With entrenched retro leanings and explicit surf-pop influence, rockers The Rebel Light are a modern take on the musical zeitgeist of the 1960s. Recent single “Strangers” made waves beyond local climes, melding beachy essence with a tuneful pop hook. Yet for their success, the trio also embody DIY aesthetic, playing in a tool shed and recording vocals in a bathroom.
“We found that a person’s bathroom is truly their throne,” explained vocalist Will Steil in an e-mail exchange. “We also found that happens to be the best place to get passionate, intimate vocal takes, and the tiles in our bathroom sound cool.”
Definitely cool. Despite toileted beginnings, “Strangers” has slowly been picked up by major outlets, featuring in NME and Clash Magazine and even named the best track of 2014 by one online publication. A music video was released last week too, as the slow burn of hype progresses slowly but surely.
It has, in a sense, been a long time in the making. The Los Angeles residents that formulate The Rebel Light are Will, Jarrett Steil and Brandon Cooke, and it’s a truly family affair. “Jarrett is my brother, so we’ve known each other for quite some time now,” Will joked. “And Brandon is actually our cousin.
“He’s a California native, and when I and Jarrett moved there we got in touch. We had a big family reunion for the first time, and started making music. We are all pretty big music nerds, but come together in our love for the beach, a good drink, travelling and of course the ladies!”
Making music was initially simply jamming together, leading to a self-titled debut EP of early tracks in 2013. “We recorded, produced and mixed the whole thing ourselves,” noted Will. A single, “Jukebox Dream”, followed the same year. It has under 1,000 plays on Spotify.
But The Rebel Light were always going to attract more attention than that. Characterised by heavy 1960s semblance, contemporaries of that time including The Zombies, The Turtles and The Beach Boys are all cited as influences. “Pretty much any band from the 60s with a ‘The’ in front of their name,” suggested Will. (I failed to ask if The Trashmen, of “Surfin’ Bird” infamy, were exempted.)
“I guess looking back they have influenced our new music, as well as living in beautiful California, and taking inspiration from the lovely views and weather we have here.
“We’ve been having fun looking into the California Beach scene of the 60s, 60s culture,” he added, “and I think Brandon still hangs out with some crazy hippies!”
“Strangers”, first shared by The Rebel Light last autumn, is a work in this vein. The talents of acclaimed producer Willy Gagel, with credits as diverse as Rihanna, New Order and Bon Iver, added just the right amount of gloss to an already-assured demo.
“The great thing about living in Los Angeles is that nearly every single day is a great day to sit outside and strum your guitar,” explained Will. “‘Strangers’ was borne on one of those days.
“I was hungover and between sweating out the alcohol I was able to bust it out. I had the chorus first, and then the verses followed a little later.
“We were then fortunate enough to have the awesome Willy Gagel mix it, which brought a whole new life to the song!”
The end result is psych-tinged, with lavish pop pomp and earworm vocals. And The Rebel Light aren’t resting on their laurels. “We are currently in the process of recording some more songs that hopefully will be part of our debut album,” Will told me. It could very well be a full-length worth checking out.
Until then, should you wish to spend a penny, “Strangers” is out for download now on a pay-what-you-want basis via Bandcamp