Lights Talks ‘Skin&Earth’, Comic Con, & Artistic Authenticity

Fierce Canadian singer songwriter, Lights, delivers alt-pop goodness on her new album, Skin&Earth, but this record is about much more than bangers and dreamy music videos. It’s accompanied by comics written and illustrated by the former MySpace queen herself.

MILK.XYZ sat down with Lights to talk about the connections between the album and the comic, her evolving voice, and the importance of including women as consumers and creators of comic books. Skin&Earthin both mediums—is sure to nourish your eyes and ears. Check out the full interview below.

Tell me a bit about the origins of the name Lights.

It’s a nickname! My last name is Poxleitner. So, Lights sounds a little bit less like a disease. That was what I went with for my first MySpace page. I remember making that conscious decision like, “I’m gonna go with Lights!” It was a nickname before that, but when I was filling out my profile and I went with it. Once it’s on MySpace, there’s no going back!

So it’s a shortened version of your last name?

Yeah, Poxleitner. A simplified version of what’s otherwise very complicated. A few years later, to eliminate any legal issues around the name, I just made it my legal first name! Lights Valerie Anne Poxleitner Bokan is my full name. Just to further complicate everything. [Laughs]

Let’s talk about the new album and comic book. It’s a two piece project?

Two pieces that work fluidly together but can stand alone. What came first was the story, like a three sentence version of the story, and I brought that into the music writing session. I started to write music that told that story and sort of filled the gaps with songs. As that came together, that would further create ideas for the story and that would feed back into the music. Very symbiotic. When all the songs were chosen, I then finished flushing out the story then started drawing! I started drawing last summer, and I’m still finishing Issue 6. It’s a lot of work!

When I listen to music, I see color so the palettes from the songs work their way into the chapter it’s connected to.

I bet! So, it’s not necessarily that the texts are in conversation with each other but rather are weaving the story together?

It connects in a lot of ways! One way is that all of the song titles are chapters, so each chapter of the comic is a song. Within that chapter, the lyrics are worked seamlessly into the dialogue and visuals. For example, in the song “Skydiving”, one of the lyrics is, “You’re leaving a mark on me,” and then she gets the tattoo in the comic. And when I listen to music, I see color so the palettes from the songs work their way into the chapter it’s connected to. There’s a song called “New Fears” and when I close my eyes and listen to that song it’s all purples and burgundies so that was the color that worked its way into that chapter.

Tell us about the comic’s main character, Enaia. Would you say you created her based on yourself? Or you have a special connection?

It originally started out as more independent from me, she was just a fictional character. As she started to come together and as I started writing her dialogue, it became very apparent that she is a lot like me. She responds to things the way that I do, because I wrote myself into her character. So I always tell people they can learn a bit about me by reading the books because she very much has my personality, but in a fictional world. It became conduit for me to talk about things I never felt free to talk about. I was able to say things through her, I was able to write angry songs and songs about sex, you know, things I never felt Lights could sing about. It took a fictional character to help me be authentically myself.

Are you a big comic book reader?

Yeah! I definitely love the medium. I’ve been reading comics since I was a kid. When I was a kid, it was like Archie and Farside, there was something really attractive to me about the simplicity of pictures telling a story. Then I started reading sci-fi comics like Magnus Robot Fighter and old space adventures and romance comics and that started to work its way into my aesthetic when I first started music. As my tastes started to refine themselves, I started getting into indie comics. What I love about it now is the representation. There are so many female voices, female leads, really cool relatable flawed characters. It’s not superheroes, not this impregnable hero. It’s real people talking about real things and confronting real social issues worked into the dialogue so it doesn’t feel like some big ministry. They talk about things that matter to the writer, and I was able to work some of that into my comic too. It’s just an awesome medium, it’s on the forefront of social issues.

Are there many female comic book writers?

It’s about 30 percent now, I think. Which is pretty good. It’s increasing every year as more and more women get into the medium. It’s a self perpetuating thing: as more and more women become fans, they always want to write the comics. It’s one of those forms of entertainment where the fans always want to become the creators. So when women become creators, they write characters that females relate to and then more women get into reading comics. A lot of what I read is from female creators, when you get that perspective I just relate to it that much more. Same with video games or movies, those are the characters I identify with more. So I think that the more women we have putting out content, the more female fans join the club. It perpetuates itself.

Have you found that fans of your music have crossed over to reading your comics?

Yeah! It’s funny, I didn’t know how that was all going to pan out, if I’d be tapping into new fans with the comic book or not but one of the really nice things I’ve noticed is first time readers getting into comics because of Skin&Earth. We got an email from a comic book shop in Minneapolis that said, “We love Skin&Earth, it’s brought in more women and more first time readers into the shop!” That’s amazing! Getting more people into this awesome medium that is not dying anytime soon, but needs support.

When women become creators, they write characters that females relate to and then more women get into reading comics.

Tell me a bit about your new single, “Giants”.

“Giants” is actually from Issue 5 of the story. This brings up a good point too, every song had to have two meanings. A comic book meaning and a ‘real’ meaning so that you don’t have to read the comic book to understand the song. So this occurs at a pivotal part in the story, but this issue isn’t coming out until November, so when we made the video I couldn’t give anything away, but I hinted at a transition between worlds, which is the metaphor in the song. We have all these limitations and walls built around us our entire lives trying to hold us back from being our best selves. It’s about breaking past that and dreaming big and entering a new world.

I was watching the “Giants” video and was just straight up mesmerised, it’s so beautiful.

Isn’t it beautiful?! We climbed a mountain in LA. Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux directed all the videos for Skin&Earth so far. He’s going to be doing all of them. I’m glad you liked it! It was so much work climbing that mountain. I thought I was going to die, I was like, “I need some electrolytes!” I’m glad it paid off in the end ‘cause it was tough.

Do you have any shows coming up?

We’re on tour right now! It’s been really cool, at all of the shows so far there have been people in cosplay dressed up as the characters! There were people dressed up as characters from Skin&Earth at Comic Con too! It was just this surreal, cool feeling. People don’t cosplay something unless they relate to or identify with it. People wouldn’t cosplay a character they don’t care for, and that is the ultimate goal when you’re creating a character. Someone people will care about and connect with.

Skin&Earth is your fourth album, so would you say your creative process has changed dramatically from the beginning of your career to now?

I’ve forced myself to change for the sake of making something bigger and better and hopefully more successful than anything I’ve done before. That was something I really wanted for this project, especially with how much work I put into the comic, I wanted it to reach as many people as possible. I’ve learned that the power of collaboration is amazing, and when you’re confident in your own craft, collaboration only makes it better. When I was younger and less secure, collaboration was daunting because you’re afraid that suddenly you’re going to get lost in someone else’s sound. This time around, I felt very confident. I could go into a session with someone I didn’t know, tell a story and say, ‘This is what we’re going to write about today, this is the mood that I want to achieve, let’s roll.” That helped establish a really creative setting with strangers, which is the most challenging part of being in a songwriting session. You’re talking about all of these awful emotion things and trying to be honest with someone you don’t know. This allowed me to talk about these things without really having to get to know somebody, so it actually was one of the most creative, inspiring and fun record making processes I’ve ever experienced. There are some great collaborations on the record.

Is there anything else you want listeners/readers to know about Skin&Earth?

I just hope that people check it out! If you’re not a comic fan, try it! Try it on! It’s very exciting to see all those Easter eggs and secrets hidden throughout the book, like hidden song titles before you even know they’re song titles. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. You will recognize the importance of the lyrics in “Giants” when that issue comes out, it’s cool to see it all come together.

Images shot exclusively for MILK.XYZ by Lumia Nocito

Stay tuned to Milk for more multimedia artists. 

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