With his first major label release under his belt, Jonathan Tyler, frontman for Dallas rockers, the Northern Lights, already has the perspective of an old, road-hardened musician.
"I'm trying to build up a catalog of songs and music," the 24-year-old explains. "When people are looking at a catalog of 10 albums, I think this is going to be very fitting, and I think it's going to age very well. I'm very aware of where we are in our careers."
The Northern Lights' first release on Atlantic, Pardon Me, showcases an impassioned old-school rock style that Tyler insists isn't trying to be nostalgic.
"Me and my guys are really influenced by gospel music," says Tyler. "There's a big group of Pentecostal church types in Oklahoma, and that's where most of the band comes from."
The band came together in 2007 with guitarist Brandon Pinckard, bassist Nick Jay, and drummer Jordan Cain. After touring extensively with this lineup, Tyler recruited Mo Brown after seeing her play solo in a Dallas bar. Her harmonies and tambourine definitely up the gospel quotient.
Since the release of Pardon Me, the Northern Lights have spent evenings opening for AC/DC, ZZ Top, and Kid Rock, all appropriate bills for their classic rock performances. The title track of their freshman effort hits the listener in the face with distorted power chords as Tyler sings, "Maybe it's been too long since rock 'n roll turned you on."
"'Pardon Me' was my response to the state of radio and the music business, and the way I felt pretty bored by it," says Tyler. "What it means to me is a refusal of conforming to it. It's a song that's almost a challenge."
However, the same music industry that Tyler is bored with has been very receptive to his own product. After playing live at SXSW, the band was offered a deal with Atlantic. Leading up to the famed Austin showcase, Tyler and the Northern Lights had been playing as many as 300 shows a year. So when it was time to go into the studio, the band didn't need much rehearsal.
"A lot of those songs on Pardon Me were road-tested and we'd played them for a long time," says Tyler. "We were ready to get in there and record."
In addition to the album, which Tyler calls, "a fitting hello," fans have access to downloads of their live performances. The group's live performances aren't all that far removed from their album, which was recorded live in a Nashville studio with all members playing together. Cage the Elephant and Patty Griffin producer Jay Joyce coached the band through its major label debut and helped to translate their live sound to record.
"You've got to be what you are and be what you come from. It's not just fuckin' classic rock," argues Tyler. "It's not like going and putting on Boston or something like that. It has a lot more meaning than that to me."
Even if Tyler and his band have been lucky so far, the young musician isn't about to rest on his laurels.
"I'm going to play music for a long, long time. I'm not really interested in fast success."