Lights – Pep (2022)

Since 2009, Canadian pop singer Lights has created a massive international fan following with her electronic based music and soulful lyrics.

Mail call! “Pep,” the new album from Toronto based singer/songwriter Lights, arrived in the mail today. I have been collecting Lights’ vinyl from the moment she first started pressing albums in this format, and she is one of the only artists in the world who I continue to pre-order albums without hearing them first. This might seem an unusual artist for me to be loyal to because, for the most part, I am not a fan of modern pop nor electronic music. But, I have a bit of a yen for Lights, and she’s never let me down yet. Although some of her albums have been better than others, I have always enjoyed every one of her releases.

I got into Lights earlier than most people. My cousin Sarah had been working in a trendy clothing store which had some sort of deal with a music label where they would play music by “up and coming” artists in their chain of stores. Sarah would occasionally make me mixed CDs with the best of the music she was hearing in the stores, which gave me access to new artists. Now, when it comes to new artists, sometimes I’m a product of my middle ageness, talking about how the kids today don’t know what good music sounds like. But Sarah always had good taste, and she turned me on to some great music. In fact, despite getting rid of my CDs a long time ago, I know I still have the ones Sarah made for me in a shoebox in the storage closet. Well, the one artist that really connected to me was Lights. Sarah had put “The Last Thing on Your Mind,” from Lights’ debut EP, on one of these burnt CDs and it just spoke to me. Lights had a pretty big on-line presence even then, and once I did a deep dive I was pretty charmed by her videos and writing and the whole sci-fi cyber pop princess thing she had going on. It really appealed to me at that time. I also really dug the rest of her stuff on that EP too, including “February Air” and, what would become her breakout hit, “Drive My Soul.”

With a string of hits in Canada, Lights has pushed her way onto the international pop charts, had one of her songs used as a campaign anthem for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and has written a best selling graphic novel.

A few months later I found out that Lights would be coming to my town on a tour of small venues across Ontario. There was this old beer hall in Peterborough called The Montreal House, which at that time was the oldest business in the city. It was an old men’s club originally and women weren’t even allowed on the premise until the 1980’s. But starting in the early 2000’s it became a really great live music venue with a lot of Ontario’s premiere bands playing there. I went to some epic shows there and saw some great bands early in their careers including The Strumbellas, The Sadies, The Arkells, BA Johnston and Kelly and the Kellygirls. In fact, I can honestly say the greatest show I ever went to thus far in my life was when The Spades and The Giolden Dogs, two great Ontario bands that had huge runs in the early 2000’s, played to a beyond capacity house on a cold winter’s night. The Montreal House had a magical run as a live venue, albeit it briefly, before new management ran it into the ground and it was turned into a BBQ house (although, I must confess, it serves great BBQ). Well, the Montreal House was a very intimate venue where the audience was so close to the non existent stage that they were literally a part of the show, and this was where Lights and her band were coming. Groovy!

I decided I wanted to write a feature on Lights, so i got on-line and dropped her people a note, requesting an interview while she was in the city. I got a response fairly quickly and was invited to her sound check and have a visit. Great. But then something unexpected and wonderful happened. In the three weeks between the time I booked the interview and the night of the concert, “Drive My Soul” flew to the top of the Canadian Billboard charts. Lights hadn’t even released a full album yet, but all of Canada was listening to her. Despite the sudden success, Lights management team was great and they kept all of her interviews and appearances at small venues in tact, and the interview was still on.

When I got to the Montreal House the day of the interview, Lights and her group were already doing a soundcheck, and there was one other local media source there to interview her. I don’t remember who it was, but i do remember they were not at all prepared, and the interview didn’t last long. So now it was my turn, and Lights saddled up next to me at the bar. She was a really cute nerdy girl with a great smile and nice eyes. I remember that she oozed confidence and she was no shrinking violet, and she didn’t seem at all surprised of her sudden success either. She seemed like she was a real space princess that was on one hell of an adventure, and doing the damn thing.

Sam Tweedle and Lights in 2009. I got thinner and balder, she got more famous and more tattoos. That goonie smile is the look of infatuation.

Lights and I seemed to talk a similar language, and we made a quick connection so she invited me upstairs to the second floor where the band was hanging out and they had stored all their gear. We hung out and talked about comic books (her favorites were Wonder Woman and Magnus, Robot Fighter), World of Warcraft (which I knew nothing about) and her pet tarantula. I got to admit, I kind of fell in love with her a little bit, and couldn’t resist her deep brown eyes. She let me into her space and allowed me to stay well beyond the allotted time that I was supposed to have, and I could have talked to her for hours, but I maintained my sense of professionalism and left her to play Warcraft before I had overstayed my welcome.

At the concert that night it was obvious we had a new star on our hands. The show was sold out. Girls came dressed up like her. The night was exciting, and I also remember that she introduced a new song, “Ice,” which didn’t become a hit but remains to be my favorite song by her. At the end of the night I stood in line at the merch table to get her to sign two EP’s I bought, one for me and one for my cousin Sarah (I mean, her good taste in music was why I was there), and she greeted me by saying “Oh! It’s my good friend!” (I think she forgot my name). We took a picture together and I have the gooniest ear to ear smile on my face. My god. I was so infatuated with her. It was insane.

Of course the rest is history. The next year Lights would win the Juno Award for best new artist, she’d release more hit albums, move her music into the US. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would use her music in a winning political campaign, she’d write a successful graphic novel and become a fan favorite. I was so happy I had that meeting her before it all took off, and while ti was still kind of sweet.

The photo Lights signed for me during our 2009 interview.

I saw Lights one other time in concert. Not long after I met her in Peterborough, I was in Los Angeles doing some freelance journalism work and learnt she was also in LA performing at the famous Troubadour night club. She was still an unknown in the US, and her people were trying to push her south of the border. Going to the Troubadour was a bucket list thing for me, so I scored a ticket and went to the show. It was also sold out, but it still had that intimate feeling of a smaller concert that, by this point, Lights could never had had if she had been performing in Canada. I could have probably talked to her that night too, but I felt weird about sticking around to see her. I thought it might be uncomfortable, and she might think I’m following her or something and that’s how restraining orders happen (I might have been over thinking it, but that was my knee jerk reaction). I’ve had opportunities to see her in concert since then, but it isn’t going to be the same as the time I hung out with her in the second floor rooms of the Montreal House, so I haven’t.

I haven’t listened to the “Pep” enough yet to see if anything sticks with me, but something on every album does. Her last album, “Skin and Earth” was possibly her best album yet and I just don’t know how she can top that, but “Pep” seems to be a solid listen, although different in tone. We will see.

After all this time, I doubt Lights would remember me. She’s done so many interviews and met so many people and has made an amazing career for herself. But that’s okay. I’m glad I met her when I did, and had that moment in time. It’s a great memory, and I still love her music. I just wonder if she still reads Robot Fighter?

About the author