When Brian Wright first began work on his new album in 2017, he had no idea that he would release the LP under such unusual circumstances. Out May 8 via Wright’s own Cafe Rooster Records, Brian Wright & The Sneakups’ Lapse of Luxury arrives months into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has, in many ways, brought the music industry to something of a grinding halt.
“It certainly feels strange [to release the album now], but only insofar as everything feels strange,“ says Wright. “Nothing feels normal. I may have considered delaying it if I had any indication of what might be a good time. But also, it took me such a long time to make it, because I was back and forth on the road and had a lot of starts and stops. I really just think it’s time for it to be out, and I hope it isn’t detrimental to whatever it’s supposed to do. It’s been done for me for a while and I just want people to hear it. I can quit talking about it as if it’s a thing to come and rather a thing that is.“
Wright recorded Lapse of Luxury in his backyard shed recording studio in between runs of tour dates with Aaron Lee Tasjan, for whom he played guitar for several years. He plays the majority of the instruments on the album himself and co-produced the album with Gabe Masterson. Jon Latham, Tommy Scifres, Matty Alger, and Wright’s wife Sally Jaye also contributed to the album.
As Wright explains it, the fragmented, three-year process of making Lapse of Luxury (he finished up the album earlier this year) turned out to be something of a blessing, as time spent away from recording and subsequent revisits of early material helped him figure out which tracks and ideas had staying power and which needed to be scrapped or reimagined.
”I think it allowed me to take time, for better or worse, to really listen to what I’d worked on and think about it and think about the ways it could be better,“ he explains. “I would come back from the road and either start over or start a new thing. But what it did inform was an overall vision — that sounds sort of pretentious — but an overall picture of what I’d like it to be, sonically. … Having my own [recording] space, too, allowed me to experiment with things. ‘What if this song didn’t sound this way?’ or ‘What if Curtis Mayfield showed up with his band and played it?’”
He also notes that it wasn’t until he came off the road and was fully able to devote himself to the project that Lapse of Luxury finally felt finished. “I pretty was burnt out and missing my family and missing out on all of the things I wanted to be working on, like this record,“ he says. “And our record label that my wife, Gabe, and I have. There were all of these other irons in the fire I couldn’t get to. So I made the decision at the beginning of 2019 to quit the road for a while and work on these things. … Having made a conscious decision to focus was the turning point.“
Lapse of Luxury is a delightfully unexpected mélange of Wright’s musical influences, which span roots rock, heavy metal, bluegrass, soul, and more. There are moments of bluesy psychedelia (“My Baby Loves to Rock and Roll“), bluegrass harmonies (“Tractor Beam“), and even spoken word (“Heavy Metal Shed Kids“), all made coherent by Wright’s singular, off-kilter vision.
“I thought I was setting out to make more of a roots/Americana-style record,“ Wright says of his early work on the LP. “I had a batch of songs that I felt was conducive to that vibe. Gabe and I started with the song ’Patrick’s Crossing,’ but it was a much different song at the time. It was more of an Americana, folk-singer thing. Somewhere along the way, a couple of songs into that ethos. … I just wasn’t feeling it. I started really re-thinking everything.“
You can still hear the rootsy scaffolding at the heart of the album version of “Patrick’s Crossing“ (particularly in its folksy vocal melody), but the song goes beyond Americana to something more akin to jam music, with its funky verse groove and trippy instrumental flourishes. That kind of sonic blossoming is heard across Lapse of Luxury, which Wright says he wanted, above all else, to be fun to listen to.
“I wanted to make something that I enjoyed and that was inspiring to me,“ he explains. “I just wasn’t getting it from the first approach. So I dug a little deeper into what the songs could be and my favorite parts of them, and just sort of jettisoned anything that I wasn’t feeling. It really just ended up being about making things more fun. I wanted the songs to be more about grooves, though certainly there are stories in it, too. I wanted something you can dance to.“
Lapse of Luxury is certainly groovy, but Wright’s lyrics are a big part of the fun, too. The album opens with the clever twofer of “Mourning Commute“ and “High Rise,“ with the latter’s chorus lyric “Working in a high rise till I’m dead at 65“ placing the somber waltz of the opening overture into stark, darkly comic relief. “It’s a drag sometimes,“ Wright sings as the songs fade out, with more than a small wink in his voice.
“High Rise,“ which Wright wrote during a mushroom trip, is just one of several tracks on Lapse of Luxury that uses humor — often dark humor — to bring home its point. “Poor Little Genius,“ whose jangly, sunny arrangement belies its lyrical content, pokes fun at its titular character, who is always “one step short of a revelation“ and is “furious, so furious / that he just can’t get through to you.“ “Tractor Beam“ finds the overlap between alien abduction and religious experience, to humorous (and harmonious) effect.
“You hope that a listener will be compelled to draw their own ideas from it,“ Wright says of his humorous commentary. “I like to laugh. I like things that are funny. I think that levity, well, it’s the teaspoon of sugar that makes the medicine go down.“
Despite the album’s overall playfulness, the centerpiece of Lapse of Luxury is its most sobering track, “Heavy Metal Shed Kids.“ Over an ethereal soundscape that subtly evokes the metal and rock music he grew up with, Wright tells true, often heart-wrenching stories of his childhood group of friends.
“Maybe I was feeling nostalgic, but I started thinking about my friends growing up,“ he says. “I guess we all had our own semi-broken homes, to varying degrees, but everyone was a misfit or a little bit of a troublemaker. … I was thinking about all of them and I wrote it out on paper, longhand. In the recording, you can hear me shuffling the pages because I just read it off the page.“
“Heavy Metal Shed Kids,“ which Wright had written merely as a personal exercise, only made it onto Lapse of Luxury at the urging of Wright’s friends and collaborators. Its inclusion adds a sharper contrast to the album as a whole, underscoring the levity of other tracks while also providing context for Wright’s worldview and dark sense of humor. The track traces Wright and his friends as they encounter violence, drugs, and death with unflinching detail, with Wright’s delivery offering compassion where others might pass judgment.
“There was a catharsis in writing it,“ he says. “I guess I’d been carrying all these things around. I’d never said them out loud or talked to anybody about it. For whatever reason, I wrote it down that night and Jon [Latham] asked me to play it, so I played it and got my head around letting other people into this part of my youth.“
Metal fans will hear what Wright calls “Pantera ballad sounds“ in the track, which is decidedly more subdued sonically than much of the rest of the LP. Integral to Wright to bringing his sonic vision to life were Masterson and Sally Jaye. The former would listen to Wright’s demos, which he tended to record late at night, and, as Wright puts it, “help organize and clear up the muddy waters“ in the morning.
“Gabe was certainly crucial,“ Wright says. “He’s an excellent audio engineer. So that was the impetus of the partnership. … As the process went on, I think we both started to find out each other’s tastes and strong suits and how they suited each other and complemented each other. He was able to take a lot of my lo-fi ideas and turn them into something that was a bit more hi-fi. It sounded better.“
Sally Jaye, for her part, also helped Wright sort through his ideas and clarify his vision. Wright says of their creative connection, “That’s how we got together, touring in each other’s bands and stuff. But when we started a family we couldn’t tour together because one of us had to be home. But being here, working with her — she was really instrumental in helping me find the best parts of things. I would have a million ideas. I would ask her, ’How would you sing this?’ And she would have this great hook or a great melody. It made it a lot easier. She’s heard the worst of my work so I’m certainly not self-conscious around her.“
Wright, Sally Jaye, and Masterson all run Cafe Rooster, whose roster includes Jon Latham, the Minks, and Sally Jaye’s own band Ladies Gun Club. The release of Lapse of Luxury as well as upcoming Cafe Rooster projects are keeping the trio plenty busy, even in the face of the uncertainty wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the music industry certainly looks different than it did even at the beginning of this year, Wright is optimistic and excited about all of the projects he’ll be part of in the coming months, including the release of an album by his and Sally Jaye’s new band No. 1 Knife and a new album from Ladies Gun Club.
“Certainly, it’s nerve-wracking, but I’m grateful that I have an outlet,“ he says. “I have my studio here at the house and have Sally here. I have my family. I’m enjoying working on the label and trying to get music out. With the world the way it is now I don’t always know what making music means, but I didn’t know what it meant in the first place. … If we can just entertain folks and make them laugh and dance for a bit, that’s also a gift.“