Pay attention: Pretty Lights is not a DJ. A DJ spins records, a producer creates music through electronic manipulation and if you get this confused–you’re surely going to piss him off. Before Derek Smith became Pretty Lights, he played in bands while growing up in Colorado. Later, realizing his production skills compared to those he admired, he started releasing free albums of his solo-projects. “I use samples, and go to that not because I don’t know how to play instruments,” Derek explains to SF Station in a phone interview, “but because I want that timbre, that warmth.” Possibly every sample based producer faces criticisms of artistic credibility and within just this year Pretty Light tried silencing them by releasing three sonically different EPs (or so he claims). Pretty Lights headlines the Fox Theater on November 24th. He spoke with SF Station over the phone while touring West.
(This interview was REPUBLISHED BY SFCritic who originally wrote this for SF STATION)
SF Station (SFS): Do you feel the need to prove that you’re a musician?
Derek Smith (DS): People don’t understand what goes into sampling. People assume I have no talent as a musician because I sample. There is this grey area that does frustrate me. I get hate mail from shit like that. It’s gotten to the point that the project is so big that I obviously get much more love and support than negativity, but I imagine like any artist, the negative ones bother you.
SFS: You’ve said that each EP you were trying to change the style and show a different reflection of yourself, can you explain that a little?
DS: It was the beginning of a venture to fuse the pretty and the heavy. With these EPs I wanted to explore the fusion of those two ideas. I wanted to make beautiful songs that were hard hitting.
In the second EP, one idea I consistently went to was the concept of having different sorts of versions within the same song. Frequently throughout that record, tracks switched from a completely organic structure and layers into a very hard electronic version of the same tempo, beat, and feel. For example, “High School Art Class,” the beginning starts as a break and is very organic. Then there is a stab in the middle and it turns into heavy electronic.
With the third one I wanted to keep it simpler in the arrangement sense, as opposed to having a switch between the two stylistic organizations. I switched my digging process, my sampling process, and really approached the record as a whole, as opposed to each individual piece. Each track was made side by side.
SFS: Have you tried anything new recently that you questioned whether people would like? Do you have a process of showing it to a friend and seeing if you think it’s as banging as you think it is?
DS: No, not really. Actually, I never told anyone I’ve done an interview with this, but with this last EP I didn’t let a single person listen to it until the day it came out. I didn’t show a friend. I didn’t even let my assistant, my manager, or anyone on my team hear a second of that record.
“Actually, I never told anyone I’ve done an interview with this, but with this last EP I didn’t let a single person listen to it until the day it came out. I didn’t show a friend. I didn’t even let my assistant, my manager, or anyone on my team hear a second of that record.”
SFS: What’s the reason you didn’t show it to anyone? Are you just that confidant or are you really concerned with peoples’ opinions?
DS: I’m a delicate artist. [laughs] I don’t like people hearing it before it’s what I want it to be. I kind of got obsessed with that.
SFS: Did something happen to you in the past?
DS: With the first two EPs I worked on it, and people would hear it and I was not happy with their response. They didn’t think it was good. [laugh] Which is probably not true, but I got to the point that I didn’t want anyone to hear it because I put self-imposed deadlines and [knew] it wasn’t precisely what I wanted it to be.
SFS: Can a song that samples a different song sound better than the original track?
DS: Oh fuck yeah. Often there is a four bar intro which is totally ill and I just want sample it so bad. They do some fill, and it switches into some totally cheesy love song. The way I look at it, that little segment deserves to be heard and turned into something that utilizes its potential as a piece of music.
SFS: Alright so that being said, which do you prefer most out of these three: 1) Sonny Stitt’s “Private Number” 2) Rappin’ Forte’s “Player’s Club” or 3) Pretty Lights’ “Finally Moving?”
DS: [Laughs] Then we’re getting into the philosophical definitions of good and bad, and then we’re getting really deep. I just want to say, I didn’t sample Rappin’ Forte. Rapping Forte sampled it (Sonny Stitt’s “Private Number), as did Nightmares on Wax, and to be honest, “Finally Moving” had been producer before that Nightmares on Wax album. I’ve gotten some kids who just don’t get it say, “I heard that Rappin’ Forte track you stole! That’s fucked up man!” Did you fucking listen to it man? The guitars are the same, but whatever!
Pretty Lights performs at the Fox Theater on Wednesday November 24th. Tickets are $27.50. The performance begins at 8pm.