“Gaslighting” has been a clearly defined term in modern culture since the 1938 stage play, Gaslight, and its two film adaptations in 1940 and 1944. Reflecting on their own experiences, singer-songwriters Steph Copeland and Brigit O’Regan, who’d previously collaborated together on scores for such films as “The Heretics” in 2017 and the romantic drama “After the Storm” (2019), reconnected to write a song. Their own “Gas Light” flickers with beaming string work and witchy finger snaps, a surefire concoction to crawl under the skin.
“Inspired by what seemed like a never ending nightmare news cycle,” as Copeland describes it, the dark pop track merges their rage and sorrow. “It felt like leaders and media personalities were using gas lighting techniques to shamelessly create harmful narratives,” she tells American Songwriter. “You could feel the tension on a street level ─even at the gas station pumping gas or in line at the grocery store. I wanted to bring light to the trigger tactics being aimed at the masses.”
O’Regan finds the song’s tug of war emotionally combative and directly mirrors the all too common “internal struggle of trying to overcome a controlling force in your life that almost envelops your identity,” she says. “It’s about trying to get back to trusting yourself after being told your own perceptions and experiences are wrong. We pulled inspiration from our experiences with over-controlling colleagues and bosses in the past and how it shaped us today.”
I’ve been working up to the bitter end / To stop fighting, finally try to make a friend, weeps Copeland into a dark, swirling abyss. I know that I’ve been waiting for a long time / For what feels like nothing is ever gonna change in the end / Oh, I feel it at night shining on the streets.
When Copeland was living in Hamilton, Ontario, she encouraged O’Regan to make the drive from Toronto (on O’Regan’s birthday, no less) to kick it in the studio. Copeland was busying recording some experimental violin for the score for the 2018 film, I’ll Take Your Dead. Afterward, they cracked open a bottle of Reserve Jameson and “got into some deep talks about people we’ve encountered or had to work with who were expert ‘gaslighters,’” recalls Copeland. “We had a lot in common and knew this is what we wanted to write about.”
Basic structure came first, with the haunted violin intro and varios solo sections, and then Copeland “took over the mic and immediately laid down the melody and most of the lyrics you hear in the final version,” offers O’Regan. One more Hamilton-based studio day followed to finalize lyrics and record more violin, as well as some other instruments, and later, heading to Toronto, multi-instrumentalist Chris Wong (Ria Mae, NIIVA , The Faceplants) joined the team. Copeland took the reins to produce, edit, mix, and master the final version.
Copeland swings the final emotional anvil on the chorus, spitting scorching venom: When I’m standing under your gas light, stand it under your gas light / We’re on fire / When we’re standing under the gas light.
77 years since Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, Angela Lansbury, and Charles Boyer, the conversation about gaslighting has certainly expanded. Yet it remains a prevalent force in our society. “We want to first inform people of the ‘phenomenon’ of gaslighting, as it’s so sneaky and insidious. You may not realize when you’re being manipulated,” reflects O’Regan. “On the flip-side, someone might not actually realize they’re doing it. So, first is awareness of its existence, and secondly, we wanted to let people know that they are nowhere near to being alone if they are currently ‘stuck’ in a bad situation, or have been through it, and come out the other side.
“It can take root between friends, colleagues, romantic partners, and in families. And I think we’ve all seen the effects of manipulation on a widespread scale through the decade of a year that was 2020,” she continues. We hope ‘Gas Light’ will hit home for those who need to hear it and let them realize that they can reach out and talk to others about it.”
“Gas Light” is an unconventional pop track. Copeland and O’Regan blur the sonic experience through a weirdly intoxicating mix of organic and synthetic instruments. Even then, you can’t quite put a finger on what genre it is exactly. “I love how the two worlds came together to create something a bit undefined,” says Copeland.
O’Regan chimes in, “We hope fans not only relate to the lyrics, but enjoy the incredible atmosphere of the instrumentation. Steph is a professional screen composer and excels at creating deep and enveloping ambience in all of her compositions. That made it so much more exciting for me to work on this project with her. Hopefully, some fellow synesthetes will enjoy the palette of deep greens and sharp oranges in the song.”
The accompanying visual, directed by Sean McLeod, stars dancer/choreographer Murphy in a spellbinding role that feels ripped right out of grungy 1980s horror cinema. A young woman puffs generously on a cigarette, a faux-fur coat draped over her shoulders. Plush and dangerous lighting floods the screen, accentuating the impending doom that is gaslighting itself.
Originally from Wallaceburg, Copeland frequently strikes the creative iron when in her home studio or “an intimate studio setting with trusted friends and the mic is hot,” she says. “Even better if I’m collaborating with another artist. Brigit is amazing to work with because she can play by ear almost instantly due to her synesthesia. Inspiration can strike anywhere, though. I used to write lyrics on the back of receipt paper and voice memo from a walk-in fridge when I worked as the daytime bartender at The Bloor Street Diner a few years ago.”
Her influences run the gamut, from Patsy Cline and Angel Olsen to TV on the Radio, Trent Reznor, and Portishead. To-date, Copeland has worked as an established film, TV, and commercial composure and landed such notable TV syncs as “Hit Me Where It Hurts” in Netflix’s Tiny Pretty Things and “Little Boxes” in LA’s Finest.
O’Regan, originally from Ottawa, mines an equally-eclectic and vibrant array of inspirations, including Lana Del Rey, Fiona Apple, and Florence + the Machine. Her violin work has led to performances at FanExpo and ComicCon, as well as amassing 163,000 followers on her YouTube channel.
Listen to “Gas Light” below.