Because her name is a mouthful to say, the electropop artist born Valerie Poxleitner goes simply by Lights, a moniker that speaks to, well, the bubbly quality of her sound.
The 25-year-old singer-songwriter-keyboardist from Toronto, the daughter of missionaries, debuted in 2008 with an EP that earned her a Juno Award for New Artist of the Year. She followed a year later with "The Listening," a full-length debut showcasing electronic pop with a sweet voice sometimes compared to Cyndi Lauper.
Having played on the Warped Tour, along with joining the likes of Owl City and Keane, she dirtied up the sound with touches of hip-hop and dubstep for last year's "Siberia," a collaboration with Canadian duo Holy F---.
In a phone interview advancing her show Saturday at Mr. Smalls, she describes herself as straddling the worlds of indie and mainstream pop.
First off, is there any confusion between you and Pretty Lights?
There's all kinds of confusion in the music industry with all these Lights everywhere. Ellie Goulding's 'Lights' really messes with my Google results. But whatever, fans will find what they like. If it leads them to finding another person's music project, that's awesome.
Do people ever come to your show expecting Pretty Lights?
Maybe it's happened a little bit in the past, but not that often. If they are coming to see heavy electronics, they're gonna get it, so they'll be happy either way.
How would you compare your two albums in terms of sound and tone?
'The Listening' was a pretty polished electronic pop record, with a strong focus on melody and song structures, and cool sounds and making everything sound perfect. Then, after taking it live, you learn more and more what comes across better live, and the midtempo stuff is not as fun to play compared to something that is more energetic, so that was all applied to the next record. When we were writing that, especially with the influence of Holy F---, that collaboration, jamming, that grittiness they brought to it, the songs all became a little bit more energetic and faster and that much heaver in a live scenario.
How did you hook up with them?
We ended up meeting at a festival in the UK, and we were both on the dance stage. I was familiar with them because we were both from Toronto and we chatted a bit. But it wasn't at that point that I thought, 'Oh, you're going to help me make my next record.' It was after the tour was done, and I was diving into the second record and discovering I wanted to go a little heavier and was influenced by a lot of dubstep sound. My manager said, 'Why don't you try something with Holy F---?,' so we sat down in Brian's living room and Siberia came out, and that song became a special song because it dictated the course of the record.
I can see you becoming a mainstream artist. Is that of interest to you? Is that where the label would like to take you?
Of course, a label wants you to be successful. They want to make money. That's where you have to stand up for what you create and what you're best at. There has to be an understanding of 'I'm going to make the music I love,' and if it happens to be something that does well, that's awesome, but I'm not going to make something targeted a certain way to make that happen, that's the difference. I'm not going to sit here and say 'I want this song to be on the radio, so I'm going to make it sound like everything on the radio.' That's a different direction, and one I'm avoiding, but I want to make everything sound great, and I have these great visions for what my music is, and I'm in an interesting position where my music falls in this category between pop and indie/electronics. It's this little crack that I find myself in and I'm straddling these two worlds and it's an interesting place to be for sure. As long as I can live in this crack, I love it. I get to make the music I love, but it's not poppy enough to be on the radio. So you're abiding what's essentially pop music in an indie world and in the indie world, your nose is to the grindstone. You're not making crazy amounts of money, I don't have cars and all this crazy stuff, but you get to play the music you love.
You've played both the Warped Tour and Lilith Fair, which seems usual. What were those experiences like?
Warped was an interesting tour, I really actually had a good time. The flexibility to be able to settle into all kind of different worlds comes with sitting in that crack I'm in where you're not anything specific, but people who find it resonate with it. That's the beauty of not targeting and just playing the music I love. That leaves it open for playing a lot of different tours and a lot of different acts associated. I remembered our first year of touring, we played with Protest the Hero, which is a tech metal band, and then the end of the year we toured with Copeland, which is like piano rock. Then a tour with Keane, Those are very different tours, so although Lilith and Warped are very different, you don't do anything different. You're still playing the same set. I don't tailor my set to who I'm playing to.
Did you get to work with any favorite artists on Lilith?
Well Sarah McLachlan, she's obviously a very empowered woman and has done a lot for women in the industry. We had a chance to meet and chat and we did a collaboration at the end of the tour, in Toronto. She's awesome, and that was exciting for me
Word is that you might release an acoustic version of the 'Siberia' album.
It's actually been in the works for a long time. I love showing the songs stripped down, especially when on 'Siberia,' the production is pretty chaotic. When you strip it down, the songs are still there, and they shine and suddenly show the words in a different way and resonate in a different way, and I love that. Hopefully, that's something that can come out early next year for when I'm writing a new album.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg