By Ben Boddez
“I’m sitting on the phone by a waterfall right now,” giggles electro-pop singer-songwriter Lights as soon as the call connects.
Pop music and pop culture phenom, Lights is on location filming visuals for her upcoming tour at the place where she recorded “Kicks – River Recording,” one of the tracks from her latest album, an acoustic version of her 2017 project Skin & Earth.
Each new acoustic version is accompanied by a location on the track listing. Based on how excited she gets talking about them, Lights might never leave these natural, open spaces when creating in the future.
“Ninety-nine per cent of recordings are done in a totally quiet room, you feel like you’re in a psych ward! After this whole situation, I could never go back to the dark, lonely studio space now that I’ve recorded in the desert,” she says.
Lights is talking about Death Valley, which she calls “one of the most epic places I’ve ever recorded.”
“I was actually angry because you couldn’t hear anything, it sounded like a studio. And then the wind picked up, and I was like ‘There it is.’”
The result, on the track “Almost Had Me,” is stunning, a low rumble that juxtaposes Lights’ vulnerable vocal performance with the power of Mother Nature.
Transitioning between two labels and without the budget of her previous releases, Lights decided to mix and produce the full project herself for the first time.
“That was an intense undertaking for me,” she says. “I have a whole new respect for mixers, because you go crazy a little bit spending forever listening to the same thing.”
Now that she’s crafted what she terms her most intimate and personal project yet, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The closing track, “Down Forever,” capturing a moment of somber self-reflection in a hotel room, is one that Lights says overstepped her usual boundaries.
“I have my guard up for a lot of the songwriting I do,” she says. “But no matter how successful you are or whatever is happening in your life, you still have those moments. I didn’t expect people to resonate with it so much, and they were with me every step of the way. So I was like, ‘Sometimes it’s okay to share the most intimate things.’”
Skin & Earth was originally based off of a comic book that Lights wrote, the seven songs chosen partially because of their correlation to the locations the main character, En (who bears a striking resemblance to Lights), found herself in.
Despite the logistical issues that came with setting up expensive recording equipment in remote outdoor locations, Lights says it was all worth it to bring to life the narrative of one of her passion projects.
Lights speaks at a lightning pace, stumbling over her words and sounding nearly breathless when talking about her comic book, especially now that writers have signed on to turn it into a TV show.
“They’re always emailing me these questions about world-building and history and lore, and I have answers because it’s all in my head,” she says.
For all of the many talents that Lights does possess, she expressed no desire to play her red-headed likeness on screen.
“I’m a terrible actor,” she says. “I’ll do some Stan Lee cameos in the show.”
Skin & Earth (Acoustic) is now the third time Lights has acoustically revisited an album two years later, a process which she says has become “imperative” to fully drawing out all the depths of her songwriting.
“I feel like I got more intimacy out of a new version of the same song,” she says. “You can extend the life of something by showing this other side. It’s just turned into this really wicked extension of who I am and what my career’s capable of.”
In fact, Lights made an effort to only “acoustify” – “is that a word?” she asks – her loudest tracks.
”It was more fun to turn a big epic heavy song into a quiet intimate song than an already intimate one. There’s no irony in that. That’s the most exciting part of these acoustic versions, doing it in an entirely new way.”
Inspired by her recent work with electronic producers Felix Cartal and Deadmau5, who she will support on tour in the fall with yet another more EDM-based new version of her songs, Lights is currently trying to see everything in a way that’s just as multifaceted as her music.
“It really rings true to how we are as humans, we are so much more than one thing,” she says. “I’m learning that with music, with writing characters for this TV show, and with who I am as a person. I think fans are more ready for artists to show their different sides than ever.”
Lights performs on Friday, August 16 at the Vogue Theatre (Vancouver)lights, The Vogue Theatre