Back at home in Canada, electro-popstar Lights is already a sensation. Having had her debut album The Listening crash into the Top 10, Lights was also rewarded with the Best New Artist gong at the Juno Awards – Canada’s answer to the Grammies. With the homeland captivated, Lights has decided to spread her magic further afield, with her herat set on scoring a chart hit on this side of the Atlantic. Her distinct flavour of electro-pop has been heard most recently alongside Owl City, whom she has supported on tour. zap! bang! managed to catch five minutes with Lights as she prepeares for the release of debut single “Ice”.
You are currently on tour with Owl City, whose single “Fireflies” has become massive on a global scale. Are you hoping to emulate his success?
I’ve been building my career slowly and steadily. I have an amazing, passionate team around me and we’ve been working away at it for years now. We’ve made conscious decisions to avoid things that might cause something to spike, because we’re all believers in a slow build. In other words, the goal here is success, but it will come in its own way.
Would you ever consider a collaboration?
Adam is so talented, and we have a lot of similar melodic instincts. I’ve heard him needling around on his keyboard in soundcheck and it always makes me laugh because it’s exactly what I do. I think a collaboration would be stellar! He’s a very busy man though, I wouldn’t dream of adding anything else to his life right now. But we have remixed one of each other’s songs.
Why have you chosen to perform under the name Lights?
Lights is now officially my legal first name. What started out as a nickname was brought to the next level when I typed that in under “Name” when I created my MySpace page four years ago. As time went on it felt more natural to be called that, and it was who I was becoming. Just under two years ago I made it legal.
As an artist already established in Canada, how do you find the prospect of having to start from scratch in other countries?
I love it. It’s challenging, keeps me humble, and is a chance to start afresh each time. I’ve always thrived on that. Growing up, aside from being home schooled for many years, I moved around from school to school as my family relocated. I never saw this as a negative thing, it was always a process of taking what I learned the year before, and being that much better, that much more the person I was becoming, for the new slate. When I started touring in the UK, for example, I was that much better at what I did. They never really had to see me as the n00b I was when I first started playing in Canada.
Your music has seen your featured in everything from Old Navy commercials to playing on the Warped tour – what has been your highlight to date?
A couple of highlights were touring with Keane last September (such amazing people/music/crew) and seeing my web-comic (Audio Quest: A Captain Lights Adventure) air on MTV.
MySpace has been instrumental to your success, do you enjoy the interactive music industry?
Multimedia and online platforms for spreading the goods have been crucial in the development of my career. They allowed me to be myself and just put what I had out there for people to find. I knew that if people became fans after discovering me in this way, they were fans because of who and what I truly am, nothing invented or concocted by someone bigger.
What do you think is the key to surviving the music industry as a commercially viable artist given that so many people have stopped buying music nowadays?
There are a number of factors, I believe, that make a dynamic, fresh artist, but what it really comes down to is having good songs. And not just one, but many. If music is what you’re selling, you need to make good music. If you can strip all of the production, smoke and lights away from the song and it can still move people with just a voice and a single instrument, you’ve got a good song. Without that, you’ve got a hollow bun — it ain’t going to fill anyone up.
You consider yourself to be a very visual artist. Can you explain what that means?
I have just as much of a vision for the visual aides to the music (like videos, graphics, merch, etc) as I do for the music itself. Everything you’re seeing in the videos, for example, is spawned from my imagination, what the music makes me think about. They go hand in hand, if you like my music, the visuals are coming from the same place, so you’re getting that much more of me as an artist.
Canada is often derided for its musical contributions, why do you think it gets so much slack?
As far as I’m concerned, a great percentage of what comes out of Canada is awesome, raw talent. We claim legendary artists, like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Rush, Leonard Cohen, and Gordon Lightfoot, to contemporary, cutting edge music makers like Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sarah, Chromeo, Sam Roberts, Broken Social Scene, K’naan, Metric, Michael Buble, Nelly Furtado, etc. The only thing I can say to people that deride Canadian musical contributions is that they know very little about Canadian music.
Are there any other upcoming Canadians we should keep an eye out for?
Keep your eyes on Shad, a great Canuck rapper, Everlea, an awesome soft rock band from Kingston, ON, and if you haven’t already heard them, Dragonette and Dead Maus.
*You are starting your UK campaign with the single “Ice”, can you tell
us a little more about the track?*
“Ice” was initiated by the use of the 808s used to construct the beat. I was feeling the 80’s that day, and Tawgs and I started dabbling around in something upbeat. I had my MicroKorg at hand and started finding neat sounds, and building up the track. This was an occasion where the lyrics came after the music. I hummed some melodies and started to build the structure of the song. At one point, everything seemed finished, but I still felt something was missing. Tawgs suggested we needed something at the end of the chorus that everyone could sing along to, and i hummed in “i-i-i-i-ce” a couple of times right after the chorus over the verse chords. It was perfect!
What can we expect from your forthcoming album?
The Listening is collection of my best, most honest songs that I’ve written over the past few years. Some are very anthemic, written to be sung along with, and some are a little quieter, for those moments that you feel like you don’t have much to say. Each texture and positioning of all the sounds was very thought through, so it’s pretty smooth entering the ears too.
Who would you say inspired your move into music?
The initial step was definitely inspired by my dad. Because of him, music was integrated heavily into my life from a young age. I developed a taste for rich melodies and the powerful emotion music can harness. I was also inspired when I started listening to the radio and thinking, “I bet I can make something better than that.” Arrogant for a child, but it set the bar high!
Do you have a tour in the works?
I’ll be making my way back to the UK in May for a two week headliner, around the time the record comes out.
If you had to play one of your songs to somebody who hasn’t heard of you before, what song would you choose to play to describe Lights?
I would probably play “The Listening” for an unsuspecting listener. It’s one of my favourite tracks, shows my talking speed (which is a bitter truth about me), has a neat groove, implements some awesome synths samples, and was a very honest set of lyrics through which I actually learned a lot about myself. Over all, that’s what I feel is a good representation of the record.