Interview: LIGHTS on playing Coachella, women in music and her impending acoustic release
Good things seem to be coming in threes for electro-pop artist, Lights these days. She released her third album, Little Machines—a perfect marriage between electronic and pop music—this past September and, since then, has won her third Juno Award (the Canadian Grammy equivalent).
She’ll be busy this summer playing various festivals throughout North America, releasing a music video for her single “Same Sea” and releasing an acoustic version of Little Machines.
AP caught up with her backstage at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada during her stint opening for OneRepublic on their Native Tour. There, she gave us the rundown on her festival experiences, touring dreams, touring with a toddler, (her daughter, Rocket Wild Bokan, whose father is blessthefall vocalist Beau) and being a woman in the male-dominated music industry.
Interview: Mary McComish
Photo: Matt Barnes
You played Coachella on your birthday. Was that your first Coachella? That would’ve been a sick birthday.
LIGHTS: First Coachella! It was awesome. It’s exactly what you want out of it. Really surreal surroundings, it’s beautiful. I like the desert; it’s pretty alien, and puts you in this interesting mind frame. You feel other-worldly a little bit. There are these really beautiful art installations all over the festival. Some of them are moving; some of them evolve over the weekend.
I saw the big caterpillar on Snapchat.
That turns into a butterfly on the third day with smoke coming out of its mouth. It was really neat.
It was the usual Coachella lineup, but there were also a lot of hardcore bands and scene bands, such as Touché Amoré, Brand New, Andrew McMahon.
It was really cool! Yeah! I didn’t know that he used to do Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate. That’s crazy, I totally didn’t make that connection because I’ve Shazamed his song a couple times already— “Cecilia And The Satellite.” I loved it and I’m like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that was the same person!”
And you’re both kind of doing the same thing, touring with little toddlers.
Is he touring with a little one?
Yeah! She might be a little older than Rocket?
Wow! We took her [Rocket] to see Brand New and we’re sitting literally front row, watching Brand New and she fell asleep. I was like, “How is this possible?” They’re amazing.
What was the environment like at Coachella?
Yeah, it’s exciting. You walk around and you see so many people you recognize because there’s so many celebrities there. So many people turn up that you know, that you recognize. It’s weird. It’s the only festival that I’ve been to that’s like that. And everyone’s united for the same reason, to watch music, and it’s a really good feeling. That’s what I love about festivals, everyone’s there with a like mind and everyone has something in common. There’s always something to talk about with somebody. It’s fun. It’s just like constant fun.
Did you go to the desert when you wrote Little Machines?
I went to New Mexico. It was cold, I went in October, so it wasn’t like a hot desert, but it was pretty stunning.
It’s a big theme through a lot of your new material, because the desert is also where you filmed the “Banner” video.
That was out in the cold desert. It was a lot colder than it looked. It snowed at one point when we were shooting that video. It’s a lot of work to act not cold when you’re cold. There’s something inspiring for sure about that. For me, it’s like, I’m a huge fan of Salvador Dali and I’ve always found this surreal, dreamy vibe when I look at his art. Deserts remind me of that, where anything goes kind of thing. I guess I’m inspired by that a little bit.
You’ve also played Warped Tour in the past.
It feels like a lifetime ago, 2009.
How does the Warped environment compare to a festival like Coachella?
Totally. They’re super-different from each other. Coachella is just a big-scale festival. Even the small tents are the size of a building. The one we were in, the Gobi tent, there were chandeliers in it. It was just this really classy, really upscale thing. But it only stays in one spot and that’s why they’re able to do that. Whereas, Warped Tour, it travels. There’s nothing else like that, nothing else like that. Every day I’m amazed by the fact that Warped Tour is able to set that up every single day. That’s such a huge feat. It’s pretty incredible.
They’re two completely different vibes. I think people go to Warped Tour to see favorite bands united by their music taste but they go to get some battle scars, too. When I was down, when I used to go to Warped Tour, I wanted to go in the mosh pit; I wanted to get hurt. It’s fun. It’s a blast. I look forward to it every summer. Coachella doesn’t have that vibe at all. It’s like, “I’m here to look nice and take pictures for my Instagram and listen to music.”
A hot topic right now that I wanted to talk about with you is the lack of woman playing festivals. Coachella, there were only 26 acts with women out of 166.
[Women have] always been in the minority, it always has been. Last year, there were a lot more women, especially in terms of headliners. The fact is, the quality of the women at Coachella, was amazing. I got the Coachella app and you can plan out your schedule. You pick the acts you want to see and then it lays it out and schedules for you and 95 percent of whom I wanted to see were the girls. Once you look at the girls that are actually there, it’s just amazing. Everyone is so incredible, so unique and so different, and it blows my mind that there isn’t a higher percentage. I think it’s gonna be eventually but, I don’t know, for me that’s all I want to see right now, that’s all I want to listen to. I want to encourage it as much as possible, especially with young women. Not only getting into performance and vocals and instrumentation, but production, front of house, audio tech. That is a world that is just not thought of as an option for women. I think the gap’s going to close eventually but right now, yeah, there’s a lot less girls.
I run into issues sometimes because if you are a girl in this industry, you are already a minority and you’re really heavily encouraged in the touring world––that’s set up for men––to not have children because it’s not easy. I run into some things where I can’t bring my daughter into the venue because she’s not of age. Those kind of grey areas are frustrating and very much of a time that we’re in, where there’s more men than women doing it. That’s something that I hope will change. You can’t sit there and complain about it and be upset. You just have to do your thing and do it well and encourage more women to do the same thing.
I find that representation is so important. That little girl in the crowd, she’s not going to look at, like, Dave Grohl and be like, “Hey, I can do this too!”
It’s a little harder to connect with, for sure. I was inspired by male musicians when I was a teenager and a lot of Warped Tour bands. That moved me into it, but nothing connected like when I watched my favorite female musicians perform. Alanis [Morissette] and Cyndi Lauper––it was just like, “I can do this.”
When we last talked, you mentioned that you listened to a lot of female musicians when making Little Machines. It’s nice to have that and see that and keep being inspired by women, especially, like you said, Alanis and Cyndi Lauper.
There’s definitely a connection there that you don’t have with male-fronted acts. It’s a good feeling. The quality of female musicians out there is pretty good.
Is female empowerment something you hope to teach Rocket?
Oh yeah, of course. I’ve also learned that you can’t go into life angry about it, that doesn’t yield anything positive. You can’t go into life angry at men for that. You can’t go into life always setting out to prove that women are great because that should be given. You should go into life understanding that you can be absolutely anything regardless of your gender and that’s what I’ve always approached my angle with, that sense of, I’ve never considered myself any lesser in capability than anybody else. Man or woman, you are who you are and you do it. When they say, “you do you,” you’ve got to do it. I’ve never approached it from a sort of “We’ve got to prove the men wrong” angle because that’s not the right one. So I’m going to teach her that she just has to be the best Rocket she can be.
Don’t be angry about it, just go out there and show them.
Go in and do your thing, that’s all you need to do.
You’ve opened up for some huge acts: Paramore, OneRepublic. Who would you love to tour with?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Some artists that you think would be a great act to tour with wouldn’t necessarily work. If I’m throwing names out, I’ll tour with Kanye West! That probably wouldn’t go over very well. The dream tour wouldn’t necessarily work. My dream tour would be like Bjork, ABBA and Kanye.
A big trend right now is nostalgia tours—the 10-year and five-year album anniversary tours. Do you think you could ever do one of those?
I don’t know. Talk to me in five years. You could do that album nostalgia tour if the album was a huge success. There’s not any point in doing that if it was sort of the same as all the rest of your albums. I feel like my albums have always been really consistently equal and I’ve taken pride in that. There’s never been hype around me.
As someone who’s followed your career, I feel like there’s a little more hype around this album.
Thank you! You know what I mean, when an artist has all this hype around them and then it dies away and you spend your time wishing you could go back to that. I’ve never felt that, I’ve never had to go down a size in a venue and I’ve never felt like previous work was better. I think it’s a really good feeling. I always feel like we’re slowly growing and it’s never exploded over night. We’ve developed this really strong root system and this amazing, dedicated fanbase that are lifers. And I’m proud of that, you know, it’s a long commitment to a long career, but it’s one that’s going to pay off in 10 years, where I’ll be able to do it in 10 years.
What does Lights have coming up for the rest of the year?
We’ll be back for the [Calgary] Stampede, a lot of big festivals coming up. This is not necessarily announced yet but we’re going to do a Little Machines acoustic. Not the whole album, we’ll do a section of the songs, but flipped in a way which you wouldn’t expect. ALT