Video Credit: LIGHTS Official YouTube Channel
If it’s true that a name has the power to shape a person’s identity and personality, then Valerie Poxleitner – also known as the electro-pop star LIGHTS – and her rock star husband, Beau Bokan, are in for one hell of a ride.
Nine months ago, the couple welcomed a daughter that they named Rocket. Rocket Wild.
While that name may be prophetic for some crazy teen years, it is also pretty indicative of life for the Bokan’s these days.
Two and a half years ago, LIGHTS was preparing for marriage, gearing up to release her second album, and figuring out the balance between touring and married life.
A lot has changed in the past two years.
In short, she says “I got married, toured a ton more after that. Recorded an acoustic album, put out the acoustic album, toured on the acoustic album, started working on the new record, faced writers block, triumphed writers block, had a baby, finished Little Machines, and now we are starting the tour.”
That’s a mouthful. But it’s certainly not the whole story.
LIGHTS started her career almost seven years ago, and over the past better part of a decade, she has illuminated her own niche in the music industry. Not quite pop and not quite electronic, longtime listeners of LIGHTS would say that she is sweetly melodic with a taste of synthetic antagonism.
In going back and listening to her debut, the LIGHTS EP, you can hear the foundation for the sound that has become so uniquely her own. Since that release in 2008, she has recorded her debut full-length, The Listening (2009), Siberia (2011), and Siberia Acoustic (2013).
While The Listening afforded audiences a glimpse into who she is as a singer/songwriter, Siberia presented a professional struggle to get through the logistical red tape and gained her attention for all the right reasons. It ended up debuting at number 3 and achieved gold sales on her home turf of Canada. Between that and the 100,000 copies sold internationally, LIGHTS was in a good spot to take her creative liberties to new levels with a new album.
So two summers ago, she started work on songs that would eventually become Little Machines.
Little did she know that the months that ensued would be some of the most trying and tedious of her life thus far.
“The first song I wrote for it was speeding. And that was the day I met Drew Pearson who ended up producing the record,” she says. “And I was speeding in LA, listening to this really heavy electronic music trying to decide where I wanted to go with the record. I thought ‘I do want to make something electronic. I’m going to go in and write about speeding today.’ And that came in the first day. It was super easy. But after that I just plunged into confusion about where I wanted to go. It was an interesting journey, but ironically that one came very quickly.”
Unfortunately, that’s when her creative juices stopped flowing so freely. The following year of record writing was a lot of stopping, starting and searching for inspiration.
“One of the exercises that I did during my time of lack of creativity was poetry,” she told us. “I was making myself write a poem every night to try to free myself up lyrically. As a result, I have this book of poems that don’t really make any sense. It was a lot of fun because there is no format to poetry, and that’s part of the challenge of pop song writing is being artistically expressive within a very rigid format. Doing poetry kind of freed me of that a little bit.”
Even though she was writing something everyday, she says that she still felt uninspired, and when she found herself on a songwriting adventure to New Mexico, she was surprised to find that some of those poems were good, and could be worked into songs.
In New Mexico, she stayed in an all natural home that essentially ran off of renewable resources, an experience that she said was really revitalizing.
It was there that she wrote Portal, a standout track from the album that is actually the first song on the record. But even with her book of poems, LIGHTS was still having trouble seeing the vision for the album. She says that she kept getting caught up in what it was supposed to be, and a certain sound, and whether or not the little things were all in place.
The problem was she was having trouble reeling it in. With so many ideas floating around, so many different directions she could take, and with the writing, tracking and compilation of this seemingly onerous album weighing heavily on her mind, she felt lost. Until she got some exciting, and life changing news.
“Realizing I was pregnant made me look at everything from the big picture, and made me look at things sort of as an ultimatum,” she says. “Do I want to keep doing music? If I do, it’s going to be a lot of work. Or do I take a break, and be a mother?”
LIGHTS says that for a while in the middle of writing this record, she really wasn’t sure which way it was going to go. But inevitably, “In the moments that I felt like I might not do music anymore, I realized how much I love doing music, and how much I love touring, and singing to the fans and the fans singing back to me and creating something out of nothing. I was reinvigorated in that passion, and in the process of that, I was sort of freed from all the stupid little things that ultimately started to add up and cause writers block. Its just self afflicted expectation that start to create writers block. So when I made that decision that I do love music, and if it doesn’t become this amazing thing it doesn’t matter, you still have a family, I was freed and I just wrote it because I loved it.”
That clearly shows on the record as each track is an exploration of a different and unique part of who LIGHTS is. She said that looking back, each album is a snippet of her life at the time of creation, and listening to those songs makes her think of all she went through.
This one, though, is definitely a happy one. She relearned her love for her career. She felt the support of her team. She had a baby.
“Ultimately I look at the record, and its all about enjoying life and just living in the moment and just taking in the things around you and not looking too far ahead because you skip the best parts. Something that will take you out of your life, out of the troubles, for a little bit.”
She says that she looks at motherhood the same way – day by day, and some days, hour by hour.
She pauses, and says “You look at all these tour dates coming, all these expectations, you know you’re going to have to take her with you everyday and it just becomes overwhelming. But just hitting every few hours is not only better, but it’s my recommendation for everyone everyday. Every few hours just sit down and enjoy where you’re at, because if you don’t life goes by too fast. It makes me enjoy having a family so much more. It’s the best. And it’s the only thing that keeps me sane sometimes. “
It’s that down-to-earth, doesn’t-take-herself-too-seriously attitude – along with her tunes, of course – that has attracted her fanbase, which reaches over 560,000 followers on Twitter, 1.3 million on Facebook, and 346,000 on Instagram.
Like most artists, LIGHTS seems to like the land of social interactions.
“It’s the best. Especially because you get an opinion like 30 seconds later [after release] and you’re like ‘you didn’t listen to the whole thing’. It keeps you in it. And I think that’s very important to not let yourself feel separated like you’re on some type of pedestal or any other kind of level and I think that’s so important just in terms of staying grounded.”
Even with a family and a new baby, LIGHTS says that social media has remained a huge part of who she is as an artist. She’s not afraid to post pictures of life on the road, and certainly doesn’t shy away from sharing an adorable video of her daughter.
“For the first little while we didn’t post anything, but it comes down to what you feel comfortable with at that time. At a certain point we are like this is a part of our lives and we are proud of her and this is our world. I’m not Kanye and I don’t need to hide my baby,” she jokes.
She maybe shouldn’t speak so soon, though. At the rate she is going, she is set to be a bright light on the big stage over the next year. With existing tour dates already scheduled through February that will take her across the globe, she is excited about announcing the dates and places for the Little Machines Tour, which she says, will take her through the UK and Europe, and back the states next year.
But with her mantra of a day-by-day lifestyle in mind, she says that her goals right now are pretty simple. “To reach as many people as possible with something good, that moves people for the better not the worse. It’s a vague goal but it’s the reason every single one of my songs has a resolution. It has a resolve and a purpose. It’s the reason I write the way that I do.”
All in all, LIGHTS seems happy. Taking life one day at a time, touring and learning about motherhood.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” she says. “And that’s good. I like that.“
**A version of this story was published by Naked Magazine in December 2014