The Set List: Interview with Pretty Lights

By Brian Washburn

An up-and-coming artist who wants to give out his new album for free and wants to change the live music landscape by trying to get concert promoters to slash ticket prices? Can any sane person actually imagine such a person? Well, he exists, and his name is Derek Vincent Smith, otherwise known by his more popular stage name Pretty Lights.

Smith is giving out all of his music for free along with his new album Passing On Before Your Eyes through his Pretty Lights Web site. This is not the first time Smith has been somewhat of an innovator. In his realm of music, his creations, productions and overall sound he has taken the underground rave-music scenes by storm and will continue on that path tonight at George’s Majestic Lounge.

Smith started performing and creating music in high school and throughout college, but it was not until he dropped out of school and his band broke up that he found himself ready to fine-tune his production skills and live up to the stature of his biggest influences, DJ Shadow, Reduction World and many of the artists signed to the Warp Record label.

“After my band broke up, I decided to work on my production skills to get my music up to par with artists who influenced me, and came up with the name Pretty Lights for a number of reasons,” Smith said in a phone interview last week. “I built a Web site and put it out. No one knew about it at the time, so I combed MySpace for people who might be into it and wrote them a personal letter asking them to check it out. Things started picking up from there.”

To say Pretty Lights picked up from there is an understatement. Smith went from having hundreds of downloads to thousands. He also began selling out shows all over the nation. The sound that is selling out all over the nation might not begin exactly where listeners think, however.

Smith says he takes a couple different approaches to creating his blend of techno, electronic and hip-hop, such as beginning at a flea market or used record store, “digging through vinyl to do what I call collaging, by finding little snippets from old records and make them work together as if they were supposed to in the first place,” he said.

Smith uses another approach to create his blends, a more organic approach, first recording live beats or bass lines then later combining them with vinyl snippets and a few samples, although he does not claim to be a sample artist.

But it is not only the unusual approach that Smith takes in creating his music, but also how he gets his music to his fans and prospective listeners that hits a chord with some in the music scene. However, for Smith, it is all part of his cause as a musician and Pretty Lights’ mission.

“I am trying to do what I can to form how the music industry works and have a part in the way it’s changing. Right now, I have put all four of my records out for that as the first thing and continued to do that even though I could sell a lot of records,” Smith said. “But at this point, I am trying to figure out how to keep ticket prices low for concerts. As shows get bigger and sold out, I am realizing that different ticket companies really kind of screw over the fan and right now I’m looking for a way to do that part of the music industry.

“I just want to make it fair, give music out for free so it gives a little different look Pretty Lights has formed in the music world,” he said.

But while the music is flying off the Web site, it is the live shows that really pull in listeners to the feel and unique blend of Pretty Lights.

A Pretty Lights live show consists of Smith along with Cody Eberbard on live drums. But it’s not just the two men on stage. There’s a video wall screening a production and a light show aimed at giving attendees the best possible high energy show they can get…it’s the full crowd experience, one that Smith says he feeds off of.

Even though the video wall and light show has electrified many shows during Smith’s latest headlining club tour (his biggest yet to date, which has sold out at nearly every location, including tonight’s show at George’s), some venues are unable to handle the power required for the experience. However, Smith said he believes George’s will be able to host the video wall and light show, giving the Fayetteville music scene one hell of a live show.

Categories: LIVE! In NWA