Bright Light Social Hour Shines On

Michael Minasi / KUTX

Longtime Austin group hits the road with new members and new music

On August 22nd, 2011, Bright Light Social Hour set up their gear to play a sweaty set (anybody else remember the summer of 2011?) on the freshly poured slab of our unfinished studios at the corner of Dean Keeton and Gualdalupe. The concert celebrated an important milestone in the construction of our new home, and was meant as a thank you to all the contractors, engineers, and architects that made it possible. 

KUT Bright Light Social Hour performing at The Slab (2011) / Amy Chambless for KUT

Looking back at the photos, it was fitting that BLSH were the first performers at our new location. The band had a reputation as bonafide party starters that put on some of the best live shows in town. We knew they would deliver a memorable show, even on an active construction site. 

In retrospect, BLSH sat at a bit of a crossroads for the Austin music scene and the city at large. In the decade leading up to their 2010 debut, our “college town” witnessed explosive growth that took us from the Slacker era to an international tech hub, vying to be one of the biggest cities in the country. 

For those of us living here, it meant we needed to get serious about having a good time if we wanted Austin to stay the fun-loving place it has always been. And BLSH served as an antidote to this citywide culture shock, with fun, danceable grooves and live shows that took the music to the edge of full-tilt space jam freakouts. In other words, they were the right party at the right time.

For founding member Curtis Roush, having fun was always part of the equation.

“The party thing was the thing that stuck first. It was the record that caught a lot of attention locally and launched our touring careers.”

Curtis Roush of Bright Light Social Hour

As lifelong Austinites and Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) grads, Roush and musical partner Jackie O’Brien were perfectly suited to create a sonic calling card for the post-aughts Austin scene – a couple of long-haired Texas hippies using synthesizers and spacey effects to channel a psychedelic version of  ZZ Top. 

Now, almost exactly 12 years later, the band is back in a fully furnished Studio 1A with a brand new album, Emergency Leisure

Much like their hometown, BLSH has seen its fair share of changes, with the departure of two long-term members and the addition of three Austin music veterans, a move Curtis attributes in part to the pandemic.

“After a tour in 2019, long simmering tensions or other dreams people had started coming to the surface, and by the end of that tour we were really ready for a break. The pandemic gave it to us in a bigger way than we were expecting, and in the meantime we started putting together a new band.”

With Zach Cantanzaro on drums, Mia Caruthers on keys, and Juan Alfredo Rios on percussion, Emergency Leisure hearkens back to the group’s best party anthems while working through some of their most vulnerable moments from the past decade of making music together, including the loss of Jackie’s brother and band manager Alex to bipolar disorder on the song “Most High.” Curtis says real life inevitably finds a way into their music 

“One of our favorite ways to write is to have a part or a groove already set and we’ll improvise some lyrics and then we’ll try and decipher what we’re saying, and there are usually one or two lines that make us wonder what they mean, and that will eventually lead to the story. Like ‘oh. that reminds me of Alex’ or what I was going through at the end of a relationship. It’s kind of a therapy session.” 

This attention to self-care is no accident. Both Jackie and Curtis promote mental health through regular benefit shows and donations. Even the new album’s title hints at the growing need for everyone to take some R&R right fucking now.  Giving themselves the space and time to let the stories and music come together organically also allowed room for fun collaborations with a few of their favorite locals: Walker Lukens, Israel Nash, and Riders Against the Storm

With our shared history, it’s always a bit of a reunion when Jackie and Curtis perform at KUTX, and this most recent visit was no different. In many ways it feels like old times. Bright Light Social Hour is back with a great new record and a lengthy North American tour kicking off August 30 that will take them to both coasts, Canada, Mexico City and back again over the next three months. An ambitious touring schedule for any band but one Curtis says they’re ready for.

“We’re being selective with it. We’re like ‘Oh that was a great show’ or ‘That wasn’t a great show’ for the last three times. We tried to guide this tour to be  as successful as we could because we definitely heard a lot of stories of bands getting back to touring and things are just really different. So we try to be a little cautious. Go down some venue sizes to make sure we’re selling places out. We’re just trying to give ourselves the best chance for a real successful tour.”

Bright Light Social Hour will be back in Austin mid-tour this September 30th at Mohawk with opener, Good Looks.



Musicians: Jackie O’Brien (bass/vocals);  Curtis Roush (guitar/vocals); Mia Carruthers (keys/vocals); Zac Catanzaro (drums); Juan Alfredo Ríos (percussion)

Producer: Deidre Gott, Confucius Jones; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman; Audio Mix: Rene Chavez; Cameras: Michael Minasi, Renee Dominguez; Edit: Renee Dominguez; Host: Jody Denberg

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