No matter how hard I try, I just can’t explain what I hear when I listen to a Pretty Lights album. From a full-length to an EP I am just overcome by beats and by an almost forced hip-hop sound. (Did you know that you can download all of his work on his website.) But it works. It works on so many levels that I just can’t turn it off. There are not a ton of vocals in his work, but that’s okay. You don’t need a lot of vocals with beats this good. I had the chance to sit and chat with Pretty Lights not too long ago and I learned a lot about who he was before he got into music and where he sees himself going with his work in the future. Pretty Lights is tall, tall enough that when growing up he had thoughts of being in the NBA. When I asked him in the interview what he would be doing if he was not performing, he said, “I always wanted to be in the NBA.” As Pretty Lights gears up for Electric Zoo here in a few weeks, he took some time to sit with me and discuss his latest EP, his thoughts on how the record industry currently stands, and even on where he sees himself five years from now. I learned a ton from this conversation and it is my pleasure to introduce you to Pretty Lights.
Where did you come up with the name Pretty Lights?
I first saw the name on an old Pink Floyd poster. It was the first time I saw the two words together and it stood out to me as not only a cool name but also a cool concept. It was very visual and got me thinking. It definitely stuck with me and related a lot of the ideas I wanted to communicate. What it really means to me is the concept that people and artists specifically go through their day eyes always looking for a moment of beauty or inspiration. It would be things that inspire people to create music and art. It would be any sort of form of that. Pretty Lights is an obvious element as it relates specifically to that. It‘s sort of like the essence of creative minds.
You are originally from Colorado. Is there much of a dance scene out there?
Yeah, the scene out here is really blowing up. It’s not a typical or traditional dance scene though. There are not a lot of the big named DJs coming through. At least not the club kind of stuff. Independent artists are basically performing hip-hop in a live setting. People are really supporting it and coming out for it. I just did a show for ten thousand people in Colorado of nothing but Pretty Lights beats. That is pretty much the scene today. A lot of artists are selling tickets for shows like that.
I get an almost hip-hop feel from your work. Where do you get inspiration for a new track?
I suppose my vision for the style I have created has been developing since I first started getting into music. When I bought my first bass guitar in the 8th grade is when I first started. I was exposed and became interested in being a part of different themes. I think that over the last ten years, maybe fifteen years, I have tried to hang on to different elements and different genres. I have tried to design a style that fuses everything together. I grew up on hip-hop so that is part of the reason for the current music structure. I take the hip-hop approach to BPM and put the combined dance elements behind it. For a while I was going to a lot of dance parties and the rave scene started popping up. That infused it all too.
Also the dub step scene and reggae has had an influence. I was into that for a while and I was even in a few funk bands. I tried to take the best elements of all those things and fuse it together into a new style. I tried to create what I would consider to be my own favorite music. It just hadn’t been created yet. That is how I did it on a greater scale and crafted the vision on this music. I want to take the music to a new level.
I try to stay up to date on what others are doing all the time. I am not locked in the world of Pretty Lights. It can be a danger when you get too busy with your music and your own shows. You can become cut off and alienated from the rest of the music scene. I always want to have a good idea where you are at and where your style is. You have to have an idea where the rest of your community is as well. It helps stay motivated and continuously inspired.
I am in love with your new EP. Tell me a little bit more about it.
This whole three EP thing that I have set out to accomplish over 2010 I did because I wanted to release more music than a single full-length over the course of the year. I wanted to hang on to the element of surprise. I am really big on people having never heard the music when it comes out on the EP.
It’s important for me when fans get an album that they haven’t heard the music live yet. That is just an element of it. With this second EP, I was thinking about it from the moment the first EP was released. I went on tour shortly after the first EP came out and while on tour I made it a priority to go visit used record shops in all these different cities across the country. I basically visited a bunch of record shops to go vinyl shopping while on tour to collect samples and snippets and sounds to start building this EP from.
I am not sure how much you know about my production style, but it’s what I like to call “sample collaging”. It’s where I am not just sampling an intro to someone else’s song and then building a track, but rather I am taking smaller pieces from old sounds and records and making several of them work together the way they were meant to be. I gathered material to create this material from all over the country while on tour.
Stylistically I was trying to explore a couple of themes. I was trying to choose multiple genres and throw them into a single track. I also wanted to take multiple styles into single songs at the same time. At one point it flips to a harder more electronic sound. That is one thing I was really messing with on the new EP. It was an idea I had been thinking about for several years now. I wanted to do two interpretations of the same song. I wanted to flip back and forth in a single track seamlessly. I was exploring new ideas on how that was possible and how I could push that. I learned a lot about what is possible and got a ton of new ideas from making that EP. I am really excited to start working on the third one.
Are you looking forward to Electric Zoo?
Absolutely. I play a lot of festivals and this is definitely one that I am looking forward to being a part of.
What is the biggest crowd you have ever played for?
The biggest crowd of my own headlining show was actually just last weekend. I headlined a gig at Red Rocks for about ten thousand people. I have played bigger sets than that at festivals though. Coachella was maybe fifteen thousand people. That is the most I have played in front of I think.
Ten people probably. I played some really small rooms and small crowd when I first started.
What is the best show you have been to?
I can tell you one of them. I have been to a lot of really dope shows but I was blown away by Jay Z’s performance at Coachella. That guy has managed to bring it to the next level on all fronts. With the production and the musicians and just the overall show. Just everything has been thought of. Obviously when I watch a show I think back to how it was put together. I also think about my show or how I can push what I do to the next level. I was inspired by his performance.
I really dig that style of artwork you showcase on your album covers. Who does all your graphic design work?
I work with a handful of different artists. I try to conceptualize everything and then work side-by-side with artists and graphic designers. This EP trilogy I have worked with an artist from Australia for the covers. My website and posters I work with an artist out of Denver. A good friend of mine designed all my older album covers and shirts.
What would you be doing if you were not producing music?
I would be in the NBA winning titles. (Laughs) I always played basketball growing up. I was really into it. Not sure you knew this, but I am 6’8”. But in high school I decided that music was my calling. I quit the basketball team and focused on that. When I was a kid I always wanted to be in the NBA.
How cool is it to know that Behind Your Eyes has been downloaded over 500,000 times?
It’s sick. I feel so blessed to have such a large amount of people who are listening to my music and ready to download it when it comes out. It’s cool because when I sit down and produce something I know that it is has the potential to affect a broad number of people. It’s awesome. It reinforced what I had hoped for from the beginning. I wanted to show that an independent model like this could be successful and exist without the support of a major label. To prove that it can work without the system that the record industry has in tact.
This has been completely independent venture as far as creating and releasing the music. It’s awesome for Pretty Lights and my shows, but its also an example to set for where the music industry can go and what indie artists have the potential to do without major record label support. I hope that I can continue to evolve this model and other artists can do similar things. I want to make the playing field level and more indie artists can be self-sufficient.
If I were to release one record for free, and get all my fans to buy just one record, it could put Pretty Lights near the top. It makes you think of the scope of downloads and how it relates to the major labels.
I almost want to hear your work in a movie or as a theme song for a television show. Have you ever thought about working that angle?
I do a lot of that already. I work with a lot of major motion pictures and tons of extreme sports films. Surf videos, snowboard videos; stuff like that. I am completely down with that and it has been a goal of mine actually. Rather than license preexisting tracks, I want to go in and compose the score for an entire film. I would love to do that in the future.
How many stamps are in your passport?
(Laughs) I don’t know. I have been focused on the US and western Europe. Ten or fifteen maybe. I don’t know. There are just so many places to play in this world. There are so many markets and I am really trying to get into Australia and Japan. It’s not that we have not been offered shows there, it’s just the time to do it all and still take care of the markets that have already been through it in the states.
Do you prefer to play shows overseas or here in the States?
Right now it is all about playing the States. It’s not the same thing over there. I am trying to build it best I can. The shows in the States are leaps and bounds to what is happening in Europe. I am definitely working to build that up though.
Tools like Twitter and Facebook are changing the way people listen to music. How much attention do you pay to these services?
I realize what you are saying; they are really powerful tools. With everything that has been going on, I find myself neglecting them a little bit. I have been trying to communicate with my fans on Facebook and Twitter more frequently. I am a newbie, although I have had a Twitter account for a while. I used it to send out updates and show things, new download announcements, etc. I don’t like to tell people what I’m doing and where I am eating my next meal.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
(Laughs) That is a question I have been asked before, and I don’t know where I see myself in six months. I know that I will hopefully have fifteen more albums that I am proud of, an expanding, thriving label and a show that pushes the bounds of what shows do. Hopefully, if the next five years are anything like this last year; it will be crazy. (Laughs)
What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done?
I suppose when the dust settles, I want to be remembered for exactly what my main goal and ambition has been the whole time. Just to create fresh, good, tasteful music with longevity and emotion that is thought provoking and can really affect people. Whether it is right now or ten years from now, that is the music I am aiming to produce. In all the craziness of touring and running a business and putting on a production every night, sometimes that can sort of lose its luster. This is about making good music. The shows will happen and they will eventually come to an end, and there will be memories of those times, but the music will always be here. I want to evolve and push the music. I use the word evolve and I never think that my style will ever stay where it is. I want to get better.
I always let the artist get the last word. Go.
*Right when I asked this question the phone went dead. I told him, after a previous dropped call, that I was speaking to him on an iPhone 4. He stated that he was on an iPhone 4 as well. So whether you blame Apple or AT&T, Pretty Light’s last words will forever remain a mystery.