Canadian Musician - January / February - Page 37

“ For the first time, I was thinking about how it was delivered and how I was going to say each word, like every word matters. It does. Every word does matter, especially in pop music. The way you sing it, the way you deliver it, the texture of your voice determines how people receive that word. ” Rice’s influence on Lights’ approach is all over Skin & Earth. After years of underplaying her vocal instrument, she came ready to em- brace her “inner diva,” ready to emulate early influences like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. It was a decision born of a confidence that came from some major life changes. “That’s how I learned how to sing!” she exclaims. “I think in the past there was a certain aesthetic I was trying to achieve with my vocals, which was sort of lo-fi electro-pop. Something really simple, very unshowy. I was trying to reduce my vocal so the production would shine. I was trying to prove I was more than just a singer… I think for the first time I’ve been confident and unabashedly a woman. Since I became a mother, I’ve been more of an empowered woman than ever.” The end result is a powerful, catchy pop album that can be enjoyed free of any need for a deep dive into the surrounding mythology. “That was the big challenge, too. How do we make something that is entirely connected but can be enjoyed on its own? It’s one thing to make a concept record that’s totally in another world and is very niche. It’s another thing to make a pop record that can totally stand alone and a comic that is completely stand alone, but come together in this augmented experience.” It has to be said that, if there was a perfect time to drop a comic book-themed concept record with a powerful female protagonist at its centre, the latter days of 2017 might be it. Earlier this year, Wonder Woman surprised pretty much every- one by not only being wildly financially successful, but in the wake of the torpid and dour DC Comics adaptations Man of Steel and Bat- man vs. Superman, tons of fun. With Oscar winner Brie Larson cast for an upcoming Captain Marvel movie and increasing calls for Scarlett Johansson’s badass Black Widow to get her own standalone film, comic book heroines are having a moment. It didn’t used to be this way. “There was a time when comics were just stereotypically for 15-year-old white boys,” acknowledges Lights. “Over my years of going to cons, I’ve seen them expand and explode into the most inclusive environment you’ve ever experienced. The fans of comics and the fans of the hobbies are people from all walks of life.” As Lights says this, we are just a few years removed from the shitshow known as #Gamergate, an online tempest over feminist critiques of video games that ultimately resulted in death threats levied at female game designers, journalists, and critics. Whenever there’s a push for equality in any media, you can usually bet on an equally strong pushback. So far, though, Lights has been spared that kind of culture war nightmare. The reaction from both her fans and the comic world in general has been almost entirely positive. “We’ve gotten some emails from comic shops saying not only has Skin & Earth brought in more female fans, but it’s brought in first-time comic readers, which is actually a really cool thing,” says Lights. “I think comics are an amazing medium and it’s easy to dis- miss them as a kids thing but they’re not. It’s an awesome medium on the forefront of talking about social issues.” With the record and comic out, the time has come to prepare for the next heroic feat: taking the songs out on tour. Lights says she’s thought of some fun, interactive ways to incorporate the plot of Skin & Earth into her live shows, be it through lighting and simple costume changes or a more elaborate conceptual theatri- cal experience. But that’s the short term. Long-term, she has goals that, while they fall short of Lex Luthor-ish world domination, are still relatively grand in scope. If Skin & Earth succeeds, she’s got eyes on TV shows, movies, and her next great love, video games. “In reality, it comes down to money,” she acknowledges. “I was able to make a comic because it cost me zero dollars. It was just pure fucking hard work on my part, but it was something I could create that would convey my vision with limitless production value in the pages and it’s zero overhead, just time.” Should the funding present itself, her dreams are lofty, but then again, so was the idea of writing and drawing 175 pages while recording a matching concept album. If Skin & Earth proves one thing, it’s that Lights doesn’t think small. She has embraced the inner dork most pop stars would never let out in public. She’s doing her part to reclaim entire genres of media from the bros and mak- ing them safe for everybody. Lights might not be the hero pop deserves, but right now, she’s the hero pop music needs. Adam Kovac is a freelance journalist based out of Montreal. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 37