"We woke up to him running in the house yelling, 'Look outside! Look outside!' And we looked outside, and there were like a million bubbles everywhere."
Lightning Dust With Cave Singers and Carrie Bell. Neumo's, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9467, www.neumos.com. $8. 8 p.m. Wed., June 20.
Listen to Lightning Dust's "Listened On."
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Amber Webber is recounting the time that Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips served as alarm clock while she and her bandmates in Pink Mountaintops were staying at his Oklahoma compound during a tour.
"He'd started these bubble machines from when the Flaming Lips toured Lollapalooza in the '90s," she says. "Because he was cleaning out the garage."
The "Wayne Coyne bubble machine" found a new home in Pink Mountaintops' tour van, taking center stage for the rest of the tour, and coating their instruments with slippery bubble solution. It now rests in their Vancouver, B.C., practice space. Webber's memory holds a vast collection of experiences like that, reaped from her years spent adding harmony vocals to the aforementioned Pink Mountaintops, as well as Black Mountain—both stoner, space-rock projects fronted by her fellow Canadian, singer-songwriter Stephen McBean.
Over the years, the striking Canadian wailer has heard her searing vocals rip through giant speakers, reaching the ears of 30,000 people a night during a bewildering opening stint for Coldplay in 2004, during which they navigated celebrity-studded after-parties ("We always felt like such dirtbags") and did their best to avoid sleazy record-label types eager to sign the buzz-generating openers.
When I spoke with Webber, Black Mountain had just returned from a weeklong jaunt in Spain. And though she spends a good deal of time on the road in far-flung places, her roots remain firmly entwined with the earth of her hometown of Vancouver. Family is close by, and friends are more likely to post up at each other's houses versus a dank hipster bar. Her identical twin sister, Ashley (incidentally, McBean's girlfriend, who's incited many a double take, especially after she took over her sister's role in PM), lives a block and a half away.
"There's lots of backyard space here," says Webber. "So people are always hanging out, getting together, and having potluck-y things, drinking wine and listening to records."
After touring for almost a year between the two bands, it was a rare eight-month stretch at home that finally gave her the time and drive to pour her creative energies into Lightning Dust, a project she shares with boyfriend and Black Mountain bandmate Joshua Wells.
"[Wells] and I live together, and we were always just playing songs together," she explains. "And we wanted to make a Christmas album for all of our friends and family for gifts. And then we were like, 'That was so fun, we should just make a whole album!'"
Lightning Dust is a far cry from the warm, amber glow of the life they lead. Rather, their Jagjaguwar self-titled debut is like a lone ember, cast far from the campfire. It's a melancholy offering, a record that seems tailor-made to fit deep inside the cavern of a broken heart.
On each track, Webber's warble takes center stage, with spooky harmonies by Wells, set to a backdrop of minimal instrumentation that ranges from piano to cello. Album opener "Listened On" sets the tone, with little more than dark keyboards providing the landscape for lyrics about heavy rains on a dark night. It's a mood that's sustained through to the end, broken up only by the third track, "Wind Me Up," a clear departure with its bouncy tempo and tambourine slaps. This detour is brief, however, and the rest of the record wallows in starkness. Webber and Wells alternate vocals on the verses of "Jump In" ("We'll jump in the lava/It'll melt us together/Hold on") but bind tightly together for the chorus ("'Cause when it burns/It'll hurt/And when it rains/It'll pour"). Wells' piano provides the lone anchor for Webber's meandering sorrow on "Castles and Caves," which begins to lull the record to a close.
"I always write dark songs," Webber admits of her penchant for heavy material. "It's just so depressing when you're around the campfire. I'm writing now, a song about friends on a vacation, so that should be a lighthearted number. I want a song I can play around the campfire!"