Lights Provides the Ultimate ‘PEP’ Talk on Vibrant New Album (Q&A)
Life hasn't been easy for anyone recently, but earlier this year, Lights delivered an album guaranteed to lift our collective spirits.
The Vancouver-based multi-hyphenate — she's a singer, songwriter, producer and comic book creator, and that barely scrapes the surface of her artistry — returned to the scene with PEP in April. Featuring collaborations with the likes of Kiesza and Elohim, the LP effortlessly bounds across genres and provides the sonic pep talk we all need.
Structured as an "infinite loop," Lights tells PopCrush the album depicts the cycle of facing down the challenges of life and pumping yourself up. It's every bit as vibrant and electrifying as the artist herself.
She also hit the road for a North American tour in support of the release. While she enjoyed introducing fans to the new music, she also discovered a newfound appreciation for life on the road. Despite facing down struggles such as a broken foot, Lights describes the experience as "the best tour that I've ever been on."
Below, Lights opens up to PopCrush about working to "balance the scales" by collaborating with more women creators and returning to touring without any nerves. Plus, she teases her plans for the rest of the year.
Watch Lights' "Prodigal Daughter" Music Video:
One of the songs we really like is “Prodigal Daughter,” which has a Bollywood sample. Is that something you’d explore more in the future?
I mean if the right sample came along, yes. The funny thing about this sample is that it was just a product of me messing around. I produced most of that song, and it’s a royalty free sample that’s within the recording software I use. I was just messing around and was like, “What happens if I take this sample and slow it down and throw a drum and bass beat under it?” I was just experimenting. That’s what this record was all about for me sonically. Exploring my chops production-wise and fusing together a bunch of ideas that I would not have, maybe, the liberation to do if I was in a writing session. So a lot of this I did at home.
It reminds us of early-'00s pop like Britney Spears’ In the Zone. There was more of that kind of global world influence at the time.
I really love that. When you can bring in moments that take you out of your present thoughts, that’s what music’s all about. That’s my job: To help you escape for a moment. That’s why the whole metaphor for this album has been the clinic. I’m opening up the tour with, “Take me to the doctor.” The idea is that we plug in and get out.
How did it feel to get back on the road again?
It was amazing. It’s strange what the last couple of years did to me. They made me appreciate this whole industry more than ever. As a result of the personal growth that I experienced over the last years I made a lot of changes to my live show and rebuilt it from the ground up. Coming back now with this entirely new set, I felt almost reborn in a way. It’s strange, but there wasn’t one moment on this entire tour where I was nervous for a show or had any anxiety about the show itself. It [was] the first time I can ever say that’s happened in my career.
Do you have any favorite moments from the tour?
Genuinely every night I really look[ed] forward to standing backstage and doing a shot with the crew. We call it a production meeting, and it brings us together. We come alive for the set. It’s like my favorite part of the day, and that’s saying a lot because I love most parts of the day.
Is there a song from PEP that goes off when you play it live?
“Okay Okay” goes off every night! People know that song like crazy. It’s so funny because people are sending me videos of their kids knowing that song. That’s the beauty of writing a simple lyric like that. The song is very meaningful to me in an emotional way, but I simplified the lyrics, and I think that’s the reason something like that is easy to sing to.
“Voices Carry” into “Grip” is one of our favorite segments on the album. Was it intentional to close the project that way?
Yeah, definitely. PEP kind of takes a bit of a journey. Although it’s very cohesive conceptually, it sonically takes a journey through the last four records I made. I grouped the songs in their groups of sonic likeness. The last four songs fit together for me, and I knew they had to stay together. And they also matched with “Beside Myself,” which is the opener. It feels like this infinite loop that can keep playing. It’s got a bit of that feeling at the beginning and the end so that it feels like it connects the whole record.
We love that you’re saying that because we noticed “Beside Myself” opens similarly to how “Grip” ends. They work together…
It’s actually been thought of even on a broader level. The concept of PEP is that bullet-train confidence backed off of misery and this apocalyptic world we live in. The irony here… It’s the dichotomy of these two planes of emotion that exist simultaneously. You can’t have all this pep without the other. The idea is that this album starts with the reality of it. Then the whole body is this pep talk. And then it closes once again with reality. And that’s the infinite loop that we live in, right?
You made it a goal to collaborate with women on PEP. Why was that so important for this project?
It’s not even that it’s important to this project. It’s just important to the industry in general. As musicians and sisters and creators we need to put effort in to balance out the scales. As it stands right now, I think the numbers are 4 percent of producers are female; 12 percent of writers are female. It’s just not high enough. If we continue going along the regular route where we hire whoever is the easiest to access than that ratio will never change.
On this tour we had six women and six men on the bus. It’s the first time I’ve ever had exact equal sides on a tour. Same with on this record. I hired a female engineer. I hired a female masterer. A lot of the collabs are with women. I produced a lot of it.
I think if you see it, you can be it. If I was younger and my favorite song was worked on by women I’d be like, “Oh my God, that’s for me!” And if you don’t see it you won’t think it’s a thing. The female perspective and female creativity is powerful and amazing. We’re doing ourselves a disservice by not including that in the pool of entertainment that we’re listening to every day.
We also wanted to talk about the aesthetic for the era. What drew you to these colors?
It goes all back to the concept of the lyric, “I’m the happiest sad girl you’ll ever meet.” It’s this balance that’s always been essential to my music over the course of my career. PEP is everything but to an extreme. We’re seeing the world crumble around us in a lot of ways so the misery of the world is more intense. We have to lift the energy more intensely, too. PEP is extreme happiness on extreme misery. That’s the whole balance.
The final piece of the puzzle was what color scheme screams the opposite of misery? It’s primary colors. It’s youthful and innocent. It’s Sesame Street but flip it and make it Sesame Street hoe. You’ve got to find the balance.
That’s the best thing we've ever heard. Do you have any plans for the rest of the year?
It’s challenging right now. There will be more touring. I don’t know how soon based on availability. But if I had my way, I’d be touring all year. I have a lot of collabs in the books and maybe some videos. There’s always exiting new things to do. There’s so much more to come.
I also have a bass music side project. It goes by LUN. I announced a debut LUN show, and it sold out in like 12 hours. That was the night of the Toronto show, which was my last show. I finished this tour and [did] my first LUN set to a sold-out room ... It’s kind of the perfect unrelated but related closer to this tour.