Time seems to be a resource musicians are short of, when on the road, but Canadian electropop singer Lights is able to fit everything in her day. Through traveling, warming up, setting up, performing, and, of course, being a mother, Lights sets aside 6:30 P.M. on February 18, to have her publicist call me and conduct a phone interview–30 minutes before doors open for her show at The Ready Room in St. Louis, Missouri. She tells me that she just finished playing tag with her little girl Rocket, asks me how I am, and thus begins the interview.
Lights is on tour promoting her newest album Little Machines, out now on Warner Bros. Records. After extensively touring her 2011 sophomore album Siberia, Lights seeks out inspiration for a new album to add on to her gold-certified past two albums. The album is promoted through clever social media tricks: On June 24th, Lights, 27, posts a photo on Instagram with a cryptic logo.
Speculations, arise whether a new album is in the works. Soon after, more and more of her photos start containing the logo. On July 12, 2014, Lights starts a countdown. 10 days. Each day, a new photo appears with the corresponding day count and a hidden logo until the 22nd when finally reveals the cover art and release date for Little Machines. She wastes to time to unveil the first single “Up We Go” the very same day. Through well-done promotion, Lights debuts at No. 5 on the Canadian Album Charts and No. 34 on Billboard’s 200.
Coog Radio: I read that you became a writer for Sony/ATV Music Publishing when you were younger. And I was wondering how did that happen, and did you learn anything that you still use today?
Lights: Well I have been writing for a long time. I wrote my first song when I was 11 and sort of producing my own stuff on this little 8-track when I was 15, so at that point, my manager when I was 15, I felt like I’ve been doing it for a few years, and I remember he told me that the most important thing was to really carve out your song-writing ability because that’s what will stand the test of times that became the priority: let’s focus on song-writing, let’s focus on a song-writing contract with a bunch of record companies because I hadn’t really figured out my place in music, yet—I was just writing, creating, and trying everything. You know, I was 15. I don’t think anyone knows their stuff when they are 15. Anyway, so yeah! When I was 16, I got signed to a development deal with a record label and Sony led to them and they seemed like the perfect fit. They really care about developing young artists that are honing their talent, and that’s exactly what we did: they took me under their wing, I moved to Toronto when I was 18, really got focused on that, and they really taught me—you know, I’ve been writing for years at that point—but they really taught me how to carve that into something potent, something that could be easily understood by the masses and still maintain an interesting artistic twist and individuality through it all and have a message, and how do you say that in a way that’s not too obvious, but still says it? That’s the trick to song-writing; it’s an interesting art for sure.
Coog Radio: And how did you know that you wanted to become an artist, actually? And make songs for a living, instead of just writing songs?
Lights: Well, I’ve always known that was a goal. I think that songwriting is understood from an early age that was the priority to figure out first. Learn to write a good song, and then figure out who you are as an artist because, once you know how to write a good song, you can dress it in any kind of clothing. And that was when, you know, through all that songwriting and through dabbling, and production, writing with different people and working different pieces, I really found and really settled myself in electronic music. That was when I knew I could start playing because I was ready and I’d found my sound. The whole time, from day one, when I first wrote my first song on the guitar when I was 11, I knew I wanted to be an artist [laughs].
Coog Radio: and have you ever thought what you would do if you didn’t become an artist?
Lights: I was actually going to go into architecture to follow my dad’s footsteps or into animation. I’d probably be in that field today. I’m a really visual person, and to this day I put paintings out every now and then and like to illustrate things, so I’d probably go into video game development, designs, or animation of some kind.
Coog Radio: Let’s talk about your new album Little Machines. How did you come up with writing the new album? What was its inception?
Lights: Well, once you finish one album, you know you have to make another one–It’s kind of the trajectory. You just start dabbling here and there, and I think I made the mistake of not keeping the songwriting mass level up because we toured so much on the last album Siberia, and then when we went back to start writing, I kind of felt flat and had to, sort of, rediscover the purpose of it all and rediscover what I do best, and in that, kind of came across this idea that we should just enjoy what we do—we should just enjoy the moment that we’re in. It reminded me of how much I love making music, and that became what the record is about. You know? I’m gonna make something that just feels good. So the first song that was written was, I think, Speeding, and I was speeding in LA. I had a rental car and ended up getting a speeding ticket and I thought, okay let me write a song about this, it feels really good to speed. [laughs]
Coog Radio: So are most of your songs based on something that actually happened in your life? Or are they fiction?
Lights: Well, I draw from experience and draw from what I’m going through emotionally, but the trick to songwriting is, you know, writing in a poetic enough way that other people can identify with it that haven’t come with that experience. You pull from it what you learn from it, what you felt during it, and, you know, something that more people can understand, as opposed to just saying it. That’s the beauty of poetry, I guess. It’s like art: it depends on—it’s up to the perception of the viewer.
Coog Radio: And once you wrote the songs, how did you decide on how to assemble the track list?
Lights: It’s just listening to them and understanding where one ends and where the next one begins and what kind of journey you want to take the listener on. I think pretty much goes the same for a setlist. We have a big enough pool of songs to pick from, and you want to create an adventure of music, as cheesy as it sounds. You want something dynamic: you want the high point of it here, and the sad part to be here, and the epic part to be here, and the slow point to be here. It’s like writing a long story, I guess.
Coog Radio: What do you want listeners to gain from listening to the new album?
Lights: I want people to enjoy it and just let it take them out of life for a few minutes—a complete vacation. That’s the beauty of music, art, and video games, you know? Forget about your worries for a few minutes; it shouldn’t add to them or make you feel worried or sad: it should make you feel good.
Coog Radio: And I saw that your daughter turned a year old on Monday, right?
Coog Radio: Well, happy birthday to her! Happy belated birthday [laughs]
Lights: Thank you! I’ll tell her [laughs]
Coog Radio: And has becoming a mother influenced your music in any way?
Lights: Yeah, for sure. I’m more confident now than ever have been, especially on stage. I think that once you go through childbirth, you can do anything. It’s like Wow! I can conquer the world now! It’s also this sense of certain things just don’t matter as much anymore. You know, whether somebody things it’s how you look or somebody thinks about what you say or somebody thinks if you’re doing it right in general, I just don’t care as much. You give less fucks than you gave before.
Coog Radio: And you’re married to a musician, too, so does that bring forth a new angle to the household and to your music that you make? Do you inspire each other when you make music?
Lights: Interestingly enough, you know, we are in the same field, and we are both frontmen, but we are in pretty different genres, so I think when it comes to songwriting and production and the emphasis you put in certain part is different. It’s kind of cool because we don’t have the experience in each other’s fields to give advice, which I think is probably healthy. Getting too much advice from your partner is a little bit like…it can cause conflict. As much as you’re married, you’re still an individual and you still have your own self of yourself. It’s a perfect setup because we encourage each other in, sort of, a broad spectrum of advice. It’s like, “You have to get down and work on stuff,” or “you should take the time to go write,” you know? “Here, I’ll help you record these vocals,” but it’s not like “this part sucks, this part is good.” It’s good. It’s a healthy dynamic.
Coog Radio: And are you bringing Rocket, your daughter, on tour?
Lights: Yeah! I bring her everywhere! I’m still breast feeding, and I’ll be breast feeding for as long as I can, so she’ll be around at all times.
Coog Radio: How different is it touring now? I know you have a child, but…you know?
Lights: No, yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like every minute is valuable and there is no moment when you’re lonely. There is no moment when you’re scared. There is no moment when you’re sad. Everything is exciting when teaching somebody something new every day, and you’re showing them new things, and that’s amazing. Every moment feels worth it. It doesn’t feel like anything is missing.
Coog Radio: I saw in an interview you did with K. Flay that, once you became a mother, you thought of the worst scenarios in your head. I was wondering, what are your worst fears when you’re on tour or when you’re recording?
Lights: I think it’s not so much of big fears. It’s sort of more like when you’re walking through the mall and you look to your left that has big enough gaps for a little kid to fall through. Then you envision that happening, and it just makes you crush their hand a little tighter. It’s all those little things. You have these motherly premonitions that lead you to take care of them a little better, I think. [laughs]
Coog Radio: And do you have fears when you’re on tour? Not about your daughter, but in the sense of when you’re actually performing?
Lights: Once you’ve been on tour as long as we have, kind of everything happens from: getting robbed, to presenting awards onstage, to having all the instruments not work, to breaking strings or breaking a snare. Blowing a PA system, to the crowd walking away, to getting bottles thrown at you. These are all things that have happened to us, so I think after touring for 6 years-7 years, you’re not afraid of anything anymore.
Coog Radio: What are some other crazy things that have happened on tour, now that you’re mentioning so many?
Lights: All those things have happened to us. I’ve had bottles thrown at me. We had our vehicle broken into and they sorted through our merch and stole the sizes they liked and left weed in the pockets of our coats. Just list of all things happen on tour. You just move on to the next day; it’s amazing.
Coog Radio: So what are your goals for the future? What do you want to make of Lights in 10 years? 5 years?
Lights: I want to continue making music, and I’m really lucky that I can make it my line of work, and that’s all I need to do. I don’t really have expectations for the amount of money I make or the amount of success I have, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. That’s a really comfortable place to be because it’s pretty freeing, if you don’t set yourself these pretty harsh physical goals or any number thing that you want to reach at. I think that you’re just free to create and do what you want to do, and that means the train is pretty open. One of the things I’ve really realized over the past number of years is that you can’t plan–you really don’t know what’s going to happen. All the plans I made for myself all turned out really differently in the end, so I just go with it.
Coog Radio: So basically, when making music, it’s just trial and error? You test things, and if they don’t work, you move on.
Lights: Yeah! If you’re doing what you love, then that’s what matters. I am happy, and I am happy where I am. If things go downhill, then I move on to the next, and that’s what makes me happy.
Coog Radio: That’s good to hear. Do you have any closing comments?
Lights: Thank you for having me! We have tons of tour dates, so if we’re coming anywhere near anybody reading this, definitely come to the show. It’s fun, and we have a good time. If you want a quick vacation, come to the show!
Indeed, Lights delivered her promise of a fun show. On the 22nd of February, Lights made a special in-store appearance at Cactus Music to perform three songs acoustically and meet fans. On her tight schedule, she comes, performs, meets, and promptly leaves by 3:45 P.M., Is a 24-hour day enough for Lights? It seems so. She amazingly and seamlessly juggles through her artistic and personal endeavors, and allows this interview to happen at 6:30 P.M. on February 18 while she is 776 miles away in St. Louis, Missouri.
Buy her newest album Little Machines out now everywhere where music is sold and online, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records.
By Diego Bermejo