The past few years have seen album sales plummet to record lows. Streaming sites dominate how individuals listen to music, and many artists have pivoted accordingly. With the focus shifting to releasing reams of stand-alone songs to feed consumer demand, the LP format has taken a back seat.
In Canadian pop singer Lights’ opinion, though, albums are still a vital part of the music ecosystem—and she’s giving fans a reason to buy into the concept.
The performer, born Valerie Poxleitner, has always been creative. A comic-book enthusiast since her early years, the singer first injected that love into her album covers, basing the image for her debut record, The Listening, on Watchmen and Sailor Moon. Now she’s taken the idea further. Drawing, lettering, and publishing her own six-issue comic, Skin & Earth, the two-time Juno Award winner created the story in tandem with her new album of the same name. Using her songs to elucidate the book’s narrative, and the story to tread new ground in her tracks, Poxleitner is proud of how her multimedia project offers a new perspective on the album format.
“I had no idea how to make a comic book at first,” she tells the Straight on the line from her home in Mission. “But here we are, on my fourth record, and I wanted to do something that would really challenge myself. I also wanted to reward fans for investing into an entire record, rather than just the singles that end up on playlists. I thought it was important to give people a reason to dive into the lyrics, and jump into an entire album like they used to.”
The comic follows the story of Enaia, a fictional character created by Poxleitner, who is searching for hope in an apocalyptic world ravaged by ecological disaster. By no coincidence, the character bears an aesthetic similarity to the singer. Blurring the lines between performance art and reality, Poxleitner has taken to the red carpet dressed in the outfit of her protagonist, dyed her hair the same colour, and even gotten inked with her character’s tattoo. That closeness to her creation has transformed her music, letting her tackle topics, like sex and fighting, that previously seemed closed off to the singer.
“Writing songs about certain points in the book’s narrative gave me an outlet to say things that I didn’t feel free to before,” she says. “I thought they might cause people to interpret them falsely, and read into my life in the wrong way. ‘Savage’, for example, is about your man being an asshole and breaking your heart. Those are things I’ve experienced in my life, but I’ve never sung about them because they don’t apply to me currently. Writing an angry song was something that I’ve really wanted to do, but releasing it without the context of the book would be like ‘Wow, what’s wrong with your marriage?’ ”
While the comic series and the album work in tandem, Poxleitner wanted to make sure both existed successfully as stand-alone pieces. Bringing in a roster of new contributors for the LP, the singer has created an unapologetically pop record, packed with radio-friendly sing-alongs.
“I wanted to make sure this record was—and I hate this word—accessible,” she says. “I wanted it to be something that lots of people would love, not a niche synth-pop collection.”
Lights plays the Vogue Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday (January 30 and 31).
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays