We all know the classics; Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Thumbellina, all the fairy tales that you read at bed time when you were a kid. Well who decided that Fairy Tales had to end when we were kids? The Running Lights are looking to tell the tale of “Once Upon a Time” with their newest single on a soon to be announced EP. This pop brother duo of Mike and Nick Squillante along with friend Steve Ranellone have brought together their wide and varied musical backgrounds (Berklee, The Voice, and more to name a few) to New York and beyond. I sat down with the guys to talk about their hit single “Once Upon a Time” and what’s to come down the road. Check it out!
We’ve been anxiously awaiting your new single “Once Upon A Time” can you tell us a little bit about the meaning behind the track?
Mike: Basically, the song is a fairy tale in reverse. If you’re the person in the song, you’ve already seen your happy ending play out in your mind’s eye. You just don’t know how to begin that story, either because you’re too shy or you don’t have the confidence to tell your would-be-lover that you just wanna be with them. It’s about chasing your “Once Upon a Time” moment. Everyone has been in that situation at least once, myself included, and as a result I think there are folks missing out on the best of life because they may be afraid to say what’s on their minds, even in situations outside of hopeless romanticism. There are too many people that may be unfulfilled by their present situation, wishing they could be where their dreams would have them, but may never take the first step towards those dreams.
This track is going to be a part of an upcoming record, what can you tell us about the statement you’re about to make with that release?
Mike: If you’re human, chances are you feel hundreds of emotions every second of every day. Some things are definitely better left unsaid, but that doesn’t mean ALL the things have to stay inside. Our single and upcoming EP is meant to speak to anyone who’s ever been insecure or embarrassed about the way they feel. We want to encourage those people to be open about their feelings about anything and everything! If more people just spoke honestly about what’s inside their hearts the world might be a better place.
In the spirit of “Once Upon a Time” what’s your favorite fairy tale?
Mike: Can’t pick one so I’m gonna go with “Into The Woods” by Stephen Sondheim. It’s pretty much a fairy tale mashup.
Steve: Sleeping Beauty.
As siblings, when did you both realize you wanted to make music together as a career?
Mike: Back in the day I thought I was a fairly decent mixer. I was mixing and engineering my own music pretty much since I started playing music, so I always had a great idea of how I wanted things to sound. After a while I hit a ceiling. I couldn’t seem to get things to sound any better so I threw the ball to Nick who was then studying mixing and engineering in college. Turned out he had far surpassed me in terms of mixing and was starting to teach me things! I asked him to mix a few covers of mine and we worked on a bunch of live tracks for the tours that I opened for Melanie Martinez. It lead to the decision to start a group of our own. Now I stick more to the writing/production side of things and let him handle making our stuff sound amazing.
Nick: Growing up I was always a fan of Mike’s solo material but I never was very involved. I had my own band at the time and Mike would engineer our recordings. I always thought that was really cool and I wanted to learn how it was done. When I went off to college I studied audio production and eventually got a job working at Electric Lady Studios. At that point Mike started coming to me for mixing and it morphed into writing and creating. That’s when realized… wow we have a pretty unique skillset between the both of us. Mike has his experience in songwriting, production, and touring and I have mine in the mixing, production, and engineering of songs. What better way to combine the both of them than start a band!
You all have very unique perspectives on the industry (The Voice, Berklee, Etc.) How does that impact your strategy as a band?
Mike: Going to Berklee changed my life. If you’re a musical kid, chances are you’ve gotten pretty good at doing one thing. In my case, I was great at playing power-chords and singing pop/punk songs. When I got to Berklee, I was instantly surrounded by other musicians who were great at different things than I was. Pop, Blues, Jazz, Classical, Folk, everything. When you’re immersed in an environment of talented individuals like that, you can’t help but be influenced. It made me a well-rounded musician and songwriter. Thanks to Berklee I can communicate musically in many different genres on many different levels. It really expanded my musical vocabulary, not solely from taking classes, but from merely being there. The Voice taught me to be unique above all things, to find what it is about yourself or your band that makes you stand out. Striving to fit in, chasing another artist or someone else’s style or vibe will hurt your career more than it’ll help. In that sense, I believe that everything we create as a band should be for us first to preserve originality, as long as it’s still close to us and no-one has heard it yet. Once we’re satisfied and feel as though we made something that’s true to us, then it can belong to everyone else. Regardless of whether people love or hate what we put out, at least we know we did our best! (But we’d love you to love it!)
Nick: As I mentioned above, I worked at Electric Lady Studios in NYC. I was an assistant engineer to 7-time Grammy-award-winning mixer Michael brauer. Working with him was unbelievable as he is one of the greatest mix engineers of all time. He taught me a lot! During my time there I got to see components of a lot of songs, some that became very big hits when they went to radio. Just being able to see how major label artists are recording their tracks, processing their vocals, etc. helped me a lot as an engineer. Some of these techniques carried over to our forthcoming EP.
This project was a transition from a solo act to a trio, were there any growing pains when it came to writing music and performing?
Mike: I definitely had to relinquish some control to Nick and Steve. It was tough at first, but it’s really not a band if one guy has all the say all the time. Besides, I was in a place where I needed to be influenced by others in terms of creating new material. I had been in complete control of my own music for too long.
One of the big things on your YouTube channel are the covers that you guys have done over the past few months. How do you choose which songs you cover?
Nick: Most importantly we have to like the song, but we also have to be able to put our own spin on it. Mike has been releasing covers on his own for years, doing just that and building up his YouTube fan base. At this point I don’t think any of our subscribers expect to hear a hit song covered exactly the same as the original. For example, take our latest cover, “Straight Up & Down” by Bruno Mars. The song is fun to sing along to and is jam packed with awesome production, so we stripped it down to it’s bare minimum and built it back up our own way. I think that’s why our covers have seen success because it’s not just different faces singing the same song, it’s also a different production. Plus we do them all live!
What motivates you as musicians?
Mike: I’ve had the privilege of touring as a guitar/keyboard player with two major label artists, Melanie Martinez (Atlantic) and Marc Scibilia (Capitol), so I’ve seen firsthand the process of being a recording artist in that situation. This motivates me because it’s hard evidence that this is a plausible career choice; making YOUR OWN music for a living is very possible. I continue to chase this lifestyle because I’ve been there already. I just need to get back to that place with something of my own.
Nick: As a musician nothing is linear, every day is different and it keeps life interesting. You never know who your music is going to speak to or who it might help but just that chance alone makes it all worthwhile!
Steve: I know what music does for me so I want to create music that does the same for others.
What can fans be on the lookout for in the coming months from The Running Lights?
Mike: A six-song EP and singles to follow! We’ll be at Pianos in NYC on 4/20 and Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on 5/24, also in NYC. We’re also planning to do some small-scale acoustic touring so we can be face-to-face with people who may be interested in our music. See you out there!