LIGHTS has grown up a lot since the first time we all heard her single “February Air” in an Old Navy commercial in 2008. Now 27, not only has the Canadian synth-pop artist put out two albums — The Listening and Siberia — and a number of EPs, she also started started a family.
In 2012, LIGHTS (real name: Valerie Anne Poxleitner) married Beau Bokan, lead singer of the metalcore band Blessthefall. Then earlier this year, she gave birth to their first child, Rocket Wild Bokan.
Despite all the changes in her personal life, LIGHTS continued rocking the stage on a world tour as well as worked on her latest project, third album Little Machines (pre-order from iTunes here), which arrives tomorrow ( September 23) via Warner Bros. Records. In fact, her schedule was so jam-packed this past year that she spent the last trimester of her pregnancy in the studio, where actually went into labor.
“It’s funny because I finished the record when I was pregnant,” she tells Idolator. “I did take some time off to have her. [But] I mean I did vocals while I was in labor, which was crazy.”
LIGHTS is cleary a trooper and really happy, which one can hear from in Little Machines. We talked to her while she had a some down time in Toronto to learn more about the third album, her songwriting process and what really happened when it came time for Rocket Wild to enter the world.
It’s been more than three years since Siberia. What have you been up to since then?
LIGHTS: I realize it’s been a long time, but I didn’t want to release something that I thought wasn’t better than anything I’ve ever done. I wanted to make sure I always one up myself. So I’m not going to push something out just because of time constraints, you know? I’m going to give it the time it needs. And I’ve been touring all over the world basically, which was the first time I hit a lot of cities. So I’ve really just been doing that, and [I've] been writing, trying to figure out where I wanted to go next. I released an acoustic album, as well, as a follow up to Siberia. I had a lot of time to really go where I wanted to go, which was kind of a challenge. I remember saying this before I came out with ‘Siberia,’ you really have to believe in yourself every time. And you really have to push yourself and better, you know?It’s hard. It’s hard to do it all the time. I really started to listen to really powerful female artists out there like Kate Bush and Patti Smith, and what they were really writing about. Patti Smith is such a great poet. I also started to get into poetry and get inspired by other things besides music. And by the end of last year, I was like, “OK we’ve got an album. Let’s record this.” And I was actually full-term pregnant when we were recording the album, and it was an incredible time because there’s so many things going on in your head. And I was able to channel everything into my music, and I think it’s best album I’ve made so far.
How do you feel you’ve grown since your first album?
LIGHTS: I’ve grown in a lot of ways — as a musician, as performer, as a songwriter. I learned things about songwriting that I never knew before. I’m a firm a believer in putting something out before you can get something in, and you look back on the last album and think, That was my end result. And my voice has changed over the years, probably from all the live experience. I used to play music at home, and now I’m playing for thousands of people. There’s a certain ownership you take after an experience like that instead of sitting in a closet and making music. So I’ve shaped my voice based on a lot experiences I’ve had.
Let’s talk about “Portal.” You wrote that song using only one chord. What inspired you to go that simplistic?
LIGHTS: While searching for the right songs for this album, I was trying to thinking about which aspects of creativity in music and art and stuff. So one of the experiments I did was to see if I could actually write a whole song using one chord. Is possible to do something dynamic enough and exciting enough using that one chord with the melody and the lyrics? So I tried it, and I wrote this sort of poem over it. Then I put it away. I didn’t look at it for a while. It was an idea, and I didn’t want to. Then I went to this authorship community in New Mexico, which was this boondocks getaway with these carbon-zero homes that are completely off the grid. So I went there for a writing trip on my own for a week, and it was the most productive I’ve ever been. Every day I would record a song, and each of those songs ended up on the record. So “Portal” was one of them. I pulled it off my phone, and it turned out to be this crazy folk melody. But I knew this wasn’t a standard song. There’s no chorus. So I brought it back to my team, and they fell in love with it. Then I thought, OK, this is really cool. So when we made the video, we made a really chill video for this song.
You’re pretty active on social media, which has been a great tool for many artists. How has it helped you?
LIGHTS: Well, I love it. I love getting online and looking at people’s responses to things and communicating with everyone. And there are comments out there that are so funny. But [without it], I wouldn’t know what my fan base would be. I wouldn’t know what was out there. And when I’m out at shows, you only know who you can see in the audience. And [social media] shows me what they’re into and what parts of your music they like. It’s been an invaluable tool to blast things out like the “Portal” video to everybody in an instant.
So what’s the best way for a fan to get in touch with you on social media?
LIGHTS: I would say Instagram or Twitter, especially Twitter. I swear I’m on that every half hour. I love reading what’s going on. I’m @lights on Twitter and @lightsy on Instagram.
And you also had your daughter this year. Congratulations! So is there any particular song that was inspired by or dedicated to your baby or becoming a mother?
LIGHTS: I didn’t write any of the songs while being a mother, but she was very small growing inside me. It’s not so much about writing songs about your kids or that kind of thing. I also find not to be so literal when writing songs. That’s what I’ve learned over the years. You should write songs about what you feel, but you can’t write in such a way like it’s a diary entry. You should write it in a way that people understand in their lives. It’s ultimately about the same things but in different levels and different experiences. I think you should something general for the masses so it can be understood and help people through things. So I don’t know if I would ever write a song about having a kid or writing about the emotions you have in your head and loving somebody so much.
You mentioned doing vocals while in labor. Let’s talk a little bit more about that.
LIGHTS: For starters, it was earlier labor. So it wasn’t like incredibly painful or hard while I was doing vocals. But I knew that day, I was going to have her, that night. I was doing the vocals on the song called “Muscle Memory,” and it was quite an experience. I mean, I had to stop every now and then to take a breath and just keep going. And even before I had her, I did vocals on the song called “Speeding” and also “Meteorites.” And it’s crazy, the different ways your vocals experience depending on the tightness of your diaphragm. I had a little abdominal strength at the time because your belly is so big. So I had to do things differently and pull from different parts of my vocal chords. It was an interesting experience for sure.
LIGHTS’ new album Little Machines will be released on September 23. Pre-order it from iTunes here.
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