Canadian synth-pop sensation Lights is the anti-Britney. A composer and lyricist since the age of 11, she creates an expert mix of catchy hooks and earnest, introspective lyrics that’s poised to crack the Top 40. The Listening, her debut album, was released this week, and she kicked off a small club tour to promote the record that will take her through a large part of the US and Canada for the rest of this month.
We caught up with Lights and found out why she’s certain to become the object of lust for legions of nerdy guys everywhere (she’s a huge comic-book fan) and how she’s able to translate her electronic, synthesized sound for a live show. Read our complete interview after the jump.
You began writing music at a very young age – how did you eventually develop the synth pop sound featured on your debut album, The Listening?
I mean, I started writing songs at the age of 11 and really had no genre. At age 13, I had ideas beyond songwriting – I was wanting more so I bought an 8-track and started dabbling in production techniques and that’s when I kinda discovered what I did best. In 2006, I wrote “February Air” on an acoustic guitar and felt like something special was there. I wanted to find a sound that I’ve never heard before – something that was entirely electronic, not organic. It was like looking through a toy box and finding the sounds that I liked and layering them on top of one another.
The reprise of “Pretend” at the end of the album with just the piano accompaniment is gorgeous. Are you interested in exploring a more stripped down or acoustic sound in the future?
Definitely. At the core, that’s how all of my songs begin. If you can’t strip down a song and play it on an acoustic guitar or the piano and have it sound good, you don’t have a good song. I play acoustic version of my songs for radio stations and I will do more of that.
We know you’re a huge comic book fan. If you were creating a new character based on yourself, what would her special powers be?
I have one already. It just came out today. There will be new episodes airing on iamlights.com. It’s another way to get people to hear the music. She looks like me and she’s based on a Hans Solo-like character. It’s so much fun. She’s not magical and not an alien or anything but she’s incredibly strong and confident. She’s got a jet pack and laser gun.
We also understand that you designed the cover art for your album and that you’re also very involved with the production of your music videos – do think in these visual terms when you are writing and recording?
There’s totally a visual that goes with each song. I always picture something to go with my songs after I’ve written them. When I was driving home after I finished recording “Saviour” all I could picture was a purple planet and a rocky terrain and me in this retro sci-fi world and that became the music video.
The production work on your songs is so layered – how do you adapt the sound of your recorded material to your live shows?
Well, it’s been a long road for sure in terms of finding out what sounds the best live. I have a couple years of experience with that. It took a few tries. It’s important to have a live dynamic. With electronic music, it’s easy to sound flat. I have a live drummer and another keyboard player. His parts I wrote for him are abrasive and edgier for the live shows. You get much more aggression with live performance.
We recently ranked the 50 Essential Women-In-Music Albums. If you were coming up with a list like that, which albums would be on it?
I’d have to start with Debut by Bjork. Vespertine by Bjork too. She’s just fantastic and there’s so many good ones of hers. Gwen Stefani’s solo record was great too. Joni Mitchell is a brilliant songstress. Cyndi Lauper’s Seven Deadly Cyns. I would have to say if I could add one more it would be a Celine Dion record. The reason I sing is because of her. I would listen to her when I was six and I learned all her songs.