By Ryan Barlow
Lights Poxleitner isn’t your typical Canadian singer-songwriter.
The Juno Award-winning electronic musician was raised in both the Philippines and Jamaica by her missionary parents before settling back down in Canada. Just having released her second studio album, the Ontario native is on tour to promote Siberia. Her first album, The Listening, has been described as having a more whimsical synth-pop feel, a direct contrast to the gravelly, darker sounds of Siberia.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to purposely make a different record,” says Lights. “Suddenly, now there are expectations of your sound . . . It took a minute to shake that off. I just had to come to the realization that it was okay to make the record I wanted.”
One way Lights does this is by drawing from paradoxical sonic influences.
“I was at a dj event one night in Montreal and there was a lot of dubstep being played. I liked the heavy simplicity of the music [and I thought that] that would be great contrast married with the soft melodic pop properties of the music I naturally gravitate towards. So it was like this grit wrapped around this sweetness — that’s where everything plummeted from.
“It turned into this exciting process that felt like exploring Siberia. It was like walking into this unknown land and just discovering things. It was a bit cold and a bit frightening, but still really exciting and new. It just flew from there.”
Genre-bending contrasts aren’t the only thing that distinguishes Siberia. Lights’s manager suggested a collaboration with Canadian indie-electronica act Holy Fuck.
“They had this grit and rawness,” says Lights. “The process of working with Holy Fuck is completely different from other artists. They go in completely free-minded. They don’t have ambitions to get a hit song on the radio. That’s the best place to be as an artist.”
A 90-minute jam session on the first day Lights worked with the artists eventually morphed into the Siberia single “Everybody Breaks a Glass” and the aptly-named instrumental outro “Day One.”
“It was a great way to see electronic music being made,” explains Lights. “[It] is usually very structured and formulated, whereas this was raw and aggressive and imperfect. It was a total new life to the sounds that I had been making.”
Lights came to collaborate with hip-hop musician and fellow Canadian Shad after being introduced by Rob Dyer, a mutual friend. Dyer is the founder of Skate4Cancer, a Toronto-based charity that Lights is involved with. She cites Shad’s “natural delivery and humility” as a key component of his work on her album.
“There are tons of other amazing acts I’d like to work with because there’s so much great talent coming out of Canada,” says Lights. For her, Crystal Castles, Sam Roberts, Death from Above 1979, Chromeo, Stars and Arcade Fire are “all people that it’d be a dream to collaborate with.”
Lights is also a visual artist and designed much of Siberia’s album art.
“I wanted the artwork to reflect that Siberia was raw. The album cover is one of the few ‘real’ photos of me. Inside, there are graphic renderings of the actual photos. It went hand-in-hand with the lyric video I made for “Everybody Breaks a Glass,” which is like a film noir murder mystery style that’s black, white and red.”
Interestingly enough, Lights also has an affinity for zombie-survivor video games. The avid gamer’s most recent favourite is Dead Island. Even though it doesn’t offer a co-operative multi-player mode, it has “super beautiful graphics and exciting gameplay. I play Left 4 Dead 2 because it puts me at peace before I go onstage, which is kind of weird.”
Formerly a devotee of World of Warcraft, Lights now prefers console gaming due to difficulties with consistent internet connectivity while on tour.
“I play [The Legend of Zelda:] Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 3ds before I go to sleep in my bunk.”
Needless to say, these aren’t the kind of activities undertaken by every pop artist.
When asked about how she differs from other artists in the industry, Lights says that she doesn’t “ever look at it like a competition. I think it’s important [that] you don’t categorize yourself or compare yourself [to] someone, because the reality is that you are a lot different in so many ways. If I were to sit there and ask, ‘Why am I not like this?’, then suddenly you are not your own artist.”
For now, thought, it’s time for Lights to bring Siberia back home.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back to Canada to do home shows now that we’ve finished our u.s. tour. Calgary’s always a good time.”