For the majority of bands, the prospect of being signed to a record label is seemingly unattainable. A label can serve as a veritable lifeline for a band, providing the funding necessary for extended tours, studio time and promotion. Life for a band without a label can be expensive, and most bands pay these expenses out of pocket while spending years struggling to meet with only minor success.
That’s why when 50 Records, a Minneapolis-based indie label, presented White Light Riot, a Minneapolis indie-rock band, with an exclusive contract, they pounced on the opportunity. The fledgling 50 Records, wholly won over by White Light Riot’s scathing-rock candor, offered the band an exclusive recording contract for two records and a funded tour. The end result was White Light Riot’s full-length debut record, “Atomism.”
“The label found us,” Mike Schwandt, vocalist and guitarist, said. “We’re their first band, so we’re the guinea pigs . They kind of want to be the East West of the mid-West,” Schwandt added, referring to one of the Warner Music Group’s newest labels. “It’s helped us because they’ve been really good at getting us exposure, and without their investment we wouldn’t have been able to go live down in the studio for a month and a half and record.”
This was White Light Riot’s proverbial big break, an opportunity that every band hopes for. The offer from 50 Records, though lucky, was not without merit.
White Light Riot formed about three years ago. Schwandt and his brother Mark, the band’s drummer, had been creating music since high school, both together and in separate bands. Mark met current bassist Dan Larsen in one of these bands and soon Larsen began to play with the two brothers. According to Schwandt, the lineup had yet to be completed.
Schwandt said that after a semester abroad in Europe, he returned home to find out that Mark had completed the band. Joe Christenson, lead guitarist and backup vocalist, had been added to the lineup.
“When I came back, we had our first practice and it gelled perfectly,” Schwandt said. “We wrote five or six songs in the first practice and that was when I knew that this would be great for us.”
White Light Riot draws upon an eclectic lot of bands for inspiration. Among its influences, they cite classic rock acts such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Doors, in addition to more contemporary, experimental acts like Interpol and Radiohead. The end result is inspired, introspective and forceful.
Their songs are rich in both the harmonized melodies of The Beatles and the dynamic guitar work of Led Zeppelin, and resonate of Jim Morrison-esque swagger and bravado. Infused within this timeless mixture are ambient, sweeping guitar tones popularized by acts like Radiohead and The Verve.
“We don’t really think about it until the song is done . but we’ll look back and listen to the song and we’ll be like ‘Oh, that kind of sounds a little bit Interpol-ish in this part, or a little Radiohead-like over here, or that three-part harmony is total Beatles-esque,” Schwandt said.
“It’s just because we so passionately love those bands that it just comes out, in terms of our writing.”
“Atomism” showcases a band that is passionate and devoted to the creation of poignant rock music. The musicianship is both potent and succinct – every riff and chord reverberates with energy, every beat packs a punch.
Lyrically, the band is terse, but on-point in its dealings with themes accessible to any 20-something. Each song leaves the listener anticipating the next.
“The whole goal of it was to have listeners not feel like they need to skip songs,” Schwandt said. “The main goal was to make something that, on your first listen to the CD, you wanted to hear the whole thing straight through.”
Success certainly did not come overnight for White Light Riot. Schwandt described the band’s previous struggles, including under-attended shows in new towns and funding earlier EPs.
Ultimately, it was determination and a commitment to the creation of distinct rock music that has garnered its success. These factors are likely to remain constant throughout the future successes of White Light Riot.
“Connecting to people through music, I think, is the coolest thing ever,” Schwandt said. “If we’re not starving in a few years and we’re actually just making enough to get by and we can still make music, then we’re all going to be happy.”