After signing with Canadian independent label Underground Operations, with whom she released a successful self-titled EP, received over 15,000,000 plays on MySpace, won a Juno award and took part in several huge tours (including the entirety of the 2009 Vans Warped Tour), Lights recently released her American major label debut titled The Listening on October 6th. Prior to heading out on an American fall tour, Lights sat down with Mark Millard to speak about her childhood, the Warped Tour and her debut full length album.
Obviously in Canada, Lights has become a fairly common name. But for those that may not know you in the States, you legally had your name changed to Lights. What was the motivation behind that?
It was naturally a nickname for so long because it's a derivative of my last name, which is this crazy Austrian last name, Poxleitner. And people just kind of short formed it over time and I just legally made it happen, you know?
That's pretty gnarly. Now you grew up all around the world, with that being said, how has that affected you musically?
It definitely has, one of the main things is that I've moved so many times, I think my moving count is at 26 and that in itself has led so much to even just a touring life because you learn to not get too attached to locations or houses or things. You learn how to maintain relationships at a distance and that's really important for a touring life like I have now so in itself that has really set me up for the career I have. And also, the reason why I moved around a lot was because my parents were doing mission work, like working with the poor in the Philippines and Jamaica. I was pretty young, so I just ended up playing with the other kids and we'd end up like sitting in the dirt and making our own toys and stuff so that's really made me quite self sufficient musically. Like if I wanna come up with a sound, I figure out how to make it. For example, if I know what sound I want to hear, if I want an abrasive synth, I'll distort a piano or something, you know? Just using what you have to get the sound you need, and not always needing all the right toys or spending all the money to get it.
For sure, and obviously with traveling on a consistent basis, you might have a different taste in music than most people down here. What kind of music did you grow up on?
Well because we were missionaries we were listening to a lot of Christian stuff, and then when I got to 13 or 14, I started really listening to a lot of Christian hardcore stuff. Like you have all the Tough and Nail and Solid State bands like Underoath, Norma Jean, the Chariot, Haste the Day and then I started going to Warped Tour and everything. Then I started moving around to more electro stuff now, lots of cool lush ambiance. But yeah, growing up it was all very much melody based gospel music, and that set the coarse for where I learned to write songs because these songs are so melody driven and I think my music is very much like that.
You were 11 when you started writing songs. Now only being 22, you've done more than most 22 year olds have; winning a Juno, having a big fan base, successful EP and doing the whole Warped Tour. Did you ever think you would be at this point so early in your life?
I've always been so lacking in patience growing up. I was crazy, but I thought it would happen sooner. I was seventeen and I was like 'my records not out! I'm gonna go crazy'. But I'm really glad I waited cause I've gotten a lot of experience song writing, and learning how to convey what I felt and the ideas I had production wise a lot better. Now I'm further than I ever would have been, but I'm really excited with how it turned out. And the record came out yesterday in Canada and I was sitting down thinking about it and I was like 'this has happened beyond how I ever hoped it would, in just a better way than I ever imagined.
So what is the general feeling with Lights right now?
It's pretty legit I'll tell you that. (Laughter) I felt so legit yesterday; I was like I'm a real artist now.
Yeah. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was scoping the Internet and saw that you had signed with Underground Operations. Now all of a sudden you're going major. What does that feel like?
It's pretty cool. It's all about feeling comfortable with the people you're going to be essentially spending the rest of your life with and I always go with my gut on that. I picked the people I worked with, like I picked my friends. You pick the people that you trust and you love, and are passionate about the same things as you. That's how I ended up with the label that I ended up with. Here in Canada, I actually have my own independent label called Lights Music and it's backed with Universal Distribution. And then in America, I'm with Warner through Doghouse and everyone's just so passionate and so into it and they're acting like I never thought a major would. You know? like it's all my ideas just a hundred percent supported with the power of a major label but doing things with an indie perspective. It's unprecedented, we've never done anything like this but it seems to be working.
Totally and obviously now you've got a much bigger following in the UK and the States. I know you've played the US before, but this summer you got to play at summer camp, aka Warped Tour, in it's entirety. What was that whole experience like and how was the reception this time around?
It was awesome! I was a little wary obviously because it is a punk rock tour and I'm electro-pop, so I was like "okay, this is gonna be a tough crowd." I grew up going to Warped Tour all the time and I knew what I looked for when I went. I would go to Warped to see new bands, to discover music, you always want to be the first to find that new band and tell your friends about it. I also went to see people being honest, and who write their songs and play their instruments, and who just are comfortable with themselves and that's why I use to go to Warped Tour. And so I thought, with this in mind, if I just go and be myself and do what I love to do, I mean there's nothing else I can do if the kids don't like it. And so I went and just played, and it was amazing. You know there were always people who knew the words in every city and with the power of MySpace and all these online platforms right, so word spread underground and it was pretty cool. But it was also a challenge because you only have 25 minutes a day to win over an entirely new audience and so I learned a lot, it was just great. Getting to hang out with friends every day too, it was just amazing.
Do you have a favourite memory, or a band that you chilled with or anything like that?
Well one of the bands I discovered, a really talented band on the Warped Tour was called Inner Party System; they're a really great electro rock band that were pretty amazing. And I've been a fan of Less Than Jake for years so when I met Less Than Jake, one of them told me their name was Lantern and I actually believed them. (Laughter) He said his first name was Lantern and I totally believed him. But yeah, big fan of Less Than Jake and got to meet them so it was cool.
You previously touched base on how the underground online scene really helped you. I find you're fairly DIY (do it yourself) in the sense that you do a lot of your own artwork, and post your own videos on Youtube. How did that all come about and I why do you think that is important as an artist, taking advantage of that online community?
That's exactly it, taking advantage of these abilities that we have. It's just another way to reach out to the fans and show them what you're all about, and show them what you got. I have other ideas just beyond music you know? And other forms of putting my creativity out, so it's a great outlet for me, kind of in a selfish way almost. Like I just get to be myself and have fun, and subject people to watching it (laughter), so I feel kind of bad but it's out there and it's great, and it is just another way for people to know where the music comes from. It's more of a long lasting relationship in that sense where people know just that much more about you.
Did you create the artwork again on this record?
This record I collaborated with an artist named Garnett Armstrong and I actually originally laid it all out and I had it exactly how I wanted, I just didn't have the means to bring it to life and Garnett absolutely made it happened. I actually discovered him through Alexisonfire's album art for Watch Out, like the Zombie girl.
Which is such a sick cover.
Yeah (laughter) I was like "Who is this artist?" I found out who it was and we got together and made it happen. It was very much inspired by Dawn of the Dead meets Sailor Moon meets Watchmen, and it was like a collaboration of all those mediums with a really great way to convey the sentiment of the record.
And speaking of the record, what can fans, both new and old, expect?
Well for new fans it's just a bunch of songs that are pretty easy to sing along with, and very honest. There's use of some creative sounds and I guess reaching into far reaches of the galaxy to discover cool ways to convey different textures and music and everything like that, so I had a fun time creating the music which is essentially just good pop songs. And for old listeners, it's gonna be more of what you heard on the EP, just learning to convey my emotions better. I had a lot of fun with it, it was really cool.
Do you have a favourite track?
Essentially the record is all of my favourite tracks from the stuff I've written over the past two years, which is like hundreds of songs. But if I had to pick a favourite, I think at the moment it's number twelve, which is "Quiet". I got to do a couple of different things in that song, I played a banjo in that one which is a little different and it's actually one of the only one's that's about like romance, which I never write about. So it's a close to home one.
Right on. What are your plans for the rest of 2009?
Now that the records out, I'm going to be doing a lot of touring. So October 2nd, we leave on a tour across the States, all through October and into the beginning of November. And then we come across Canada for a headliner tour in November, so basically it's gonna be straight touring. And also, there's gonna be some sweet, like every couple of weeks my ambition is to put something cool and new out like whether it's a remix or a B-side, and all the info on that is gonna be up on http://www.iamlights.com. I also have this amazing cartoon I've been working on with Tom from Marvel Comics and it's named "Captain Lghts". I did all the voiceovers for it and she looks just like me and it's gonna be two minute episodes on MTV actually, and it will be online as well.
And to conclude, I'm not a big TV dude, but randomly while browsing by Much Music about half an hour ago I saw the video you did with Ten Second Epic. With that being said, is there any one else you would like to collaborate with in the future?
You know, I always like to do collaboration's with people that people wouldn't expect me to collaborate with. So at this point collaboration with someone like Justice would be really cool, where there's electro elements but it's a little more abrasive as opposed to soft electro stuff like mine. But I feel it would be really cool to do collaboration with a rap artist or something like that, just to do something really different and try to pair two completely different styles and see what happens.
I think Justice would be perfect for you.
It would be so cool! I'll go hunt them down or something. I'll go stalk them. (Laughter)
Thank you so much for doing this, I know you're a really busy girl so we greatly appreciate it.
Thank you so much, it's been an amazing interview so thanks for making it easy.
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