By Keith Sharp
The young woman hovering back stage at the Timmins Stars and Thunder music/fireworks festival (staged during the last week of June this year), presents the persona of one of those comic book superheroes with her mane of flaming red hair.
And in truth, Valerie Anne Poxleitner (better known as Lights) is a super hero in that her own persona is the star of her own comic book series “Skin&Earth” which also presents the concept of her latest record release.
Check out her debut single/video for “Giants” to view her character delivering a positive message even amidst the ruins of an apocalyptic landscape. By basing a concept album on a series of four comic books that she designed and illustrated herself, Lights has indeed taken multi media to a new level.
So the obvious question, which idea came first; the comic books or the album concept?
“The story line came first and then I started to fill in the gaps,” explained Lights during a Toronto press stop before embarking on a major U.S tour that will take her to the end of the year (Canadian dates to follow). “Then I wrote the music that would bring the story line to life, that would provide the soundtrack to the story line and then I started drawing the comics,” she noted. “It was all symbiotic, it all grew together but it started with the story.”
“What is cool is that it’s the first time I’ve had the ability to draw listeners to every song and not just the single. For those people who don’t listen to music in its entirety, it’s hard to draw those people’s attention to more than just a single. So it was cool that I could create a mixed media outlet that allowed for a cohesiveness for the whole project.”
`Skin & Earth’ is presented as a full concept piece with an intro, a defined story, told by each composition and qualified via the four-comic series with a conclusion. Lights, herself as embodied the character in real life with her shock of flaming red hair setting off a well chiselled physique.
“My stylistic and esthetic influences are all pretty comic related anyway, I’ve always dressed and seen myself that way and this character is a side of me that I want to convey,” Lights explained. “I always wanted to colour my hair red and dress a certain way and this character has allowed me to do all of this.”
At a time when `Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ movies are making a strong statement about the empowerment of women in general, Lights’ `Skin & Earth’ music and multi-media project appears to be a timely addition to this positive environment.
“One thing I love about comics is that it provides a platform where you can speak about things that are important to you without being preachy,” Lights noted. “There are lots of commentary about the environment, about depression and mental health that you can get away with by presenting these messages in a comic form. The story is about a woman turning inwards to overcome something and come up stronger. The premise being that there is a way to turn darkness into light.”
The 14 tracks (if you count the intro) lay out this concept from the positivity of the romantic message of “Skydiving”, to the angst of emotional rejection in “Savage” to the rebellion of “Fight Club” to the re-assertion of “Almost Had Me” yet the money song of this entire set is “Giants” an emotional, anthemic track that positions this album’s focal message of defiance.
“When it came to that part of the recording session, I wanted to write a song about when you have access to this whole great world, in a real life sense where you become inspired and find a whole new world of possibilities for yourself,” Lights explained. “I was pacing around, thing about writing something that people would sing in a pub and that song was born. But after it though, I knew I was pushing the boundaries tempo wise but it wasn’t my favourite song. I personally wouldn’t have seen it on the record but everyone around me said it was a really good song, so I said `let’s go with it’ and it turned out to be the first single.”
Although Lights, was born in Timmins Ontario, she performed her first live show in her hometown June 27th opening for Simple Plan at the Stars and Thunder festival where she debuted “Giants” and other tracks off the new album. “That was amazing, finally getting to play in Timmins, lots of firsts, our first performance in 15 months, my first performance in Timmins and the first performance of “Giants”, it was a great feeling to be playing at that festival.
For someone who was home schooled and traveled constantly around the world as a youngster, Lights found music to be a constant anchor as her environment continued to change. It was her, father, also a musician, who sparked her appreciation for the art of composing new music.
“We’d be on a ski trip and we’d listen to songs by Supertramp and ELO and we’d pick those songs apart, talk about the elements of the song, what made them work, what were the tempo changes, it made you appreciate good song writing,” Lights explained.
It was her appreciation for the art of song writing which earned Lights a publishing contract with Sony/ATV whilst she was fresh out of high school. She made an early mark writing material for the CTV television show “Instant Star” and wrote “thousands of songs” for other artists before making her full recording debut in 2009 with `The Listening’ which featured radio hits “Drive My Soul”, “Saviour” and “Ice” which earner her a New Artist Juno. Lights also won a Best Pop Album Juno in 2015 for “Little Machines” and in the case of all of her albums, including “Siberia” in 2011 has followed up each album with an EP that has featured acoustic reworks of key tracks as well as new material.
“As a songwriter I always feel there are alternative ways to record each song so I like to experiment with different arrangements, “Lights explained. “I hate to use this term, but when you write a pop song, you tend to dumb it down. You have to say something in a very simple way. But to my mind, if you can sit down, and play a song acoustically on one instrument you can establish that you have a strong melody and a strong lyric.”
Lights launches an 18-date US club tour on Friday at the Novo Club in Los Angeles but promises Canadian dates early next year. As for her `Skin&Earth’ projects, she admits that other multi media spin off projects are strong possibilities. “There’s video games, a possible sequel, a movie” she acknowledges.
So who would play Lights’ role in a movie adaption of Skin&Earth? Jennifer Lawrence? Charlize Theron? Gal Gabot? “I love them all but it would have to be somebody unknown”, she laughed.
For more information, link to music.iamlights.com