ATP! Interview: LIGHTS
When it came to tracking down that inspiration for Lights’ new album Little Machines, the musician struggled. Eventually she began writing by retracing her youth. And you can tell, too. Tracks like “Running With The Boys,” “Slow Down” and “Child” stare right back at the past, contemplate the process of aging and take the album through an exploratory reflection between life as a child and life as an adult.
So it’s funny that Lights only found out she was going to have a child after most of the album was already written.
You could call this type of falling-into-place scenario fate, but it would negate the fact that Lights has the ability to manipulate her point of view and look at certain challenges optimistically.
For some, bringing a child into the world may have caused a meltdown thanks to mounting pressure of producing a record with a new family to support. But for Lights, she called the experience “quite freeing.”
“There was this sort of freedom now, suddenly,” she says. “If you fail, you’ve got a family, you’ve got this beautiful daughter coming. So it doesn’t matter if you don’t write something that’s perfect, because it’s really not the be-all and end-all.”
So Lights handled this major development with grace, and her album, named for the tiny intricacies of industrial machines used to make sounds and beats, evolved with some unexpectedly organic elements during production thanks to the pregnancy.
Her vocal chords were massively challenged while she was expecting, for example. “You don’t realize the abdominals you use until you don’t have them anymore, and you try to sing songs like ‘Up We Go,’ which is at the top of my range,” she said. “The entire time it was a challenge. I had to learn how to sing around that, and sing from a different place.” Now, she says, that battle made singing for the tour easier than ever.
Track “Portal” also got a bit of a boost from the pregnancy after Little Machines producer Drew Pearson saw Lights tapping a beat on her belly. “He saw me doing that and was like, ‘We gotta do that one the record!’ And we mic’ed it up and it was perfect for ‘Portal.’ It’s this very sound-kick, vibey song.”
And that’s how Rocket Wild Bokan, born the day after Valentine’s Day, made her mark on Little Machines before she even entered the world.
When Rocket finally did arrive, Lights says there was the inevitable uncertainty of having a baby during production, recording, and an already planned tour ahead.
“Initially when I found out I was pregnant, everyone kind of paused and was waiting for me to decide what was going to happen next,” she said. “It was one of those moments where I had to decide what I wanted to do. Do I have the energy to do music? Because it’s going to be more work having a baby along. Or do I take a break and stop, and we all pull back for a few minutes?”
That indecision didn’t last long. Rocket’s currently on tour with her family and the rest of the Lights crew, teaching the gang how to hold a baby and turning friends into uncles, bringing out “something cool in everyone,” she says.
So yes, in a way, things just seemed to fall into place for Lights. The record is full of little serendipitous moments, like the euphoric drive Lights took to her first studio session, diving a bit too fast and eventually getting a speeding ticket – a moment that led to “Speeding,” one of the album’s most viscous songs.
Or take “Meteorites.” The song was sitting stagnant in her laptop for some time after Lights decided to head out to the desert, chilling at the Earthship – a completely off-the-grid, earth-friendly structure, where the singer rigged up her recording equipment to run on solar power. She says she belted out the lyrics then took a break to go down to the hot springs with an Earthship employee.
At five months pregnant, Lights says she was apprehensive about stripping down. But the lights went off and the stars came out. “Suddenly meteorites started going by,” she recalls. “And it was just us and nature, and it was such a cool moment, because that day I wrote the song ‘Meteorites’ and I knew I was in the right place at the right time.”
But you can’t attribute Little Machines to just coincidence and good luck. How many people can turn a speeding ticket into a song or record vocals while in labor? Lights is in a unique position to explore the clash of being a touring musician and a mother. And for her, the two don’t have to separate.
“A lot of people are afraid of becoming parents and afraid of not being able to do it right or not being able to do the things that they liked before,” she says. “But music is something fun for me, and I’m going to continue letting it be fun for me no matter what comes along.”
- Carolyn Vallejo
Little Machines is out now via Warner Bros. Dates and ticket information for her current North American tour can be found here.