Up until last year, Asheville singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Chang was probably best known for his work as a sideman; he played guitar for popular indie acts Kovacs and Polar Bear. But for the last decade or so, Chang has been recording music on his own, releasing songs on a small scale to friends and handing out copies at shows. But after one listen to Gold Light, the band name he adapted last year to release his songs to the general public, you have to wonder why he didn’t do it sooner.
The songs on Gold Light’s self-titled debut are immaculately produced slices of heavenly indie-pop, featuring layers of vocal harmonies, and a big, sparkling production backdrop that makes the tracks sound like they were recorded in a cathedral. It’s blissfully melodic, deeply romantic music that draws just as much from the doo-wop and soul of the 1950s as it does from the celestially stacked sound of My Morning Jacket or Fleet Foxes.
Chang has one theory on why he took so long to release his own material. “I think of myself as kind of a private person,” he says, “so releasing all that stuff, there was some awkwardness to that. It was kind of like putting myself out there in a way that I wasn’t really ready to do for some reason.”
But Chang says it was never really his plan to keep his songs under wraps. “It’s kind of just the way it happened,” he says. “I’d home-recorded a lot of stuff but never really had any intention of releasing it outside of giving it to friends and playing live. For some reason I was just never inclined to release it beyond handing out copies at shows and stuff,” Chang says. “Gold Light is really the first attempt I’ve made to traditionally release stuff. Some of that earlier stuff is kind of cringe-worthy, looking back on it, but I enjoy the whole process of creating songs.”
As for the 1950s influence on the album, which is even more prevalent on Gold Light’s newest single, “Babe,” Chang says that he didn’t realize how pervasive it was until well into the recording process. “I’ve always kind of been into those older ’50s doo-wop sounds, but it didn’t occur to me that I was using them ’til after I’d recorded the songs,” he says. “My intentions were to do a bunch of songs that were more acoustic and folksy, but this one song, ‘True Love Never Dies,’ kind of had this doo-wop thing, and from there it just kind of started heading in that direction. I really enjoyed taking that structure and writing songs that way. Once that song came out, it was like, ‘Oh. OK.’ It happened very naturally.”
When it came time to tour the Gold Light material, Chang needed some help to recreate the lushly produced songs onstage. “I’ve always enjoyed playing live in a band atmosphere,” he says. “And once those songs were recorded, I just reached out to close friends of mine who I’d been performing with over the years. I have a small pool of guys that I go to that fill out the band. It wasn’t hard to find members. It’s mainly just an excuse for me to get together with friends and play with them.”
The live lineup of Gold Light fluctuates based on availability, but at any given time it can include drummers Jess Oliver, Casey Ellis, or Adam Callum, bassists Andy Woodward or Nick Kovacs, and guitarists Dane Smith, Johnnie Matthews, and Nesey Gallons. Any of them might have a place on the next Gold Light album. “I like other people’s input and different styles of playing,” he says. “I’d like to record with some of the live members. I’d like to write songs together as a band and have that kind of dynamic. I think it’s overdue. It’s the next step from my own thing.”