Damien Verrett was never comfortable with one single identity. As a math rock guitarist, an R. Kelly fan, a college graduate, and simpler still, a man, Verrett found himself courting many different passions and ideals. As So Much Light, his nom de production, the Sacramento-based musician is able to assume multiple personas, elegantly weaving all of his skills and interests into one project that brings self-fulfillment musically but also ideologically. Combining Drake’s vulnerability, the vocal affectation of The Weeknd and Jack Antonoff’s musical production prowess, Verrett created a socially conscious full-length debut, Oh, Yuck.
Utilizing both organic and electronic sounds, Oh, Yuck is wrought with textural soundscapes grounded by programmed orchestral compositions, sprightly guitar lines and thrashing drums--productions that are never overambitious or dense, but purposeful with each synth layer, each woodwind arrangement. “Stomping Ground” builds off of a dexterous guitar riff, displaying Verrett’s skill as a seasoned math rock guitarist. Lyrically, Verrett puts traditional R&B tropes in a funhouse mirror and warps the genre’s bravado into a parody of itself, displayed on “Idiot Soul,” a sultry and sulking mid-album track that presents an entitled antagonist toying with romantic interests.
While heavily influenced by a range of musical styles, including progressive rock, Oh, Yuck is grounded by an R&B stronghold. But all the while, Verrett’s relationship with the genre has been one of complication. After an elementary school education in saxophone, Verrett picked up guitar in adolescence at 12-years-old, beginning with lessons from his father, who played in Rhythm and Blues bands, and eventually teaching himself Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Iron Maiden solos. Two years later, he turned his interests toward electronic music, creating note-for-note recreations of video game soundtracks. Though a good foundation for his technical skill, Verrett found more of an emotional connection in R&B, especially R. Kelly.
“It’s funny, I have sort of a hard time admitting that I’m an R. Kelly fan,” Verrett says. “Content-wise, I started to realize how toxically masculine so much of that music was. The vibe felt right but when you started to pick the ideas apart, it’s so propped up on bravado and machismo and all these things that I’ve never really identified with.”
With that in mind, he set out to create music that achieved both sensuality and propelled a positive-leaning message; to be a new brand of socially conscious artist.
“People think of Drake as being this vulnerable figure but you start picking apart the content: He’s worried people aren't giving him his due credit and he’s worried people aren’t aware of his come-up,” Verrett muses. “That’s not really vulnerability. It’s a step forward from something like R. Kelly, which is dyed-in-the-wool misogynistic but it’s still not the opposite of that. I want to be the opposite of that.”
The lyrics and themes on Oh, Yuck serve as a foil to the composition’s seduction and lushness. On “Summoner,” Verrett addresses the perception of “other” in terms of urban living: “I feel all kinds of pathetic when I’m asking for directions / My luck has never been good / I’ve never been so scared of a neighborhood,” he sings. Turning the male gaze inward, “Full Body Mirror” creates a dialogue hinged on the protagonist's own physical objectification. Elsewhere, on “Be Afraid,” a song that encapsulates the blind faith and hysteria surrounding Trump’s election, Verrett utilizes a cheering crowd track, an idea he credits to a Grimes interview.
“The character is saying I’m literally a monster, be afraid and meanwhile this crowd is so enraptured with this idea: we love that, telling it how it is.”
Despite the political inspirations on “Be Afraid,” much of the album was written between 2012 and 2016 following Verrett’s graduation from University of California, Davis. In his bedroom at his parents’ house, not far from Sacramento, he’d tinker on his computer, creating productions based on the sounds he’d imagine in his head. He’d learned in his early teens to think beyond the traditional guitar-bass-drum sonic palette and realized sometimes what a song was lacking was perhaps a flute tone or a lush manipulated piano chord progression. Layer by layer, sound by sound, Verrett would build each composition from a concept in his own imagination to an audible reality.
Lyrics would come later, an equally time consuming process. Sitting in his closet with a microphone, he’d record his vocals with many of these takes utilized on final Oh, Yuck mixes. Only some of the vocals and live instrumentals were re-recorded in a studio in Omaha. But it was in his room, wondering what it was he “should” be doing with his life, that Oh, Yuck was born.
His parents, meanwhile, were supportive of their son’s craft, enabling him to experiment freely without judgment. Verrett’s father, who grew up performing with his brothers, always encouraged him to pursue music.
In a small suburban bedroom, So Much Light was born, an amalgam of man and character, story and history, natural and manipulated. Using his voice as a tool for progress, Verrett effectively pushes the boundaries for what pop music should sound like--and what it should say.
“I think the climate we’re in is calling people to action, both personally and artistically, I think I’m more aware that a silent voice is a wasted one.”