Interview: Lights

Photo: Matt Barnes

Photo: Matt Barnes

Here at Under The Rockies, we love us some Lights. We got to talk to her last month at her show in Calgary. 

We talked about her new album, Little Machines, her new baby and about her plans for 2015.

Lights' new album, Little Machines, is out now. Go catch her at one of her future shows, you can find dates at www.iamlights.com.

UTR: How’s the tour been so far?
Lights: Tour has been awesome. We only have two more shows. It kind of flew by, crazy. Every show has literally been so consistently good. We’re tighter as a band than ever.

So I know the tour hit the US as well as Canada. How do those shows differ?
It’s morphing over the years. It used to be, we’re playing to 30 people in the States and here [Canada] we’d be doing real shows.  Now it’s changing a lot and the shows in the States are almost as big as the ones in Canada and even more energetic, in some ways. It’s weird because I think some of the fans here are fans because of what they hear on the radio, which is amazing in its own right, and it’s that cool level of exposure that you don’t have in the States, we don’t have radio play in the States. The fans in the States are all there because they found it really organically, so they’re really passionate and it shows they’re really excited. It’s two very different animals, you know? Both very exciting but very different.

So I know you’ve managed to hit Calgary at least once a year. Do you have any fun stories from past Calgary shows?
We’ve played here [MacEwan Hall] a lot and I have a lot of good memories from this venue. Starting from back in the day with Keane we played this very room, must’ve been 2008 or 2009. We started playing the Ballroom a bunch, headlining it, came back to do this one a couple of years ago and then we did the acoustic show last year, that was really fun, that was really intimate and cool. There’s always a cool vibe here, it’s different than Edmonton, it’s a different energy and I like it a lot.

I know you have a baby now!
Yeah!

So Rocket’s almost a year old.
She’s nine months, yeah, getting there.

What’s the motherhood experience been like for you?
It’s awesome. It levels me, it reminds me to enjoy and experience the moment and not always anticipate the next thing. That’s become a really important message for me that I’m starting to advise other people to do too because it makes life better.

How’s touring been with a baby on board?
It’s good, it’s really good. She handles it well. Babies just want to be with their parents, so she can go anywhere. We were actually about to bathe her in the venue right now. You just bring a little inflatable bath and fill it up.

I know Beau [Bokan, Lights’ husband, vocalist for blessthefall] has been on tour with you but he’s going on his own tour now. Are you both going to be hopping on that tour as well? Or will mom and baby just be staying at home?
I wish! No, I have more shows coming up after this. We’re going to be in Virginia, actually, for an acoustic thing.

Has Rocket been very responsive to music?
She loves music. I was actually just downstairs playing guitar for her and she was singing. She just kind of makes noises and hums.

What is she most responsive to, what kind of music?
Any music, really. Mostly voice, mostly she’ll respond to hearing someone sing, but she likes acoustic guitar a lot.

I know all of your albums, so far, have had acoustic counterparts. Are we going to be getting a Little Machines acoustic?
I don’t know, I’ve been asked that a lot. Most likely. It’s hard to say right now because it’s a matter of really getting down to figure out the best way to interpret the songs acoustically and recording it. Outside of that, I would love to.

You said you had a bad case of writer’s block when you were coming up with this album. How did you feel when you finally overcame that?
It was nice. It doesn’t hit you in a moment, though. You don’t one day wake up and say, “Oh, I’m not being blocked anymore!”. It was sort of a slow fizzle back into it. In fact, the moment I felt like it was passed, was, when we sat down, end of last year and listened to everything, all 43 songs we had, and said, “Oh, here are 15 amazing ones. Holy crap, we have the record”. It was mostly that moment that we realized, it’s done. Through all of that, all of those days of not knowing what was going to happen and writing, just endlessly writing, suddenly you realize in a moment that, “Wow, here”. And then, from that moment, we booked the studio time and did everything.

What was the recording process like?
We went in the studio and we decided that Drew Pearson would be an awesome producer. He wrote some of the songs with me for the record. He’s got this really cool sort of synth vibe and I love that kind of thing, obviously. He understands how to achieve whatever sounds are in my head. We booked time. As we were getting into the Christmas holidays, we were just slamming everything down because nobody’s working over the Christmas holidays, right? Book everything, book everything now, let’s just do it. First thing in the new year, January 3rd, I flew to LA and started recording the record. When I got too close to my due date, flew to Vancouver and we finished the record in Vancouver.

It was just a lot of zeroing in on the tracks and just doing it and not knowing really what it was going to all end up sounding like. We had to pow wow the first couple of weeks and be like, “Okay, how do we want to lay this song out”, because everything was in demo form, everything was so different. Most of it was very different from what you hear now. “Don’t Go Home Without Me” or “How We Do It” were very different in their demo forms. It was a matter of sitting down and really figuring out how we wanted to do everything, just winging it. That’s what we did, for two months.

I read that you were listening to a lot of female songwriters when making Little Machines and were inspired by them. How did they inspire you?
Looking at how other people you respect that write interpret things, interpret their vision, interpret the mood or interpret their message, everybody has a different way of saying something. Bjork has a very different way of saying something from Patti Smith. Patti Smith has a very different way of saying something from Kate Bush. But each is very individual and I think that’s the beauty of listening to all of these different bodies of work, is that sort of freedom of being able to do whatever you want, with just the matter of finding out how you want to say it. I love that everybody has such a unique style and different inspiration and is beautiful in their own way. That was what was really inspiring to me.

Are you inspired by what they’ve done in their career and try to utilize it in your own?
In some ways. I don’t look at career trajectories as much as their story. How their stories are interpreted into their songs because that’s what song writing is, when you find a moment and speak on it. You see songs directly emerging from a moment in their life. I think that’s the power of it.

What inspired you to start playing music in the first place?
Probably my dad. My dad has always played music as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved it, it’s always moved me and it’s always made me feel happy. That made me want to do it.

Some of my favourites off the album are “Portal”, “Up We Go” and “Don’t Go Home Without Me”, what’s one that stands out more so for you?
Thank you! These are the 14 of my favourites. We actually had 15 originally and ended up doing 11 for the record and three bonus tracks. Those are the 14 for me that are the best, that stand out the most out of the 43. It’s hard to choose. “Don’t Go Home Without Me” is very special to me, it’s very intimate.

I know you’re a big fan of art and tattoos. What inspires you art-wise?
op art, simple art. I don’t understand and I’m not really fascinated by the really detailed stuff, it’s cool but it’s too real, it’s too much like real life. I think the beauty of art is taking you to another world. Comic art takes you to a really fantastical, simple, lots of hard lines, lots of bright colours, other dimension. I also like fantasy art like Clyde Caldwell, is an amazing artist. Where you look at a picture of a girl with laser guns fighting a dragon, art should transport you to another dimension for a while. That’s why I make music, that’s why I look at people’s art, that’s why I play video games, it’s all about a vacation, mental vacation.

I know you created that painting with the girl with the red hair and the eye patch.
I love that’s it’s so simple, there’s only like two colours. There’s such a story and it could be, “Why does she have an eye patch?”, “What made her like that?”, “Why is she angry?”, there can be such a story with such simple lines.

Would you ever display your art in a gallery?
I’ve been building up a lot of paintings for an art show someday. I just need to have a lot more.

It was announced that you’re opening on OneRepublic’s Canadian tour, how does that feel, touring again in bigger venues?
One, it’s awesome to know that we’re gonna be coming back so soon and playing arenas, that is just awesome. And two, OneRepublic’s an awesome band. I know Ryan Tedder a little bit, we wrote a little bit back in the day but we didn’t end up finishing anything. He’s awesome, such a cool guy, sweetheart, loves music and is super talented, so I can’t complain one bit about touring with a band like that.

You’ve played arenas before, right?
We actually played the [Calgary’s Scotiabank] Saddledome for We Day, which was really nice, that was a really cool moment. We’ve done smaller arenas with Hedley back in 2010, a couple of dates with Paramore, on the east coast with Tegan and Sara, so we’ve had the opportunity to play with some big crowds, with some really talented people. This is gonna be a really great experience.

How is your live show going to differ from a MacEwan Hall show to a Saddledome show?
Because it’s an opening set, you’re not allowed to bring all of your production. You’re supposed to be an opener, you’re supposed to set up the main event. It’ll probably just be us ripping it on our instruments, with nothing else. That’s what it all comes down to, it’s all about the types of bands and ending a short and sweet set, how do you pick the seven songs that are going to be the perfect seven songs to captivate an audience that isn’t necessarily yours.

Are you going to be having the same band play with you on these upcoming dates?
Yeah, they’ve been with me for a long time, save for Brodie who’s the newest member of the band, the other two guys have played with me for almost eight years. So they’re not going anywhere.

Are you enjoying playing these songs live?
So much fun. It’s been the most fun record to play out of all the records I’ve ever put out. I think probably because the boys have played on it, Maurie and Adam played on the record. So when we started playing the songs, there was no learning curve. They knew the songs, we were ready to go.

What’s the response from the crowd been like?
It’s been great, they know the words! They knew the words two weeks after the album was out! It was a good feeling.

What do you have planned for 2015?
A lot of touring. We have a European / UK tour in January and February and then we’re doing another US tour and then the OneRepublic tour. We have a lot of cool festivals coming up. And we’re probably going to go overseas again a couple of times. So I’m looking at the dates flowing in and it’s a little overwhelming but I’m looking forward to it.

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Mary

Mary McComish is a journalist, music junkie, vegetarian, feminist and social media queen. She received her print journalism diploma from Lethbridge (yes, where Marilyn Manson was punched in the face) College and, since then, has freelanced as both a journalist and a graphic designer.