Lights’ new album ‘Skin & Earth’ is out today, along with three issues (and counting) of an original comic series, several massive visuals, and an interactive Instagram world. Impressed? She’s just getting started.
Lights‘ visit to HollywoodLife.com was a holiday of sorts. Over the course of an hour, I had the pleasure of interviewing her about this ingenious project, sit in on an epic photo shoot (view it in the gallery above) and learn that her kindness and compassion is not just a rumor. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity, and you can scroll to stream Skin & Earth.
Okay, so there’s a lot going on here. Between the music, the videos, the comic, the Instagram world…there had to be some diabolical planning involved.
The last two years have been nonstop! I’ve learned that if you sit down and put the work in on something you have in your mind that you dreamed of, you can make it happen. I never believed that about a lot of things until I did this — I never imagined I could do this.
How did the project come together? What inspired it?
It came in a lot of stages. The storyline of the comic came first, and I built the songs around it. They developed each other as it went on and became something bigger. I had a sense of how everything should feel, and eventually I had sonic references for each part of the story. Drake and X Ambassadors were also inspirations!
Right, you’ve created these comics, which is just hugely impressive.
I wrote about 60 songs for the record and narrowed it down to the best songs. Once we had them slated out, I went into writing and fleshed out the story. I had a novel, because I don’t know how to write comics! I just had this basic idea. I had no idea what to do so I approached Brian K. Vaughan, who I love, and he talked me into going for it. I storyboarded it out and realized I wrote 80% too much so I stripped it back. You cut the fat and make hard decisions. I did a few rounds of art before I landed on the right look, and I went back later and redid some things from the first issue because I improved as an artist and wanted to keep it consistent!
Are there any Easter Eggs we can look out for in the comics?
There are so many! All of the inside jokes. In the background crowds, I drew people I know. I actually drew an old version of me in one crowd. There are song titles hidden in the backgrounds on signs and carved in walls, or lyrics, and it says “Rocket was here” on the bus in one scene. Tattoos people have; clothing. [Ed. note: Rocket is her and husband Beau Bokan’s daughter.]
What about your cat, Stanley?
Stanley doesn’t make it in! But Rocket sat for some photo references for me, so there’s a flashback scene where I used her. She killed it.
Did Beau inspire hot comic book guy?
[Laughs] Yeah! He sat for most of the photo references for the Priest character. So that’s why it looks like him…but Priest is a dick! It’s not actually him. But he inspired the look of the character. He was actually gone for half of the time I needed him to sit, so I would sit and shoot myself and turn myself into him.
Are there any plans to expand the comic universe?
Oh, I have big dreams. I’ll take it all. The video game, the TV show. It all depends what happens, but I’d obviously love that.
What can we expect from this tour with PVRIS?
We’ve been rehearsing all of the songs on the record, and they’re so fun to play, so we’ll ease those out. It’ll be high-energy, fun…just me running around!
How will you put together a setlist?
The setlist will be a combination of all the records, and probably five or six new songs. I go by energy flow. The new songs are so fun to sing. I can’t wait.
Can we expect a headlining tour after?
Oh, yeah, it’ll come! It’s happening. I have big dreams for it. There’s so much to work with and I have all of these ideas on how to integrate the different projects and characters. We will for sure come [to Europe] at some point!
I’m actually going to be doing some foreign translations of “Giants.” There will be four different languages!
What’s the first thing you feel when you step onstage?
A rush of adrenaline! I still get the nerves to these days, not like the incapacitating ones I got ten years ago when I first started, more like a thrill. It’s great. It can get you through any pain for that hour. It’s very powerful.
I want to talk about your transition to a bigger, more anthemic sound. What sparked that decision?
In the process of making this record, I was pushing myself to create the most interesting project I’ve ever done, but also the most accessible project. I put so much damn time into this comic that I want as many people to see it and hear the music as possible! I wanted to make something a lot of people could enjoy, and my days of being a niche artist can be saved for different records. Now’s my chance to try something even bigger. It’s inclusive and easy to understand but still has a lot of depth. It’s a challenge and there’s a complete art to that in pop songwriting; to write something that’s easy and big but still has another layer of meaning.
Everything came from my heart. Even songs like “Savage,” which is directly inspired by En’s aggression in the comic towards the dude who ripped her heart out — I’m not experiencing that in my personal life right now, but I have in the past. It is good that I had the comic to talk about it, so people aren’t like, “Ooh, is your marriage over?” [Laughs]
It seems like such a good idea to use a comic book series to write about things that haven’t necessarily happened to you. Why isn’t everyone doing this?!
It was so freeing!
Do you have a favorite song?
“Fight Club” is one of my favorites on the record. I needed a song for a fight scene, and there’s a necessity for fighting in a relationship — that’s what that song’s about. I don’t think I would have gotten to tap that part of my psyche without having the comic to pull it out so that helped me a lot.
There are also some epic collaborations on the record. Who worked on what?
[Twenty One Pilots’] Josh Dun plays on a couple of songs, and I collaborated with Corin Roddick from Purity Ring on “Until The Light.” Big Data produced “Moonshine” and we wrote that together.
Who’s still on the collaboration wishlist?
Maybe we’ll get a Nicki Minaj rap on “Giants” one day!
This question is self-indulgent, but will we get a music video for each track?
There is going to be one per issue — six videos in total. This is the most content I’ve ever put out. We’re pushing the boundaries of what we’re able to release, and that’s not even considering the comic stuff. We’re trying to make it so everyone can experience it and partake, like with the Instagram world.
Another greedy one — will we ever get the full acoustics you’ve been teasing on Instagram?
It’s funny. I’ve made acoustic versions of all of my records in the past, but [whispers] I don’t know if I’m going to do it.
I know! But I never like to adhere to a precedence. I do have something else that works for a spinoff of this record that is even more sick…
So, I see you have En’s tattoo in real life. You realize you’re a comic book character, right?
[Laughs] Oh, yeah! She’s me in another life. I owe it to her to bring it into the flesh as well. I do have the Little Machines logo [points] here and Midnight Machines here — I wear my records on my sleeve because they’re all part of my life. But this symbol plays a massive role in the storyline, where the “skin” element of Skin & Earth comes in. It’s actually an altered version of the Little Machines symbol and it carried into this new universe. I can’t give away the meaning, but you’ll see as the story progresses!
Will there be a final volume that includes each issue?
That’ll come out next year, after the last issue’s out! We’ll compile them. And you’ll find out the full depth of the symbol during the last issue! I’m excited.
What inspired the symbol?
I was in Phoenix visiting Beau recording his record, and the symbol for the city of Phoenix subconsciously influenced it! It’s this sick bird with weird curvy wings.
Speaking of Beau, would you guys collaborate together again after “Open Water”?
They’ve never even played that song live…
I think so! I love that song. But yeah, we don’t work together that much. Usually, we’re in different worlds, which is a good thing. He’ll ask me to listen to stuff and we’ll support each other, but we don’t sit down in the studio together. Our genres are pretty different and I’m lucky that I’m with someone who understands the music world but isn’t in pop, so there’s no sense of perfect compatibility or competition. It’s pretty sweet.
As far as your commitment to telling the story goes, I do want to talk more about you becoming En, or En being a representation of you physically. Was it like, “Time to dye my hair?”
Well, it was all planning. I knew the day I drew the character sketches and how I wanted her to look, that I was going to do it. I just had to wait. I had it all timed out, I dyed my hair and got the tattoo days before the first photo shoot. I had to wait a year knowing that’s what I was going to do! I knew I would bring her to life because she is me in a lot of ways, so I gave her a style I know I like. Middle parts were out of the question because I would never rock that. [Laughs]
How did Rocket react to your transformation?
She thought I was Ariel for a day and then she was over it!
Yeah. The same day I did it, I bought red hairspray for her and my niece so they could do it, too. Their hair was pink and they loved it. It’s funny, because I’ll see people cosplaying the character and looking at the photos, and Rocket will look at my phone and be like, “Is that you?” They’re unreal!
Finally, if someone hasn’t heard you before, what song would you want them to hear from each era?
For Skin & Earth, I’d say “We Were Here.” It’s one of my favorites, for sure. For Little Machines, “Speeding.” From Siberia, “Banner.” And the title track from The Listening. “Morphine” is like a nod to The Listening –– to “2008 Lights.”