An interview with Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum

When Shannon Funchess opens her mouth to sing, her voice booms and commands attention. She and her music partner, Bruno Coviello, make up the artful, inspiring, dark, electronic act, Light Asylum. The duo has accomplished a feat I’d describe as being nearly impossible: making experimental music go pop.

We got to speak with Shannon and talk about the group’s creative process, accidentally being “outted,” Lady Gaga’s gay agenda and how music can sometimes be the only thing to get you out of bed in the morning.

AfterEllen.com : When I first found out about your band I thought, “Oh this is great! It’s like a mix of Portishead and Joy Division.” Who are some of your musical influences?
Shannon Funchess: I grew up singing in a church choir at a Southern Baptist church and since I was like eight or nine I didn’t really like the idea of going to church. You know, it was boring and I didn’t want to sit still. It was really strict and so I decided to make the best of it and joining the choir seemed like the most fun way to be in church. I could just go there and enjoy the music. That’s when I discovered that I like to sing and that I liked music a lot.

So a lot of my early influences were gospel and blues and then American folk music. I’m a big fan of women like Odetta and Nina Simone, Kate Bush, Yaz. Since I grew up in the ’80s, I have always been into like new wave music like Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees. English and American bands, for the most part.

AE: You can definitely hear those influences. It’s interesting, as an experimental artist whose finished product is still easily palatable, how do you find the right balance of new and different while also making it easy on the ears? I mean, when you usually describe music as being “experimental” as a genre, my usual reaction is “Ugh, artsy fartsy,” but your music, I think, is easy to dance to, to rage to. It’s something that can be enjoyed more by the masses. Is that something you plan on during your creative process or is it just something that happens or doesn’t happen?
SF: I think it happens pretty organically. The influences definitely come across but we want to appeal to the masses; to more than just the Brooklyn art crowd. Though we like performing in those environments we definitely want to make music that people can dance to and can reach a larger audience.

So I think in the creative process — like I said, it happens pretty organically. We listen to a lot of different kinds of music and talk about music and share music a lot. We agree on the aesthetics and try to keep in mind what moved us about particular genres and styles of music that we like. We try to put the feelings of that music into our music, without it being regurgitated. I just wanted to share that ecstatic feeling that I had as an early teen about the music I was listening to that made me sneak out of the house to the dance club when I was like 13. [Laughs]

It’s unfortunate, there aren’t a lot of underage dance clubs anymore that kids can sneak out to. We love playing all-ages shows but it’s really hard to find those venues. We really want to reach those kids and, in order to do that, we need to keep it fresh and, in order to do that, we can’t make music that they can’t relate to. There’s like a huge age difference between us and the kids and I feel like we take our musical influences from before and make it more modern and have pop appeal, but without being so pop, Lady Gaga or whatever.

AE: Yeah, like not templated.
SF: Yeah, keep our integrity. We make music with intention.

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