October 22, 2009
Small-town girl follows Lights
By JANE STEVENSON - Sun Media

Lights is the brightest thing to come out of Timmins, Ont. since Shania Twain. The 22-year-old has a Juno award to prove it. (Greg Henkenhaf, Sun Media)

How does a Timmins, Ont.-born, Christian-raised daughter of sometime missionaries, who likes her tattoos, video games, and graphic novels and used to play guitar in a metal band called Shovelface, wind up winning best new artist at the Junos earlier this year for her 2008 indie electro-pop debut EP?

If you're Lights, formerly Valerie Poxleitner who legally changed her name to her longtime nickname a couple of years ago, anything is possible it seems.

"I got a nomination off only having a six-song EP out there for the world to hear and that was awesome enough for me," said Lights, 22, relaxing in a Yorkville restaurant near her Toronto home earlier this week leading up to next month's launch of her cross-Canada tour, which includes a Nov. 26 date at Kool Haus.

"(To win), it was probably the most people I've been in front of at one point at one time. It's really cool that our country can recognize people for doing things in an independent way, the way they want to see it because they're passionate about it, not because they want to sell a lot of records. And people ask me if there's been more pressure since the Junos. It's like the opposite. I feel encouraged."

Lights -- who is managed by CBC Radio host and Canadian musician Jian Ghomeshi after they met at a folk festival in Owen Sound, Ont., eight years ago -- has since released her debut album, The Listening, on major label Universal, back in late September.

She also has developed a cartoon, with Marvel Comics illustrator Tomm Coker, called Audio Quest: A Captain Lights Adventure, that's been airing on MTV and online at mtv.com and features her doing the voiceover of the main character and her music.


"She's kind of this intergalactic scavenger that goes around and collects sounds from the universe, said Lights, a sci-fi/fantasy lover who grew up watching Star Trek with her mother.

"And these are two-minute, semi-animated episodes. There's about 10 episodes at this point, four are out. And it's just a new way to show people the music and give them a little adventure along the way."

Lights grew up travelling around Ontario (her father is an architect by trade) and she was home-schooled until she was in high school. She also spent time in both the Philippines and Jamaica -- so touring is nothing new for her.

"That really led to me being able to live out of a suitcase and never really clinging on to stuff or sad to leave things behind, which in a way is sad -- but it's my lifestyle," she said.

Lights, whose influences range from Bjork to Genesis to Supertramp, is currently on the road playing clubs in the U.S., but she is particularly excited about her first major headlining tour in Canada. Her parents will be at the Toronto show and her sister, a recently married kindergarten teacher, will attend a Vancouver date.

So whatever happened to Shovelface?

"It was ridiculous," said Lights with a giggle. "We got all our inner teenage angst out and sang about the worst things we could think about. You go through all these phases.

"At the time it was what we wanted to do. And Jian, one day he came up to me and said, 'You know if you want to be Cradel of Filth I will stand by you. But just know that you have so much potential and keep writing and keep just working on your craft' -- so I did."

Thank goodness.

"I finally found my sound after enough experimentation," said Lights, who is currently dating The Devil Wears Prada drummer Daniel Williams after they met on the Warped Tour.

"It was on Valentine's Day of 2006. And something really special hit me about the song, something really nice and honest about it. One of the hardest things as a songwriter is to actually learn how to sing your feelings and not just sing words. That's harder than you think.

"For years, me being in a metal band, you're writing about killing everyone, you know."