By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
This Little Light
Thanks to a little NorCal love, the new release from 60 Watt Kid is positively incandescent
So, who is the 60 Watt Kid?
Until now, that’s a question that—at least for a certain local apartment complex—had never been answered. When guitarists/singers/synth programmers Kevin Litrow and Derek Thomas graduated from high school, they lived on pennies and oxygen. While “dirt poor,” says Thomas, they stole lightbulbs from the laundry room, and so the new property-management firm published a newsletter—with a picture of a lightbulb and a grasping hand—under a headline asking, “WHO’S THE 60 WATT KID?”
Well—here they are! And their new album, We Come From the Bright Side (on Absolutely Kosher), is out, too, and it crackles with just as much electricity as you’d hope. After a year working and writing in Oakland, Litrow and Thomas have returned to the Southland and added drummer Dylan Wood. But somehow that doesn’t answer the question.
We’ve named names, sure. But who is the 60 Watt Kid really? A hardline analog man-machine like the guys in Kraftwerk or Can? A suburban robot like the men in Devo? A backwoods post-psychedelicist like the masked men in Animal Collective? A cosmic gospel shouter like Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce?
“Ah, we’re just like everybody else!” says Thomas. But like a certain property manager must have once thought—there must be more to the story!
OC locals will remember Litrow playing solo as 60 Watt Kid back around 2004, after the dissolution of his duo Dance Disaster Movement. Even if you didn’t notice him, the FBI sure did. He once took a trip up to the oil refineries in Carson to film an appropriately desolate movie he could project as he played, and he ended up on the side of Interstate 405 surrounded by 10 cars full of cops who though they’d caught a terrorist. He’d soon move to Oakland with Thomas; the Bay Area turned out to be a bit more friendly.
“Everyone was moving to another level there,” Litrow says. “A higher level—maybe not like hippie free-love, but the intelligence . . . It was definitely 60 Watt University! We learned a lot from being up there—there, experimental is just . . . normal, you know?”
“It blew our minds,” says Thomas, laughing. “There’d be 150 people at a party dressed in, like, rags, and the love was just flowing so hard. We’d look at each other—‘I feel like I’m in a fucking dream!’ Kevin was like, ‘Open up your mind! Let’s flow—let’s tune our guitars to nothing!’ And I’m such a theoretical guy. But somehow, we broke through and fell into something.”
That’s when they teamed up as the new 60 Watt Kid. And that’s where Bright Side came from, literally—because of the tracks recorded in Oakland producer-extraordinaire Greg Ashley’s renowned studio (though some work was done at Alhambra’s equally storied Infrasonic)—and spiritually—because of the sense of ecstasy and freedom and complete release. It’s a happily maximalist romp through pop experiment in the tradition of Eno and the United States of America and Harmonia and even Os Mutantes, whose fearlessness and voracious taste find reverent complement in 60 Watt Kid’s ability to make anything work.
Recent field reports document a new 60 Watt “against-type rockabilly” song; Bright Side includes even moments of gospel and soul. As with work by Jason Pierce and Iggy, centerpiece “Take the Pain Out of Your Chest” discovers sorrow and joy in a gentle organ and a barely there beat that collapses as Litrow sings lyrics originally written about the recent death of his mother; at its climax, the song blurs to white as Litrow shouts through sleeting synthesizer blips uneasily similar to the sounds a life-support apparatus might make: “I know what you’re going through!” he shouts. “Because I got it, too! I’ll take the pain—away!”
“It’s life—that’s what it’s all about,” says Litrow of Bright Side. “We work our jobs, we struggle, we cry—there’s so much shit we deal with. And so we get loose! We express ourselves; we lose it in the moment—we release the worry and the tension and just get into it.”
Look, we’re only going to ask this one more time: Who is the 60 Watt Kid? If there’s an answer on Bright Side, it’s this: Everything you suspected and then some, with pop and rock & roll and psych and noise amplified and pixelized through temperamental home-brew equipment. Wild and nervous and loud and joyful and quiet and despondent and ready to try anything if the feeling is right. Responsible for one of the most exciting local albums in recent memory. And the 60 Watt Kid will do whatever it takes to keep the lights on.
60 Watt Kid at Fingerprints, 4612 E. Second St., Long Beach; fingerprintsmusic.com. Fri., 7 p.m. Free with RSVP.