Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Headlights interview

| December 29, 2006

And Then There Were Three


Somewhere along the path less traveled most people get turned around, detoured, or just get off altogether. For Erin Fein, 24, of indie pop group Headlights, after the breakup of the band’s prior incarnation, she almost became one of those people. “The last year before Absinthe Blind broke up I was in school at the University Of Illinois [at Champaign-Urbana] and I was considering quitting because I thought I should finish school and I was really confused about how it would be possible to survive as a musician.”

With the sacrifices that come with being a full-time artist, fellow bandmates Tristin Wraight, 25, and Brett Sanderson, 30, also felt the realities of the “real world” setting in. Working in bars and taking odd jobs, they had to get funds from somewhere, and mommy and daddy were not an option. “None of us come from a lot of money or anything so it’s not like we have just money to sit on,” Fein says. “We’ve all had to work really hard.”

But for the members of Headlights, their hard work is beginning to pay off. With the release of their first full-length album, Kill Them With Kindness, on Polyvinyl Records and a rigorous tour schedule both behind and ahead of them, the band are looking forward to introducing their music to the figurative masses. “We really like to tour and we like to play out live, but it is a struggle to maintain a lifestyle on the road, unless you become somewhat successful,” Fein says. “At this point we just have to keep our head above water and keep touring and hopefully survive.”

With a median age of 26 the band are fairly young, and with youth usually comes an abundance of romanticism regarding the realities of the world. But as Wright sings in “Pity City” on Kindness, the band have already been slightly jaded by a previous stint in the music industry. “And all my stupid plans that fall apart/just like all my stupid bands that fell apart/I’ve got to start from scratch.”

Although Fein admits there isn’t a set theme on Kindness, she does acknowledge when she and Wright were writing they couldn’t help but draw on common experiences, including the breakup of Absinthe Blind. “Starting over at that point was sort of a big task, and I know when we were writing these songs we were dealing with a lot of those emotions of starting over and pushing ahead.”

As disheartening as the breakup was, without it their current band never would have been formed, and, as Fein says of her 10-plus years friendship with Wright and eight-plus years friendship with Sanderson, the trio wouldn’t be as close as they are now. “When we’re on stage as Headlights I feel this really close connect with Brett and Tristin because it’s just us up there and it’s very small. I remember in Absinthe Blind there was a little more of a comfort zone having five or six people on stage where as now I’m out there and there’s not a whole lot around me, so I kind of just have to do it.”

Giving the audience a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a musician, Fein admits that although she doesn’t like to tell listeners what to take from a song, “Words Make You Tired” does come from the unique perspective of what it feels like to be a performer. “I definitely was thinking about what it means to put yourself out there every night. I think you feel really scrutinized and as fun as it is, it’s pretty hard. We get pretty nervous and want to be able to do a good job and that can be difficult when every time you get on stage your thinking can turn into insecurities.”

Playing things safe and basking in security is one thing most musicians don’t do, which is why the band don’t look too far into the future. Although they have an upcoming European tour and are looking forward to getting on some package tours in the spring, they are still taking things step by step. “I’ve had to take the approach of taking life one month at a time,” Fein says. “When you do something not very stable you don’t know how long it’ll last or how long you’ll want to do it.”

They’re not Coldplay or Beck, nor do they want to be. When asked about extravagant purchases made on the road, Headlights mention banana peppers for sandwiches. Their laidback, unassuming Midwestern attitude comes through as the band gush about tequila, author Jonathan Safran Foer, and Fein’s latest addiction: knitting. They don’t want to be pigeonholed by the generic definition of what constitutes rock stars. “Friends of mine who might not be so familiar with the whole underground scene miss that there are loads and loads of bands that might not have beach-side mansions and platinum records, but they’re successful. They put out good music and tour, and they may have a modest life, but they do what they love and that’s all we’ve ever really hoped to do.”

The journey from Absinthe Blind to Headlights is littered with stories of botched interview answers and desolate Illinois winters. The road may not have been the average person’s definition of perfect, but it was ideal for the band, and more importantly, they never got off. “When I thought about stopping and I really seriously considered it, something clicked and I realized I just couldn’t do that. I needed to take advantage of the fact that I had this opportunity,” Fein says.

Even without an intentional theme, Kindness is relatable to anyone who has ever wanted a change. With the band’s self described “melodic pop” sounds and inspirational lyrics, there is an underlying refusal to settle for the typical with each song. Whether it’s a typical future, typical relationship, or simply settling overall, the album is heartening and makes moving ahead seem less difficult than it really is. “I’m cheesy but it was a magical thing to find a group of people that are on the same page as me when it comes to creating music and wanting to do something,” Fein says. “And I just realized it would be very foolish to pass it up, and since then I’ve had this burning passion to do it and it hasn’t changed.”

— Angie Maldonado

Category: Features, Monthly

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