Shine ‘Em Bright: Valerie Poxleitner a.k.a. Lights Obsesses Over Keytar
Much like Diana was to Wonder Woman and Clark Kent to Superman, Valerie Poxleitner is to Lights. Legally changing her name to fit what she felt was her true musical identity, Lights isn’t just another performer, but a superhero. With an MTV show dedicated to her alter ego’s honor and a hot album, The Listening, villains beware; this quirky, Canadian, Juno-winning caped crusader might just kick your ass with her keytar, if she wasn’t just so damn happy right now.
I think it’s very interesting that your music has a very happy sound, yet to look at you have all of these tattoos, which are very badass. How do you resolve the dichotomy? Growing up in music I liked metal bands, and I was doing different things, trying different sounds. Most of my writing spawns from being really down and I think that’s how a lot of artists are, it’s a time when you’re most inspired to want to change and that’s when my songs come out the best. I came to the realization that the best songs that made me feel better were with a positive twist and that’s everything from the lyrics, trying to pull myself out of the dark news, to the production which for me, is always there to drive home the sentiment of the song and the message. It’s all honest, and I try not to write cheesy things.
So if you Wikipedia “keytar,” your picture is there. I know! My life is complete. This is kind of my dream come true.
How does one discover the keytar is the instrument for them? It’s funny how it happened actually. As a keyboard player onstage all the time, it can be a little constricting, being in the same spot and it’s a little bit boring for me and the audience I think. Probably 4 years ago now I saw my keytar that I have now in a music store and it was vintage, a couple hundred bucks. I thought, “Hey this might be a cool, easy, remote way to be maneuverable onstage and have a bit more fun moving around.” I didn’t think it would be kind of cheesy ‘80’s. I didn’t think that at all, I thought, “Hey this is practical.” My first instrument is guitar so the position is very comfortable. There are a lot of bands that play the keytar, a lot of the ‘80’s hair metal bands. It’s kind of the opposite of my music but it’s hilarious.
What are your top three inspirations for style? Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, and most video game women. There’s a lot of women from Mortal Combat who dress really well. As well as the comfort of homeless looking. Mostly I’m inspired by Lara Croft. She’s a beautiful woman who can kick ass and do it with class.
How did your album change, if at all, from when you set out to do it to its completion? It was more a process of over the past few years writing songs anytime I had inspiration. It wasn’t like “We’re going to release a record next quarter. It’s going to have this many recordings.” It was more like when it was ready. It wasn’t so much how this record progressed it was more how I changed as a person for each song that was written and got better at what I do. It was more about learning how to verbalize the songs I was hearing and there were people who could help me achieve it.
Which is your favorite? My favorite song is called “Quiet”. It’s very moody and it’s one of these songs here I can lose myself onstage while I’m playing it. It’s one of the only songs really about a guy, which I don’t normally write about. It’s got a spot in my heart.
Do you have any special memories of a time spent in New York? One of my first times in New York I was with Jian (Lights’ manager) and it was cold—in the middle of Winter—and he decides to show me Manhattan from top to bottom in one night, walking! So we walked 58 blocks, and we huddled into this little Indian restaurant. You had to duck in because it had all this low-lighting and all these fancy things on the roof, and it was this whole in the wall, but amazing food. It was such a great way to not be freezing and see all of Manhattan as it progressively changes from top to bottom. It was a really cool way to see the city.
Are you inspired in any way by New York style? I love New York style. I’m a big fan of wearing black and lot of people wear black here. I’m a big fan of big boots and big jackets and that seems to be something really common around here.
You have a series on MTV, Audio Quest: A Captain Lights Adventure. Tell me a bit of how this came to be and where the fascination with comics stems from. I’ve always drawn comics. As a kid I was always drawing fantasy figures and weird monsters and stuff that was really morbid. And then later I got into comic books and was like “Other people do this too, I’m not crazy!” So I started reading comics and losing myself in other worlds. I’ve always had a fascination with them. When I started working with Marvel animator Tomm Coker on this thing it was a dream come true. I’m living through this character called Captain LIGHTS and she’s a metaphor for me in this sci-fi world. It’s unbelievable to watch. I’m doing all the voice-overs. It’s a glorified comic book reading. It’s about the length of what an issue would be reading a comic.
You’re a writer for Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Who would you like to write a song for? I’d love to write a song for Celine Dion. Just get all the crazy cheesy pop songs out of me. I’d also love to write a song for Cradle of Filth, a completely different genre!
Who are you currently listening to? Friendly Fires, Phoenix, The Virgins, and always Bjork.
What’s the most embarrassing thing on your ipod? I probably have a ton. I have a lot of the Backstreet Boys, but I don’t think that’s something to be embarrassed of, those are really good songs! I do have a lot of t.A.T.u. Also one of the first CD’s I ever bought is this Christian techno rave band from the 90’s called Raze, I totally love them!
On your MySpace page you wrote that you “like your songs to be happy. Not sexy happy, but apple pie happy”. What’s wrong with sexy happy? There’s nothing wrong with it at all, I just don’t sing about being in the club. It’s not what I write about. I enjoy listening to stuff like that, but for me I’m way better off explaining something if it’s really coming from my heart. I feel like I can make a song better that way, rather than singing about bumpin and grinding against the rail.
Why did you legally change your name to Lights? That’s my first name. It comes from my last name Poxleitner. It was a nickname and it felt like my name. So I took the steps to change it because I’m that kind of person I just do those things because I like to solidify the person I’m becoming, make it unbacktrackable. I’m also a fan of superhero aliases so I had no problem with it. I was throwing people off with it; “Your name is actually Lights?!”