Stillwater News Press

August 24, 2011

Stilly Studio: Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights

By Chase Rheam
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Success can be hard to come by for a band in its first years. However, a rock band from Dallas is working to prove that theory wrong.

Jonathan Tyler is the lead guitarist and vocalist of Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. With Brandon Pinckard, guitar, Nick Jay, bass, Jordan Cain, drummer, and vocalist Mo Brown, the group has been together for nearly five years, said Tyler. He said he had always hoped and dreamed that they would get to play music for a lot of people.

For Tyler, his career started during college.

“A couple years into college, (I) dropped out and got serious about playing,” said Tyler. “I was going out playing as Jonathan Tyler and had a bunch of songs I wanted to record, so I called up all these guys.”

Tyler had met band member Pinckard through playing music at a church during his high school years. Up until that time, Tyler said he hadn’t questioned anything he believed.

“And at that point in my life I started rebelling pretty hard against the system and the man and you know, the age old story,” said Tyler.

With the attitude of a 20-year-old angry off kid who had "never been told the truth", Tyler and the band worked on the record. They released their first album, “Hot Trottin,’” independently in 2007.

“It was generally pretty well received,” said Pinckard. “It got us label attention and really got a buzz going, word of mouth, through the whole thing; passing out CDs and stuff at other bands’ shows and all sorts of stuff like that.”

The band was eventually signed to F-Stop Records, a branch of Atlantic Records.

“When Atlantic came around, we tried to make it clear that we felt like we knew what we wanted to do and we wanted to be in control of our destiny,” said Tyler. “So, they’ve been really cool.”

The band’s success has allowed them to open for artists like Kid Rock, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC.

“It’s one of those things where we were on stage with AC/DC,” said Tyler. “We never, ever thought that would happen. That was crazy.”

However, despite being an opening act for big names in the music industry, Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights continue to do their own shows for audiences in towns they had never before visited.

Tyler said going to a new town to perform is much like starting over. While their fans in certain parts of the country know their work and show up for concerts, a new venue may only yield a small audience.

However, that may soon change. Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights’ music has been featured in TV shows including “Friday Night Lights,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: Miami,” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”  Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last April in the band’s late night television debut.

“It’s one of those things where I just keep all the time waking up saying, ‘Wow. This is pretty cool getting to do this,’” said Tyler.

But he said life on the road can be hard.

“That’s a really big life change,” said Tyler. “That’s the biggest thing, really. Going from living in one place, having the familiarity of your friends and your family and your own bed, you know. It’s little things like that you take for granted, but we go out and we’re out on tour for three months at a time, sometimes, and it’s just ... it’s like going out at sea.”

While he said it’s work, the group loves the adventure of playing.

“I think you can expect we’re gonna obviously going to try to play our best and all that, but it’s just a good atmosphere and it’s a good time; take it church a little bit sometimes,” said Pinckard.

And the road can bring interesting stories as well.

“In St. Louis, we did a meet and greet and we’re sitting there... we get behind a table and people come by that are fans of the band and they want us to sign something, you know,” said Tyler. “Well, a woman comes up and she just drops her pants; just drops her pants and wants us to sign her backside and she’s probably... let’s just say it wasn’t something that you wanted her to do; that anybody wanted her to do there.”

Inspiration for the band’s music comes from many sources.

“The obvious ones would be rock bands like the Rolling Stones,” said Tyler. “We love them. Led Zepplin, Lynyrd Skynyrd; Neil Young is probably one of my favorite writers. Bob Dylan is one of my favorite writers, as well. But, as far as musically, some of the ones that people may not really expect would be some Gospel.”

Artists such as The Staples Singers and Charlie Jackson have been influential to Tyler.

“You take a lot of inspiration from just the things you see and the things that kind of go on in life and just sit down with a guitar and play some stuff,” said Pinckard.

The band’s debut album under F-Stop Records is titled “Pardon Me”.

“Coming into it, you know, I really looked at it as it was going to be our introduction; kind of our first thing that people would see across the country, because our first album was an independent album,” said Tyler.

With that idea in mind, the group set out to record.

“And so, we tried to come out with a bang and you know, at the same time, try to keep it really honest and real and raw and live,” said Tyler. “We recorded it live and all the songs were written by the band and myself and I think that it is the first of many because we’re planning on putting out, you know, 10 more albums. Who knows? As many as we can. We just want to put out a lot of work.”

He said there are still a lot of people who have never heard of the band. He would like to reach them.

“If it was easy, I think we would take it for granted and probably do it for the wrong reasons, but I think because we really had to get out here and work, I think we really appreciate being able to do what we do and we have the right motives and the right heart behind the music,” said Tyler. “It’s honest and we do it because we love to play and that’s it.”

Tyler said the band is looking to do a tour across the country this fall and going back into the studio to record new material with an anticipated release next spring or summer.

“I still am very grateful and thankful that we’re getting to do these kinds of things because, you know, I make music just because I love to make it and the natural high that I get from playing is addicting,” said Tyler. “So, just the fact that people are turned on by it and want to support it, especially on that national level, is humbling and it feels good and at the same time, it’s kind of scary just because it’s so many people and it’s on such a big level and the pressure is there and the stakes are high, but it makes it exciting and it definitely has made this journey pretty interesting.”