By Keith Sharp
“You’re on to me. You’re on to my plan,” laughs Lights when it’s suggested she releases acoustic EP versions of all her studio records just so she can buy time before working on her next creative endeavour.
One day past the celebration of her 28th birthday (April 11th) and with two nights at the Danforth Music Theatre fully sold out, the former Valerie Anne Poxleitner, is celebrating the release of “Midnight Machines” a six-song rework of key tracks from her 2014 “Little Machines” plus the inclusion of two new tracks.
“It’s definitely a powerful distraction from working on new material but it’s something my fans have come to expect, allows the Timmins Ontario native. “Ever since I released the six-song EP of acoustic tracks from my debut “The Listening” record, simply titled “Acoustic” (2010), I have been receiving online demands for my fans to re-interpret my material.”
It’s a testament to Lights’ song writing talents that her material is open to different interpretations. A creative composer since the age of 15, Lights’ talents were recognized by Sony/ATV Publishing at an early age and by the age of 17 she was writing songs for the TV series “Instant Star”
Her initial songs like “Drive My Soul”, “Forward Days” and “Ice” received such a strong critical response that Lights won a New Artist Juno Award before her 2009 debut album had even been released, the Electra-pop, synthesizer- injected record registering over 40,000 units. Yet, even though Lights was being lauded as a hot new prospect, her song writing and production instincts were kicking in.
Aware that her compositions were open to different interpretations, Lights opted to release a companion 5-track EP which dialled back the electronics for a purer acoustic sound. So successful was the concept that her two following studio releases; the 2011 “Siberia” and 2014 “Little Machines” were followed by spin-off acoustic EP’s the 2013 “Siberian Acoustic” and her latest “Midnight Machines”.
“This time (on Midnight Machines) I tried to do something different,” Lights allowed. “On the first two EP’s it was just myself playing the songs acoustically, although I did have a cellist for one track on Siberia Acoustic. But it was something I had already done so this time out, I wanted to use my full band and just re-arrange the tracks, add a string section and make them drastically different.
In selecting the six tracks off “Little Machine” to re-arrange, Lights was looking for songs that would be the most unlikely to record acoustically. “I tried to pick songs that were the most extreme opposites to an acoustic song. Selecting tracks like “Same Sea”, “Up We Go” and “Running With The Boys” would be the most challenging so that’s what we went for.”
“In re-recording these tracks I like to capture different emotions with the same song,” she continued. “A song like “Up We Go”, when you strip it back, it’s like sad and dark. It’s amazing to see how those words, when produced totally different, can mean something else entirely.”
As for the two new tracks; “Head Cold” was judged too acoustic for `Little Machines’ so is a perfect candidate for her new release while “Follow You Down” was a ballad Lights had written for a movie project which fell through so she chose to include it on `Midnight Madness’.
Extending her creativity to her videos, Lights is a big fan of Coldplay’s “Warning Sign”which ran backwards so she wanted to incorporate the same effect into a rework of “Meteorites”not knowing what she was letting herself in for.
“You watch Coldplay’s “Warning Sign” and the effect looks so easy but it’s definitely harder than I thought it would be,” she allowed. “Plus I wanted to take it one step further and sing the lyrics backwards as well. So I had to translate the lyrics phonetically into some strange language, sing them backwards and to top it off, I had to speed up the vocals by 240% because to run the video in slow motion, you have to speed it up. It was a major challenge, we had to shoot the video in sections but I thought the end result was well worth the hassles.”
A true free spirit who initially embraced the creative license of being an independent artist off her first two studio records, Lights has come to terms with the value of having a major record label on her side (Universal Music Canada).
“I’ve come to understand the process of making a big record and have accepted their support over the past year,” Lights allowed. “I am at a point now where I can accept advice and input from the label. I find I really want that support. Let people who believe in your record support you because things can only get better. You eventually realize they are all working for the same cause.”
Anyone catching this year’s Juno Awards telecast would have noted Lights performing a duet with Sandra Spensley a youngster who had benefited from the MusiCounts charity organization which raises funds to supply schools with musical instruments.
“MusiCounts is a wonderful program which raises funds for children who would not normally have access to a musical instrument,” enthused Lights who has raised monies for the charity by having a yogurt named after her and recently donated a unique Suhr guitar for auction amongst other initiatives. “As a kid, I attended schools which didn’t provide any musical instruction because they didn’t have any instruments. Any time there’s a funding cutback in education, musical programs are the first programs to get axed.”
Lights, who’s father was a musician, had access to musical instruments and “I poured all my puberty energy into playing music, that helped to shape my identity into something positive rather than destructive”.
Noting that $50,000 can provide a full range of instruments for five schools, Lights is determined to help more children become exposed to musical instruments. “I wish everyone had the same opportunity that I had. Whether this exposure turns into a career or not, it gives these kids something to do, something to pour their energies into. That’s got to be the most important thing kids can do at a young age.”
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