When Blacklight Ruckus finds a groove, there’s no denying. The musical concoction is deep, thick, and sweet as honey. If it came from a jar, it could be stirred into tea. Examples abound on the band’s self-titled album, released in June as the young Seacoast trio embarked on a summer run of profile-building shows all over New England.
Take “The Edge,” which leads with a sinister bass line from Thomas Forbes, as Garrett Cypher scrapes his guitar strings, Hendrix-like. This psychedelic mood steers down a funky path as drummer Steve Kysor joins the mix; the result is a bubbling stew containing both classic rock and jam band elements. The dreamy “Lovely Vibes” draws from jazz and hip-hop elements, while “Hey You” all but name-checks the Grateful Dead (“we’ll take a walk down Shakedown Street”), all with a striking cohesiveness.
The three members of Blacklight Ruckus have each experienced enough mismatches, played on music that didn’t mesh, to know they’ve arrived at something special with the current mix.
“We were strugglers, I often haven’t been in a band,” says Cypher as the group gathers together in their Brentwood basement studio for a video chat interview. At 24, the guitarist is the eldest member.
Says Thomas, “I’ve been in a few bands but mostly those were focused on a leader. With us it’s totally different, we all lead it and just bounce things off of one another. Steve can get on keyboard and be the leader or I can take over on drums with Garrett on bass. That’s a big dynamic of our group and it pushes us forward in many different directions.”
Kysor weighs in: “That’s what makes us so diverse. Instead of one person saying this is the direction of the band, we have all three of us” — he turns and looks at both Cypher and Thomas as he talks — “and we’re all pushing it in different directions, but together, you know what I mean? We’ll each put our own influence into a song and hopefully create something new.”
Audiences have responded with enthusiasm. A well-received set at this year’s Big Up Festival in Ghent, N.Y., was capped with a fan receiving a vintage video game system and other goodies as a reward for whipping up the crowd. The recent Harry’s Harvest Ball in Starks, Maine, was a gratifying albeit rainy affair that saw them share the stage with established bands like The Brew, Entrain and Paranoid Social Club.
In August, the band’s CD release party at Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth drew more than 120 fans.
“It was our first big gig,” says Cypher, who described it as “a carnival atmosphere.”
The 10-track album was made on a shoestring in a blanket-draped room with egg cartons and mattress pads stapled to the ceiling for acoustic fortification.
“It looked weird, but it did the job,” Cypher says, and in fact the record sounds quite professional.
They are, however, looking forward to working in a proper studio with producer Derrick Harris later this year. “It has all the equipment we could ever ask for,” Kysor says of the Boston facility they’ll use to make the next record, which they hope to release next summer.
One thing that makes Blacklight Ruckus unique is their habit of switching instruments mid-set. Says Kysor, “I picked up the keyboard a year and a half ago, I’d never taken any lessons, just wanted to experiment. Thankfully, Tom knows how to play the drums, so I was able to get off the drum set and try this new instrument. It leads to a lot of creativity … we can have multiple styles of drumming. It really leaves everything open.”
When Forbes switches to drums, Cypher moves to bass, and suddenly a new rhythm section with a fresh dynamic is holding down the beat.
“You play one instrument over and over, after a while it’s hard to come up with ideas for that instrument,” Cypher says. “But I pick up the bass and it’s a different guitar and I have a whole new palette of sound to work with. It makes your brain think differently.”
As the interview was being conducted, the group was preparing for a weekend appearance at the Magnetic Gathering, a Lakes Region festival featuring a large slate of electronica, dub step and other turntablist-forward music, a style that inspired the band’s name and informs a lot of its music.
“The ‘Blacklight’ part came from the years I liked to go to raves,” Kysor says.
“And we like to make a ruckus,” Cypher says, while his mates laugh and nod in agreement. “It was down to that, or ‘shenanigans’ or ‘hootenanny."