Written by Colin Kirkland
“Snakes are in the kitchen / A devil in the yard” – a sun-lit galley somewhere in the South: a fifties house-wife stands still washing dishes at the sink, staring out of the open window. A subtle breeze blows by causing the linen curtains to gently sway before her. She sees the empty yard, the grass perfectly trimmed, and is stuck, totally underwhelmed. A baby cries in the next room. She doesn’t move. She’s all alone with her demons, still growing with nowhere to go. Her thoughts race backwards as two vibrant monstrosities wrestle outside.
This is what I pictured as “Twisted Little Sister” trickled through my speakers for the first time, the strongest track off of The Night Thief’s debut album, All Disappear. In my conversation with Bradley S. Register, the creator of this song, I learned that he wrote the lyrics at his parents’ house in Lakeland, Florida about three years ago. I’m unsure of why I felt connected to a bleached-out image of a single mother when I heard Register’s tune, but reason doesn’t ever seem to enable our initial feelings. Only does it have an effect when we try to convince ourselves otherwise. It’s unlikely that Register was picturing pearls, dish-soap and distant offspring, but that feeling of loneliness, of desperation – I found out – was the inspiration for the track. And I felt that; you will too.
* * *
Register’s latest band, The Night Thief, began as a studio project between he and a good friend from Florida named Robert Columbus. The two of them put the album together in Columbus’s studio on Melrose as a dual recording project: “We were just gonna record albums whenever with no intention of playing live,” reflected Register. “At this point I had been playing and touring in bands for over ten years. I was ready to have a project that was just recording.” With no real time limitations and the bill taken care of by a friend at Fly South Music Group, Register took pieces of material he had written previously and built upon them to create the most electronic and synthesized album he has made to date. All Disappear is a flowing stream of charged subtleties; eerie atmospheric keys and fluctuating synth storms. Register embodies an upbeat edge on his party-anthem, “Young and Free,” but reconnects it to the rest of the album, which is more flowing and washed out. Lyricism is important to Register and through the words of All Disappear, it is apparent that he is using them to arrive somewhere that may potentially be the present.
Leading up to his move out to Los Angeles several years ago, Register had experienced some success through his formation of Summerbirds in the Cellar, a moody indie-outfit with synth undercurrents who were close to breaking out to the mainstream. After opening for Saddle Creek’s Now It’s Overhead, Register joined the group on guitar and keys while balancing his time with both bands for the next five or six years. He grew familiar with the legendary Michael Stipe while touring with REM and other well-known indie acts such as, Rilo Kiley, Idlewild, and The Faint. After things fizzled out, Register moved to Austin, Texas and started a band called The Tenant. They recorded an album in Detroit but nothing came of it. After the band broke up, Register entered a period of addiction and divorce that landed him back home with his parents. There, he wrote and recovered, ultimately spawning the inspiration for All Disappear.
While we were talking, Register made a point of telling me that he didn’t want this to be one of those articles that he hates reading, where the interviewee releases all of their woes on the audience, just to add false anticipation to their latest release; whether it is their “darkest” music to date, I guess it is difficult to trust an icon’s possibly inflated experiences. It got me thinking about what it is to sell one’s own tragedies – something Register was certainly not doing, but was obviously worried about in terms of how he would be perceived. However, in my opinion, as the interviewer, talking about one’s personal travesties or times of misconnection, is a crucial point of understanding the art that they’ve created, and how they’ve created it. Therefore, I commend Register for trusting me with the information he released as it has allowed a closer look into the creative process.
“I was really taken by ‘Twisted Little Sister,” I said to Register, eager to find out what inspired him to write it. It’s the most stripped down song on the album, but Register informed me that he gave it more attention than any other track: “We kept pulling things away from it until we got it to a point we really liked.”
“What are you talking about in that song?” I asked.
“There were a few years there when I went through a really dark time. I had gotten a divorce and you know…my life was a mess. I had a lot of personal struggles happening in terms of addiction, which I don’t talk about a lot. But it was written in that time so it was definitely a reference to where I was in my life and what I was dealing with.”
“When it rains it fucking pours,” I replied, clumsily trying to make sense out of a senseless situation.
“Definitely. That’s another thing that’s kind of difficult,” he said. “Everything’s good now. I’m like happy right now – where am I pulling from to write lyrics now? (laughs).”
I quickly learned that The Night Thief was born out of Register’s struggle to reconnect to something non-destructive. He told me confidently that “the best thing that came out of that time was this album.” I responded by telling him how I don’t think the artist’s struggle is cliché unless it is being purposefully sought after. Having talked to several artists about this, I’ve found that music is a cathartic method for anyone trying to understand, move on, or cope with whatever trauma they’ve encountered – a powerful serum, honest and ever-changing.
“Yeah…I’ve had ups and downs in my life like anybody,” stated Register, “and I’ve always had music to lean on to work that out but this past experience that we based All Disappear on, it was that big time in my life where I started to realize that I was really young when I used think, ‘Aw that sounds so silly when people say they had a meltdown or whatever.’ Then when you go through it yourself you realize that it does happen. In my early twenties I wasn’t wise enough to know that later things might not go the way you think they will and that you might have a reaction to it.”
“So how are you writing lyrics now?” I asked. “What other inspirations can you find?”
“I’ve been writing about different things now. But I can still pull from that time because it is still very real to me,” said Register. “There are still so many things I am figuring out. I was thirty years old and I had to move back in with my parents…none of my friends knew what to do with me. When I got to my parent’s house…I was writing the entire time, and easily, that’s where I wrote ‘Twisted Little Sister’…My head was all over the place but the music wasn’t. That’s why All Disappear was cohesive, I think.”
After All Disappear was completed, Register was getting enough positive feedback that he decided to put a band together and play the songs live. “We basically put the rest of it on the backing track and sequenced it,” said Register. “We want to grow into a bigger four-or-five-piece band but right now this setup is working really well and everyone seems to have common goals.” The band is made up of Josh Jacober, one of Register’s old friends from Florida, and Lee Marciniak, a talented drummer that Register and Jacober randomly found online. “The live shows have been surprisingly good in my opinion, considering the songs weren’t written for a live band,” reflected Register. When I asked him what The Night Thief was bringing to the LA music scene, Register laughed and said, “Hopefully music that’s not garbage,” but he described the difficulty in being able to actually book decent gigs – “It’s hard to get people to notice; I think a lot of people would like the band if they just knew it existed.” When the band was coming together less than a year ago, they landed a gig at The Overpass, an after-hours dance-dive that allowed smoking indoors and served drinks until 6AM. “The month we started playing our first shows,” Register told me, “we began doing Third Thursdays there, which is something we created.” Their first show went exceptionally well, so The Night Thief spent the next six months doing steady late night gigs at The Overpass, playing to raging drunk crowds smelling of sweat and smoke. Unfortunately, the venue was closed down in December due to its lack of rules and LA’s decision to crack down on after-hours bars. “For those months that it did last,” said Register, “it was a really great thing. It was a free show, you would just RSVP and we’d put you on the list. We’re really hoping that we can find somewhere to move that idea to because we’ve had a lot of people contact us.”
For now, The Night Thief are focusing on finishing their upcoming EP. “I think it’s going to be stronger than All Disappear in every way,” said Register. “We’re trying to get it done by the middle of the year.” According to Register, the songs have more structure and the writing is communal. Along with Jacober, and Marciniak, he is trying to infuse the EP with the aggression and energy found in their live performances. Until the collection drops, though, The Night Thief have something new for everyone, a stirring electronic cover of one of Elliott Smith’s most jarring arrangements. “Needle in the Hay” quite possibly holds some dark similarities to Bradley Register’s personal strife, for Smith is his most cherished hero. The Night Thief display their ability to infuse an array of emotion into a techno-driven beat, emphasizing each strained lyric as the speaker, whose voice echoes back-and-forth, continues to just “walk, walk, walk” toward whatever fate awaits them.
Stay tuned for new music coming from The Night Thief, produced at DTLA studios in Los Angeles!