Lights: Renewed And Shining Brighter Than Ever Before

Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
If it's possible to have a coming of age at 27, look no further than Lights as an example. Her most recent album, the stellar electronic LP Little Machines, finds Lights not only at her most vulnerable, but her most confident as well.
And, rightly so. The journey between 2011's Siberia and Little Machines was riddled with writer's block, poetry, and the onset of motherhood. (Lights and husband Beau Bokan welcomed their daughter, Rocket Wild, to the world back in February.) So, like any creative faced with something as big as parenthood, the question of whether to stop or keep going presented itself. But, when you've permanently changed your name to your stage name, the option of not making isn't really an option.
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And, thus, Little Machines came about: a collection of 11 tracks that sparkle with grown up musings and the innocence of new discovery. It's Lights at her brightest. It's Lights reborn and that's just the beginning.
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Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
What’s the story behind choosing “Portal,” a single-chord track, to kick off Little Machines?
“With this record, I was trying a lot of different creative angles to find a spot that felt cool. That’s what it took to get me out of this writer’s block I had at the start. I ended up doing a lot of therapeutic creative exercises to get out of it. One of those things was poetry. I forced myself to write a poem every night in a poem book to free myself up lyrically, without the pressure to apply it musically. It was a chance to blather out words — things that didn’t need to make sense. The lyrics to ‘Portal’ are actually one of those poems I wrote in the depths of the exercise.

So, months later, as I started to really pull myself out of this creative rut, I took a trip to New Mexico. I put the pressure on myself to write a song every day. And, as I was going through my poem book, I thought it’d be cool to spin ‘Portal’ over one chord on my acoustic. I didn’t think much of it. It was cool. It was cinematic, but I didn’t know if it was just because I was in the desert or not. I sent it off to my manager anyway and he flipped over it! And, as more people heard it, more and more loved it! It’s so special because it’s a poem pulled from the depths of my frustration. Anyway, it was loved to the point that it became the opener.”

Giulietta blazer; not available online.
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Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
Do you know what set your writer’s block off?
“I think, in my experience so far, every record becomes harder to find out what it’s going to be. It’s harder to know what you’re going to write about, what it’s going to sound like; essentially, how are you going to one-up yourself. And, with each record comes a slew of more fans and that raises the expectations — especially the personal expectations I put on myself. All the things you shouldn’t be thinking about — the numbers, hit songs, all the things that are crippling to creativity — start to bog you down. I really had to get to a point where I wasn’t thinking about those things. I had to find a way to get back to the innocence of imagination that I had when I first started making music; the joy I had in just creating things. And, I really believe I got there. I feel like a new artist all over again, but with the experience of having three records under my belt and years of touring. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”

That’s amazing. How did being pregnant with Rocket influence your creative process?
“When I found out I was pregnant, I was in the middle of figuring everything out and writing for the record. And, then I found out. It’s such an amazing and huge thing. It brought me to a crossroads where I had to decide whether I’d continue music because it’s going to be a lot more work. Or, do I just take a break and give it up. It was in those moments that I really discovered how incredible how being able to do what I do is. I mean, with the fanbase we’ve built up over the past six years and the experiences I’ve created touring, I wasn’t ready to give it up. Pregnancy helped me realize how passionate I am about making music. I thought ‘If all else fails, I’ll still have this amazing family!’ Pregnancy made me cut the fat, cut all the trivial things that brought on my writer’s block in the first place. It made me live in the moment more.

“And, that’s the record I made: a record about living in the moment and enjoying the now.”
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Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
Have you seen a shift in the material you’re drawn to since becoming a mom?
“It’s hard to really associate changes in taste with motherhood. I think I have learned that me as a person — things that I like — aren’t any different than before I had a child. I think that’s a common misconception about motherhood because I thought there’d be a sudden shift, too. I thought I wouldn’t be the same person I was. But, that’s not the case. A child is only augmenting your life, not changing it. That’s what I’ve really come to learn. She’s come to every show! It’s my life, but better. So, my taste hasn’t changed, but my perception of life has. Rocket really shows me the importance of living in the moment. Previous to being a mother, you get swept up in chaos and swept up in things that don’t matter. You forget to sit down, take a breather, and level yourself. Now, if I get really busy in the day, I’m forced to stop every few hours and feed her. I get to sit down. I get to breathe. She makes me enjoy every day. She makes the day last a little bit longer. I think she has made my life better.”

What’s the most challenging part of being a mom, wife, and musician on the road?
“I’d say it’s the added layer of responsibility. But, it’s something that comes naturally when you have a child. To me, it’s not extra work. I think touring is more fun than it was before! However, I will say that the biggest challenge is flying. Taking flights means having your child on your lap. We have a European tour coming up. I’m kind of dreading those flights, but I’m pretty sure I can handle it if that’s the only challenge. [laughs]”
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Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
Definitely! So, not many of our readers might know this, but you’ve permanently changed your name to Lights. Is there a difference between Lights on-stage and Lights off-stage?
“The reason I changed my name was because I didn’t want to have two different personalities. I think a lot of artists can get caught up in that — perhaps less so nowadays with social media and your personal life is public. For me, changing my name to my artist name was a statement saying I don’t want to be this different person when I’m writing. There’s a disconnect when you’re on stage feeling like someone else, you know? I knew I was — and am — the same person on and off, and I wanted everyone else to know that, too. Music isn’t a day job. It’s everything that I am. So, for this record cycle, I’ve come up with this cool symbol I’ve put everywhere. It’s on the album cover, on the shirts, I wear it on my jacket. It represents everything Lights is as whole. I want to be able to represent the same things the fans are. You know? I want us to be all of the same passion. My name and the logo was just a means of uniting my world.”

That’s branding at its finest!
[laughs] “Definitely! As a fan of anime and comics, having a symbol is just cool. I watch this anime called Attack on Titan where everyone has their own symbol that represents their town rankings. This symbol is the fantasy side of me coming out.”

You should have, like, a Batman light that shines in the sky.
“Right?! I could beam the symbol in the air and all the Lights fans would band together. That’s what I’m talking about!”

Silence And Noise sweater; not available online.
American Retro skirt; not available online.
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Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
You mentioned earlier that you feel renewed. So, what is the new Lights?
“Mostly it’s me rediscovering my passion to music. I feel so new. I feel like it’s my first time putting out a record, my first time coming into the world as a musician but with a history. It’s a hard feeling to capture, but I think I’ve done it. If I were to recommend myself to anyone, I’d recommend this album because it’s a combination of everything I’ve learned. This is who I am. I think we really captured it. I think we made a classic electronic album that feels timeless.”

Oh, definitely — especially in the sea of boom-boom-boom EDM. It’s refreshing, honestly. Do you have a favorite track?
“Well, I wrote 43 songs for this album. The ones that made it are the top 11. Those are my favorites. But, there are a few that are real special like the last one ‘Don’t Go Home Without Me.’ It’s one of the most earnest love songs I’ve ever written. It’s really special.”

It’s a great bookend to “Portal.”
“Yeah! It’s about the journey.”
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Photographed by Aliya Naumoff.
Speaking of a journey and the years you’ve spent in this industry, how do you stay fresh?
“Well, therein lies the writer’s block! You don’t want to make the same thing over again. So, how do you revamp and refresh? That’s what I explored. One way was poetry. Another was painting and exploring creativity through a visual medium — more so than ever. I wanted to see the music. I dove into the stories and discographies of revered female songwriters like Patti Smith. They influenced this record in a big way. I studied their trajectories and careers. I saw her style of writing come to life in her music. It helped me understand myself more.”

Is there a particular piece of advice you go back to when you feel stuck?
“I’m always reminded of the goal I set for myself when I set out to make music. It’s pretty naive when I look back on it, but it’s: Reach as many people as possible, positively. That’s not to say I write inspirational music, but I’ve always known that music is powerful. It’s non-tangible, but it can move us so much. I’ve always seen that as being a great power. And, you have to use your power for good. I’ve always tried to make music that makes people feel good and take them out their daily bull. Every time I write a song, whether it’s out of depression or what have you, there’s a constant theme of joy; something that’ll make you feel good.”
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