I thought, ‘This is the time when I really want to branch out and let other influences into my music.’ There’s a lot more soulful, almost hip-hop elements in the record and that’s because I allowed myself to step back a little bit. 36 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N With a character and their arc in mind, Lights says the need to open up and delve into her emotions via deep conversation wasn’t as present as it was on past records. To that effect, she eschewed some of her typical col- laborators for some newer faces. “Secretly, the intentions behind that are probably, full disclosure, I really wanted to make collaborative sessions with strangers work,” she says. “In the past, I’ve always writ- ten with people I knew really well, that I had countless hours of conversation with. There’s only a handful of people I’ve worked with in the past I feel I’m able to be open with. So I took this idea and thought maybe this will help … so I don’t feel I have to open up and spill my guts to a person I don’t know. I can use this character as a conduit.” While the idea of singing a song in char- acter might seem like an emotionally re- moved process, that the story had elements of her own life in it made it just the opposite. On Skin & Earth, topics and emotions that were sidestepped on previous releases are front and centre. “Savage” finds her railing angrily against a former lover. “Morphine” deals bluntly with sex and sensuality in a way that the singer has often avoided. “This character was the catalyst to talk about things I didn’t really allow my- self to talk about because I didn’t think that people wanted to hear that from me or they would judge my personal life. I never thought I could write an angry song in the past or a song about sex in the past.” Of course, anger and sex are uni- versal concepts. That made the greatest challenge in making the record just a little bit easier. While Skin & Earth might have borrowed its giant scope from prog, the plot and characters had to be condensed for an audience who may or may not read the comic companion. In other words, Lights had to con- tend with the oldest headache of song- writing: bringing universality to intensely personal songs and subjects. “Every single song has two mean- ings – a real-world meaning and a comic meaning,” she offers. “Even ‘Giants,’ the single, the lyrics are, ‘Bigger than the walls that hide us.’ That’s a direct reference to the comic, the two sectors divided by a big wall… All these direct comic references but when you listen to it on its own, it’s a song about breaking out of what you feel is hold- ing you back.” Concepts and scope aren’t the only bound- aries pushed on the new album. On previous releases, Lights held back on her vocals, often burying her voice in the mix and allowing catchy instrumentals to sell the hooks. “In the past, I wrote the song, it was done, and I went and sang it. No problem, that was it. This was the first record I tried to channel the emotion that was being captured in the vocal booth.” She enlisted the services of Benjamin Rice, an acclaimed vocal producer and en- gineer who has worked with major stars like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Bruce Springsteen. His military background led to some intense, disciplined sessions, which saw Lights singing numerous takes until she got the parts perfect. “It was the first time I really thought about it. Before that, I was just singing and just let it come out,” she says.