Lightheaded are traveling from NJ to the Bay to play Oakland Weekender today! Bassist-vocalist Cynthia Rittenbach and I recently traded Qs and As about Asbury Park, the Pastels, celluloid youth, and their new Slumberland-released record, Combustible Gems. Enjoy the exchange between this Jersey native and my new favorite jangle-pop band (and don't sleep on seeing them tonight!).

When and how did the band first form (aka do you have a meet-cute story)?

Hi! We first met in 2016 when our old bands were playing together in Rutgers, New Jersey basements. They were both sorta on the brink of falling apart within the upcoming months of us meeting one another. It ended up working out.

Fellow New Jerseyans! Are you native to the Asbury Park area? If not, how did you find yourself there? And as someone who admittedly just visits in the summer and used to go to Asbury Lanes for shows, I feel like Asbury Park has been transforming; what are your thoughts on those changes and any impact to the scene there?

Fellow New Jerseyans, reporting for duty. We live right outside the Asbury Park area, all from slightly different shore towns throughout Monmouth and Ocean County. Stephen Stec (guitarist) and Cynthia really grew up in Asbury Park, with Stephen specifically going to shows at the old Convention Hall, mostly pop punk stuff in the very early 2000’s. Cynthia grew up a little later, as the change was starting to sweep the town a little more, but was fortunate enough to have a lot of formative experiences at the original Asbury Lanes.

The death of the original Asbury Lanes briefly led to a really strong basement scene in the mid 2010’s in New Brunswick at Rutgers but… even now, that has felt a little left behind. There’s not really many places in AP promoting and pushing new, young bands. The Stone Pony doesn’t do that. We’ve literally still never played there. Asbury Lanes does what it can, but it’s corporate. There’s a cool spot called the Low Dive, but it’s hard to get booked there. I don’t know, it’s all sort of sad, really. Something’s gotta give. It’s all negative now and a lot of good bands just move away to Philly or New York.

LOVE the new record, Combustible Gems! What are some of your musical influences? Definitely hearing a lot of 60s jangle and Creation Records vibes, but what are your faves/inspirations?

Cynthia actually asked Stephen to start a band that “sounds like the Pastels” so that’s cool to know you hear the Creation influence! Another one from Creation was Felt, tons of Felt when we first started. We love their sound, with a really classical influenced lead guitar, surrealistic poetry inspired lyrics, interesting production choices…

Beyond Creation, or Slumberland stuff like the Aislers Set or Pains of Being Pure At Heart…I’m trying to think of some stuff we were really listening to a lot during the time we wrote these initial songs…the soundtrack to this french film Masculin Feminin, it’s by Chantal Goya, who is this amazing Ye-Ye pop singer…a lot of power pop like Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour, for sure, the Paisley Underground stuff, anything from Postcard/Sarah, uhm can’t forget to mention this band called EZTV, we loved going to their shows. Huge influence. One of the last great bands doing what we do, who was from the East Coast.

Lightheaded at WFMU

I feel like some of the sounds from this 60s era of pop are eternal. Why do you think we (as music lovers and makers) keep coming back to them?

It’s funny, people say we are nostalgic for a time that we’ve never experienced, but both of our youths were totally shaped by the 60’s. Seems like nostalgia goes in 30 year waves, and we were both feeling the full effects of the 60’s growing up in the 90’s/early 2000's. For Stephen especially, TV Land on Nick At Nite was constantly playing all of these television shows that we loved, stuff like The Monkees, The Partridge Family, Happy Days…all of these shows focused on a sort of small group of rock-obsessed youth. It was jammed down our throats, we just turned on the TV!

But yes, for us, these sounds really are the sounds of our youth, the sounds of us being happy and comfortable and hopeful.

Aside from musical influences, what inspires you? How do you motivate yourselves or keep each other motivated to keep making?

We like the Outlaw Ribeye from Longhorn. Split it between two people, get a few sides, call it a night. It is a meal that serves as a constant source of inspiration. It is very inspirational.

Okay, more seriously: traveling. The city, and leaving it. Meeting new people. Waking up next to trees. Falling for someone. Being near the ocean at night. Mostly, I think we inspire each other. Cynthia and Stephen are songwriting partners, but also strong best friends. We have a pretty special relationship, we’ve really been through hell together and back. We are thick as thieves, as close as family can be when you don’t share blood…I think that goes a long way in collaboration and creation. Sharing meals, picking each other up from bus stations…I think there’s a real comfort, but also a slightly competitive nature. We don’t want to let the other down, we don’t want to write something the other doesn’t like…we really care about each other and I think that aspect pushes us to create something meaningful for both of us.

Can you tell us a bit about how you collaborate together?

Cynthia and Stephen both start about half the songs, but Stephen doesn’t play bass or drums, and Cynthia doesn't write lyrics. We’re both really strong with chord progressions, and we both usually will write a whole part of what the other one started, like going eye for eye in the same room. Sometimes, Stephen will give Cynthia a chord progression with just lyrics and no melody, like "Moments Notice," and she will write the melody. Sometimes Stephen hands something over more fully formed, like the verse of "Dawn Hush Lullaby," for Cynthia to fill out the rhythm and produce the direction. Rarer times, Stephen doesn’t contribute anything musically, just lyrics, like on "Because of You" or "Hugging Horizons." The only song we wrote on the spot with Sara Abdlebarry (guitarist) was "Bright Happy Girls," which means a lot to us for that reason :-)

How did you connect with Slumberland?

Lifetime huge fans of the label, Stephen had connected with some of the bands through his genuine appreciation of their songs. I think some of the bands from the label noticed our likemindedness, namely Morgan from The Umbrellas, and was able to pass along the album we recorded to Papa Slumber, who promptly suggested we record an EP and that we do the damn thing the right way.

I’m quite ashamed that I don’t really know many current Jersey bands! Can you shout out a few of your fellow musicians that our listeners should look into?

You ever hear of the Feelies?

Okay, no, so Jersey is tough! lol There may be a reason behind you not knowing many current bands, it is pretty barren here. Joy Cleaner is really great. Nylon is amazing. Teen Idle is doing sweet stuff, The Livers are really new and really cool, uhmmm Prettier Now, Kane & James, Von Mons…A big one is Starcleaner Reunion, they are from Montclair originally, but they moved to the city recently…they still count to me, damnit!

All of these are going on my next playlist for sure, thank you so much!

Combustible Gemsis out NOW via Slumberland Records. Catch Lightheaded at Oakland Weekender TONIGHT at Thee Stork Club! Tickets and details here.