Pushing boundaries: An interview with Lights
Multi-talented creative talks “Skin & Earth” album, comic series and Town Ballroom show
In an industry where some regulars don’t write their own songs, Lights can write her own comic book series.
The award-winning Canadian pop star is no stranger to venturing outside of the norm. Lights’ pure electronic pop sound has seen all four of her studio albums land on the Billboard 200. She’s won Juno Awards and pushed boundaries for what’s expected in the industry.
Her fourth studio album, “Skin and Earth” shows a new side of the pop star. She’s improved vocally and explored her emotions even deeper, thanks to her inclusion of a comic book series of the same name.
Lights just received two 2018 Juno nominations, including Artist of the Year and Pop Album of the Year for “Skin and Earth.”
The artist takes her We Were Here Tour to the Town Ballroom on March 6. Lights talked with The Spectrum about connecting both of her mediums, exploring this secondary universe and what to expect from her live show next month.
Q: Before we get into anything, I want to congratulate you on your Juno nominations. How does it feel that your “Skin and Earth” album was so well received?
A: It’s amazing, especially with the amount of work and thought I put into this project as a whole. I’ve been nominated a few times for Pop Album and received it once, which was really special. The one that really caught me off guard was Artist of the Year. It was shocking. I woke up with a smile on my face. It means that a bunch of people that I respect and my peers across the country get it.
Q: Your recent album “Skin and Earth” is such a wonderfully crafted pop record. I know you’re a multi-instrumentalist, so I was wondering how much of the instrumentation you lent to the record?
A: This was an interesting one because I was able to have a vision for this bigger idea. I was able to let go of the range a little bit with the production to make sure that the record was reaching out further than what I was capable of. In the past, I controlled the sound really closely and with this record I kind of let some of that go. The sounds are really diverse on this record. The songs are eclectic, but together they make this cinematic piece. But I did most of the guitar, most of the live bass and a lot of the keyboards.
Q: You’ve certainly delivered some of your best vocals on this project, too. I know you mentioned coming out of your shell vocally for “Skin and Earth,” but was this really something you already had in you, or rather something you practiced specifically for this record?
A: It was a very cognitive decision on this record. When I first got into singing, I looked to Celine and Mariah Carey and I was able to do some stuff. When I started making music, I held back a lot vocally so that I would let the production shine … Maybe it was my way to prove, as a woman, that there’s more to me than just a voice.
With this album, I really came into my own as a creative … I really wanted to bring the vocals out to the next level on this record. This is the first time I worked with a vocal producer. His name is Ben Rice and he’s amazing. He’s like ex-military so he made me get down on the ground and do push-ups. “Sing it again! Like you mean it.” He made me pay attention to every word. It brought a lot of attention to detail for my vocals on this record.
Q: You released the “Skin and Earth” comic book series along with your record. Is this something you’ve wanted to do for a while? Would you like to see other creatives double up on art like this?
A: I’ve always wanted to be a comic creator. I’m a fan of the medium and it’s just been a dream of mine forever. Just like music, I think a lot of fans of comics want to be treated equally. It’s just been a dream of mine to see these two worlds come together. And certainly with women. I don’t see a lot of women do that crossover. In fact, I don’t think that there’s really much of it. I really wanted to do it and I never really committed myself to the completion of a comic before. I really wanted to know how to do it and I couldn’t back out so I taught myself how to do it.
Q: So I recently watched the Netflix documentary on fellow-Canadian Jim Carey titled “Jim and Andy” and I have to ask –– Since the main character of your comic is based on you and you’ve written these songs from the character’s perspective, did you ever lose yourself in the character while writing?
A: That’s such a good question. I think it’s sort of a way to write from another perspective and get things out that I never really felt like I could say. But in the process, I learned a lot about myself and wrote a lot of things that I needed to say. Like a song like “Fight Club” or “Savage,” these songs are about being heartbroken or angry. I have experienced these emotions to some degree in my life. I never felt free to write about them. It’s because I feel like people would read into my personal life too much and wonder. But since I have the comic character, I can write these feelings and they’re hers.
Inadvertently through writing about a fictional character, I discovered a lot of myself and started writing more honestly than I ever had. It’s funny you ask about losing myself, because I first started with writing the characters into the story. But when writing the characters, you have to become those characters. The main character is pretty much a reflection of myself. Writing the other characters and writing the dialogue and the way they act, you have to embody them as you write their words. Becoming all these different people, I felt like a schizophrenic and I remember saying to my friend who’s a comic writer, “You guys must be crazy all the time.” You have to be in the head of all these [characters]. You have to get into the heads of the evil ones. It’s pretty intense. I got insomnia. I just had all these ideas in my head all the time, but it was an exciting kind of insomnia.
Q: You’re currently embarking on your We Were Here tour. Do you incorporate stuff from the comics into your live performances in any way?
A: Yeah. This is the first tour that I’ve been able to really build a cinematic crescendo of a set. There’s a definitive theme to the first half of the story and a definitive theme to the back half of the set. There’s an interlude that separates them and gives you clips of the comic without actually spoiling it so that people who have read the comic will appreciate all of that and people who haven’t will be interested. So it’s been a challenge putting together this cinematic-related comic book set so it doesn’t give things away and entices people who haven’t read the comic. I think it’s my best show I’ve ever put on.
Q: You’ll be at the Town Ballroom on March 6. I believe the last time you were here in Buffalo was 2012. What is it like coming back to perform?
A: It’s been a long time and I’m really excited to come back. I think the last time we came through Buffalo was at Mohawk Place. I remember it being chaos and really fun. I was like “let’s come back and do it up good.” I’m really looking forward to bringing a full show back for the first time in a long time.
Brenton Blanchet is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com