Holly Norcop reports on one of the most critically acclaimed and ambitious projects of the year, the multi-media 'Skin & Earth' by one-time pop princess LIGHTS
Valerie Poxleitner, from Canada, known to the pop world as Lights, has made a big impact with her latest album. The Daily Listening website succinctly summarised her career so far. "For almost a decade, electro-pop singer Lights has dazzled us with her insights and infectious melodies. 2009's 'The Listening' ignited a sense of bravery in all of us. 2011's 'Siberia' is the grittiest, getting to the heart of all of the darkness while uncovering the light. 2014's 'Little Machines' delved into awakenings and all the little nostalgic aspects of life. Now, as the singer embarks on her fourth journey with 'Skin & Earth', we're transported into a new dimension unlike ever before with a comic series of the same name to go with it!"
The hugely ambitious concept album tells the story of a heroine in a dystopian future who finds hope in a dying world. In one interview with Inspire, Lights revealed, "At its core, the whole story is a metaphor for depression and internal darkness, it's the story of a young woman who becomes entranced by a dark friend and is forced to turn within herself to overcome, and she finds power in that. I love the idea that our darkness can actually become our light, that we don't always have to be brave or strong or right, there is beauty in our moments of weakness and in our battles."
Lights explained why she chose to commit two years and a staggering 170,000 hours to such a complex multimedia project. She told Rock Sound magazine, "I think there were a couple of reasons I wanted to [make it]. I love comic books and there's a lot of crossover in the fan base. Every comic book fan I know loves music and vice versa, so I always wanted to try it. I think a big reason as to why I wanted to do it was because it's my fourth record - I feel I've said a lot of what I've felt liberated to say previously and needed another perspective. The character I created in the comic ended up being a sort of conduit for me to talk about things I've always wanted to express, but never felt I could."
In an interview with Hollywood Life, Lights shared the overlapping process of narrating a concept both musically and visually: "It came in a lot of stages. The storyline of the comic came first, and I built the songs around it. They developed each other as it went on and became something bigger. I had a sense of how everything should feel, and eventually I had solid references for each part of the story."
Merging art forms between songwriting and comic books helped aid the creative process in many unexpected ways. She told Cryptic Rock, "I liked the idea of a conduit through which I could take a fresh perspective for the lyrical content of the songs, but in turn ended up writing a character so much like myself that the songs were actually more personal than ever before. I was able to tap into a new side of myself through her."
The comic book format also helped her overcome the challenge of collaborating with a range of artists she had never worked with before. Lights revealed to Rock Magazine, "I really needed to make the best record possible, and that means bringing in new creative inputs. In the past, that was challenging for me, because you're walking into a session with a perfect stranger and you're expected to pour your heart out and talk about things that are really deep and emotional. I came up with this story to go in with, so that I could shunt all of my personal topics onto a character. I felt this freedom channelling through En, the main character, and suddenly I was able to write about things I never wrote about before. I developed really amazing creative relationships that way."
One hugely important collaboration was with half of supergroup 21 Pilots, Josh Dunn, who likewise is a Christian but similarly one who seldom talks about his faith. On the song "Savage", the collaboration between Dunn and Lights is particularly powerful. The singer told Rock Magazine, "In the past I've possibly over controlled things and made sure everything sounds a certain way, but this time I really freed myself. . . I think there is an art to collaboration in general - understanding what somebody else can bring to the picture and trusting that. In the past I was afraid I would get lost unless I controlled everything myself, but when you're confident in your craft and you're confident in how you sound, you're not going to get buried. Learning to share allows a greater version of yourself to blossom, and that's what this whole record was about."
When talking to Hollywood Life, Lights said, "I wanted to make something a
lot of people could enjoy, and my days of being a niche artist can be
saved for different records. Now's my chance to try something even
bigger. It's inclusive and easy to understand but still has a lot of
depth. It's a challenge and there's a complete art to that in pop song
writing; to write something that's easy and big but still has another
layer of meaning. . . 'Fight Club' is one of my favourites on the
record. I needed a song for a fight scene [in the comic], and there's
a necessity for fighting in a relationship - that's what that song's
about. I don't think I would have gotten to tap that part of my psyche
without having the comic to pull it out so that helped me a lot."
Having a fictional narrative to base the songs from also came in handy when singing songs about heartbreak, although she insisted to Hollywood Life that the emotion inspiring the song was authentic. "Everything came from my heart. Even songs like 'Savage,' which is directly inspired by En's aggression in the comic towards the dude who ripped her heart out - I'm not experiencing that in my personal life right now, but I have in the past. It is good that I had the comic to talk about it, so people aren't like, 'Ooh, is your marriage over?'"
'Skin & Earth' was released through Warner Bros Records on 22nd September 2017 and has enjoyed international popularity. "I'm actually going to be doing some foreign translations of 'Giants'. There will be four different languages!" she revealed to Hollywood Life, along with her ambition to take the album on a European tour in the future. Despite the success of 'Skin & Earth' in her recent US tour, Lights still relies on the feedback of her fan base through social media to judge how well her music is received. "In this case there is a lot of different stats pouring in, whether it's this many comic books moved here, you know, or this many albums moved here, or this many streams. For me, the biggest gauge for success in a project is people's reaction to it and what they're saying about it and if they're sharing it on social media. . . I went online and saw that people were reacting so positively to it and loving the record, and it was just a really overwhelming feeling."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.