MEB staffer Austin Gordon recently got the opportunity to hang out with synth-pop wonder Lights and talk to her about her current tour, her new record Siberia, the music industry, apple pie, and more!
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/43395380″ iframe=”true” /]
MEB: So let’s start this off with the obligatory “How’s the tour going” question. How has the turnout been?
Lights: It’s been crazy, and I can see it growing over the course of just the past few weeks. It’s kind of amazing to see happen, and really exciting! I think it’s got to do with the new record, more people latching onto it, or more people hearing it. They say you can only be a new artist once, but I think that when people keep hearing it and keep finding it, as long as you keep re-inventing yourself and making sure that you’re keeping yourself challenged and keeping your fans challenged, then more people are gonna find it. It’s been amazing, it’s really coming across well; especially the new stuff. The shows have been so much fun for us, and I think people come and have a good time, and they tell their friends about it.
What has been your favorite stop so far this tour?
Oh, that’s hard. There’s been a couple great ones. New Orleans was really fun because we had never played there, it was a small one but it was sold out and it was gnarly and hot! We went out that night and it was crazy, we went to Bourbon Street. It was a fun night for all of us. And then nights like Orlando and (Washington) DC where there are so many people coming out, well your mind equals blown all the time.
Oh you pulled the plug! I’m so excited. (laughs)
Tell me about your creative process, without trying to get too prod-y. Is there a particular niche that you’ve found when developing what has become your sound? Or do things tend to take off with their own direction?
Each song has its own way that it comes together. The best thing that you can do as a writer, musician, and producer is go with that. Learn how to chameleon into all of the different ways you can possibly do it. I mean, especially with the new record where there are so many different collaborations involved with it, not everyone’s going to have the same writing style. Learning to adapt to suit different environments is really important. A song like “Cactus In The Valley” on Siberia was written just with me and my acoustic guitar, and then later re-worked to fit the rest of the record. A song like “Everybody Breaks a Glass,” I was sitting down with Brian and Graham of Holy Fuck jamming in his dining room, and then we took parts of that jam session and patched it together. Suddenly it started to form, we started playing melodies over it and it becomes this imperfect, raw, live electronic track that you start to lay a top-line over. Songs like “Flux & Flow” start with the beat, and then you just kinda build it from there. So whatever inspires it or whatever sparks it, that’s the way that it kinda dictates that it’s gonna go.
Is there a song in your catalogue that you feel might be mis-understood? Maybe it’s been interpreted the wrong way?
I think the last song on the record, which is one of the most exciting songs I’ve released because it’s so different; it’s called “Day One.” It’s basically nine minutes of noise, but there’s order in the chaos, there’s purpose in the chaos as well. That is the last nine minutes of the first jam session I had with Holy Fuck. Now, this was a really special turning point in my career because it was the first time I had made music in a live setting and kept it that way. You know, you can write in a live setting but when you go to record it you start from the bottom up and make it perfect. This is real, raw, being recorded live off of the floor and you never make the same thing over again. It’s a track of its own, it can’t be replicated. That’s pretty special in the electronic world, where people can sometimes dismiss the genre as “soulless” or without life.
Because everything’s programmed, you know it’s like there’s not a lot of feeling to it?
Yeah, there’s some elements that can be like that but this is a perfect example of a track that is completely live electronic. I thought it was really ironic for the genre, and really cool. When I put it on, it was like this is driving music, this is beautiful, this is background music. You know, life isn’t perfect, and our days aren’t perfect, so why does music have to be?
That’s probably why you named it “Day One” right?
It’s actually the name of the session, because it’s the first day we worked together. Their influence on the record helped get a really cool sound on a lot of the tracks.
Wow, that’s awesome.
In nature, The Listening and Siberia seem to show a metamorphosis in not only your sound but also your perspective on life. Tell me about what influenced the overall concept of the new record?
It’s hard to say. I didn’t go into it with this mind-frame of what I wanted to say. It was more-so the music I wanted to make, the sound, and the energy that the songs conveyed. I wanted to bring a grittiness and a heaviness to my work which was previously very soft and lush. I wanted to turn that on instead and show the underbelly. It was my manager’s suggestion to collaborate with Holy Fuck, and it ended up being amazing and the collaboration of the year. It was one of those steps in taking that direction. It just so happens that over time you get comfortable with yourself, you get better at what you do, you understand your sound more and your place in the world and in music more. So, I think that walking into the record with that mind-frame gives you that much more freedom, and that much more ability to make your mark on the record and say what you want to say. I think it’s a reflection of me being confident and me being happy, being able to delve into other worlds when I was writing lyrics, and just have fun. A song like “Fourth Dimension,” I remember sitting there and we had written a lot of the track and fixed it up a bit. I went and sat in my hotel room and just wrote lyrics. Before I knew it, it was 4 A.M. and I had a set of lyrics, and I was like where did these come from? You just go to another place, it’s like an out-of-body experience, like an adventure. It was just fun and a good experience, as opposed to The Listening which was amazing in its own way; it was a lot to get off of my chest. It was very personal and close to me, and very few people were involved in the project. So, it came from a different place.
Yeah, I’m an artist as well so I totally understand everything that you’re saying, it makes sense to me. It’s great whenever you hear someone who’s on that same page, you know?
I totally know that feeling, what they were going through right when they were writing that, it makes sense.
You’ve mentioned that you want your music to feel special like “apple pie,” which I find to be a very relatable thought. Expanding on that feeling, is there a particular mood you were trying to hit with Siberia? Maybe another fruit?….Pie?
(laughs). Man, the apple pie slogan I put on my first MySpace page in 2006! I think it’s still there isn’t it? I just remember the way I felt when my Grandma used to make apple pie and it was the best. It was this good kind of happy that was like this right now is awesome, and that’s all that matters. There could be a crazy night ahead of you, but right now you’re really enjoying the apple pie. That’s the way a song should be. You don’t wanna write something that’s gonna piss someone off, or make someone more frustrated or stressed. I’ve heard music like that and it just frustrates me so I just have to turn it off. I just wanna make stuff that takes you away for 3 1/2 minutes, you know?
Is there anyone who you want to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
Um, who knows? There’s so many people out there. The best collaborations are the ones you least expect to be great, like the one with Holy Fuck and Shad. You know, some of the collaborations I’ve done I wouldn’t have thought two years ago would be great. You just don’t anticipate what’s really gonna work out. But yeah, there’s people I would love to work with. There’s a million! Like Kanye West, or 50 Cent! Let’s do something with 50 Cent!
Oh man. That’d be awesome, I’d kill to see that! (laughs)
I’ll be in his video game, isn’t it Crystal Skull or Glass Head or something?
I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t remember the name for the life of me. But that’d be really cool.
If you had to give me your best interpretation of what’s next for the music industry in terms of its future, what might that be?
I don’t know, it’s going in a weird direction in a really cool way. But, I think that rock and grunge is gonna come back. Rock has kinda disappeared from radio, you know? I think the same sort of thing happened in the ’90s. Everything was getting electronic, everything was getting really dance-y. Then, everyone was like I don’t wanna hear all this sounding so perfect so let’s get some grunge in here. Then all of the grunge bands came in like Nirvana, and then everyone was like “yeah! this is real again!”, you know? Not that I’m dismissing electronic at all, I just think that people are gonna find ways to make things sound like there’s human in them, there’s soul in them. There’s only as much soul as you put in, and I think that electronic music is no different. I mean, that’s what I tried to do on Siberia. People are getting a bit exhausted of hearing so much perfection and tuning and all of this stuff. It’s nice to hear some mistakes, hear some human in it.
Too much melodyne, too much auto-tune.
Yeah, that’s what we did on Siberia, there’s ugly parts, and there’s messy bits, and there’s grittiness. That’s what makes it special.
It adds character!
It adds character and you can hear that there’s people there, and that’s what makes it cool.
Give me your opinion on the ideology of the “larger than life” figure (the example being a famous musician). Basically, what I’m asking is in relevance to our society and the importance of this person’s work, or music: is it right for us to “worship” them and idealize their music and their persona? Does a person ever stop being just like us, and if so when does their music transcend their persona?
It’s something that I’ve always kind of thought about. You hear these stories about some of these huge rock stars who have lost touch with reality, you wonder how that happens, at what point that happens. I know I haven’t. I don’t know if it’s due to my family, or my connection with my fans. I’m always making sure I try to meet people when I can, or keeping myself on a ground level and having good friends around – your team around you! They’re important. If you have people around you who are telling you “yes” all of the time, you’re never going to know reality. Right? The world’s not like that. It only goes as far as you let yourself. If you’re the kind of person who’s insecure enough that you need someone to tell you that, then you’re probably going to lose touch with reality. That’s where it changes, when you think that you’re not susceptible to “real life.” I honestly don’t know when that point comes. It’s something I’ve thought about too. It’s like is there some kind of threshold you cross, suddenly you’ve sold “this” amount of records and you’re a different person? Then you hear about people who aren’t like that at all. So, I really don’t know. All I do know that I’ve never looked at an artist and worshiped them. When I really respect someone’s work I look beyond it and what it’s doing, and where it’s coming from. For me, when people are really into my music and are really moved by it, I hope they don’t think that I’m the one –
That you’re a different person?
I hope they don’t think that I’m the one who’s affecting them. I’m not. It’s who gave me my music, and I think that’s a force much greater than me. I hope people can look through me and see that, and not –
Put you on some sort of pedestal?
It’s not me, I’m just like a medium for it, you know? I believe it’s coming from somewhere else. I hope it’s all that big place in the sky that it comes from.
Tell me about the concept of the music video for “Banner.” Who came up with it?
“Banner” was the one that took me a little while to get the video for. Some of them come right away, and some of them don’t. It’s usually me who comes up with the main idea. I watched “The Book of Eli” and I was really excited by the concept of this lone wanderer who has something that everybody wants. People can sense that in him – he’s strong, he’s a fighter. It’s in this post-apocalyptic world where there is no purity, or values left. So the video is kinda like that. Essentially the concept for the video for “Banner” is longer than 3 1/2 minutes, so it’s hard to jam in there.
The song is about being in a world where everything can be burned down. I always look at it as, what’s valuable is what can’t be burned down. It’s like your friendships and love, and relationships – things that if we lose everything, they are still there. That’s what “Banner” is all about. For the video I wanted to convey something like that – a world where there’s no white material left, that at it’s most basic there’s nothing pure left, yet somebody has something and everyone recognizes it. It can stop conflict and it can bring people together. I thought that was a really neat little concept. We found a really wicked spot out of L.A. in this desert, it was actually very, very cold, freezing that day. It was this old compound for disturbed children that had been abandoned since the ’60s. We used that spot, it was kinda eerie and really cool. It ended up being really great.
So taking a look back at where you’ve come from, you’ve gone so far. You avoided the sophomore slump with such a game changer like Siberia. From where you’re at now, what do you anticipate for the future?
We want to stay on this trajectory that we’re on. Nothing is blowing up, but nothing is going down. It’s a slow build; you put in hard work and make decisions for the right reasons. I don’t ever take endorsements or those kinds of things if they don’t stand alongside the integrity of the music. Everything is about that. You don’t try to sell anything other than what you believe in, which is the songs, the live show and bringing people to the show. Seeing it really happen like the way that we always hoped it would, myself and my manager, we kinda built it from 2006. It’s like this slow, steady build; I hope that it continues on this road so that in 5-10 years my fans are still with me, and they’re growing with me and I’m growing with them. Nothing is left and forgotten; we can make each other proud, you know?
Right. I think that’s exactly what anybody would want.
Yeah! It takes tact though. A lot of people are swayed by getting lots of money to do an ad, or those kinds of things. Those things are great, but you have to really be like, what am I getting out of this in the long run? Is this helping the music, you know? That can cut out some success in the short term, but yeah.
That’s what you need to keep doing!
Any last words for all of your fans out there who are listening to or reading this?
Definitely come to a show, they’re fun!
I can agree with that.
We have a good time, and my band’s amazing. I have a four-piece band, and these guys all make the parts their own. You’re going to get something even different from the record, and the light show is amazing! Jeremy our lighting guy is part of the band, so yeah. Come to a show!
Thank you very much for sitting down with me and having this interview!