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Lights on ‘Skin & Earth’: “[There’s] A Lot Of Nerdiness Thrown In- It’s All Of Me, And I Love That”

Rob Sayce
Rob Sayce 20 June 2018 at 17.00

Lights is fearless in her approach to life, fearless in the way she bridges the divide between music and graphic art, and fearless in being completely and utterly herself.

Lights is out here doing things others wouldn't even dream of attempting. Within her 'Skin & Earth' album she developed and created an entire world, characters and narrative, and translated that in to an accompanying graphic novel. She's so fearless in her approach to life, that she's one of our cover stars for the Rock Sound 50 as one of our world's 50 most fearless figures. You can pick up her online exclusive Rock Sound 50 cover now from SHOP.ROCKSOUND.TV.

We had a chat to her about how she moves between the worlds of music, comic books, film and more - and why she's owning her nerdiness.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE SEEN YOUR FANS GROW UP ALONGSIDE YOU?
Yeah, it definitely feels like that. It feels like a lot of people who know about my music have known about it for a long time, and that’s special. It means that I’m consistently putting music out that’s good enough for them, instead of one record that was the record. I always have this idea that it would be worse to have one record at the beginning that everyone knew about, but nothing else past it, than it would be to be on a steady trajectory upwards, with each project having as much quality as the next.  A while ago I ran a Twitter poll on what album people liked the most, and they were all almost exactly the same percentage after a couple thousand votes! It’s cool to see that I can be there for the people that rely on me. People have the ‘Skin & Earth’ symbols tattooed and the ‘Little Machines’ symbol, En from the comics, my signature and lyrics. Every time I see that it’s another tick on a wall saying, ‘Don’t let anybody down’. That pressure’s always there, and it’s a good thing because it’s a reminder to keep doing what I’ve been doing.

ARE YOU SOMEONE WHO SETS GOALS FOR THEMSELVES?
I think I gave up the goal thing a long time ago, because things never work out the way you expect, and that’s not a bad thing – it always just shakes down differently. If you don’t set yourself goals, you won’t be disappointed if you don’t meet them, and you can allow yourself to be surprised. Instead of a goal for down the road that’s probably not going to be realistic, you should have a vision for what you want to create now. As someone told me making this [Skin & Earth] project, there’s no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting. You’ll never know what it’ll look like at the end until you’ve fleshed it out. I’m like, ‘I know what I like creating, and I know what I like making right now’, and that’s been my approach – it’s been a pretty fun ride so far. One of the big inspirations growing up, for me, was Björk. She’s such an artist, even now, and she’s been making music for at least 30 years. She’s still recreating and innovating every time she puts something new out, and that’s always been my mantra – WWBD, ‘What would Björk do?’ How would she approach this situation?

HOW HAVE YOU FOUND THE EXPERIENCE OF MOVING BETWEEN COMICS, VIDEOS, MUSIC AND MORE?
It’s liberating as all hell being able to switch mediums all the time. It gives me a fresh perspective every time I try to launch some creativity. If I’m stumped musically, which happens all the time, I don’t have to keep trying to squeeze water out of a rock – I can make some art or write a story. I remember emailing one of my big inspirations in comic writing, Brian K. Vaughan [Y: The Last Man, Paper Girls] who sort of encouraged me to write the project in the first place when I didn’t have the confidence to do it. He’s quite a comics-writing legend, and I was like, ‘You all must be crazy, you have to get into all these characters’ heads… you even end up sitting like them when you’re writing from a certain perspective,’ The same goes for Alan Moore, who wrote Watchmen and all sorts of things, and he’s kind of a wild dude! He basically said that when he writes… he was writing a demon for a while in one of his stories, so he got down on the ground and contorted his body to the way that the demon would be standing, then belted out the words the way the demon would, so he could write it in the right way. A lot of writers are a little interesting!

WITH COMICS IN PARTICULAR, IT SEEMS LIKE THERE REALLY ARE NO LIMITS TO WHAT YOU CAN DO.
Yeah! I remember reading an interview with Brian K. Vaughan again, for when he was called upon to adapt Stephen King’s Under The Dome for the TV show. They immediately pulled together a team of scientists to decide what the environment would be within a dome - what the temperature would be like, blah blah blah. ‘Let’s find the most realistic approach.’ So eventually they called up Stephen King, because they were all confused, and he was like, ‘You know you can make shit up, right?’ Those little reminders are like ‘Yeah, that’s the whole point of why we do this!’ I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, I make shit up! That’s what I’m good at. And it’s so fun. I feel like especially now, there’s so much music out there, so many ways to discover music, so many ways to create music, now is the time to be creative and try different things. Especially as an artist, to realise that artistry isn’t just one thing. The fans are aware of that now – when you’re a fan of someone, you’re a fan of what someone creates, not just that one thing they do. People are ready for that.

IT’S BEEN INCREDIBLE TO SEE HOW MUCH YOUR FANS HAVE INVESTED IN ‘SKIN & EARTH’ - THERE’S A PASSION THERE THAT YOU JUST CAN’T MANUFACTURE.
I think that’s why I like going to cons, where it’s like a hobbyist fan culture - I’ve been going for years. People go in cosplay, it’s one of those places where you go and you’re understood: everyone is passionate about basically the same things as you, and you have an immediate connection to the entire group of people that are there. I found that playing World Of Warcraft for six years. Anytime you meet a stranger who plays WOW you have something to talk about, it’s this instant connection! That’s the way I’ve always been. I think a lot of people are like that. It’s a special culture because it’s a vacation, and that’s important. I love it, and I learn new things, losing myself in these other worlds is inspiring and I take those ideas to my own art. It’s the best, and being part of that culture has always been a dream of mine. Being able to integrate the comics is next level, because people show up at the shows in cosplay, they’re able to put their minds in another world – there’s this character laid out in front of them flaws and all, and people can relate.

IS IT A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE FOR YOU?
I first got a sense of it years ago, writing for a TV show. It was a show called Instant Star, from the same people that did Degrassi, and ironically I actually tried out for the main character and never got it. Four seasons in I was writing some songs for the show… which is about a musician. It’s funny what happens if you stick to your dreams! I remember they laid out in front of us, myself and a few other writers, the areas that we needed to write about over the course of the season, and there was this awesome feeling of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and write from an emotion that you don’t claim as your own. I’ve often had a guard up, especially when I was writing with other people. This was the first time I tapped into like, ‘Oh, if you pretend the emotion is coming from someone else, you can write about anything! You just don’t have to tell anyone it’s about you!’

SO, IT FEELS LIKE ‘SKIN & EARTH’ IS THE CULMINATION OF A LONG JOURNEY, IN MANY WAYS?
Definitely. ‘The Listening’ was my first record, and I was like ‘I’m going to try out this pop sound and hold myself back so I can put the focus on the music.’ ‘Siberia’ rolled around and I was like, ‘I need to build more credibility’, so I started building in some gritty sound effects and working on the production. ‘Little Machines’ was about me starting to own my womanhood and really being empowered as a woman, and I became a mother at the time as well, so I was going through a lot around owning my sexuality, but I put away a lot of the nerdiness. ‘Skin & Earth’ combined everything – with a lot of nerdiness thrown in - it’s all of me, and I love that.

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