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LIGHTS, Mowgli’s and Phases Take on Paradise

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LIGHTS courtesy of Diana Sargsyan

Canadian electro-pop artist LIGHTS is on a North American tour together with southern California based alternative rock band, The Mowgli’s.

The tour hit Boston’s Paradise Rock Club on November 21st.

The show started with a performance from PHASES – LA based band of longtime friends – Z Berg (The Like), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley/Bright Eyes), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet) and Michael Runion. They played songs off their debut record, For Life. Although their set was short, it was definitely enough to make the crowd dance. Before the show I had the chance to speak with Z Berg about the tour, style and self-expression…

Suffolk Voice: Before you became PHASES, you were called JJAMZ. With the name, your sound and the lyrics have also changed a lot. Did that happen on the spot, or did you feel like you were obligated to change the sound with the name?

Z Berg: It is actually the other way around. We thought we needed a new name because our sound was so different. And also JJAMZ was an acronym for all our names – Jason, James, Alex, Mike, Z Berg; and with James no longer playing with us, we had to call it JAMZ or come up with a real normal adult name. We thought because this band sounds so different and really has so much more direction than it used to, it deserves a real name.

SV: Speaking of the previous groups, would you say The Like is done for now?

Z: We definitely don’t have any plans. I mean, never say never: I love that band, but for now it’s all about PHASES.

SV: How is it different to tour with all girls versus with all the guys?

Z: It is different and it’s also the same. Doesn’t matter if it is boys and girls – it’s about the relationship you have with those people. Certainly there is a little less crying in this band, probably a little less chocolate consumed, and there is definitely less sharing of clothes. But in the end of the day I’ve been friends with these people for 10 or 15 years and in The Like we all knew each other so well but the band becomes your family whether it is boys and girl, they become your brothers and your sisters.

SV: You are very stylish. Do you have a separate wardrobe for tour? I mean, are the clothes you wear on stage any different from what you wear in everyday life?

Z: I dress up no matter what. Whether I’m going to the grocery store or playing a show I always put a lipstick on. So what I wear on stage is definitely very similar to what I wear in real life. The only difference is that I wear smaller hills – because I generally wear really-really high heels in real life, but I dance so much in this band so that I have to have the right shoes for dancing on stage. For the most part my style on stage is very similar to what I wear in my everyday life.

SV: Do you agree that the stage is a place to express yourself and the best way to express yourself is to be yourself?

Z: Yes I think certainly I feel sexism everywhere. When I was in an all girl band, it was very very marked. And I felt it constantly because people don’t like girl bands. I mean, we call them “girl bands”. Every time the lights went off and we were about to play the show, you could just see the entire crowd sort of pull their arms and be like “All right, the little ladies.” It is very different to walk on stage with the PHASES. But I love being a woman and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

SV: Do you use a setlist like a cheat sheet? Do you write little notes, like the name of a city, the venue, and things like that?

Z: We don’t even write a set list. We try to keep our minds sharp by remembering where we are and what we are playing.

Then it was time for The Mowgli’s. Imagine if The Stokes and Panic! At The Disco were making music together in the 60s – this is the sound of the Mowgli’s. Their music is energetic and calm at the same time, also bright and warm – exactly what you need on a cold November day.

LIGHTS opened with her song, “From All Sides”, a piece that starts out very calm then gradually transforms into a more energetic piece, preparing the audience for more upbeat songs. The set was filled with energy and very strong vocals. Even during the acoustic part of the show, LIGHTS seemed to keep the audience dancing and singing along. However, before she got the crowd going, I phoned LIGHTS to ask her about her latest album Little Machines, becoming a mother and more…

Suffolk Voice: How did you come up with your stage-name – Lights? Does it have a personal meaning?

LIGHTS: It was just a nickname, an easier version of my last name, which is very long and complicated [Poxleitner]. When I started this project, I just used that and that really stuck. I didn’t use my first name because I did not like the idea of separation from people in stage and behind the scenes.

SV: You released your latest album, Little Machines, last year. Are you currently working on something?

L: I have been writing a lot, actually. I collect material until it all comes together. But what we have been working on actually and it is finished, and can be expected in the next few months. It is an acoustic version of Little Machines. It is one of the longest and busiest years, but being a mom takes away a certain amount of the worry. I think my concerns are put more into perspective. And I am more confident than ever, I feel more comfortable in my skin, and ironically I feel sexier than ever. I think having a child is the womanliest thing you can do.

SV: Speaking of become a mother. Is it hard for you to tour? I saw a picture on your Twitter, so you brought Rocket along with you. How does she like it?

L: Yeah I bring her on every single tour I go on, she goes with me everywhere. She likes it; she learned how to walk in a bus tour.

SV: I read that you met your husband at a Taking Back Sunday concert. What other bands do you like, listen to or consider them being influential?

L: There has been a lot, and it changes through time. I think longstanding musical influences have female artists: Patty Smith, Kerry Mitchell, Kate Bush, and Cyndi Lauper…vocally, and attitude, and lyrically, the sound. I think it easier to see a woman do it when you are a woman.

SV: Would you say that you get inspired from female artists because there is sexism present in the music industry?

L: Yes, definitely. I think we are still developing the female presence; and behind the scenes in music industry, in production, in sound tech, stage checking. I have met only a handful of women who actually do that. We are getting more and more women in the music industry but I think what needs to change is a woman’s ability to have a family. Because if you want to be in music industry, you can’t have kids, it is not really set up for that. So I hoping that down the road there will be a lot more options to a woman who wants to tour and have a family.

 SV: What genre of music do you consider your work to be?

L: I think it such a combination that is hard to identify with one genre. But for the most part I am electronic-fairy boss-pop.

SV: Can you describe the music-making process? Do you have a certain routine or does it just happen spontaneously?

L: There is a lot of different ways and that kind of dictates what kind of song it is. If I sit down with an acoustic guitar, chances are the song is going to be intimate, slow, and those songs are very special to me, they always come from a really precious place. But if I sit down with a cowriter, and we set a beat and a base, it will be a faster song, more energetic, and lighter. I think what you have to decide is what kind of song it is going to be, and it will help you where to start with it.

SV: You have been making music for a decade now, and of course you have toured a lot. I know besides US and Canada you have gave a few shows in Europe: in Germany, France and UK. So what is your favorite country/city to perform?

L: Everywhere you go is special. When we play here in the States, the shows a big, and they are energetic, and fun. But it is still very intimate because I am not on the radio here, so everyone who is there [at shows] they invested time to learn about you and your music. So that feels very special. Everywhere you go there is something interesting. In Canada it is like home shows, everybody knows you and loves you and it feels very good.

SV: Is there a question you wish you were asked?

L: Why don’t people see value in music? Is it because it is intangible? People don’t feel the need to pay for music. But it has lost the value of what it was once, it is just coming in mass quantity, and people want to pay for something in their hands and it is not really in their hands, it just kind of floating around. Where the value is? Is it in an actual song, or is it in the lyrics, is it in the ability to go to a show to see your favorite artist?


For more information on LIGHTS touring with The Mowgli’s and more visit music.iamlights.com. Photos courtesy of Diana Sargsyan for The Suffolk Voice.

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