Gold Light mines ’50s sounds, big screen aesthetics and friendships

GOLDENEYE: Music and visual art go hand in hand for filmmaker and bandleader Joe Chang, who currently fronts Gold Light. "All the things I try to create tend to be [of] one big vision," he says. "I’m not always sure what it is, but there are underlying themes to everything I do.” Photo by Kyle Victory

What if a band is less about its members and more about the vehicle for a set of songs? If that’s the case, the dissolution of a band is not really a breakup as much as the completion of a project. Not that musician and filmmaker Joe Chang is saying that. Still, the disbanding of Asheville indie-rockers Kovacs and the Polar Bear (in which Chang played guitar) and indie-folk outfit Neapolitan Children (which Chang led), made way for Chang’s current act, Gold Light. That group, including members of Kovacs and the Polar Bear, performs at The Mothlight on Monday, Dec. 22; Nicholas Kovacs’ new project, War Woman, opens.

Currently based in Charleston, S.C., Gold Light originated in Kentucky. En route to Portand, Ore., Chang stopped to visit friends near Louisville. When his truck broke down there, he stayed for a year. “It was unexpected,” he says. And while the various regions he’s lived in lately haven’t necessarily impacted his songs, “being around the people I meet inspires stories and characters,” he says.

Another unexpected inspiration for Gold Light’s eponymous debut album (and current sound), came from 1950s-era albums. “My mom listened to Roy Orbison a lot, [but] I didn’t set out to make music like that; it just happened,” says Chang. When he sat down to record some new material, “All this classic chord structure and ’50s kind of songs just came out of me. It was totally a refound love of that music.” That imprint is felt in the heartening strums of “Endless Beauty” and the skipping, Mr. Sandman name-checking “Last Night (In My Dreams).” The jangle-pop of “Control” looks ahead to ’60s-era folk groups, and there’s even a hint of Orbison’s unforgettable keen in Chang’s trademark warble.

It’s probably “True Love Never Dies,” the final track from the Gold Light debut — released on Charleston-based indie label Hearts & Plugs — that best captures the ’50s aesthetic. There’s the background chorus, the waltzy lilt and the implied doo-wop. But what really drives the point home is the accompanying video, also created by Chang. Though not a period piece by any stretch, its recurring trio of backup singers (The Goldettes) and meet-cute romance suggest a bygone era.

The video, which screened as part of this year’s Music Video Asheville awards show, was directed, edited and shot by Chang. He studied filmmaking at the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem before dropping out to pursue his own interests. “There were all these rules and regulations for getting films made,” he says. “Me and some friends just wanted to make low-budget, independent things, so we decided to leave and do it ourselves.” They formed the production company Papercookie.

Chang’s last feature film, with Papercookie, was the 2013 Halloween-themed Present. He says he’s currently taking a break from movies to concentrate on music because “films wear me out so much. It takes two years to get something made.” But he still puts out the occasional music video (he directed and edited one for Kovacs and the Polar Bear’s “Skeleton Crew,” which took home a number of awards at Music Video Asheville in 2011).

“I feel like they go hand in hand,” Chang says of the connection between his audio and visual passions. “It’s a storytelling thing. All the things I try to create tend to be [of] one big vision. I’m not always sure what it is, but there are underlying themes to everything I do.” Current themes, he says, are about finding a home.

One place where the musician does feel at home is with his band. While there’s no set Gold Light lineup, when he’s ready to tour, he calls on his talented friends. In Charleston, the members of Elim Bolt — also on Hearts & Plugs — back Chang; in Asheville it’s the guys from Kovacs and the Polar Bear. “I like playing with both groups,” he says. “Kovacs breaking up was really sad, but we had a good run. And we’re still all playing music together in different entities.”

WHO: Gold Light with War Woman
WHERE: The Mothlight, themothlight.com
WHEN: Monday, Dec. 22, at 9 p.m. Free

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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