Evolution of the Art: Lights

Longtime Canadian Musician contributor Kevin Young had plenty of leftover material from his extensive interviews for "The Evolution of the Art," his feature story on the past, present, and future of music and production technologies and workflows for our March/April 2019 40th Anniversary issue.

Here's more from his conversation with innovative Canadian pop artist Lights.

CM: Is there any recent gear, hardware, apps, whatever, that’s really been instrumental or inspirational for you the past couple or few years?

Lights: For me, it’s a succession of learning along the way and just trying to stay on top of all the new stuff that’s out there. I’ve always been producing my own stuff and I was thinking about this the other day, how much I’ve seen in my career and lifetime. The first time I recorded, I was 13. It was a birthday present. My dad took me to somebody’s studio. That was the only way you could do it. A couple of years later, I bought an 8-track and would record, semi-analog, to Zip Disk. I didn’t have recording software on my computer. I was literally tracking to a storage technology that doesn’t exist anymore, but at the time it was pivotal for me. When I bought my first interface, I think that was the first time I experienced recording something into my computer that I could manipulate and change and see visually. That’s not in the last couple years, but that was the moment everything changed for me - because I’m such a visual person - when you can see the waveform and visualize music. That boosted my confidence in creating. From there, it’s been a succession of finding new plug-ins that make things sound better and trying to discover things. Some of my recent discoveries that I put on almost everything are Valhalla’s reverb and Decapitator saturation. Probably, in a year, I’ll find something else, but you automatically get stuck on a thing that you really like and my career in production has been a series of finding something that makes everything sound good and then overusing it (laughs).

CM: What about instruments?

Lights: My newest toy came out a few years ago: the re-issued Roland Juno 60. It sounds awesome, just like the real thing, without all the weight.

CM: We talked about the Marshmello Fortnite concert – do you see that type of thing impacting music creation - the ability to work in a completely immersive virtual studio, for example?

Lights: You know, I’ve taught myself to adapt to the distances you’re often dealing with when collaborating – like writing a top line on a DJ’s track. Most of my collaborations like that happen in completely different rooms and are still really successful. I don’t know if you need to be in the same room with somebody. That’s never been the way I create music the best. I create music the best when I’m alone, so, do you really need to be in the same room with someone? That probably feels cold to a traditionalist.

CM: It depends on your perspective. Whether you’re in the same room or not, you have to adjust and adapt to make great work.

Lights: You do. I think the only way I can visualize a virtual space collaboration working is you’re literally sharing the computer, sharing the same project.

CM: I’m describing more of a sci-fi thing – totally convincing – like the Star Trek Holodeck.

Lights: If that was the case and you could pop in to the same room as someone, anytime, and feel that person sitting next to you, that would be like being in the same room. But, to be honest with you, sessions I’ve done where I’m in the same room with someone sometimes aren’t successful, so it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.

CM: You’re a sci-fi author in your own right. I mean you’ve created a comic book that’s tied directly into your last album, Skin and Earth

Lights: I’m actually sitting on my couch working on the next part of it. It’s so much work, but it’s so much fun.

CM: So, if you were creating your own sci-fi instrument, recording platform, or tool, what would you want it to do?

Lights: Probably the single most frustrating thing about creating is envisioning how you want it to be and not being able to make that happen, not being able to get it out. It would be great if something connected mentally with you, so that you could pare down the options - like, "I’m looking for a drum sound that will suit this song, but can’t find it." Something to sort sounds and automatically pull up what you’re really looking for. Half the time you spend creating is finding the right sound. If you could cut that time down, that would be incredible. So some kind of smart tech that could tune into the nuances of what you want, help you filter the world of sound banks out there to find the top 20 that work. That would be a dream come true.

CM: So a literal cerebral connection?

Lights: A practical thing would be to be able to drop five reference songs into something, and have that output what you’re looking for - how much attack you want, how much decay and release. That would be very helpful. I always know what I want to hear, but don’t necessarily know how to get it. That’s the challenge.

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Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician. He is also a co-host of Canadian Musician Radio and NWC Webinars’ series of free music and entertainment industry webinars.
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