Pretty Lights: Making the Walls of the City Quake
Unlike some DJs in the same scene as Pretty Lights or even his producer peers, the samples Smith uses are only one ingredient of something else entirely. Or they’re layered with so many new elements that even their key characteristics take on different flavors.
“In any given song, especially on my last EP series, there are going to be 10, 15, 20 different snippets and samples of vinyl from different genres, decades and parts of the world that I make work together,” Smith says. “That’s what brings the timbre that I want—as a musician—to the table; that’s what makes Pretty Lights’ music original.”
Central to his sound is a certain analog warmth that you can only find on old vinyl. Smith explains that he’s perfectly capable of picking up a guitar and faithfully covering a riff or recreating a certain chord progression, but while the notes and rhythms may be the same, the sound—the timbre—is vastly different than it is on the original recording. Those records are vintage stock—they may have sat in a basement for 30 years after being pressed in a plant in Michigan following their initial recording in a shady Detroit soul studio, before eventually finding their way to a flea market and, somehow, into Smith’s hands.
And all of that, both tangibly and intangibly, shapes the sound of the recording itself during playback. It affects the music. So, when Smith realized he wanted to make his next album “100 percent sample-free,” he realized he’d have to create those vintage sounds himself—not recreate.
To that end, Smith spent two weeks this past spring at Studio G in Brooklyn where he assembled a different lineup of musicians each day and, playing along with them (often on bass, sometimes on Wurlitzer, sometimes on something more exotic), Smith conducted sessions that have now been pressed onto vinyl and shipped back to Pretty Lights HQ where he’ll use them in place of traditional samples for his next album.
During the Brooklyn sessions, Deitch brought in some of his boys from Royal Family Records—namely, guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist/vocalist Nigel Hall—while other days saw Smith working with players from Dub Trio, The Budos Band and a revolving cast of others. While isn’t a set release date for the album yet and Smith plans to release other new Pretty Lights music in the meantime, this one is his baby.
“I plan on searching the world for vocalists and street musicians and other elements and I’m writing lyrics,” Smith says, excitedly. “Whether it’s some dude on the street in Barcelona or some guy in a bar in New Orleans, that’s the path I’m taking.”
It’s a path that will take Pretty Lights well into 2012 and beyond. As for this year, Pretty Lights has a solid fall tour booked after slaying it once again on the festival circuit this summer.
It’s July at Camp Bisco—a festival centered around the live improvisational-based rock music of the Disco Biscuits, which is now its in it tenth year—and Pretty Lights is headlinig the dance tent. The crowd spills out past campsites and RVs in every direction, all the way to the tree-line. When Smith finally arrives backstage at 1:30 a.m. via golf cart, there’s a swarm around him with a buzz usually reserved for rock stars, but not usually seen in this kind of music scene—or at music festivals, where everyone backstage is a performing musician or standing near to one.
Standing 6’8” and wearing a nondescript blue hoodie that somehow draws attention to himself despite intentions to the contrary, Smith cordially says hello to friends and acquaintances who have descended on his golf cart as it pulls up.
He eventually takes a stroll to the stage to check out the equipment that he’s working with before disappearing into his trailer for some alone time where, according to him, he chills out with his girlfriend, maybe tosses back a shot, maybe pulls a quick puff, gathers his thoughts and hits the stage before greeting thousands of kids obsessed with the beat. His beat.
The mode of the music has changed and while the walls of Denver might not be literally shaking just yet, you can feel the aftershocks all the way up here at Camp Bisco’s day parking lots where kids have come from miles around just to dance and party to Pretty Lights.
It’s a sight that you’d better get used to because the future’s here and Derek Vincent Smith has the soundtrack ready.
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