Interview: Picnic Lightning
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Thomas and Cole met back when Thomas’ father started preaching at Cole’s church. They became fast friends, bonding over superheroes, sci-fi, music, and Cole’s bleached hair. Cole even gave Thomas his first guitar. John taught himself bass in middle school in order to play Green Day songs, debuting at the local talent show. Cameron started playing percussion in 6th grade band because there was no studio art class and his cool cousin played drums. Each of us would have found our own creative outlet in our way, and Cole likely would have cured cancer by now.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
We each have our own creative outlets that follow traditional lines – writing, graphic design, photography, etc – which helps to inform our musical creative processes. Most directly, Thomas’ poetry serves as lyrical inspiration and Cole’s design work has made it to some of our merch, but overall having multiple outlets for creativity helps us to each hone our creative process and better understand what ideas we’re trying to express and how best to communicate them to each other. Being in a band is probably 80% communication, 15% text chains and emailing, and maybe 5% making music.
How long has your band been around?
Picnic Lightning formed in 2013 with Thomas Edmond Ketchersid on vocals, guitar, Cole Alvin Watkins on lead vocals and guitar, John Lenox Cope on bass and vocals and Cameron Joseph Navarro on drums and vocals. Thomas, Cole, & John had played music together since high school and Cameron joined them after hitting it off at a local Oktoberfest party.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
We’re based out of Fort Worth, Texas, “Where the West Begins.” This area is a funny place, half of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, but it still feels like it’s a non-descript Texas suburb. The dualities of this place act as mirrors to the sound we’re trying to capture; it’s a place full of “both/ands”: croon and holler, stomp and skip, wax thoughtful where vengeance belongs; and vice-versa.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
The name, Picnic Lightning, comes from a brief moment towards the beginning of the novel, Lolita; a simple description of the death of the main character’s mother. Thomas is an avid reader and accomplished poet, and he suggested this to the group as an effective phrase to capture an intense, immediate event forcing its way into the audience’s attention, and we felt this captured the tone of our music.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Our best show was the second time around at the Boiled Owl – a local dive with a tiny makeshift stage in the corner. It was a sticky summer night with a rowdy wall-to-wall crowd, a great lineup, and good friends.
Our worst was at a bar in Oklahoma. We interrupted the local Family Guy viewing and everyone walked out on the first downbeat. There were a few others where we attempted to brave the no-shade summer afternoon heat. We made it, but only barely.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
It’s tough because COVID caused the closure of so many of our favorite places, especially locally. But our favorite is the original Lola’s room – great sound, staff, vibe. They book well and treat you right. Overall, our aspirations are for any room with a willing audience.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
Supporting a band we love and admire would be a dream come true, and luckily that list is long. A few that definitely make the cut: Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Explosions in the Sky, Iron and Wine, TV on the Radio.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s a creative outlet: be disciplined, and love the process. With that, don’t expect it to come easy: the creative journey winds to many places, most of them unexpected. Lastly, write songs, sounds, lyrics, etc that only you can make.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Write intentionally. Think about what you want to say and then find the best way to say it, not the other way around. And trim the fat: the idea may be good, but putting it in the right place is what makes is great.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Over My Head (releasing May 6th) tops the list. Dreamy, massive post-rock soaked in vocal harmonies, with lyrics that attempt to express our spiritual journeys/matters of the soul.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Pre-Pangea, out in early July 2022, is fun diddy. Titans, Psalms, & 7s has been around since the beginning of the band; we play it almost every show and we’re not tired of it yet, so that’s really saying something.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
We have a collaborative approach to songwriting, with some songs starting as a guitar riff, some as a (way too long) jam, one of Thomas’ poems, or even a drumbeat. We try to stay fairly judicious with the songwriting process, trimming as much fat as possible, and not shoehorning individual ideas just because we like them. We’re also open to rewriting songs we’ve played for years. An upcoming single, Nostalgiaholic is a great example of this - we’ve gone through at least 8-10 wildly different versions before finding this current style. Overall, we stick to our band’s mantra: let no one suffer.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
It’s not really our style to convey a message, per se, but rather we’re trying to evoke a feeling or a sense of being. Raw and brooding desert punk, the sound of summer heat and dimly lit clubs. Dark, post-everything wall of sound howls like a dust storm, delivering a spiritual stomp that dwells in the shadowland of trenchant questions and orphic revelations. The fuel that sets your car aflame or gets you home; the drug that puts you down or brings out the beast. You know, that kind of thing.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Maybe this belongs in response to the advice, but pick bandmates that you care about and want to solve problems with. Because disagreements and tension and arguments will come up during the creative process, and the best way through them is to want to solve them with each other. We’re brothers: we fight, we give each other shit, and we get through it because we want to.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
We’ve got a few new singles coming out: Over My Head on May 6th, with Six Feet under, Pre-Pangea, Youth Group, and Killer Tofu coming out about a month apart one after the other. We’re playing the outdoor stage at Psychedelic Panther Fest in Fort Worth on April 16th, and we’ll have a few more shows coming up this summer. Check our socials - @picniclghtnng – and our website picniclghtnng.com – for the most up-to-date show info.