Interview With: Lights
Interview By: Caitlin Smith
Canadian superstar Lights opens up about her new record “Siberia” and the new direction of her sound. She talks to Caitlin Smith about everything from her tattoos, touring in the U.S. and her new found passion for dubstep. Lights also discusses her life before music and struggling with being a women in a predominately male career path. Read the full interview below…
Caitlin Smith: Hello, how are you?
Lights: I am doing great actually. It is a really exciting time right now. I am a few weeks away from the new record dropping. I am doing college dates here and there getting ready for a big tour and everything, so right now things are pretty good.
C.S: Well, to start off, what made you decide to change your name? Was it for your music or was it just something you personally wanted to do?
Lights: Well it was kind of a combination of both of those things really. In music it is hard to separate your personal life from what you are doing as a living because you drop your personal life to create music. So it was for both reasons, I mean, Lights was the person I was becoming. I created my MySpace page in 2006 and I put the name Lights in and just started to walk into the person. Then, a few years later, I had my name legally changed and made it my real first name. That way I didn’t feel like I was living a lie or whatever, ya know? I didn’t want to just be Lights on stage. It was who I wanted to be all the time. It started out as a nickname anyway. I don’t think your personal life and your music should be separated too, too much anyway, especially if you want to stay comfortable.
C.S: Do your friends and family call you Lights?
Lights: My parents still call me by my old name but everyone else calls me Lights.
C.S: Before you started making music, what was your life like? What led up to you becoming a musician and doing this for a living?
Lights: My life was very musically centered before it became something I do for a living. I started playing music when I was like eleven and before you are eleven you don’t really do much anyway. I tried all different things. If I wanted to become a cadet, I became a cadet. If I wanted to play cello, I learned how to play cello. I wanted to be a gymnast, so I took gymnastics lessons, but music was always a constant for me. I think I knew from a very young age that music was what I wanted to do. So I started writing music. I wrote my first song when I was eleven and just never stopped. It has always been one of those things that I decided I wanted to do and I did it. It is all I ever wanted to do.
C.S: Your line of work is predominately male, so it sucks, but as a woman do you find you have to work harder to prove that you belong and that you are, in fact, a badass?
Lights: I try not to let it bug me but there is definitely always that undertone. And it isn’t always with other performers or artists, it is the whole industry. Like when you go to a venue to perform the house crew is usually guys and that is even harder to break into. We played at a venue last night where there was a girl on the house crew and I was just so impressed and so excited to see that kind of progression at a venue because you really do not see that very often. It is encouraging to see women doing it because there are so many men and the women have to stay there and work incredibly hard just like the men do. It is inspiring to know that there is a possibility for that prejudice to change and I think it will but it is still there. It is extremely frustrating at times but the worst thing you can do is let it stop you from wanting to be in the industry. Don’t let it intimidate you. Don’t let it stop you.
C.S: You have a very unique sound and to me I can always pick out a Lights song when I hear it, but what is something you think that sets your music and what you are doing apart from other artists in the music industry?
Lights: It’s hard to say actually. I have never been good at looking at my music objectively like that. I make the music I like and not necessarily because that is what is already there or it is what I have heard before. In fact, I am turned on by things that are different and ways where instruments are presented like I have never heard before. Like, “What is that? How did they do that? I wanna try that!” So I do whatever excites me and sounds cool and new and perhaps doing things that I have never heard before. Not to say that my music is completely life changing or so different from everything but I definitely experiment, especially on the new record [Siberia]. I was basically walking blindly to this creative room. Like, I remember sitting in the studio and just inventing, is the best way to describe it. It was just, we didn’t know what we were doing really, and a great product came out of that.
C.S: You just released a music video for “Toes” and that is one of my favorite songs off the new record. The video is different than some of your previously released videos. There isn’t a lot of space, sci-fi or fantasy type things. Why the change?
Lights: Yeah, It was. The space princess and galactic storyline was more of the vibe of the first record and I certainly hope that I can bring something new to each record and each record can have its own thing. I love where the last record was and it was and this one [Siberia] is a bit more raw and less dreamy oriented and even more honest and more gritty and instead of showing things looking perfect, like the way the last record sounded, this album is working less than perfect. Not every song is perfectly timed or perfectly tiered and it is more like a live album in a way and the video and the visuals had to emulate that. So with the artwork the pictures are “rawer” and not super edited and the video is just kind of the underbelly of Toronto. Well, not the underbelly exactly, but the real side of Toronto. We literally walked around and shot guerilla style in subway stations and clubs and parks and stuff. So there is nothing glazed over or glossed and that is pretty much the idea of Siberia.
C.S: Your new album Siberia is coming out soon. What is the story behind this record? I know you have talked about it a little bit already but what was the process like?
Lights: Let me just say; it is a challenge making the second record. You can’t make the same record over again, but you have to maintain yourself as an artist while evolving. It took me a while to kind of find that middle ground and it was actually set off by listening to dubstep for the first time. I really liked some of the elements in dubstep and I began applying them to the record; not that this is a dubstep album by any means, but like the heavy half-time beat and the bass. Dubstep is very simple and the only thing that was missing in it for me was melody so I started melding these concepts together. So I am very thankful for dubstep. I think it helped give the record a fourth dimension. I really just tried not to be afraid on this record and not second guess myself. I had really amazing people on my team that were behind me 100% and helping me be unafraid and we started building songs and the sound that I had been hoping for just started happening and just started coming together and it was all unexplored territory for me and that is where the name Siberia came from. It is really the perfect name for this record. It is unexplored and vast and adventurous.
C.S: I received an advanced copy of the album last night and I seriously cannot stop listening to it. I really love the vibe and it really is some of the best stuff I have heard from you.
Lights: Ah! Thank you so much. Not many people have heard it at this point so knowing that people are starting to hear it and like it is so exciting for me. Thank you, seriously. That is so awesome.
C.S: Do you have a favorite song or one you are most excited for people to hear?
Lights: Yes! I am glad you asked this question because I actually do and it is probably one of my favorite songs I have ever written. I don’t really know why, because I don’t think it is the best song I have ever written, but it is called “Flux and Flow.” I don’t know why I love this song so much but it really is just my favorite song ever. I love it. It is the exact example of what I want the record to be. It is about the flux and the flows, the hard and the soft, the hard vocals and soft vocals and contrasting with the heavy bass. It is what the record is about and it is what life is about. The ups and downs and you just have to go with it.
C.S: Were there any songs that you had trouble writing or trouble getting to sound the way you wanted?
Lights: One of the challenges was a song called “Cactus in the Valley” and I wrote it last year. I started playing it live on my last tour, so I wanted to make an album version of it and it took a good deal of work and time and it took a while to get it right since it had been written so long before. So that was a bit of a challenge. Then there is a song called “Peace Sign” on the record that was written a ways back… maybe a year and half ago. That song had a couple different versions as well.
C.S: You are going on tour in the U.S. soon to promote Siberia. Is there a difference between playing shows in Canada than in the U.S.?
Lights: Canada is very good to its artists. So here the shows are a bit bigger and I am more of an established artist, I guess. Playing in the states is awesome though because I haven’t gotten to the point there that I am in Canada so it feels fresh and new and every time I do a show there I get to meet people who found me online and put in the effort to seek me out. Ya know, they didn’t hear me on the radio or see me on Much Music or something. So it is interesting to see the contrast of crowds so it is really cool.
C.S: What are some of your own “do’s and don’ts” of performing?
Lights: My biggest one is probably, don’t let them know you are afraid. Nine times out of ten if there is a problem onstage, the crowd isn’t going to know. A few weeks ago I was playing this huge show in Toronto and there were probably like 10,000 people there and the entire time onstage I couldn’t hear anything in my in ear monitor. It was just crazy distortion and all these little things kept going wrong, but I had to act like everything was fine and just put on this show for everyone. Thankfully it went off without a hitch and it was awesome. So the minute that you announce that you are nervous or having difficulties, that is when the crowd gets nervous too and it is one of those things I have learned you just have to work through it and play through it.
C.S: I asked on Twitter and Facebook if anyone had some questions for you and got a few pretty good ones.
Lights: Yay! Awesome.
C.S: Who are some of your favorite artists or bands that you are really into right now?
Lights: Let’s see… Radiohead has recently come back into my life, so right now I cannot stop listening to them. I listen to a lot of the Dubstep-ers like Magnetic Man and Burial.
C.S: What posters did you have on your wall when you were growing up?
Lights: Good question. I had the cheesiest posters of all time. I think the first poster I ever bought was ZZ Top.
C.S: What is the most shocking thing that has ever happened to you?
Lights: Oh, the most shocking thing? That is hard because shock comes in so many different ways, but one of the craziest things, my sister who is a year older than me had a baby recently. That was really shocking to me for some reason and I started crying and I don’t know why. That was definitely a great moment for me and I have never really been a kid person but I love that kid.
C.S: My older sister had a baby back in November and I was really surprised how emotional I was. I still get that way when he is excited to see me or leans towards me to hold him or anything like that.
Lights: Yeah, exactly! I was not prepared at all for it.
C.S: How many tattoos do you have? Do you plan on getting more? Do you draw/design them yourself?
Lights: How many? Hold on I am counting… It is hard because a lot of them are together. 3…4…5… 11? I do plan on getting more though. I want to continue to get more as I get older and take it slow because I know that in ten years I am still going to want some to represent my life at that time and I don’t want to run out of room. But I am actually learning how to tattoo right now. My artist is letting me apprentice. I started out drawing them myself because I didn’t really trust anyone else but once I found an artist that I really like and trusted I let him design stuff for me.
C.S: Alright, well what is next for Lights? What should fans be on the lookout for?
Lights: Well the record drops October 4th [excited squealing] and it is crazy exciting and then a big tour starting the 16th and that will take me to the end of the year. Next year we will be coming back too.
C.S: Is there anything else you would like to add or think that the readers should know about you?
Lights: Actually, I think you covered everything! Good Job!
C.S: Well, thank you so much for doing this interview with me. I have been a fan of your music for a while now so I am really glad I got to sit down and talk to you.
Lights: That is awesome. Thank you so much and I am so glad you enjoyed the record. You really don’t know what that means to me. It means the world.