Thanks to Jay-Z’s song Death of Autotune, the obnoxious vocal effect is no longer in vogue. That poses a problem, however, for Toronto-singer Lights, who uses it on her new album.
“It’s a great vocal effect if used tastefully, so why deny it?” she says. “I just use it in verses to try to convey emotion of being constricted and held very tight.”
She admits, though, that artists like Kanye West and T-Pain have digitized their pipes too much. “It might have been a little excessive,” she says. “If he can’t sing without it, which we can’t really tell, then maybe it’s better that he used it.”
Fortunately, she doesn’t go nuts with sound — the musician, whose real name is Valerie Poxleitner, only uses it on the track The Saviour. Like most of the music on her debut full-length The Listening, the song is a soft electro synth pop number — think Kylie Minogue-meets-Nintendo. The songs move between the über radio friendly title track, to the quirky indie tune Drive My Soul.
Either way her sound is different. It also took a while to fine tune. Although she’s only 22, Lights has been playing music for years, writing her first song in her early teens. She’s played in a metal band, pretended to be Alicia Keys and wrote music best suited for, she says, “sad acoustic coffee houses.”
Then, three years ago, she started listening to Bjork and euro electronica. When she went into the studio to record, she decided to try and play a track without any traditional instruments.
“I found random sounds and fluttery beats,” she explains. “I realized there was no limit when you have synths. You can come up with any texture that will convey sound. You create it and make it happen.”
There’s no doubt her sound is accessible and infectious enough to court the American masses — Old Navy has already featured one of her songs — but it helps that Jian Ghomeshi — a former Canadian musician and current host of CBC’s Q — is her manager.
The singer connected with Ghomeshi by chance. When she was 15 she was in a Walmart ad holding a guitar. The makeup artist saw the photo and asked if she played. He then asked her to sing. “He was blown away and he called Jian who was coming to the area a few weeks later,” she recalls. They met, she gave him a demo and he’s worked with her ever since.
She might not need him for much longer though, with more than 165,000 MySpace friends, she’s become an Internet sensation.
Fortunately, she likes connecting with her virtual fans. Though, she admits, communicating with her followers could become more difficult as she gets more popular.
“I always want to put something cool online — a new remix or b-side every couple of weeks,” she says. “Maybe a day will come I won’t be able to do that, but hopefully not.”
Vancouver: the Commodore Ballroom on Nov. 6.
Calgary: the MacEwan Ballroom on Nov. 12.
Edmonton: the Myer Horowitz Theatre on Nov. 13.
Toronto: the Kool Haus on Nov. 26.
Ottawa: the Bronson Centre on Nov. 27.
The Listening is the new album from Lights.