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Interview with Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights

February 24, 2011

Out of the massive realm of modern electronic music emerge few distinguished artists. Pretty Lights, the musical vision of Colorado producer Derek Vincent Smith, have become a contemporary fan favorite. Electric performances at festivals such as Bonnaroo, Trinumeral, and Rothbury have provided a growing underground following for Smith, who performs live with drummer Cory Eberhard. The second album Filling Up The City Skies had over 150,000 downloads in the past nine months alone. Pretty Lights is touring to promote the newest album Passing By Behind Your Eyes, which is available along with all the other albums, free for download on Pretty Lights will be showcasing their ground-breaking, booty shaking ensemble at the Valarium on Thursday, October 29th. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Derek about the band’s sound, the Bonnaroo performance and his methods of producing music.

Electronica is undoubtedly the most difficult genre for artists to set themselves apart in; to become foreward-thinking, trend setters. Smith has found a way.

What kind of things do you do to separate Pretty Lights’ sound from other electronic artists?

I think the sound I’ve developed over the years is what sets it apart. I use a lot of staples from records that span eight, nine decades, which gives the music a common thread, this soulful resonance. I think that sets it aside from other stuff that’s coming out right now.

Any particular types of records you search for when sampling records?

In my history of digging and experimenting with vinyl, I’ve learned that you can find the sickest samples in the most random sections. Obviously I like digging through the soul and blues, but folk, soundtracks, country as well. A lot has to do with judging the record by its cover, there’s a lot of luck involved and trusting your gut.

What sort of artists influenced you when growing up?

I draw influence from so many types of music, from Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin, or Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Billie Holliday. Just real sort of soulful musicians.

As Tennesseans we have to ask, how was your experience playing on the farm at Bonnaroo 2009?

Honestly I love playing Tennessee. Before I started getting up there, all I really knew about Tennessee was that it was in the south and they listen to a lot of country music there. It’s a pretty awesome state, there’s lots of music, festivals and venues. Some of my crowds in Tennessee are the hypest. Bonnaroo was an amazing experience. I feel like it was a milestone in my career, because things have definitely popped up and got bigger since. I got a couple special things in store for Tennessee when I get back.

You have been real adamant about releasing your music for free online, why do you feel this approach is best for you as a working artist?

When I first started doing that, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I wanted as many people as possible to hear the music. More people started downloading, shows started getting bigger and I started to realize the benefits of this model. It creates a loyal, musical relationship with my fans, especially haven done it with three or four records. It’s also a philosophical approach; the whole concept of paying for this art form is pretty strange. I don’t know how things will progress as the music gets bigger, because it becomes an expense for me. That’s why I look for donations to offset the production costs.

The Weekly Hangover is a party paper, so what song do you pop on to get the party going?

There’s one song I always go to. It’s weird because people haven’t heard it, but it always get the party going. It’s called “Sexomatic” by the Bar-Kays, it’s like a 1982 funk sort of 80’s disco track.

Interview conducted for the Weekly Hangover in September 2009.

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