Lights busts out the “C-word” so quickly that I don’t even have to.
Get your minds out of the gutter, you filthy pigs: the word in question is “cursed.” Which, for the record, the Timmins-bred, now Vancouver-based electro-pop Queen of the Geeks — we love you, Lady Gaga, but there can be only one — volunteers in reference to her current “Baby I’m Back” road show well before this old pal and fellow lover of all things fantastical, frightening and generally falling beneath the “occult” banner has a chance to make the joke during a catch-up conversation conducted from the Lights tour bus between sound check and showtime on an unusually sunny afternoon in Minneapolis.
“Some would call it ‘cursed,’ but it’s still been incredible,” said Lights, reflecting on a 26-date return to the touring trail that has thus far survived: a devastating long-distance farewell to her cat of 18 years; the recent, irreparable “bricking” of a precious laptop loaded with of scads of irretrievable music and art in progress; the mercifully non-lethal electrocution of opener tiLLie before a show in Texas; a broken foot incurred whilst leaping into the crowd at the end of a gig in Boston while wearing platform shoes; and the subsequent, complete breakdown of the aforementioned tour bus somewhere in the boonies during the 10-hour drive between Kansas City and Denver late last week. She and “all the girls” making up the pointedly 50 per cent female Baby I’m Back crew (“I’m horrified to say it’s the first time in my 15-year career that I have equality on the bus, but it’s a f—in’ vibe and it’s the way it always should have been,” she noted) were huddled at the back watching the brutal horror flick “Martyrs,” no less.
No one was dismembered by a slasher or a gang of “Hills Have Eyes”-esque cannibal mutants, mercifully, and not a date was missed due to a lot of expert logistical scrambling on Team Lights’ part. But that still hasn’t quelled chatter amongst all involved of a tour curse.
“This is the f—ed up part. At the beginning of the tour, I broke my mirror here in the back lounge. And then bad sh– started to happen in succession after that and everybody wants to blame the mirror,” laughed Lights. “Everybody wants to blame the mirror and it pisses me off. And I’m keeping the f—ing mirror because we’ve moved past these old-school superstitions. People used to think female orgasms were hysteria. We don’t think like people did 100 years ago. Things are different now. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m stubborn, but I’m keeping this mirror. I’m looking at it right now and it’s broken and I’m f—ing keeping it. That’s the end of the story. F— superstition.”
Presuming she’s not struck by lightning or abducted by aliens between now and then, this Saturday will mark a triumphant return to old GTA stomping grounds for the 35-year-old singer, synth-tickler and sometime comic-book artist.
Not only has Lights sold out her May 7 gig at the fancy new east-end History venue on the strength of an utterly devoted fan base and her gleaming new 21st-century pop masterwork “PEP,” but also a 1 a.m. performance to follow across town at the Garrison by her bass-shocked alter ego LUN. The latter, responsible for last year’s punishingly heavy EDM EP “haha i like it,” has never made an appearance before a crowd before.
“It’s me through and through, but it’s not Lights,” she said of LUN. “It’s going to be chaotic, but it’ll be a great f—ing tour ender. It’s the first time I’ve toured where I’m not ready to go home yet.”
To say Lights — born Valerie Poxleitner, but officially Lights Poxleitner-Bokan since her marriage in 2012 to Blessthefall’s Beau Bokan, with whom she had daughter Rocket in 2014 — has developed into a truly singular force over the past 15 years is a bit of an understatement.
She’s gone from being the sweet-voiced pop outlier on local indie hardcore label Underground Operations, who made 2009’s head-turning debut “The Listening,” to a sort of living multimedia art project. Her last album, 2017’s “Skin & Earth,” came with a six-part comic series written and illustrated by Lights herself, and while this year’s aggressively (if deceptively) upbeat “PEP” — a gleamingly tuneful talisman against dark contemporary times — didn’t indulge her non-musical ambitions to quite the same extent it still finds the cosplay-loving nerdy-girl-at-heart developing the ever-expanding Lights universe even further.
There’s a 16-page mini-comic “filled with Easter eggs” to go along with “PEP,” of course, and the videos and artwork thus far all play around with the concept of something called the Clinic. You can dive in as deeply as you want, or you can simply sit back and enjoy the music — which is arguably the best and most confident the eternally DIY-driven Lights has ever produced.
“I’ve immersed ‘PEP’ into the ‘Skin & Earth’ world if that’s something you’re interested in. But if you’re not, ‘PEP’ is still just ‘PEP’ and me going overboard with a pep talk,” she said. “I understand my place as a musician. I’m here to help you escape. Reality f—ing blows.
“If you’re a fan of Lights, you get more than just music. That’s just what I do because I have so much more to offer. And again, if you only like to listen to the music, that’s there. But I like to appeal to that side of fans who really enjoy digging in and just escaping. That’s why fantasy fans love fantasy and gamers love gaming and comic fans love immersing themselves in comic worlds. It’s our way of escape and it’s our way of getting through, and I like to provide that with my music and I have fun with it because that’s what I look for in art as well.”
True, Lights could easily have become, say, Charli XCX if she’d just played the mainstream pop game a little bit more. But she acknowledges that having a rabid following that allows her to roll into cities on several continents and comfortably fill mid-sized theatres and concert halls is kind of the perfect place to be. There’s no pressure to really be anything but herself and her fans are as faithful as they are precisely because Lights has never pretended to be anything but herself. She’s proof positive that the AV-club kids can be rock stars, too.
“I do recognize that being like that as an artist has caused me to, in some ways, fall between the cracks,” she said. “But I would rather make music that interests me and feels authentic than be, like, ‘Well, this is my sound. I have to stick with it.’ And I’ve come to terms with that. I’m never going to be one thing that’s easy to put out there for people to understand, necessarily. There’s no one song that you can show someone and that shows off what Lights is. You have to dig into the whole body of work to really understand and that’s probably a detriment, but I have fun.
“It’s been really consistent. It’s stayed the same for 10 years and there’s frustrating things about that, but there’s also comfort in that and freedom. There’s a lot of liberation in that I can kind of just do what I want and maintain this level of expectation. It’s been thing after thing on this tour, and yet every night’s f—in’ great and the crew is amazing and the shows are awesome, so the way I’m looking at it is: if it’s in my control to let myself keep doing this I will, because there are things that are out of my control that will force me not to and that happened for two years with the pandemic.
“So if this is within my control, I’m still moving forward and I’m still doing this sh– because I really f—in’ love it and I’ll do it even if I have a broken foot.”
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