A light on the disco ball casts us into a private galaxy, some cosmic hideaway where we exist between shifting stars on the walls and a thick haze of reverb, a swirling murk of fuzz that births cascading keyboard lines, pulsing bass and the occasional stray ’80s video game sound effect. In reality, we’re at the Mohawk on a Tuesday night, where the psychedelic pop project Night Glitter is celebrating the release of their debut EP "Hangin’ on a Dream." But when LouLou Ghelichkhani sings, unwinding velvety phrases that spiral into the ether, the illusion of a mystical otherworld is complete.
Many of the songs hint at loss, love gone wrong. Band co-founder John Michael Schoepf takes turns on vocals, too, but the group is strongest when Ghelichkhani leads, with Schoepf countering with melodic basslines intricately crafted to underline the urgency of the aching regret that lurks in the shadow of each song.
Night Glitter is the Austin 360 Artist of the Month for July. They performed their single "Radio" live from the studios of The Austin American-Statesman.
Though the music swirls in the troubled waters of tainted love, the project was born out of a healthy relationship. Ghelichkhani and Schoepf began dating three years ago. Each has a daughter from a previous relationship, and they maintain a happy household. The band’s name comes from phrase Schoepf and his 10-year-old used to describe the pastoral setting around their old house in Wimberley.
"We lived on the river, and we would walk down and the fireflies would be everywhere, and we called it night glitter," he says.
Both artists have solid careers as studio and touring musicians. For years, Ghelichkhani has worked as a vocalist and instrumentalist for the Washington-based electronic crew Thievery Corporation. Schoepf, who grew up in Houston, started touring right out of high school. In 2003, he moved to Austin, and he’s become an in-demand bassist playing with everyone from Roky Erickson to Kelly Willis.
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After years working as support artists, Ghelichkhani and Schoepf were looking for ways to stretch out on their own. But at first they were reluctant to play together. Merging their professional and personal lives so intimately seemed like a terrible idea. Yet, as they began playing music, exploring ideas around the house, a writing partnership emerged organically.
"Both of us initially came with a batch of songs that were about previous relationships, in some ways finding closure, and eventually they grew from there," Ghelichkhani says.
Most of the music is built out of improvisation. "She’s great at singing over anything, and that’s inspiring for me," Schoepf says. "It doesn’t matter what genre … it’s instant."
English is Ghelichkhani’s third language. She uses her other tongues, French and the Persian language Farsi, to create impressionist soundscapes.
"It’s a lot more like fluid poetry," she says. "Farsi is a very symbolic language, and the art that comes out of Iran is very symbolic, there’s a lot of imagery. French is just very dramatic and romantic, and so even with just simple phrasing you can achieve so much."
She picked up the languages during a childhood that spanned three continents. She was born in California, where her father, an Iranian soccer player, had been traded to the San Francisco Earthquakes. It was the late ’70s, and a bitter revolution roiled her homeland. When the family returned to Iran, the country was in political turmoil.
They were placed under house arrest as both sides — the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah, and the religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini — wrangled over how to use her father’s status to advance their cause.
Night Glitter is the Austin 360 Artist of the Month for July. They performed their single "Le Passage" live from the studios of The Austin American-Statesman.
The situation was tense and, at one point, almost deadly. With a hot water curfew in place, families had to boil water during the day and store it in large vats. One day, the young Ghelichkhani toddled into the scalding water. She was badly burned, but the guards refused to let the family out of the house to get help. They pleaded their case for half a day, but it wasn’t until the workers of a local hospital, run by a family friend, went on strike that the guards allowed the family to leave.
"They all dropped their tools at the hospital and were ready to get shot if they didn’t bring in the baby," Ghelichkhani says.
Ghelichkhani and her mother were the first of her family to escape Iran, going into exile in the U.S. It took a few more years for her father to extricate himself. He landed in Paris, where she joined him and spent most of her childhood. Her father became a leader in the local exile community, running a censorship-free Farsi newsletter.
"All the weekends were protests for as long as I could remember," she says.
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By the time she came to America for high school and college, she says she was exhausted. "Part of me just wanted to assimilate, wanted to fit in and kind of not embrace or live that kind of lifestyle," she says.
She still instinctively shies away from politics in her writing, but one song on the new album, "Raised For the War," alludes to her harrowing journey. Ghelichkhani and Schoepf wrote the song around the time of the 2016 election. The elevation of forced patriotism and blind support for the government seemed to echo the military recruitment she witnessed in Iran, she says.
"My dad was used for propaganda with kids because he was a soccer star. And so they were really trying to use his image, of which party he was with, to recruit really young kids," she says.
She knows the personal toll armed conflict exacts on an individual, she says, and her heart aches for young soldiers who face the horrors of war.
In that same year, many of the couple’s musical idols died, and their sorrow around those losses is also part of the lament.
"We were really sad, so the chorus is about feelings and how you die like a star," she says. "So you just fade, but there’s a sense of everyone knowing you’re still there."
Like most of their songs, "Raised for the War" floats through a gauzy mist.
"I don’t think it was premeditated, our sound, but we are very into post-production effects, space echoes, tape delays, old funky pedals," Schoepf says. "Sometimes we’ll spend as much time on that sort of stuff as we will writing the tune or recording it. Getting the delays and things to where they’re really fun to listen to in your headphones."
"I think that’s part of why we did" the project, Ghelichkhani says. "Because we enjoy spending time in kind of our own studio setting and production, so we get to play with a lot of gear."
With the debut EP out, the couple is pushing forward to finish a full-length album. Most of their weekends through the fall are already committed to the artists they support, but they’re trying to slot in midweek gigs where they can.
And they’re no longer worried about maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
"Actually I think the music definitely solidified the relationship a lot more," Ghelichkhani says. "It’s a nice way to spend time together."
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