LIGHTS Talks Hard Work and Self-Awareness with Skin&Earth

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“We can do anything. It’s amazing.”

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Meredith Schneider | July 14, 2017

We caught up with LIGHTS the day after she got home from a whirlwind trip. She finally had a moment of calm, a little bit of time to rest during the insane time that is her Skin&Earth rollout.

For those of you who don’t know, LIGHTS is a phenomenal female Canadian musician, singer, and songwriter who has been winning us over since 2009 with her quirky, pop infused brand of alternative. Back in April, she dyed her signature long locks vibrant red and started teasing her new project – the aforementioned Skin&Earth -, an album to be released in the fall along with a series of comic books, written, designed, and illustrated by the musician herself.

We’re in for one crazy ride, but before you check out her latest single (which drops later today), read on about the project, and get as excited as we are to see it all unfold!

What was the first album or song you remember listening to, and who introduced it to you?

I remember this super well. I was 11. This was the first song that I remember remembering, actually. Obviously I heard a lot of music leading up to this, but this was the first time a song really caught my attention. It was “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. It was playing in gymnastics because I was in gymnastics as a kid. I remember I couldn’t pay attention to anything but that song. It really captivated me and I thought, “I really like this song. I don’t know why, but I really like this song.” And from that moment, I always loved that song and always tried to figure out what makes that song what it is. Timeless, beautiful, captivating. And I’ve always tried to sort of achieve that with my own music.

Last week, I saw U2 for the first time. I flew my dad to Toronto and we went together. The whole Joshua Tree record means a lot to both of us. It was a big, big moment. It was the first time I’d seen them. It was wonderful.

Do you think that song, specifically, has any bearing on your music now?

Yeah, absolutely. I think that in order for a song to be something that can reach the multitudes, it has to be immediate. I spend a lot of time trying to understand the idea of immediacy in music. I think that’s the complicated part about pop music because pop music doesn’t get enough credit for the fact that that’s the whole goal there. You try to captivate a complicated idea in the most simple, immediate way. There’s an art to that. I feel like I get better at it every time I work on a record, but I always try to apply it. You should be able to remember at least something about the song by the time the second chorus rolls around so that, maybe, by the last chorus, you can sing along.

That’s more of a challenge than you think. That comes down to simplicity of lyric and melody and impact of a line or a lyrics, something that people will remember the minute they hear it. Or something that just catches people off guard, like my new song “Giants”. I always try to do something that’s really simple and easy, but there’s some degree of oddity to it. I think that every big song people remember has something a little off about it. Take “Call Me Maybe” for example, just the fact that it wasn’t “Call Me Baby”, it was “Call Me Maybe”. That’s the aspect that made it a little different, you know?

So with “Giants”, the quirkiness about it is a tempo change, and these chords come in totally unexpected. Because it’s like 24 BPM off of the rest of the song. So you’re like, “Where did this come from?!” So there’s always going to be a degree of weirdness amidst the complete simplicity of a pop track.

You are literally touching on all my points right now, because I’ve been obsessing over that tempo change since the track came out. What inspired the tempo change? Did that happen organically, or were you like, “No, we have to swap it up?”

It’s a little bit of both. I wrote it with Mick Schultz, great dude. We were just chilling at his studio coming up with ideas and we had this killer verse going with a really cool vibe, and we kind of worked into chorus territory. Started working on the chorus and got really into chorus world and completely forgot about verse world. We went back to the verse, and the song parts had divided into their own tempo. We loved both parts of the song and we really wanted them to work together, but they weren’t the same tempo. So we thought, “Well, what if we just put them together and see what happens?”

We literally walked around debating for a couple of hours if it was something that would even fly. But everything about the song was a pop song except for the tempo change, so we wanted to do it right so people wouldn’t feel the transition in an awkward way. We knew it could work. So we deliberately went in and sort of finessed a few things to make it work, and lo and behold it became the first single. So it obviously clicked.

It was a complete blast to make, so I’m glad people seem to be digging it so far!

I know last week you played your hometown and it was your first show in like, 15 months. What was that like for you?

It was awesome! It reminded me how much I missed playing and how much I missed doing shows. It felt so good and we had been rehearsing for the weeks leading up to it, so we were locked in again just like a year and a half ago. I really missed it. But it was also nice to play in a small town. I was born there and spent a few months of my life there, so there was that whole connection which was nice. I spent a lot of time in Northern Ontario, so it was totally nostalgic for me anyway. People in small towns don’t get bands coming through, so they’re so appreciative and excited. There was a great vibe to the show. It was funny.

In the vein of going to a small town, I actually went to a thrift store there that day. I like going to thrift stores in small towns because they aren’t picked over and there’s actually stuff to buy. I found this sick jacket and decided to wear it for the performance. So I wore it on stage, and someone tweeted me like, “That’s my jacket that I took to the thrift store!” So I bought someone’s jacket that was at the show. It was hilarious.

Only in a small town, right?

That’s amazing! That is so funny. I know we don’t have too much time, but I do want to touch on the album. I know it’s not coming out until the fall, but you have this insane comic book series coming out with it and everything. Do you have any fun anecdotes from production? The way you’ve been rolling everything out has been very thought out and cryptic and it really hooks your audience, so I’m wondering about the process for creating this release.

Oh God, it’s been so much work. But amazing and I’ve never felt more creatively fulfilled. I think that I just have my nose to the grindstone all the time. I’m constantly working. Because I’m doing my own art and everything for it, I’m on direct phone calls with the marketing team, coming up with assets for marketing, sending over files for the album art, everything. So I’m hands in working on this stuff all the time. So I never really have time to step back and look at the big picture.

But I understand this role and these characters almost more than I understand my own role. I’m about to do a phone call to discuss the bio, and part of it will be me as the other characters. So it’s kind of fun and giving me these other dimensions. It’s this whole other world come to life.

There’s been a couple funny things along the way creating a comic. If I can’t get a pose of something, I’ll take a picture and use that as a reference for the pose. I’ve used myself as a reference for all the characters pretty much, so even the male characters in the book are actually me. I posed as what the guy would do and then bulked myself up. So literally every character in this book is a part of me, so it’s been a blast.

That’s so creative and great. When did the idea to do the comic book with the album come about?

I’ve always wanted to do it honestly. It’s something that’s really never been done to this degree. Coheed & Cambria have done something similar, but there’s never been a female artist that’s paired the two. These two mediums  don’t actually cross over that often, as strange as that seems. You’d think that there’d be more of a crossover. As a fan, I want to see it as a crossover more often. But I think what it really comes down to is that it’s a lot of work. Most people wouldn’t be willing to do it all themselves. I finally came to terms with the fact that if I wanted to do this, I had to be prepared to do the work.

So I actually – leading into the album – came up with a rough storyline, and went into the studio sessions for songwriting with the story in mind. It ended up being really helpful because it drove the session. You didn’t have to spend two hours figuring out what you wanted to write about. The story was there, I knew what part and what mood needed to be captured. Then I could speak through this character almost as a third person.

I was singing about things that maybe I didn’t feel I could sing about before. Fighting with your partner, being angry, sex. These are things that I felt like I might not be able to talk about just because people have their expectations of the kinds of things I have sung about before. So suddenly I was opening up this whole other side of me that I’d never otherwise felt free to talk about and so the songs started to really flow.

So I thought, “This is really happening, this is REALLY happening. Now I have to find someone to do the art.” And unless you have tons of money, no one’s going to do the art. So I thought, “Well, I’ll do the art. I’ll find someone to write it.” I didn’t know how to write a comic book. I had the storyline in mind, but I had never written a comic book. Where do you start, right? So I went to the top first. I went to Brian K Vaughan, who is my favorite comic writer ever. We started chatting online and I sent him the last acoustic record and he loved it. He was super busy but he basically said, “You’re already a writer. You should do this yourself, you should try this.” So before I went to anyone else, I took his advice and I actually did it.

He gave me a little bit of advice to get started, and I just wrote the thing myself. And when the time came I just thought, “Well, I gotta draw this.” I went to Youtube University, you know? I watched tutorials, read books, watched webinars, learned how to do comic art, learned how to write, panel, capture emotion. Then I just did it, I just went for it.

It’s been an amazing, liberating experience. Because I suddenly realized that you can literally do anything if you put the work in. It’s so liberating and amazing. Your dreams can come true if you put the time in. People are afraid of what they’re capable of just because of the amount of work it takes. But we can do anything. It’s amazing.

What a nugget! Oh my gosh, you’re so awesome. I have one more question for you. Clearly you’re already a comic book superhero, but if you could have any one super power, what would it be and why?

I’ve always said teleportation. That would be the best. I spend a third of my life traveling, waiting, driving, flying. It’s exhausting and it’s the hardest part about being a touring musician. If I could just teleport to the venue and then come home that night, it would be the best. We need to invent that.

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We agree. We also think you should check out what’s going on with the Skin&Earth rollout, as LIGHTS has some big news as of today (July 14th). Keep up with LIGHTS on Facebook and Instagram.

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