Interview: LIGHTS

Written by Chris Panico

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LIGHTS is among the best synth-pop artists to come out of North America, and certainly one of the most unique. Her career has seen a wide breadth of styles, from perfectly polished pop hits to dirty, crunchy, drum-and-bass tracks. Music by LIGHTS has evolved and transformed in a rare way, constantly growing and experimenting while still maintaining the foundation that makes it hers. While some artists either hit or miss when they go out of their comfort zone, LIGHTS only flourishes.

For her latest album Little Machines, LIGHTS has revisited her more polished production approaches after a sojourn into the grittier elements of Siberia, her second album. The latest record comprises a full live band throughout which has allowed her to capture an element of human excitement that is less evident in purely electronic productions. As always, the songwriting is impeccable, and Machines finds a perfect middle ground between the pristine sound of her debut and the roughness of her sophomore release.

Recently, we had a chance to catch up with LIGHTS before her show at Irving Plaza in New York City. She filled us in on touring, crafting new and exciting set lists, and on some releases to be looking forward to.

Lights musician
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Records

How do you approach putting together a setlist for a new tour? How much does it vary from night to night?

Well, you want to be able to play the songs everybody wants and that can be tough. Having access to Twitter allows me to find out what people want to see, which is what I love about social media. This time around we have a good mix of songs from all of the albums and that allows us to really tell a story with our set. The show goes from a mysterious high energy vibe, to being more stripped down, and then it finishes with a pretty huge ending.

One thing that’s pretty unique on this tour is that I noticed a lot of fans wanted a bonus track since I’ve never really played them before. That’s where Twitter came in handy, and we ended up using a bonus track as a big part of the show. We also have an acoustic portion to this set, and that allows for so much change every night. It gives us room to take requests and it’s good have a really flexible place like that.

Lights Little Machines Album Cover

You’ve been on tour for awhile now. What are some of your approaches for keeping each night fresh and exciting?

It took years for me to find a place where each show is new and fresh, and I think this tour is the closest I’ve ever gotten to that. What it really comes down to is coming up with a set that flows well.

Do you find your performance experience to be different from city to city, or country to country? In what ways?

Yeah…for the most part you run into different vibes along the way. In smaller towns people might not know how to get in to shows the same way as people in bigger cities. Some places just get in to it more. But I’ve been to a lot of different places and being able to play the songs in different cities reminds me of how alike we are all. Most audiences react to the same big or small moments in a show. I’ve travelled far and wide and found that all people go through the same shit, and that’s what connects us.

What parts of the world have you gotten the best reaction, and was there one place in particular that took you by surprise?

One of my favorite cities to play is Chicago. The Chicago shows are always really fun. The crowds are always really into it and I have no idea why. Maybe they’re just happy to be out of the wind. Boston’s another one….The Boston show is always just crazy. I think that may be because it’s so close to Canada and a little bit of my fanbase leaks down into there.

What artists would you love to go on tour with?

Definitely Grimes. I’ve been really into her lately and she’s a total bad ass. I could watch her set all night.

We have heard that there’s an acoustic Little Machines in the making. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Yea, it’s really exciting! I do the acoustic stuff because it’s something my fans like. They asked for that from the beginning and that’s why I did the first acoustic record. This time around I wanted to fulfill that but then go beyond. We’ve taken some of the least acoustic tracks from the album and reworked them into a whole new vibe. There are also going to be two unreleased songs on there which should be cool. We brought in a string quartet for this one and it sounds so beautiful and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.