Heels & Picks: Red means go for Luster brothers
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Siblings who rock seem to be a common thread these days, particularly here at Heels & Picks. National act Echosmith rolled through Honolulu in early August and local all-girl rock band Crimson Apple has an album coming out shortly, and both bands are composed primarily of siblings. I talk about siblings in music because I grew up in a big musical family and spent years touring in a band with my bass-playing younger brother, Liam.
You can add another band to this list — Oahu-based Red Light Challenge has just given you two more siblings to love and a new EP to share.
Brothers Sean and Kyle Luster grew up in a family that would talk music regularly. These guys are of the Type A, overachiever ilk — valedictorian, athletes, community activists and multi-instrumentalists — an angle that I also find totally relatable.
I’m no athlete, believe me (ask my boyfriend about my skills when throwing a ball for our pups at the beach), but I am an artistic workaholic with seventeen irons in the fire at all times. So I feel their jam.
Affable and sharp, the curly-haired Luster men are not only a pleasure to talk to, but they can land harmonies in that way that is sometimes almost exclusive to the vocal timber of siblings. There is something about their voices that naturally blends. But we’re not talking about folksy harmonies here. These are driving, polished pop-rock songs that take their cues from Oasis and are angling towards U2 when they approach their biggest moments.
The Lusters are currently off-island, playing shows in support of their new EP, “Lookout Mountain,” while temporarily relocating to attend college. They got in touch via email to discuss their recording process and music, plus share the story of how they connected with accomplished producer Warren Huart (Aerosmith, The Fray) to work on their material.
HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER: Tell us about the songs on “Lookout Mountain.”
RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: “Lookout Mountain” consists of four original songs: “Gonna Make It,” “Feel the Nightlife,” “Out Tonight,” and “Running Wild.” The first two songs have been part of our live repertoire for a while, but the last two songs are newer additions.
We felt these four songs captured the sound that we’re striving for. It’s only a small taste of who we really are, but we’re happy and proud of the resulting product and the entire recording experience.
These songs are about being young and enjoying life, and we always strive to have that attitude come out in our songs.
SA: You worked with an accomplished producer, Warren Huart, for this EP. How did you come to meet him?
RLC: We love telling this story because even we can’t believe it happened! We were in Los Angeles in June 2014 for the L.A. Music Awards Nomination event and we thought we would take a chance and try to get in touch with big name producers in the area, knowing that chances were very slim.
We came across a producer named Warren Huart in a publication we were looking at, so we looked him up and found that he had worked with Aerosmith on their latest album, as well as The Fray, James Blunt, Augustana and so many other great names. We were able to find out where he did a lot of his recording, so we decided to take a drive out to that studio, knowing that the likelihood of meeting him was highly unlikely.
We arrived at the studio, and there were no entrances to the public; it looked kind of like a guarded fortress we would never get in to. We decided to drive around the block just in case they opened the gate, and when we came back around, the gate was opening as a van for a band was quickly entering.
We immediately jumped out of the car as the gate started closing, and we yelled to one of the assistants that we were trying to meet Warren Huart. She said he wasn’t there at the time, but she said she would give our information to him.
By the end of the night, we received an email from Warren saying he would like to meet with us, and it all started from there.
SA: What is it about your music that connects well with Huart’s production style?
RLC: We personally enjoy a lot of the music that he has worked on before we even knew him, so we thought he would be a great fit. When we finally had a sit-down with him, we discovered how cool and family-oriented of a person he was, and we just clicked.
Through all the time we’ve known him, he has always treated us like equals, and we’ve gained so much wisdom from working with him. All of us, including the engineer Sam Martin and the recording assistants Connor, Paige, and Eric, were constantly making each other laugh throughout the recording experience, but when it came down to making the music, all of us were extremely focused and put in our absolute best work.
SA: How long were you able to be in the studio recording and what was the mixing and mastering timeline like?
RLC: We decided to make our recording session during our spring break, so we had five days to record the instruments and vocals for four songs. We went in completely prepared, and even though this recording session was one of the most fun weeks we’ve ever had, we worked hard to meet our recording goals.
Mixing took a few weeks as we went back-and-forth with Warren so that we were all happy with the finished result, and the mastering process took a few days after mixing was completed.
SA: How important was it for you to win the Hot AC Artist of the Year at the 2014 Los Angeles Music Awards and make the journey to L.A. to record?
RLC: Being part of the L.A. Music Awards really opened our eyes to the entire entertainment industry. We met a lot of people from various fields and we truly gained a wealth of knowledge at our young ages.
The award has pushed us even more to keep improving our abilities in song composition, performing, and in all of the business aspects of Red Light Challenge, which we conduct completely in-house.
SA: What are your plans for the EP and the band while you are living outside Hawaii?
RLC: We’re thinking of this not as moving, but as an extended adventure! Our academics have always been important to us and have helped us a lot as a band, which is a big reason why we began our community-involvement program, Red Light Challenge, Green Light Go, where we go to schools to promote striving for excellence in the arts, academics and athletics.
Now we are both starting at Boise State University this fall (Sean pursuing his MBA as a graduate student and Kyle starting as a freshman after graduating as valedictorian from Pearl City High School this past May). We had so much fun touring the west coast this summer from Fresno, Calif., to Vancouver, Wash., and we have no plans of slowing down.
We’ve already been working on starting to perform in Boise, and we are excited to get our music in front of new audiences. We’ve been writing a lot of new music as well, so we can’t wait to start performing these songs and to keep sharing our music and spreading aloha everywhere we go.
SA: What’s the best story from your 2013 summer tour?
RLC: In 2013, we drove over 7,000 miles, from Colorado to Massachusetts and back, so we got to see many parts of the U.S. that most people don’t ever get the chance to see and we met so many great people, and all of those experiences definitely have helped us grow as musicians and individuals.
One thing from that tour that we’ll always remember is driving through torrential rain and tornado warnings in upstate New York. You couldn’t see other cars on the road, all the radio stations were saying that there was a high chance of a tornado, and it was intense! But thankfully, we were able to drive through all of these conditions and ended up eating some pretty good pizza that night (because it’s New York of course)!
SA: Tell us about growing up together and your musical background. How did you start playing music professionally?
RLC: Our family has always been extremely close and the two of us, even being five years apart, have always been great friends. Sean was in a band in high school that broke up after a few months (as many high school bands do), and then asked Kyle, who was a sixth-grader at the time, if he wanted to play drums. Sean played guitar and Kyle was starting to play guitar at that time, but Kyle picked up the drums in a few weeks and we started performing for high school functions.
We both play all of the instruments in all of our songs, including guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, trumpet, trombone, and more! We grew up in a household that always had music on, and all of it stuck with us; we could talk about music for hours from The Beatles, to Michael Jackson, to the Foo Fighters, Van Halen, Marvin Gaye, Jamiroquai, and so much more from the early 1960s to now.
SA: What’s the writing process for Red Light Challenge?
RLC: The process always varies for every song, whether we start out with a guitar riff, drum beat, melody, or some lyrics. We always feel our best when we collaborate with each other, and we each contribute multiple aspects to every song we write.
We have about five handheld recorders filled with ideas for song demos (literally at least a thousand ideas) and multiple notebooks filled with potential lyrics, but we constantly write and create new things. We are always competing with ourselves to create a better song, and we know that this will be a lifelong process of always working to be better at everything we do.
SA: Who in the band plays which instruments?
RLC: Some of the instruments we play include guitars, bass, drums, some keyboards, trombone, trumpet and a few more. In our live shows, Kyle is predominantly the drummer and Sean the guitarist, but we both are always singing, and every part that you hear in any of our songs were recorded by us.
SA: Who is the eldest? Do you have other siblings?
RLC: Sean is 23 and Kyle is 18, and we don’t have any other siblings. We need another sibling to play the tambourine though, because we honestly love that instrument as much as you do!
SA: What is your favorite song on the new EP?
RLC: It is hard for us to have a favorite song because we enjoyed the recording process so much that each song feels like an entirely different and equally exciting adventure for us. We are extremely happy that our fans and friends have been telling us that they are enjoying the songs, and it’s always interesting for us to hear what each individual’s favorite song is because the answer is always different.
We can’t wait for Red Light Challenge’s sound to continue to grow, and we hope that fans old and new will come along for the ride with us!
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.