If you’re lucky enough to be in a location where you can see them, now the time to see the Northern Lights. This Northern Lights, on the other hand, refers to Ontario-native alt-pop sensation Lights (born Valerie Anne Poxleitner), and this Lights, is an artist you can see on her upcoming tour in a state (or province) near you.
Aurora Borealis who, right?
Lights has been churning out hits since the noughties. With an aptitude for songwriting and a fresh take on what it meant to be an alternative artist, she was quickly offered an American partnership deal with Warner Brothers.
Regardless of the pathways that digital music and media have opened up for new artists, it’s women that still often take their falls harder than anyone. To be a woman in charge of so much of her career — especially so, in the music business — is just one thing that makes Lights one hell of an inspirational woman.
This year, she branched out into something new. Skin & Earth was an artistic concept that would mix a series of comic books with a brand new album. Each video linked to the comic book — and to each other, by extension — out of Skin & Earth came a brand new world teeming with possibilities for the future.
To Lights fans, it’ll come as no to the system that she’s a comic book fan — the cover art for 2009’s The Listening was inspired by, among other things, Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen — but there’s a huge difference between being a comic book fan and creating your own comic book from scratch.
I got to talk to Lights for a little while about the new project, what music means to her, and just how long and how much effort it takes to create a page for a comic book. (Spoiler: a mathematician is needed)
You’ve been at this gig for over a decade now, and your momentum just keeps —rightfully, I might add! — going up and up. I’d love to start off with you when you were younger; at the very beginning of your story.
Has music always been in your life? I always feel like different people take their first introduction to music in a different way, like there are listeners and then there are listeners-italicised; those who live, breathe and sleep it. Were you around music a lot?
Music has been part of my life from day one, my dad was a musician and always made sure it was part of our daily lives whether we were listening to his records, singing along to him on the acoustic or blasting it in the car on the way to wherever we were going. He even let us write songs with him and recorded us singing so we could hear ourselves back.
“There’s a song on my new record called Savage which I wrote the entire chorus of mid traffic in LA, and rage sang it into my phone out of boredom and momentary explosive inspiration. Traffic is good for something I guess.”
What was the first song you remember hearing that, to this day, you remember as being pivotal to the direction your life would take? Or even just the song that made you aware of music as being important enough to make a mark?
The first song I remember stopping and listening to was Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2. When I had heard it was actually 11 years after it had come out and it still stopped me in my tracks. That song is still relevant to this day. It is a constant reminder to me that a good song can be timeless.
Tell us how you got into actually singing and playing music. Was guitar your first instrument? What led you to it?
Guitar was my first instrument, I picked it up when I was 11, around the time I first discovered U2 and Supertramp, I wanted to write songs like that. I learned three chords and that night wrote my first song.
Are there any tools or equipment you absolutely swear by for recording demos?
Voice notes on my phone are the hidden treasure trove of songs. There’s a song on my new record called Savage which I wrote the entire chorus of mid traffic in LA, and rage sang it into my phone out of boredom and momentary explosive inspiration. Traffic is good for something I guess.
“I love the idea that our darkness can actually become our light, that we don’t always have to be brave or strong or right, there is beauty in our moments of weakness and in our battles.”
Skin & Earth is your fourth album. How did you make the decision to do a concept album this go around?
The primary reason I made it a concept record with a comic companion is because I’ve simply always dreamt of doing that. It’s been amazing to watch my dreams come true with this record.
I’ve always loved the idea of music being so much more than just what you hear, there are visuals and colours floating around with every piece of music and it was really exciting to be able to capture those and put them to paper; it brings a whole new element out of the song.
I’m not so secretly obsessed with graphic novels, so seeing that you’d done comics to go with the songs/record piqued my interest like crazy. Can you tell us about Skin & Earth? What’s it about? How did you come up with the concept?
At its core, the whole story is a metaphor for depression and internal darkness, it’s the story of a young woman who becomes entranced by a dark friend and is forced to turn within herself to overcome, and she finds power in that. I love the idea that our darkness can actually become our light, that we don’t always have to be brave or strong or right, there is beauty in our moments of weakness and in our battles.
Did it take a long time to produce the comics? What was the process for that and how did it differ from your music one?
It takes around 8-10 hours a page! So six issues, and about 170 pages, you do the math! And that’s not including the writing process and making all of the music.
I do it all digitally on Manga Studio and a tablet. A page starts with a rough sketch of how it will flow and what dialogue and narrative will be there, then I ink it with just the outlines, then color the people, then the backgrounds, then the final lettering.
It’s not so different from making a song at the end of the day, you start with the skeletal idea of what you want to say and then start filling in the blanks until you have a final product.
What came first? The music or the drawings, or did you mix it up? Do the songs fit the comic musically, lyrically or both?
The core idea of the story came first and I brought that into every song-writing session with me to kickstart the creative direction for the day. While writing the songs, ideas came that inspired the deeper details of the story, and then visuals of the story would contribute to the lyrics and mood of the songs, so it was a very symbiotic creative experience building the two at the same time.
Once all the songs were written that filled all the gaps in the story, I finalized all the details of the story and then began to draw.
“Do what you love, draw what you love, sing what you love, play what you love. Never do it for someone else. If you truly love it your passion will impact the world, you don’t have to change yourself.”
Is there any semblance of an autobiographical theme to the comic? I feel like this is the first time we’ve had to look at post-apocalyptic stuff and realize that could actually happen. It’s actually nuts. Were you inspired by anything (read as: everything) messed up that’s going on in the world now?
There is a lot of me in the story. The main character is pretty much me in another body, same hair though! The story is heavy on the mother/daughter themes, the personal darkness themes, wine and crystals, and commentary on our abuse of the environment – something that matters a lot to me and will lead to a damn apocalypse if we don’t make some serious changes in our societal infrastructure.
Can you see yourself doing more comics in the future? Maybe a continuance of the Skin & Earth series or a new one, maybe even for a new album? A Rocket-themed comic??
I can’t imagine I would ever put away this new found skill set. I love it too much! It will all come down to budgeting my time to continue creating.
How was the ComicCon scene? Seeing people dressed up as your creation must have been wild, yeah?
Unbelievable! I can’t believe the number of cosplays I’ve seen at cons I’ve attended, even cons I haven’t attended, at shows, and people just at home dressing up! So cool.
What advice have you been given in your life that you’d like to pass on to other girls? Anything that’s gotten you through tougher times or has helped you to be so productive within the realms of your art.
Do what you love, draw what you love, sing what you love, play what you love. Never do it for someone else. If you truly love it your passion will impact the world, you don’t have to change yourself.
While I belatedly regret to inform Lights that I couldn’t do the math of how long comic book creation takes even on a calculator, I can say it’s a hell of a long time to be committed. And committed to her craft is precisely what Lights is.
Download and stream Skin & Earth here.
LIGHTS 2018 HEADLINE TOUR DATES
1/30 Vancouver, BC Vogue Theatre*
1/31 Vancouver, BC Vogue Theatre*
2/2 Seattle, WA The Show Box*
2/3 Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom*
2/5 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore*
2/6 Los Angeles, CA The Regent Theater*
2/7 San Diego, CA The Observatory North Park*
2/8 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre*
2/9 Las Vegas, NV Vinyl at Hard Rock Hotel Casino*
2/10 Pomona, CA The Glass House*
2/12 Salt Lake City, UT Grand at The Complex*
2/13 Denver, CO Summit Music Hall*
2/15 Dallas, TX Granada Theater*
2/16 Austin, TX Emo’s*
2/17 Houston, TX White Oak Music Hall Downstairs*
2/19 Nashville, TN Mercy Lounge*
2/20 Atlanta, GA Masquerade (Heaven Stage)*
2/21 Orlando, FL The Beacham*
2/22 Carrboro, NC Cat’s Cradle*
2/23 Norfolk, VA The NorVa*
2/25 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts
2/26 New York, NY Irving Plaza*
2/27 Washington, D.C. 9:30 Club*
3/1 Toronto, ON Danforth Music Hall*
3/2 Toronto, ON Danforth Music Hall*
3/3 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club*
3/4 Lancaster, PA Chameleon Club*
3/6 Buffalo, NY Town Ballroom*
3/7 Pittsburgh, PA Mr Small’s Theatre*
3/8 Cincinnati, OH Bogart’s*
3/9 Detroit, MI St. Andrew’s Hall*
3/10 Columbus, OH Newport Music Hall*
3/12 Chicago, IL House of Blues*
3/13 Madison, WI Majestic Theatre*
3/14 St. Louis, MO Delmar Hall*
3/15 Kansas City, MO Madrid Theatre*
3/16 Omaha, NE The Waiting Room*
3/17 Minneapolis, MN Music Hall MLPS*
3/27 Calgary, AB MacEwan Hall^
3/29 Edmonton, AB Winspear Centre^
3/30 Saskatoon, SK O’Brian’s Event Centre^
3/31 Winnipeg, MB Burton Cummings Centre for the Performing Arts^
4/3 North Bay, ON Capitol Centre^
4/4 Ottawa, ON Algonquin Commons Theatre^
4/6 Kitchener, ON Elements Nightclub^
4/7 London, ON London Music Hall^
* with opening acts Chase Atlantic and DCF
^ with opening acts Dear Rouge and DCF
Lights – Red Sector VIP Package includes: 1 GA or Premium reserved seat, 1 pre-show acoustic song performance, 1 intimate pre-show group Q&A with Lights, 1 individual photo with Lights, 1 Red Sector ID (commemorative VIP laminate), exclusive merchandise, and early entry into venue with crowd free merch shopping. Limited availability.
Lights has partnered with Plus1 so that $1 from every ticket sold on this tour will go toward the grassroots climate movement through GRID Alternatives (in the US – https://www.gridalternatives.org/) and Équiterre (in Canada – www.equiterre.org).