At first listen, Toronto-based crooner LIGHTS didn’t turn me on. Her debut album, The Listening, reminded me more than anything of the saccharine sludge at the bottom of a weak and poorly-stirred cup of coffee. Think breathless Zooey Deschanel laid over Owl City’s insipid beats.
Her sophomore effort, Siberia, released Oct. 4, is something else entirely. The record, featuring Vancouver hip hop artist Shad and electrofunk outfit Holy Fuck, is lyrically adventurous and more raw than her radio-ready premiere.
Lights, née Valerie Poxleitner, was born in Timmins, Ontario, the daughter of missionaries. BlogDH read spoke with the Juno Award-winner about touring, comic books and her beloved keytar, Russell.
LIGHTS plays at The Met Jan 29th (tickets here).
BlogDailyHerald: So you used to be in a metal band. Tell me more!
Lights: The metal band is really funny because it was when I was 17 or 18 and I didn’t sing or anything — I just played guitar. I was playing around in a bunch of different bands … the metal band was called Shovelface.
BDH: Can I find Shovelface’s music online?
L: Thankfully, no. It was on the cusp of anything other than dial-up.
BDH: Two motifs that I’ve noticed running through your work are comic books and space. What’s your fascination with both?
L: There was more of a space theme on the first record, not so much on the Siberia record — [Siberia] was about different aesthetics, different things inspiring me. The cool thing about comics and graphic novels is that it’s a really fun place to be creatively. Coming into “Siberia” it was a little different — a bit grittier. I was looking at music from another perspective. Even the album art was different — this was the first time I just had a raw picture instead of a graphic novel-ized version of myself. But graphic novels inspired me more sonically than visually. I used to bring a design book to the sound booth. This album is not so much space but very dark fantasy — metal album covers, Dungeons and Dragons cards … it’s a cool place to let your imagination drift.
BDH: What’s your favorite comic book?
L: Y: The Last Man, Magnus[, Robot Fighter] … I’m also a WonderWoman collector.
BDH: Your parents were missionaries and you traveled around a lot as a child. How did your upbringing affect your music?
L: The musical culture of those countries didn’t really affect me. We were in obscure missionary camps working in impoverished areas. Influences came in indirectly — moving around all the time was crucial for tour life. Touring is a pretty tough way to live but if you’re ready for it it’s super amazing. It also helped me develop an awesome family foundation, so that wherever any of us are, we’re really close. Songs like “Siberia” kind of evoke that. [pause] Whereas if I’d grown up and lived in Ontario my entire life, my songs would probably be about snow and long, dark winters.
BDH: The sound of your new album is so incredibly different than anything you’ve done before — especially the nine-minute whirligig of a closer. Why is that?
L: I think it’s important to let your music catch up to where you are. You wouldn’t let yourself make the same record over again — you’re not the same person. [Siberia] is different but I felt the freedom to make it. It took a while for me to feel that freedom because you just can’t think about fan base — you need to think about what you want to make. It just took a little bit of pushing — but I had an amazing team that helped me realize that you can make something you want to make.
BDH: What was it like collaborating with Holy Fuck?
L: Holy Fuck is this awesome Canadian live gritty electro — it was a perfect combination. We stuck with my high girly melodies and their basslines and things just clicked.
BDH: There’s some dubstep in your new album. Is that something you’re going to be visiting more in the future?
L: Your music always has to be a reflection of where you are now. I was listening to a lot of dubstep, and I loved the grittiness of the bass and how it complemented exactly what I was doing at the time. Who knows — maybe my next album will be a full-on dubstep record — or maybe it will be a full-on country record. [pause] But probably not country.
BDH: Are there any differences between touring in the US and touring in Canada?
L: It’s bigger in Canada — the great thing about being a Canadian artist is that you get a lot of support from the government. In the States it’s a bit more of a grind — there’s ten times more people ten times more places and so you have to keep coming back coming back coming back. There isn’t so much a difference in energy between the two concerts — but there is different kind of fanship happening. In the US people don’t see you on TV or hear your songs on the radio. Whether it’s word of mouth or going online and watching music videos and finding your songs — they feel like they’ve discovered you. There’s real investment in the US. That’s nothing against my fans in Canada. I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing fans.
BDH: People have compared you to Avril Lavigne, the Postal Service and early Madonna. You’ve compared yourself to Celine Dion, Bjork and Barbara Streisand. In a cage fight, who would win — the team of Avril, Ben Gibbard and Madonna or the combined might of Celine, Bjork and Barbara?
L: Bjork’s side for sure. Bjork like beats her photographers. She would win.
BDH: Who are you listening to right now?
L: I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiohead as of late … also Talk Talk, Bon Iver and M83. The new album is great.
BDH: So why is your keytar named Russell?
L: It’s important to name your stuff. It personifies your identity. It’s important because it helps you take care of your stuff, the things that are most meaningful to you. The first name that comes into your head — that’s what it should be. [pause] Except for your child. Think about the name for your child.