For synth-pop artist Lights, music has been her means of self-expression since she was a child. "I wrote songs about everything. I was supposed to go on a date and the guy never picked me up, so I wrote an angry rock song called You Never Picked Me Up," she recalls with a laugh. In the face of weightier matters such as depression and body issues, "music saved me through it all," she says.
A growing number of young Canadians have Lights to thank for helping them find voices through music too. In her work with MusiCounts, a not-for-profit organization that focusses on at-risk youth, the Timmins-born singer and songwriter sees first-hand the delight and hope young people feel at the gift of new instruments for their school. Now Lights has teamed up with Kiehl's Rocks for Kids to raise $50,000 for MusiCounts via a limited-edition tub of Ultra Facial Cream ($57 at kiehls.ca) featuring her own illustration on the lid.
At a media event in Toronto, I sat down with the bright-eyed 28-year-old artist and mom to chat about family, her style inspiration, beauty habits, and how she'll help baby Rocket (who has her own thriving Instagram account, @rocketbokan) stay strong as she grows up.
Let's start with family. How do you manage touring with your little girl?
Rocket comes with me all the time. She's been on five tours so far – and everything in between, she comes with me. I'm still breastfeeding; I want to breastfeed as long as I can. I have these boobs I wouldn't have otherwise! And it's actually easier [to breastfeed] than not because I've got the equipment everywhere I go.
Our next big tour this Fall is a six week tour, which is manageable. The challenging stuff is the fly dates, taking her on the plane, but once we're on the bus, it's actually pretty good. My husband is also a touring musician, though, so he's gone a lot.
How do you create family time or alone time with your husband?
The alone time with my husband is a hard one. When we're not on tour, we stay in, or go to the park or go to the zoo and do really, really family things. When we're on tour, we facetime all the time, and we're constantly messaging because that's all we've got. And we fly in to see each other on a day off when we can.
I've talked to my parents about when they were young and doing a long-distance relationship – they either talked on the phone or took a train to see each other and that was it. I couldn't imagine not being able to say, how's it going; this is what I'm doing right now. Constant messaging throughout the day is what keeps it alive, I think.
You have a distinctly strong, edgy style. Where did that come from?
I'm kind of a goth kid. I grew up in a small town. We moved a lot, but never to a big city where fashion was a priority. My influences were comic book characters: Lara Croft and Wonder Woman, empowered women who had this kind of ass-kicking style that were still really glamorous and beautiful.
Now that Rocket is a toddler, and she's with you on tour, how do you find time for skincare and makeup rituals?
I have a regimen that really works on tour, a compact version of what I'd do at home. Sometimes I don't have access to a bathroom to wash my face, so gentle face wipes have become very important.
Makeup for me has always been about embellishing the things you love about yourself, not covering up. I've always focussed on dark eyes and my cheekbones. I've never been one to wear a ton of foundation – it always made my skin feel heavy, and I just want it to feel good. If you can feel comfortable in your skin, that's what matters.
What's your newest product love?
Actually, the Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado from Kiehls -- it's made me look not like a tired mom. That's the one thing – you always struggle with tiredness because you're always going. I have 50 travel days a year, so I'm always busy, I never have time to sleep, especially now that I have a little one. So I'm always looking for something that makes me look less tired. You can feel tiredness in your eyes; this eye cream feels good. I have really sensitive eyes, too, and it doesn't leak into them.
I've only just learned this and I feel crazy for not knowing this before, but you need to wear sunscreen every day to prevent aging. I used to wear it only if I was going to the beach; I like having a glow. But my angle has changed on sunscreen. After I became a mom, I became more aware of the effects of aging and wanting to slow it down. I don't feel I look old, but I feel more than ever that it's important to prevent damage.
Many women admit to having a few makeup items way past their expiry date, like since high school. You?
Yes! A lot of things, like an eyeshadow brush I've been using for a year and I've never cleaned. And lots of terrible things that would make a makeup artist cringe. I usually buy out of necessity. I really look for skincare stuff, like toner, moisturizer and exfoliators. Outside of that, I've always just bought the same makeup: black eyeliner, brown eyeshadow, cover up if I need it, Chapstick. And I get everything from drugstores when I'm on tour.
Do you do your own makeup for your shows?
For my shows, yes. For music videos and events, I usually have a makeup artist. My show makeup is a more extreme version of my everyday. More defined eyes, more defined features, just amped up from everyday life.
How old were you when you started wearing makeup? What did you start with?
I was about 10, and it was eyeliner – on both lids, no mascara, and that was it. Before that I was scared of makeup. I was home-schooled until high school. And when I started high school, that I wanted to amp up my look, as you do at that age. It took a long time for me to stop putting eyeliner on the bottom lids.
When do you think Rocket might start wearing makeup?
For me it's all about what she wants, and the goal for me as a parent is to make sure that she is a happy person, happy with her beauty, happy with her sense of identity, her sense of backbone, then she'll be able to make decisions. That's the way my parents taught me. My mother let me make all these decisions for myself, with the comfort of knowing that she instilled this sense of self in me, so I wasn't doing it for the wrong reasons. As a result, every time I did something, moved into the next phase of my life, it was because I was confident and clear about it. It wasn't because I was scared of not being something.
You've struggled with body issues in an industry that's so much about appearance; how will you handle that with your daughter?
Music is at my core, it's what makes me who I am. All these things on the side don't really matter. So as long as someone has a sense of the things they're good at, or that they love, or that they want to be – something that shapes their identity – everything else will fall away. That's what I want to teach my little one – or anyone else I talk to about it.
UPDATE: On Monday September 28th, Lights gave an acoustic performance in support of Kiehl's Rocks for Kids and MusiCounts. Enjoy these quickie clips from her set – man, I can't wait for her acoustic CD to drop. I'ma snap it up.
The limited-edition Kiehl's Rocks for Kids Ultra Facial Cream featuring a label illustrated by Lights is available via kiehls.ca and at Kiehl's boutiques. A version of this interview appeared in the Sept. 17th print edition of The Kit. Kiehl's Apothecary photo: David Chang.