Whether you see Lights in Philly, NYC, NJ or anywhere else in the world, you are guaranteed to witness two things: an energetic live performance, and a fanbase that matches her dedication and electricity, sometimes cosplaying as her and lining up hours before doors open.
But it’s easy to see why fans feel such a connection to the Canadian-born pop singer, and her music. Through five albums in fifteen years, Lights’ music and shows have served as safe space for fans, and a distraction from the harsh realities of life. It’s something Lights carries with her from her childhood.
“My dad would play his guitar when I was a kid after I went to bed,” says Lights on the phone from Houston. “I remember always feeling this level of comfort and safety when he would play. I learned at a young age that music is super powerful and it’s like a dark art. Music can change how we feel about things, and that’s the beauty of art in general. I remember wanting to harness that feeling.”
Lights started to play guitar at 11, and later, when she saved up enough money, bought an 8-track recorder. The journey to harnessing power through music often begins with writing, which Lights did copiously in her youth.
“I would write tons and tons of songs,” says Lights. “There’s thousands of songs I wrote, many of which are absolute shit, but you gotta get through that.”
The type of energy that Lights wanted to harness for her fifth album, Pep, was staying positive in negative situations. The inspiration behind the album stems from Lights giving herself pep talks when thoughts of self-doubt arose.
“We all have our struggles and the pandemic launched that into a tenfold version of itself,” explains Lights. “Even before the pandemic I wanted to write something that uplifted me, and make me feel like a boss instead of dwelling on the things that make me sad. You are prone to believe the things you tell yourself and when I look in the mirror and tell myself I don’t like myself, I’m going to believe it. So now I look at myself in the mirror and talk myself up and it works. Pep is this dichotomy of uplifting boss bitch lyrics on a backdrop of cynicism and misery.”
Even though Pep has more of a synthier and electric sound, Lights wanted to make sure all of her previous albums were represented on her new album.
“I wanted to touch on all the music I have put out,” says Lights. “With ‘Jaws’ and ‘Grip,’ there’s a throwback to the Listening, and Siberia days. With ‘Voices Carry’ and ‘Beside Myself’ there’s new wave nostalgic music from the Little Machines era, and there’s some hyper-pop in there as well. I tried to do a nice cross section of what people have to come to expect of me out of my music, but with this tinge of Pep in it which is alt-rock and guitars. I wanted to blend what I love about rock & roll with what people love about Lights.”
An essential song to Pep is ‘In My Head,’ a song that features Twenty One Pilots drummer Josh Dun. Lights calls the song “Pep in a nutshell.”
“I wanted to write something that harkened back to ‘Loser’ by Beck,” says Lights. “I wanted an anti-chorus that went down. I had a line in my head that went, ‘She dances to the beat of her own drum,’ and there was something that was belligerent and cool about that. The line is Pep in a nutshell. It’s like it doesn’t matter what the world is doing, do it your way. Do music your way and do life your way, which is effectively what the song is about.”
Originally the song was supposed to be called “Drum in My Head,” but Dun offered up a suggestion.
“He said, ‘Hey, it all sounds fun, but don’t call it ‘Drum In My Head,’ it sounds too obvious,’ so I was like yeah let’s call it, ‘In My Head,”’ remembers Lights. “It actually made it better because it has a secondary layer to it with the title. Everything worked out perfectly, and Josh added a great drum element, and the song has a lot of energy to it.”
Lights got inspiration from unlikely places for Pep, and in the song ‘Prodigal Daughter,’ she got inspiration from the free samples that came with her recording software.
“I started with this Bollywood sample, and I wish I could tell you it came from somewhere cool, but it came from a royalty free soundbank that came with my recording software,” explains Lights. “Musically I wanted to build the fabric of all the genres that have represented me. There is sort of like an acid bass drop in the pre-chorus, and it goes into an all rock post-chorus.”
In terms of lyrics and meaning, the song is very close to Lights’ heart and has a special meaning to her.
“I have branched away from religion during the past couple of years, and it’s about reclaiming your self-love,” says Lights. “It’s about taking back the concept of being a woman in this world, and there’s been a lot of expectation that I have been trying to shed over the last 15 years of my life. This song really talks about all that.”
Along with the release of Pep, Lights has released a comic book called Clinic to go along with the album, similar to what she did with her previous album, Skin & Earth.
“I came up with the Clinic, which is a side concept to the album,” says Lights. “It’s my way of tying it into my Skin & Earth comic universe. The Clinic is a place you plug into and go to escape this dystopian reality and each song is a scenario you can experience. We have to remember that it’s important to check into reality sometimes and that’s where it goes with the cynicism and the sarcasm, and the backdrop of this shit is pretty fucked up and the world is crashing around you. But at the same time let’s keep our fucking heads up and this is the life we have and what we are given. It’s my job as a musician to make sure that people get away for a minute.”
Lights became interested in comic books at a young age and fell in love with Wonder Woman. She was pretty dismayed by the lack of women in comic books and in other forms of entertainment and sought to change that.
“It started with Wonder Woman and I was always looking for powerful, inspiring women,” explains Lights. “Believe it or not there wasn’t a lot of that and there wasn’t any groups of powerful women on TV, movies or in comic books. Every time I would find strong women to mold myself after I would go for it like Lara Croft and Wonder Woman. I was like ‘let’s go,’ and I would want to embody them in what I do. I remember the first time I saw the Wonder Woman movie, and saw all the Amazons on the screen and they are all so powerful, and they were all so strong and not sexualized. I wept, and it was the first time I have ever seen that. It made me realize how fucked up that is and how behind we are.”
Inspired by what she saw on the big screen, Lights attended “YouTube University” as she calls it, and started writing comics.
“There’s a going mental state of, ‘If you can see it, you can be it,’ and fuck it, someone has to break that at some point, “ says Lights. “So fuck it, I decided to make myself a comic. I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do this,’ so I attended YouTube University and taught myself how to do all this. I drew the comic all by myself. I struggle with imposter syndrome everyday, but fuck it I’m a comic writer now.”
During past tours, Lights has made visits to comic book stores in cities that she played in, and she has visited stores in New York and in Philly where she will be playing on April 19 and 20. New Jerseyans should consider taking whatever mode of transportation to Philly and New York to see Lights live, and she’s looking forward to coming to the Northeast.
“Performing live has always been a little intense and I used to get extremely nervous,” says Lights. “Since the pandemic I’ve come to recognize how valuable the experience of playing live is. It’s the physical manifestation that you put into the industry, and without shows there’s no reward for the hard work. You just release shit from your couch. Like I’m working hard making all this music and music videos, and release day I’m on my couch and there’s no reward or physical payback. When I get on stage I’m like, ‘This is why I do it.'”
Lights has certainly got her reward with the way that her tour for Pep is going, and she’s soaking it all in.
“The first week of shows for this tour I was almost in tears every night,” says Lights. “I broke down in tears at the LA show, and I was reminded how much I genuinely love being on stage and being with everybody and singing. It genuinely means the world to me and every show on this tour has been insane. It feels like the best I’ve ever performed and it’s the best setlist I have ever put together. I’m looking at it with that Pep mentality of like this could be the last time. We don’t know when our lives will end or we don’t know when everything could get taken away again. Life is fragile and life is short, and I’m trying to give the best I can every night. It makes me appreciate it a lot more.”
Lights along with tILLie will be playing at Irving Plaza in Manhattan on April 19, and at the TLA in Center City Philadelphia on April 20. Ticket information can be found here.