DS Interview: Erik Garlington (Great Wight) talks first album, outsider status, and what makes a good song

The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life is the sort of debut to turn heads. Yeah, it’s raw, vulnerable, and catchy as all Hell— but it comes with an under-documented perspective that serves as a breath of fresh air in a scene so often defined by its straight whiteness.

Enter: Great Wight, a three piece from the Big Apple playing emo tinged pop punk in the spirit of Sorority Noise and Modern Baseball with lyrics that explore what it means to be gay and black in today’s punk scene. It’s a killer album that pulls you in with big hooks and conversational poetics, and I liked it so much, that after my first listen, I did what all unpaid (but impressed) music journalists do— I reached out over Facebook and asked for an interview.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Erik Garlington via e-mail, where he told me about how Great Wight started, how he writes songs, and whether the punk rock scene is still a place for outsiders.

Check it out here.

First off, before we get to far ahead. Go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us what you do in Great Wight.

My name is Erik, I’m a songwriter, I play guitar, and I sing said songs!

I loved The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life. If I’m correct, it’s the band’s first album. Can you tell us a little how Great Wight came to be and the recording of the album?

Thank you so much! And, yes, that is correct. This is our first album! This one’s kind of a long story but I’ll try to paraphrase: I’ve been writing songs and performing for about a decade now but as for Great Wight, it started with me moving to New York 3 years ago. I started in metalcore bands and had my MySpace pop side project, which evolved into a folk punk project, which evolved into the current genre we’re in now. I spent about 4 years in Kansas City, Missouri and just ended up fed up with life and trying to be an artist in the Midwest. Not to step on any toes but their music scene is… lacking.

It felt like every show was a competition and every accomplishment was an act of aggression. I just couldn’t do it anymore so I quickly made the decision to leave and start fresh. I was so excited about living in New York that I spent the first 2 years in a honeymoon phase taking in the city and not actually doing any work towards assembling a band. At the start of year 3 a friend tells me she knows a drummer looking to join a band, Eli. The guy had a ridiculous amount of patience and spent the entire year working at my glacial pace, recording the album, and missing deadline after deadline. We recorded at SpeakerSonic Studio on the border of Queens and Brooklyn and just took our time recording in pieces over the course of probably 5 months. The entire time I kept all this a secret from my friends and family too so everyone found out the day we released it. By that time we got lucky and found Natasha to play bass.

What kind of music did you like growing up? How did you get into punk?

I grew up with hip hop, soul, r&b, radio pop, and the like but when I was 12 my dad, for some reason I can’t even remember or understand, gave me a copy of Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth. That opened me up to a whole new world of music and after that it was hours trying to learn how to play At the Drive-In, Coheed & Cambria, and whatever prog rock/metal I could get a hold of on Limewire. I actually never had a pop punk/punk phase growing up. Progressive metal and rap are still my 2 defining influences. Even though I write punk music I couldn’t name a single influential punk band without really having to think about it for an embarrassing amount of time! I listened to emo pop and metalcore when those waves hit but even to this day I’ll still end up staying up waiting for the new Protest the Hero album to drop.

The lyrics across The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life talk a lot about the concepts of blackness and queerness. Obviously, punk has always been a genre that claims outsider status, but looking at a lot of participants, the majority are typically straight, white, and male. Do you think punk rock is still a viable vehicle of expression for true outsiders? What makes it remain attractive to you?

Sadly, I don’t. I see more and more people of color reclaiming punk and otherness but it’s already in the masses minds that punk is ‘white music’. The band/artist in the forefront of the movement is always going to be straight white men talking about straight white men topics. The true outsiders will still be there of course but I don’t see it ever changing in our favor. I guess what makes it attractive to me is the freedom to be or dress different and know that there’s a community of people that won’t bat an eye at it. Gotta take the good with the bad.

One of the things that struck me most about the album was the song content. It was so refreshing to hear angst that I’d never heard before in song, delivered in such a way that it inspired instant empathy. Would you care to share some of your own experiences regarding the inspiration for your songs?

Thank you! That’s a compliment I get often but I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that when I write a song what inspires me isn’t even anything from my life. Going back to my love of prog rock and metal, this is how my song writing process is: I’ll be listening to a song and hear a chord I’ve never heard before, or a key change, or something as simple as a song with a 5 part harmony. I’ll hear that and think, “I’ve never wrote a song with that in it. I should do that!”.Take our song, ‘The American Way for example’. That entire song was inspired by a You Me and Everyone We Know song where they went from a G to a G7 chord. I came up with a chord progression to use that G7 chord in, started humming a melody, and then writing a line to fit in that melody. Once that’s done, I’ll write the rest of the words and put it all together.  

I love the conversational style of your lyrics, it feels immediate and intimate. What makes a good song to you, and how did you develop your own style?

There’s no way to say this without sounding pretentious but a good song to me is lyrics that aren’t about love and failed relationships. That’s really all it takes to win me over! I just feel like there’s so much more to write about in life. I myself started out writing about love and failed relationships so I’m not without sin but even then I felt like I could do better. I felt like there were more people like me out there that might need to hear that they aren’t alone. To tack on to the last question, my experiences were always so public yet so discouraged from being talked about that most times all I could do was write about them. I figured I couldn’t be the only one going through it but maybe these other people I’d imagine weren’t in a place to express it and needed someone to.

There’s been more and more awareness in the punk scene regarding diversity in the last couple years. What do you think the majority can do better in this regard?

More inclusive bills all the way. The amount of times I see show/tour announcements where every act is nothing but straight, white men I can’t help but roll my eyes. It’s just too easy to say you’re an ally without doing any actual leg work.

What bands working today inspire you?

I have a habit of still listening to the bands I loved when I first started out so Say Anything and Kanye are still my all time top inspirations. I also tend to gravitate towards bands/artists whose main selling point is lyrics. I’m listening to mewithoutYou, The Wonder Years, Corbin, Chance the Rapper, and Lydia like it’s still 2012.

Do you have any plans to tour?

Yes! We actually just announced our tour to SXSW today! We’re doing an 8 day run through the midwest with a great band called Summerbruise!

What can we expect from Great Wight in 2018?

A lot of touring, a couple festivals if we’re lucky, and probably some new music if I’m not too lazy!

Lots of thanks to Erik for talking with me. Check out The Suburbs Have Ruined My Life on bandcamp.


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