Lights: “I wish people understood the value of music”
On her first visit to Australia, Lights’ (born Valerie Anne Poxleitner) enthusiasm for her music and first Australian tour, supporting The Jezabels, is infectious. She speaks with the confidence and wisdom of a performer well beyond her 25 years, but with a genuine excitement and you can’t help but wish for her to succeed in front of the unfamiliar Australian audiences.
Having charted very successfully back home in Canada (her latest album Siberia came in at #3 behind the ubiquitous Adele and fellow Canadian Feist), the unknown territory that is Australia meant that Lights and her band found themselves in a support slot, something they hadn’t done in a few years. “It is very humbling and it’s a good reminder that you’ve got to keep trying and working to win people over…You’re having an opportunity to appeal to a lot of different people. You can just go up there and do your best and hope that you win some people over”.
Despite this challenge and a limited physical presence in Australia, the fans have come out in droves. They come with banners bearing her name, and have swamped the merch table in between sets for signings. She describes it as a really nice shock.”It kind of reminds me of home in the sense that everyone’s really welcoming and really warm. The shows have been kind of surprising because every night I go to the merch table and there are tons of people waiting who have either been fans for years or brand new, so it’s kind of unexpected that it’s happening here. It’s really cool!”
Her second album Siberia was released late last year and has been met with largely positive reviews, displaying a growth in maturity thanks in part to her collaboration with renowned electronica experimentalists Holy Fuck. “We were both on the dance stage [at Reading and Leeds Festival] and we ended up having a chat. It wasn’t at that point that we decided to work together. Shortly after that though I started coming up with ideas for my new record and I knew I wanted to get heavier and I was being inspired by heavier, grittier electro stuff that went a little darker.”
She attributes the difference between 2009 debut The Listening and Siberia , to jam sessions held in the living room of Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt. “I remember walking in and all their pedals and tables and keyboards and their little toys were spread around. It was a really fruitful session. It was new. They approach a writing session so much differently than a lot of the people I’ve written with, whose intent is typically ‘let’s make a number one hit’, which is very unfruitful for artistry as far as I’m concerned. It really takes away from the dynamic of ‘let’s make something creative and that I like’”.
From that session came Everybody Breaks A Glass and title track Siberia , as well as instrumental album closer, Day One. “The entire recording of the session was called Day One because it was the first time we were working together, and it was really indicative of the direction of the record. One of the cool aspects of this record is it’s a lot of live mixed in with electronic, which is kind of a juxtaposition”.
She also relates the moment she realised she had something special brewing for this album. “The sun was setting, it was winter time, we were looking over Toronto…and we were listening to the last 9 minutes of it and it was really special and I turned around and I said ‘This is going on the record for sure’”.
While she learned many tips in the studio from Holy Fuck, she also learned about performing electronic music onstage. “I did learn is that it’s really hard to take lots of junk around! They have so many little things and their things are always breaking and they told me how frustrating it is, but that’s the essence of their sound and who they are. So I did take a few tips in terms of that’s not what I really wanted to do”, she laughs.
In broad terms it’s all music
Lights goes on to explain that a certain camaraderie exists between artists in the Canadian music industry, facilitating such surprising collaborations (Canadian rapper Shad also appears on the record and in turn he has worked with Dallas Green ). The tight-knit community shares a desire to get on each other’s projects to help each other out, which she says is quite different to her experience in the American music industry. But that hasn’t stopped her appearing on albums all through the industry. Lights own collaborations have featured a diverse cast including Bring Me The Horizon, Silverstein and Owl City . Genres don’t mean much to her. “In a broad term it’s all music and it’s all creativity, and those can all mesh and work together. It makes it exciting because when you do something every night like my music, it’s nice to do something else now and then. It makes you a little bit better at what you do and you help your friends out and your friends help you out. It’s a good situation.”
Not seeing the need to pigeonhole herself in terms of genre, she is more interested in the development of her own sound as a whole. She describes her own as one changing from electronic pop to electronic rock. With an acoustic EP released in between albums, she says that essentially it all comes down to songwriting for her. Having grown up on her dad’s music (Supertramp, The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen), Lights finds herself more interested in the structure of a song and what makes it timeless. ” Where The Streets Have No Name, or I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2, they came out the year I was born, and they’re still as young as songs that come out this year”.