Interview and photos by Bre Cura
Article by Amanda Sigman

A dynamic duo both on and off stage, Illiterate Light brings a level of energy unlike any other. Band members Jake and Jeff joined forces in their small home town of Harrisonburg, Virginia, ready to take on whatever the music industry threw at them. After gaining quite a bit of momentum from releases and support tours, Illiterate Light headlined their first tour this summer. With over 200,000 monthly Spotify listeners and hundreds of thousands of streams across their releases, it’s evident that listeners have fallen in love.  We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with them about the highs and lows of touring, performing as a duo, and most excitingly their self-titled debut album, Illiterate Light! 

How did you decide to just have the two of you on stage, both doing so many things?

Jake: “So, we started as a duo somewhat out of necessity. We couldn’t really find other band members in our small town of Harrisonburg, VA that were ready to go all in like we wanted to and tour nonstop and just that whole thing. There just wasn’t a big pool of people. Pretty quickly we realized that there was a really cool dynamic between just Jeff and I. We’ve got two people on stage and it’s forced us to create ways to fill the space. Whether that’s energetically (I’m playing drums standing up, I’m running around, I’m doing that sort of thing) or sonically with Jeff playing bass with his feet. Also, stripping a lot of people back sort of amplifies Jeff and I’s relationship on stage. A lot of people are very attracted to that, to our intimacy. I think a lot of people are really hungry for that and maybe in their own lives too. So, to see two people on stage feeding each other, we can also feed them.”

So, what was the experience of touring like this summer? 

Jeff: “It was great! This tour that we did in July and August, it kind of came about because we were booked to play Newport Folk Festival in RI and Lollapalooza in Chicago, and they’re like 12-16 hours a part. Our plan was really just to throw in a few dates to get from A to B and before we knew it, our agent called us up and told us there was a good buzz going on, and we should actually just jump out and headline a bunch of places. It turned out to be a month of touring and it was killer. We’ve been doing a lot of support tours all year. This was the first time that we were coming to a lot of cities as our own unit and seeing fans come out and sing along. We got to go out with Shane T and had a blast with them. We really enjoyed it.”

Jake: “Denver was a high for me. We had never actually played out there, but for whatever reason the locals had great reception and we had a really cool show and it was a beautiful area. It was fun to just spend a few days there.”

Jeff: “There’s a place we’re returning to in a few months in Cabrera, N.C., called Cat’s Cradle. It was just another one of those unexpected, electric shows where we’ve played there maybe once or something like that, and then like 200 people came out and it was just a really awesome club. They treated us great. We played with our other friend Briston Maroney, and it was just awesome. It’s cool to be able to actually go out and play new cities we’ve never been to and have people sing along and get really into it, so that was a high.

The lows, well, there was just some long drives through the Midwest that were just getting from Kansas to Denver or something like that. Or even when you have a show in Pittsburgh for example where nobody comes out, we’re always able to work on new material or find something fun to do.”

What genre would you place yourselves into if you had to title it?

Jeff: “First we just kind of considered ourselves a rock band. Beyond that, the second tier would be alternative rock band, and third tier would be indie rock band, although I don’t even know if that means anything when you’re on a major record label. But I think just rock band is where we’ve landed. That might make people think of Nickelback or something but I don’t care. We just play rock songs, and sometimes we play country songs.”

What can you tell us about your debut album coming out?

Jake: “We’re really excited about it coming out. It’s got songs that were written from as early as 2015 (a few from that era that had just never really been recorded) and then songs that were written 4 months ago and recorded 4 months ago. So, it’s got a pretty big span for the whole growth of our band. It’s cool, even within the album itself I can see how we’ve grown and changed in those songs and how we’ve evolved. It’s really fun right now to be two days from it coming out and to listen through it (probably the first time I’ve listened to it in a month or so). I feel proud of what we did and excited for it to actually come into the world.”

Jeff: “For me this album feels like a book, where there’s different chapters of that book. It wasn’t like we went in and spent two weeks in the studio and then came out with a record. It was multiple sessions, multiple writing sessions, having things sit and be unfinished for a while and then coming back to it.  The whole book really makes sense, but each chapter is its own little stand-alone part. And yeah, I think we’re just really excited for it and proud of it, and excited that so far people are already singing along to songs that aren’t even out yet.”

Are you guys excited for any one particular track of the album? If so, what’s the story behind it?

Jake: “There is a song called “Without Walls” I’m really excited about. It was one of the most recent ones written and added. It provides a really nice breath of space and fresh air on the album because it’s pretty intense in a lot of other places. It’s a very beautiful song. Jeff basically wrote it and showed me an acoustic version of it. When we went in to record, we left the first half of it very stripped back (one take, one microphone sort of thing), and then half way through the drums come in. It doesn’t get big or explosive, it’s just a nice part of the album. It’s not a single or one of the big songs that we’re planning to put a bunch of press behind or anything. We started playing it live too and it also provides that part in our set where everyone can take a breath and step back and realize that we can get quiet, we can draw you in that way too. It’s a really cool one for me.”

Jeff: “There’s a lot of really exciting ones. There’s a song called “Here Lies the Bones of My Favorite Car” and it’s a song that we’ve kind of waited to start playing out live because we think the recording is so cool. There’s been other songs like “Better Than I Used To” and “Nothing’s Fair” and “American Boy”, songs on the album that we’ve played a ton live before they’ve been out yet. With “Here Lies the Bones of My Favorite Car,” we’ve kind of decided to hold off on playing it out live and let people kind of get their ears on it first, and then we’ll bring it to life. I don’t totally know why that is, but it just feels like it’s going to be a fan favorite. It’s really heavy and weird, and there’s a really cool guitar solo at the end that I’m proud of. I think it’s more of our freak flag sort of song on the album. Like we’ve been saying, this album seems to cover a lot for us, and that’s just a side I can’t wait for people to explore. It’s really heavy, but it’s also really short, it’s just a two-minute song. It’s all these environmental themed lyrics mixed with mysticism and freaking out, all smashed in a two-and-a-half-minute rock song. We also shot a live music video for it like a year ago at a junkyard outside of Richmond, and I think that will get some love now that the song will be out.

You can stream Jake and Jeff’s new album, Illiterate Light, here!

Want to catch Illiterate Light on tour? Buy your tickets here!

Also, check out some photos from their show in Philadelphia with The Head and the Heart here, or some shots from our pre-show hangout here!

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