Pretty Lights Interview
What’s up dance fiends? In this show, we bring to you one of the hottest acts to rock the late night dance scene: Derek Vincent Smith, otherwise known as Pretty Lights!
Derek has had one hell of a first year hitting the festival circuit, and blew up the crowds at Bonnaroo, Rothbury, Camp Bisco and more. His live performances along with his drummer Corey are an absolute must see.
Pretty Lights has been releasing free albums (with option to donate) on PrettyLightsMusic.com, so you definitely need to grab yourself some of his albums. If you need a great soundtrack to drive around to on a beautiful sunny day, Pretty Lights is the way to go!
Be sure to check out the new MoeTrainsTracks.com for an all new Tracks experience… So we bring to you… The man who moves the feet… Derek Vincent Smith, from Pretty Lights.
Derek Vincent Smith (Pretty Lights) Interview on Moe Train’s Tracks
Moe (MTT): This is your first festival season right? How’s it treating you?
Derek (Pretty Lights): I had no idea what to expect coming into it. I was very excited about it. And to be honest, I’ve received nothing but love at all, it’s been really cool. Even fifteen minutes before the show, when the tent’s empty and I’m feeling kinda nervous about if people are going to come check out the set, they’ve never let me down. Everyone has been really cool, it’s been packed, lots of energy. People obviously come to festivals to listen to music and dance and get down and I’m glad that I can help them do that.
M: You guys run an interesting improv angle with your music, you always have an evolving sound. How do you work to create an evolving musical journey throughout your set?
PL: That’s a cool question. A lot of people look at me behind a table and think that I’m a DJ, and to be honest, I’ve never spun a record in my life. I could probably match beats with records, but I’ve never even tried it. All the music is original, using original productions I should say. I’m using software and different devices to trigger different parts and arrange it on the fly and to affect it and manipulate it and play some of the layers live on top, like melodies and samples and stuff like that. But back to your question, how do I look at it as a set, as a whole, I try to think of it more as how a DJ would as far as tempos. I really try to bring the energy up and back down smoothly. Even if it’s a real hype hip-hop speed track, I don’t like to play it after some more up-tempo electric track because it just doesn’t feel right.
M: Don’t want to burn people out?
PL: Yeah. Also I like to produce a lot of different styles of music, of a lot of electronic kind of music, but they also vary in energy a lot. But rather than just have my live shows be all high energy dance music, I like to bring in some of the more organic down-tempo, more emotional kind of tracks. It does take some consideration of where to bring that in and where to play it or not to play it. Honestly, as I play more and more, I’m getting better at being able to do that. Because I never have a set list, the songs have a level of improvisation, but the sets are always improvised as far as the order. Like last night, these people had grabbed a set list off the stage and I could see people were kinda arguing over it and I went down and said, ‘That’s not even my set list! That’s the set list for the band that hasn’t played yet. You better put that back up there, they’re not gonna know what songs to play.’
M: Well you and Corey worked together in another band before this, so I guess you guys have a good chemistry going.
PL: Yeah, we worked together before Pretty Lights in a band and actually when that broke up, when that kinda ceased to exist, that’s when I started writing the first Pretty Lights album. There was really a period of time for about two years between when that band ended and when the first Pretty Lights show that I actually invited the drummer up to play with me. I wanted that element live and I feel like it brings a certain kind of hands-on, live energy to the show. Also, I like to be able to play off another individual. So that’s when I collaborated with him and started doing the shows with a live kit.
PL: Yeah. When we first started playing it pretty much was only two hand signals, like ‘cut out’and ‘come back in’. But as we played together more and I’ve written more music in a way that it can be performed differently each time, utilizing the different technology like Abelton Live with the different kind of features…
M: Is that what you use?
PL: That’s what I use live, yeah, in conjunction of a device called a monomer. We use signals like, I have different hand signals to switch drum beats, or switch high-hat speeds, or switch to ride signals, or we’ve got one for switching to an off-beat snare pattern, or losing the snare and keeping the kick and high-hat, or different things for bringing the energy up or bringing the energy back down, and things like that. It’s definitely evolved, the way in which we communicate on-stage.
M: So how do you think the live performance brings your audience a different experience than what’s on your albums?
PL: It’s all about the energy, about hearing the music in a different sort of setting. It’s good car music, I think it’s good bedroom music but a lot of…
M: Bedroom music, huh! Getting the beds rockin’?
PL: That’s what I’m saying, man! People have told me that I’ve gotten them laid.
M: There you go, to your credit… Put that on your resume, ‘Getting People Laid!’
PL: (Laughing) Back to that question, what I was trying to say was that it’s not all me, or us, the people on-stage, creating that live experience. It has so much to do with everyone coming together and experiencing the difference of the live show energy but also within a congregation of people. And it also has a lot to do with, nowadays, the light show and bringing the visual medium. Which has evolved, but I’m looking to take it a lot further.
M: Just an all encompassing experience.
PL: Exactly, a multi-media experience. A lot of people think that when I named it Pretty Lights that I named it exactly for that, some crazy laser light show, but that definitely wasn’t in my mind at all when that name kinda came to be. It was more about personal experiences of pretty lights, I’m always on the look at for that kind of thing. But I’m definitely trying to bring the whole live light/video aspect of the show to a whole ‘nother level, and just keep pushing that, keep pushing the production so that people can really have a cool experience that’s far different than listening to the record.
M: We are doing a show on Michael Jackson. How did he affect you, if at all? With his passing, it hit us all in the music industry in one way or another. Did he affect you at all?
PL: Yeah, he did. Not maybe at the same time that other people, especially at my age, might have been exposed to it or hit by it because, honestly, I grew up in a family that, when I was a kid, I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of music. Being born in the eighties, I think a lot of people my age heard a lot of Michael Jackson growing up but it was a different experience for me because it didn’t get into to it until I was able to find it myself as a late teenager. In junior high I was like ‘Oh, I know who Michael Jackson is, he’s the King of Pop’ but I wasn’t really exposed to his music. When I really started getting into music, and getting into production, and really going back and listening to it with fresh ears, a lot of it is just unbelievable. It’s just incredible music. The records he did specifically with Quincy Jones, who’s one of my icons as a producer, have been very inspirational, not only in how I create music but also in a personal way. That combination of artists was really able to create some pieces of music that made you feel. And that’s what music has always been about for me, creating emotion and always having people be able to feel something from the music, inside.
M: Where do you see Pretty Lights evolving to in the near future?
PL: I have a lot of ideas that I want to manifest and to make happen in my career, wherever it goes. Right now, and in the recent past, I’ve been doing a lot of collage sample producing, where I’m taking different snippets from vinyl and bringing them together to create pieces of music.
M: Like Girl Talk style?
PL: Not like Girl Talk at all. Actually, nothing like that. More like DJ Shadow, a big influence for me. The whole idea is more obscure pieces of music and just little pieces of it. So you can still really implement melodic creativity and create feelings and emotions that didn’t exist in the song that the sample was taken from because you’re getting pieces from all these different not only artist but different decades. As far as pushing the project and the show and the music in general, I feel like the sampling phase of my career is kind of dwindling because I have the means to create that stuff on my own. Before, in that two year period I mentioned between the prior band and Pretty Lights, I worked as an audio engineer in a professional recording studio and did a lot of records with, not only local bands, but some bigger artists. I did some work with Lyrics Born and Greyboy Allstars and stuff like that. I want to be able to capitalize on my experience as an audio engineer and working in the studio producing other musicians, just how we were talking about Quincy Jones. I’m actually already looking into getting my own vinyl press and buying analog tape machines, so I can really create the sound that I want, which right now I’m getting by taking it from vinyl from other decades. But I want to be able to create that in the present day. As far as future records, I’m looking to work with networks of musicians and really utilizing recording techniques to hang on to that golden age of music where everything sounded so warm and awesome. As far as my records, that’s where I’m looking to take things, but also I’m looking to make it very multi-media. I do a lot of video editing and stuff on the side and haven’t been able to really bring that to the show yet. So one thing that I’m looking to work on in the near future is also realizing audio/video compilation things, not just records but records and video accompaniments and the same time. But, anyway, you’re letting me babble on, which I appreciate.
M: That’s cool. I asked the question. Hey man, thanks a lot for being with us. I appreciate it. We look forward to your set tonight.
PL: Yeah, me too! It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.