, I started seeking out different types of music and scenes, started going to noise and experimental shows. I was always into shoegaze and art punk and other stuff like that too, so I just started gravitating more that way. That’s when I reconnected with Jes. And we just wanted to start something of our own in Phoenix. This was 2011, maybe. So we started doing all these different projects and releasing tapes and stuff. It just kept expanding from there. Actually, around this time, I had this other band — not Body of Light — and I totally cold-called you via email because I wanted to jump on a show Wax Idols was playing at the Hemlock [in San Francisco].

Hether: [Laughs.] The Hemlock! Classic. I do not remember this at all, oh my god. What did I say?
Alex: You were like, “I’ll see what I can do but I think the show is full.” [Laughs.] My email was so lame too. I think I said something like “Hey Hether! Really dig your tunes, man!” Embarrassing. But at least you responded. 

Hether: I always responded to bands asking for help and stuff! Until I started getting insane emails from strangers. I literally have an entire folder called “Insane Emails From Strangers.” You would not believe the shit people have said to me over the years. Parasocial relationships and shit, just having really intense expectations of me that I didn’t understand or know how to manage. And I wasn’t even famous! I always wanted to be helpful and encouraging, but it got to a point where I was trying to manage so much of the band business on my own and it just felt like no matter what I did someone was getting mad at me.

Andrew: You did everything right, and they still indicted you! 

Hether: EXACTLY! [Laughs.] So when Body of Light started, it was just you, Alex, doing mostly drone stuff as I recall. And then you brought in your brother, Andrew. 

Andrew: Yeah. I moved into Alex’s place in, like, 2010 and was living on his couch. I had a 16-track and had figured out how to sync everything with MIDI and stuff, so I was kind of already making electronic tracks and doing a lot of sampling synths. But I only had Casio. [Laughs.] I would just layer the shit out of it, making drones. Alex and I had that other band that was fizzling out, and then he asked me if I wanted to do Body of Light with him. He got a MOOG and that was just my excuse to start really experimenting with synths more seriously. Now I have like, 15 synths, or something ridiculous like that.

Hether: So you’re the brains and Alex is, what, the brawn? That can’t be right. I could easily take Alex. But you know, Alex had the vision going into it and you came in with more of the technical skills. Is that far to say? 

Alex: Yeah. But Andrew quickly developed his own vision for the project too, and it’s been that way ever since, but of us working toward a shared idea. So it allowed it to expand, which was really cool ’cause I never really thought it would go where it went. But it just made sense once he came into the picture.

Hether: You know what? I’m gonna say it: I never felt like Body of Light got the respect you deserved.

Alex and Andrew: [Laughs.]

Hether: I’m hoping that with this record that will change — because I mean, real heads know, but this record in particular is so high caliber and accessible. Now there’s this whole new scene of post-punk, darkwave, whatever you want to call it, and it’s all very popular and was so clearly influenced by what was happening in the 2010s when shit was much more underground. You guys and other acts that were prominent and influential in that scene are not given credit, because if you weren’t there… Jes was doing shit that Kanye West ended up ripping off and then paying him for, you know? People don’t know how savagely mined the vibes were, how many big celebs and money-backed, alt-pop stars were watching that scene at the time.

Alex: Mood-boarding. [Laughs.] 

Hether: Exactly! I know for a fact I was on two to three mood boards — not naming names! But I was told by people who were on set. And it’s kind of cool, in a Kandinsky’s triangle way, I guess. But also like, “I’m broke y’all. Pay me.” [Laughs.]

Alex: Yeah. It’s cool to inspire people, but then it’s harder in some ways to keep going. It’s kind of tragic because when that happens, the money and the acknowledgement doesn’t trickle back into the thing that’s inspiring these bigger artists. Ever. Not to sound like, you know, “People are copying us.” But when you’re in that situation and people are copying you and your friends, most people don’t know where it came from, so in the eyes of the public you just become kind of in the same ranks as the people who are copying you. That was a thing for us. So we had to keep pushing to change our sound or elevate it or do something kind of unexpected, because it’s like the only way to keep going and not be just a product of time.

Hether: Not just become another version of what you’ve already done.

Alex: Yeah, exactly. 

Hether: I mean, that’s a crucial aspect of being an actual artist, period. There are people who just want to have fun and make music that’s cool — that’s great. But when you’re compelled to be an artist whether you like it or not, then it’s sort of in your nature to be like, OK, I already did that. What’s next? An artist’s spirit will die if they just double-down and repeat a successful formula. 

Alex: Yeah, exactly. And it is hard sometimes, too, because you do want to appeal to your fans. But more and more now, it’s easy for us to turn that off. Like, on this record we did ballads. Nobody thought we would do a fucking ballad! [Laughs.] 

Hether: “Bitter Reflection”? Yeah, my god, that song is incredible. I listened to it, like, 50 times on repeat when it first came out. The video is great, too. 

Alex: Thank you! Making the video was insane. I can’t believe we got James Duval to do it. We were such huge fans of his movies growing up. We love him. 

Hether: I feel like this record is a lot more sophisticated than maybe your core fan base would’ve expected.

Andrew: Yeah, I think so.

Hether: You’re older now and you’ve learned more things and your songwriting has gotten sharper. You’re pushing yourselves sonically, but it still sounds like Body of Light. It sounds like a natural evolution while still being an impressive step forward. 

Andrew: Thank you. That’s good. [Laughs.]  Going into it, we didn’t even really think about what the record was gonna be. It definitely was this organic thing, and it happened over two years, so the songwriting was throughout a long period of time too. There were some other tracks as well, but we thought this collection just fit together perfectly.

Hether: Oh, do you have more songs from those sessions that are gonna be for another record or something?

Andrew: We’re not sure what’ll happen with it, but there were a few other songs too. 

Hether: Bust out an original version-slash-B-sides release. People love that. I mean, you know, content, content. More content. [Laughs.] 

Andrew: I wanna do that, to be honest. ‘Cause I wanna re-release some old tracks, too, and maybe redo them in some ways, but that would be sick.

Hether: Yeah. Might as well. Just because everyone’s attention spans are so short now, it seems like the more you keep feeding the machine, the more your streaming numbers stay up, or whatever.

Alex: Definitely. What’s your take on music media right now compared to how it was when we were all coming up in the 2010s? Do you feel like it’s changed since then? Do you feel like it’s better or worse? 

Hether: Oh, god. [Laughs.] You know, first of all, I’m not a music journalist. The fact that I started accidentally writing for CREEM is pure fluke. I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s hilarious. 

I don’t know. That period of the 2010s, music writing — I mean, there was of course some good stuff, but there was a lot of neutered, political, PR payola mafia shit. And it was, you know, the major era of Pitchfork. Pitchfork would review something, and then whether or not they reviewed it would determine whether or not anyone else would review it. And whether or not they reviewed it favorably would determine how everyone else would review it — whether it was in alignment with Pitchfork, or specifically to oppose Pitchfork, you know? It was like trickle down blogging. [Laughs.] So it didn’t exactly culminate in a lot of great writing, in my opinion, or at least not writing that I particularly enjoyed. But there were some exceptions. 

I think that right now, especially post-pandemic, there’s been a sort of cultural schism that we’re seeing play out in various ways, but particularly in writing — not just music writing. People are into reading again. Media tried to do this whole pivoting-to-video thing and it didn’t go super well. [Laughs.] They were just scrambling. Media as we knew it was dying, and still is, but in every death something new emerges. What I’m noticing is that a lot of people just want to have fun and they wanna make up their own minds about what they like, what they believe, what they agree with. So they’re not really interested in reading some long-winded, pontificating 6,000 word essay from some MFA student about why The Shins matter or whatever. Nobody gives a shit! Right now, people wanna be entertained, they wanna be challenged, they wanna have some laughs. In a way, it sort of harkens back to old school Vice, but then even further to zine culture. 

Obviously, I’m gonna plug CREEM. More irreverent, more instinctual, less over-intellectualizing. And that’s always been my thing, my style. I was being irreverent and annoying online before it was cool. [Laughs.] So it’s fun for me to now be in this moment where I’m sort of being celebrated for being the big-mouthed clown that I am, rather than constantly being told to pipe down because if I say the wrong thing, I’m gonna offend some Pitchfork writer or promoter or something. There was always someone on my case like, “You shouldn’t have said that on Twitter. So-and-so from some band’s publicist saw it and they’re gonna make it hard for your friend’s band to get on this part-time punk’s show.” You know what I mean? It was constant. And it ain’t like that now. Now everyone’s like, “Fuck it, we ball.” The world’s burning. Who cares? [Laughs.] I don’t know if that answered the question. 

Alex: No, it definitely did. I feel like — maybe it’s just, we have new tracks and it’s a little bit more interesting now, but it felt like every time people would write about us, it was just some iteration of, “Oh, Depeche Modem Pet Shop Boys,” over and over. I was honestly getting to the point where I was like, “Can we just get a bad review? Can someone just trash us, please?” Because it’s so boring to read the same thing over and over.

Hether: Regurgitated press releases.

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. 

Hether: And that’s still the sort of mainstay of music writing — don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I think there’s a real desire for music writing to move past that way of doing things. I’m seeing various outlets sort of scrambling to try and reconfigure to meet new cultural demands. But I don’t really see anyone doing it successfully yet, except for I guess CREEM. [Laughs.] Interview Magazine has always been good at it, too.  

And I mean, obviously the Depeche Mode touchstones are there with y’all, but on this new record, for the first time I’m hearing Tears for Fears. Everyone wants to hit that Tears for Fears mark, but no one actually does it. And you guys actually did in some ways, but it doesn’t sound like you’re trying to. Which is why it works. 

Andrew: That’s sick. I love that. Thank you. 

Alex: Yeah. I don’t even think it was a direct influence, but we love The Hurting. I love that kind of melancholy of that record a lot; we definitely tried to get sad on this record. I feel like this era is almost like all of us saying goodbye to the modern world as we know, it in a way. That brings up a lot of emotion. Everyone’s trying to get back to how it was, but it’ll never be that way. I think it is really heartbreaking, and I think a lot of this album is about that. 

Hether: I didn’t even think about that. Was this in a press release I was supposed to read? I never read press releases. 

Alex: [Laughs.] It’s not in a press release or anything, it’s just something I’ve been thinking of a lot for the last couple of years. I’m not saying this is the end of the world or anything — something new can come out of it. But I do think—

Hether: It’s the end of a world, a version of the world as we knew it.

Alex: Yes. And it’s also a huge generational shift. All the boomers are transitioning out, you know? It’s gonna be different for sure, but right now it is kind of this sad thing. We all feel it. 

Hether: Yeah. But at the same time, I know there was a period of time culturally where we all kind of acted like history had ended, like nothing new was gonna happen. And then our asses got handed to us in that regard. There’s this massive propulsion into a future that feels unnatural, like it’s too fast for real time, and then simultaneously we are in mourning for the world as we knew it. So it’s like we’re sort of in a tug of war that can be overwhelming, I think. But like, there’s no there there. There’s not gonna be a moment where we’re all like, “Oh, now everything’s different. Now the world has changed.” It’s always now. We are always in a state of becoming. 

Andrew: Exactly. And like, we’ve been a band for so long too, and it’s kind of like things are changing faster than they ever have as a band. So just like, hit-the-ground-running constantly. But it’s cool. Especially post-lockdown after having no shows for a while, and then coming back and shows are just different. Sometimes you can’t even really put your finger on it, but you’re like, Wow, this is a completely different vibe. It’s good energy, for sure.

Hether: Do you think people are more engaged and interactive than they were before?

Andrew: I do! I definitely think people are more excited in general. Shows have better energy. There was a period of time, I think, that everyone was almost like, afraid to get stoked. [Laughs.] And now that’s died. So it’s a good thing.

Hether: That’s awesome. I mean, I wouldn’t know. I never leave my house, but I’ve heard that this is the vibe now and I see evidence of it online sometimes, and I’m like, That looks nice. But I don’t go. [Laughs.] 

Alex: [Laughs.] We definitely wanna tour as much as possible and soak it in, ’cause when we released our last record, Time to Kill, in 2019, we were touring a lot and then it just stopped.  So now we just want to hit the ground running and see how it goes.

Hether: When you play NYC, I’ll leave the house.

Alex: What an honor. [Laughs.]

Body of Light — aka, brothers Alex and Andrew Jarson — are an electronic duo based in Phoenix, Arizona. Their latest, Bitter Reflection, is out now on Dais Records.