Indie band Lightning Love ready to battle it out as finalist in national Billboard bands contest
photo by Tiffany Dawn Nicholson
Locally based indie rock band Lightning Love has made it all the way to the finals in Billboard.com’s national “Battle of the Bands” competition. Now they have a shot at winning a spot on stage at this year’s "Billboard Music Awards," which will air live on ABC on May 22 from 8 to 11 p.m.
But before they can get a turn on the largest stage there is, television, the trio — consisting of sister and brother Leah Diehl and Aaron Diehl and their friend Ben Collins — must impress a panel of judges at a “Battle of the Bands” concert to be hosted by Sugar Ray front man and "Celebrity Apprentice" star Mark McGrath on May 18 in Las Vegas. Lightning Love is the Midwest finalist, and they will be competing against five other up-and-coming, “under-the-radar” musical acts from across the U.S, according to the competition’s website.
You can show your support by viewing a video they will soon make during their road trip out to Las Vegas in a Chevy Cruze. The band with the most video views will have a better shot at winning the competition. Check Billboard.com/battle before May 18 to view all six bands’ “Cruze-ing to Vegas” road trip videos.
Lightning Love formed about three years ago, and they released their first self-produced album, November Birthday, in 2008. Collins and Leah Diehl had already played together in Ann Arbor-based indie band Minor Planets with singer Lenny Zenith, who wrote most of their songs. Then Leah Diehl got asked to perform a show of her own music at the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti, and she quickly threw the band together.
“I was getting asked to do sets of just my music — mostly we were playing Lenny’s music and we’d throw in a song or two of mine. I didn’t want to play by myself, so I asked Ben to join, and I asked Aaron to play, and we didn’t really know who would play what instrument. We experimented one evening and it seemed to work well with guitar and drums,” on top of her keyboard playing and lyrics, she explains.
“We got kinda thrown into playing a show at the Elbow Room. We had a week to put it together, so we were rushed into it. We put some of our songs together really quick,” says Aaron Diehl, who lives in Ypsilanti.
Usually, a band will form and then seek out gigs, in that order. However, in Lightning Love’s case, “getting booked for shows led to us forming a band,” says Collins, an Ann Arbor resident.
The band thinks their “stripped down” sound fits well into the house party scene, which is “where we have fun and have been well received,” says Collins. “We play short sets, we don’t have a ton of equipment. We just set up in five minutes and play for twenty,” he says. That formula works great for house parties and a lot of local club shows, however the band is ready to change up their arrangement a little so their music can translate to a larger stage. “In a professional setting, we want to do what the professionals do,” adds Leah Diehl, who lives in Ferndale.
The group is planning to finish up their second album, working title The Blonde Album, which they are self-producing with the help of fellow indie rocker Gerald Roesser and Detroit-based producer Jim Diamond. “We’re in the final throws of the production process,” Collins reports.
Leah Diehl thinks her songwriting “has matured lyrically. It’s a bit different because, for one thing, I’m angry about different things now!” she laughs. She says the band also learned a lot of recording the first time around, and they have taken it to the next level with the new album. One difference is that they recorded all the tracks as full takes. “Anything on this album is one complete take all the way through, so sometimes it took us 25 tries to play something. The first time we made an album, it was chopped up, whereas this one has a more natural sound,” in her opinion.
“In general (with the new recording), we’re trying to let things resonate more. Out last album was, I don’t know, dry. It sounded a little sterile to me,” Collins thinks. Whereas they used keyboard to “fake” a lot of sounds last time around, “this time we used Leah’s mom’s Steinway piano, and we let the drums open up a little bit more — we didn’t mute things as much,” he explains.
Aside from finishing up the album, they have been busy preparing for the honor of competing in the Billboard contest. “I was kinda dropped in our laps!” but in a good way, according to Leah Diehl.
“It’s really a very exciting opportunity for us,” says Aaron Diehl as the band contemplates the possibility of performing on the same stage as massive stars like Rihanna, Eminem, and Lady Gaga (who will all perform at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards). Even if they don’t make it all the way, Lightning Love already feels honored for making it this far. The down-to-earth up-and-comers would not be overly disappointed if someone else wins, but they sure seem ready and willing to hit the big time any time now.
“Hopefully, if we don’t win, we’ll at least show people that we are good enough that we might have won,” Leah Diehl says.