Pretty Lights on fans, festivals, free music
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 15:09
Colorado-based musician Derek Vincent Smith, better known as hip-hop electro act Pretty Lights, is making a stop at UCF for the 2012 Illumination tour. Smith has been producing music since 2006 and has played music festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Wakarusa. Smith samples a wide array of music but has been recognized for his unique layering of vintage blues and soul clips on top of tranquil synthesizer pulses and hip-hop beats. Check out what Smith had to say about the evolution of Pretty Lights, his record label Pretty Lights Music and the Illumination tour coming to the UCF Arena Wednesday.
Central Florida Future: What is your fan base like here in Florida?
Derek Vincent Smith: My fan base [in Florida] has everyone from college kids who are getting into electronic music to people who love funk and soul to grandparents who like chill beats with a glass of white wine. I have every kind of person coming to my shows; it’s very diverse. That makes for a difficult question. It’s everyone. People who like good music who have been exposed to it and it tickled their fancy.
CFF: Is there anything significant about your album and EP names following the same pattern?
Smith: Yeah. I wanted to create a motif with my record titles so it was more like an ongoing poem. With naming a record, I don’t like names that are really short and just like one or two words. I like names that are for one, Google-able so that nothing else comes up when you search it, but I also want the name to be poetic and roll off the tongue in a beautiful way. That’s what I go for in that style, an ongoing lyric, almost a poem that hasn’t been finished yet.
CFF: You’ve played a lot of festivals. Do you prefer one more than the other, playing touring shows or festivals? If so, why?
Smith: It depends. I love playing my own shows because people came to see my show and hear music that I produce. I just like rocking to a good crowd that’s got love and energy. That’s what I’m trying to give back: love and passion. I prefer my own shows, but I like the mass groups of people at festivals congregating and learning new music and meeting new people. I guess I love both.
CFF: You’re coming to UCF with SuperVision, who is on your Pretty Lights Music record label. Can you briefly describe what makes an artist or act jump out to you? How do you decide who to sign?
Smith: I look at it like we all have our own style that fits within the same new sort of genre of electronic hip-hop, but really what everyone has in common is we’re all homies. We’re all friends, from people on my tours to the artists on the record label; every artist on [PLM] was my homie before that, when I realized their music fit well with the music I make. Keep it crew, that’s the motto. We all work with each other and inspire each other; it’s a good formula
CFF: The aesthetics of your live shows are obviously an integral element. What is the Illumination tour about? Does it symbolize anything?
Smith: I’ve been working on a new record for quite a long time; it’s the biggest project ever in my life so far. It’s lasted more than a year and a half and I still have a few more months to go. I haven’t finished quite yet, but the songs I have finished I’m playing on this tour. What’s so special about this record is that I used a different method, a process that’s never been done before. I made my own vinyl, literally made my own records, and this tour is an extension of that process with the look of the show. We tried to keep it very vintage and organic looking, very beautiful as opposed to when you go to an electronic show that has big, green flying squares and triangles and screensaver-looking stuff. When people look at the stage it’s not just that, it relates to you and your life to channel an emotion in the same way music can. We put a lot of time into the visuals, almost like a movie that progresses and evolves. All the visuals are filmed from around the world rather than stock images. We sent filmers out across the country and created visuals for the show with that footage. It’s the first tour where I feel like the look of the production matches with the feel of the music and style of music I create. I’m really proud of it, it’s the first time I’ve been able to manifest it. I decided to call it that because my aim is to illuminate people and show them that a concert can be something more than just a scene or a dance party, it can be an emotional and immersive experience.
CFF: Your albums are available for download online with an optional donation. Do you think this is effective? Why do you choose to have your music available this way
Smith: It all goes back to [the] beginning of this project. Pretty Lights started in ‘06 and I made it available for free; I wanted as many people to hear it as possible. I continue to do so because I realized it was injecting so much momentum into word-of-mouth and the amount of people coming to live shows. The music spread exponentially faster with this distribution method, and I wanted to get it out there as much as possible, so the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. I make a comfortable living through touring and still distribute music that way. It’s just a big experiment; I’m taking it one day at a time. For my first record I spent a lot of money to make the album, and it forced me as an artist to rethink it but it keeps evolving. There’s a loyal, respectful relationship between myself and my fans; people respect [the] fact that I do that and it creates a loyal connection, you know, I see the 20 people in the front row that have been at the last eight shows and almost go on the whole tour with me, it’s very loyal.