Work hard, play hard: electro-dance duo Brite Lite Brite does both at the same time

By Dana Getz

Calling Luke Johnson and Andrea Stankevitch workaholics would be an understatement. But when your job is music, it can be easy to get addicted. Individually, they each hold full-time positions at Berklee College of Music and perform with multiple bands and producers, but together they form Brite Lite Brite, an electro-dance group with layers of bass-ridden dubstep and haunting vocal textures. Stankevitch sounds much like a feminine Conor Oberst atop Johnnson’s dance-driven club beats, singing longingly of unrequited love and disappointment. The dark, restless quality of their compositions is undoubtedly a nod to their acoustic roots, noted on tracks like “Song On the Radio” from their debut album Universe Universe. Since its release in 2009, the duo has been scrounging their limited down time to finish their sophomore album, Stalker, due out later this year. During a rare free moment, Johnson chatted with us about sleep deprivation, cyborgs and their upcoming Lollapalooza performance.

So how did Brite Lite Brite get started?

Well, Brite Lite Brite got started a long time ago as a different band called Tatter. We met at Berklee College of Music when we were both students there, along with another guitarist—I was playing guitar back then—a drummer and a bass player. So that basically evolved into an acoustic duet with me and Andrea. And then that evolved into incorporating some electronics until we pretty much went full electronic, and at that point we changed the name to Brite Lite Brite.

What moved you to change your sound to electronic?

I was very into the electronic scene in the late ‘90s in Buffalo, NY and Toronto, Canada. So that was a huge influence on me, and I always wanted to produce electronic music. I felt that I had a lot in my head that I couldn’t really create with a guitar and my voice. So then I studied that at Berklee College of Music, and as I learned more we started to incorporate a little bit until eventually we said, ‘Hey, this is awesome. Let’s use drum hits and base hits and sing over live, real-time production.’

What have been some of your biggest influences as a group?

Biggest influences for us would be the whole of electronic music, really every genre. We don’t really pin ourselves down with one genre. We’ve listened to a huge variety of artists over the years. Also, science itself and technology, and the way that technology’s been moving. I’m a firm believer that we as humans are almost cyborgs at this point in the way that we interact with computers. The only true difference between us and real cyborgs is in itself, like we still have to type and then look instead of just instantly know. So I wanted to create the closest brain to computer to synthesizer interface possible so that I could basically just think electronic music. That’s what I’ve been working on ever since, and through countless innovations of the system, I think we’ve managed.

Is there a specific place you find most inspiring when you produce?

For me, my own studio is where I produce because it’s right in the heart of Cambridge, Mass., right in Central Square, where the electronic music scene in the northeast is strongest. There are clubs right on the street where I play and go to see really great DJs all the time.

Do both you and Andrea still work full-time at Berklee?

We do, yeah. Andrea works in student affairs I believe, and I work in the electronic production and design department, and I also work at a couple other colleges. I teach classes at Rhode Island School of Design and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

What do you like about teaching? How is it different from producing?

I love teaching because, really, you start them with on knowledge coming in, and then by the end you get to see what they can create, and sometimes that’s really phenomenal. To see that kind of improvement, as well as the interest when they present a student topic and they just latch onto it, makes you want to go to the lab and immediately do it after class. It’s really rewarding for me.

So is that something you’d like to continue?

It is. I want to do both.  Those are the two things I want to do. I want to teach more college classes and eventually become a full-time professor, which, believe it or not, would actually give me more time than I have now because I’m doing that and working at Berklee as a studio supervisor. That would give me more time to produce and release tracks and play shows.

Your life sounds crazy busy. How do you find the time and energy to work on Brite Lite Brite?

It’s tough. I just don’t sleep. I replace sleep with coffee. During the winter I basically work 80-hour weeks. I have a couple classes to teach every week, which is a day each not counting preparation, and I work full-time at Berklee, and I produce overnight. But it’s all really rewarding work; I like all of what I do.

You and Andrea are both pretty involved in outside projects as well, right?

Yeah, that’s right. We collaborate with a lot of electronic producers. I perform with a couple other bands. One of them is Into the Alpha, made up of myself, Al Cleveland and Cobi Mike. Cobi Mike is the singer from Gentlemen Hall, who recently just got signed onto, I think, Justin Bieber’s label. So they’ve actually just made it, but we still play together. He’s a phenomenal singer and has great musical ideas, so it’s a lot of fun working with them. Then I play in another one that’ really a live hip-hop/dubstep band.

Do you feel that it’s important for you and Andrea to continue to work independently?

Important? Maybe. I think it’s more that we both just love doing it so much that we latch onto every good opportunity that pops up and say, ‘I wanna work on that.’ Any dream team bands that are put together, if we’re offered to join it, it’s hard to turn it down.

Let’s talk about your upcoming album, Stalker.

Well, this time there’s really no holds barred whatsoever. Some of the tracks are just bass in your face, complete craziness, and some of them are really out there. It’s more cohesive as an album, too. The last one was very, very diverse. There was some electronic stuff, some acoustic stuff. This one is all electronic, very danceable—ranges from house to dubstep to disco house. I think that it came leaps and bounds further with my production skills and the technology that I understand and know how to build and use. We’ve created groundbreaking new sounds that the technology just wasn’t there for in the past.

Why did you decide to name it Stalker?

That’s gonna be the last track on the album, which we’ll be playing at Lollapalooza. It’s a heavy bass, dubstep-inspired but more house oriented, really creepy, creepy track.

Do you have a favorite track from the album?

Yeah, actually, our single that we just released, “Never Let You Out of My Heart.” That, to me, is my favorite piece of art that I’ve ever created. I think it’s a really sweet, sweet song. You could call it dubstep because it follows all of the basic dubstep rules, but you could also waltz to the song. It’s full and smooth; it’s just really beautiful.

What do you want listeners to understand about your music?

Well, first and foremost, I am not a DJ. I don’t DJ, I don’t know how to DJ. We’re actually a live electronic performance duo. We actually play most of what we do live with drum sequencers, step sequencers, synthesizers, live, real-time vocal effects and a whole lot of controllers. I want people to know that so that they understand, and they’ll hear little mistake that are shown, that kind of shows that this is an actual band that plays music. I actually don’t use my laptop, or I don’t look at my laptop or touch my laptop throughout the whole show. Part of the time my screensaver starts by the end of it, because I’m actually playing on controllers rather than using my laptop.

You’re playing at Lollapalooza in a few days. What does that performance mean to you?

This will probably be the biggest show we’ve played so far, and I’m really, really honored to play Perry’s stage of all stages. I was a huge fan of [Perry Farrell] and Jane’s Addiction. It’s an honor that we got the spot, really. It shows that people do appreciate what we’re doing, and it’s exciting. Last time we played a show at Virgin Mobile FreeFest a couple years ago and it was great, but this time we’re opening for Flux Pavillion and Steve Aoki, who are some of my heroes. I absolutely love them.

What can fans expect from your live set?

They can expect a lot of energy. It may be over the top for a band that’s opening at noon. They can expect some very, very interesting sounds, some beautiful vocals and some surprises. They can definitely expect some surprises. They hear Andrea sing and it comes out all glitched-out, I think they can get pretty excited about that.

Ideally, where do you see BLB in the next few years or so?

Hopefully we’ll be playing Lollapalooza in Brazil, in Chile and Chicago again. I hope that our album sales are doing well, and somehow we’ll find a way to quadruple the rate at which we’re producing and putting out music. And I hope to have my correct brain-to-speaker interface completed by then.