What motivates someone to create? Whether you are a musician or an artist or a writer, the ultimate motivation should be an unstoppable internal force that needs to be shared. The musician needs to have a song at the center of his soul that has to be freed, and it really really does not matter what happens once that song comes out. I can't say that this is the motivation for every musicians in the industry, but I know that it is the motivation for Wisconsin native, Dan Govier a.k.a. Lights.On.
Between his work as Lights.On and as one half of the electro-folk duo We Will Build, Dan has manage to release 5 albums in the last year. In fact it was just last December that I had made this post when he released his sol0 debut 'Tape', and praised it's beauty and energy. Dan's latest release 'Please', takes a lot of the elements of 'Tape' and builds upon them. This release is a natural step forward musically, and just as heart-felt and passionate as its predecessor. As Dan will explain, when creating as Lights.On, he creates primarily electronic music with classical undertones, and experimental overtones.
It is Dan Govier's passion, honesty, and humbleness that has drawn me to his music, but it is the quality of his music that has forced me to make him the first repeat "Band of the Week" and the first musician to be interviewed on this website.
Orange Alert (OA): How would you describe the sound of Lights.On?
Dan Govier (DG): Well, that's a tough one. When I hear my music, it's exactly as I expect it and it is classified in my brain as the music that I made. If I try and take an objective listen to it, I would say it's electronic pop. I sometimes feel the urge to label it as experimental, but in music that term is apparently used for material that makes you question if it is actually music, and I'm pretty sure the stuff I make is considered to be music by almost everyone that's heard it. That's not to say that I don't experiment. My music is an experiment, but it's still definitely music. To answer your question though, I would say it sounds like an electronic sandbox with my voice trying to give it direction.
OA: What is the story behind the name Lights.On?
DG: Actually, Lights On was the name of a song I wrote back in the 12th grade, and it was so good that when I realized I had to change the name I released under, I chose it. The song is not necessarily great in terms of structure (it's very repetitive) but I glitch the drums a bit, and for the first time I'm not afraid to use over-played electronic instruments like a square wave. It was also one of the first happy songs I made. It was just a big step in the right direction for me. Why did I name the song Lights On? I usually make music when everyone else is asleep, so if you drove by at 3 or 4 in the morning, it's totally possible that I would be the only one with the "lights on". Also, it has a positive connotation to it (if you don't think about the energy that light is using, and the overall footprint of that energy that isn't really needed), and it's a happy song. These are a couple minor reasons I named it that, but the main reason is that my mood is suspect to influence from the light. If I don't have enough light, I get really sad. And a lot of times, natural lighting (as rarely as I can be seen in the sun) isn't enough. Some of my friends don't like electric lighting, but thankfully they're pretty understanding.
OA: Who are some of your biggest influences musically?
DG: Oddly enough, my musical tastes have changed a lot over the years, but I've never had that much interest in pop (that's odd because everything I make I try and keep poppy). In terms of influence, I think that when you're only 21, you kind of have to think about everything you've ever heard. When you're a kid, you tend to listen to whatever your parents are listening to. I've talked with some people about this and I think it's very true that the most basic tendencies that come out in producing music can be traced to the kind of music you grew up on. That said, the earliest music I can remember listening to was Phantom of the Opera. It was the first music that I took from my parents and listened to on my own. The rest of my elementary school years were filled with Christian Rock, as I was raised in an extremely religious household. Now, as we should all know, most Christian music is poorly written. By that I mean ridiculously simple choruses and verses laced with lyrics that make you cringe because they have absolutely no flow. This is my opinion. Sometimes though they have some moving layers, or really powerful breaks or choruses, and these songs are the ones you hear over and over again because, thank the Lord, there's a Christian song with a hint of taste in it. My high school years were filled with trance music from mp3.com. For those of you who didn't frequent mp3.com back in the day, it used to be a free site where artists would upload their music and the site would allow people to download it for free and would pay the artists based on the number of plays. This was a great site, but unfortunately it was a bit early for music in general. At the time, the only music that was actually being recorded by poor unsigned artists and ending in an mp3 format was music that was actually made on the computer. So, you ended up with a flood of this generic trance music, and the site actually sort of birthed it's own assembly-line style of trance. I died for these dramatic melodies and slow progressive builds, because I was an angsty teen, and I needed something that gave me goosebumps, and absorbing the listener in a song that's slowly building adding new part after new part is pretty much the easiest way of evoking emotions. It wasn't until the eleventh grade that - by a great push from friends - I started to take non-electronic music seriously. At first I would only listen to people who were mixing rock with electronic, but eventually I just started being open to everything and that's where I am today. Aside from my own music (which I listen to more than anything else), I don't really listen to electronic that much anymore. Right now I'm trying to listen to everything I can get my hands on and studying it and deciding what is good about it and what is bad about it, and this is how my music continues to change. Last weekend I actually went through the Top 40 charts and in between the screams and tears I wrote down the few things I could learn from them. My last.fm profile doesn't take into account the music I listen to on my two hour commute everyday, but it's still fairly accurate to what I'm listening to. I am my own biggest fan. http://www.last.fm/user/waving/
OA: What is you favorite piece of equipment?
DG: I thought this one was hard until I put the appropriate pressure on the word favorite. Without my computer I couldn't bring my music together for the final product. However, computers are easily replaceable. In fact, you're actually supposed to replace them once they get out of date. So with that in mind, my favorite piece of equipment is definitely the piano at my parents house. It is out of tune. It is the first instrument I played. It still has a paper clip attached to middle C from when I tried to use it as a prepared piano. It was sitting on that bench that I wrote my first song, my first lyrics and my first traditionally structured song. What is the most useful piece of equipment? My computer. But I am certainly more emotionally attached to that piano. I generally name things that I get attached to. I am naming that piano Rita, because she has such an R feel about her.
OA: How does the creative process differ when recording as Lights.On as opposed to We Will Build with Zach?
DG: I initially wanted to say that the only difference was that when I do We Will Build music Zach is with me, but I realized that's not all. Here are the lyrics to the fourth track on Please:
"I've got a song inside of me
I swear it's clawing scratching eating me I
don't care if you don't believe me
It's the song I was born to write, you'll see"
There are times when I actually feel some pain inside, in my chest. I've always been fiercely independent. I've never really leaned on anyone emotionally. I started writing music when I was in the seventh grade. A lot of teenagers have a lot of pent up emotions. I think it's safe to say that I've grown accustomed to releasing my pressures and anxieties and fears and loves (you know, my feelings) through music, because when it comes to me as I am with my friends, I am a stone-cold bitch. I would say lights.on has my blood and guts all over it. I write as me, and I have fears and wants and needs like everyone else. But when I'm with Zach making our music we are both invincible. Also, it should be noted that sometime in the last ten years it became reasonably cheap to buy your own recording equipment and for the first time you can have people that are just fooling around and have all the time in the world to record a song. You don't need to have a song already written to record it and start playing around with effects and sampling from itself and all the crazy things I like to do. I can take a half finished We Will Build song and listen to it in reverse and see if maybe I want to play a few measures in reverse, or maybe take a sample of it in reverse and glitch it up some. But this is done with both lights.on and We Will Build songs. I just wanted to bring the new possibilities for recording to people's attentions.
OA: What does the future hold for We Will Build?
DG: I have long been concerned with the meaning of life. We Will Build is as close as I have come to an answer. Laura Kody and Zach Johnston and I are all people that want to create great, beautiful art. Although We Will Build is the name of the music Zach and I release together, it's also the name of our group as a whole. I've thought about starting my own web-label named We Will Build (for WWB and lights.on and other artists that want to give their music away for free), but I realized I didn't want to limit it to music, so that's what We Will Build is now. Through our lives we hope to continue adding project after project after project, and hopefully one day we will be able to look on everything we've done and feel satisfaction. We are working on a short right now called Peter the Cleric, and will be filming that in mid to late June. As for WWB as in the music Zach and I make together? WWB will never die, but we're both busy with other things right now. We both work to support ourselves and on top of that we have not only our individual music projects but also other creative projects aside from music. However, we're both passing stuff back and forth for studying for the next album and we have a few songs planned already. We hope to release the next WWB album by midsummer.
OA: What is the reasoning behind the decision to release your music for free?
DG: This is something that I originally thought made perfect sense to everybody, but it seems like everyone I talk about this with is surprsied at what I say. Here it is, in a nutshell. Looking through history, you see that our tools are getting better and better and people are able to do more and more individually. This is both good and bad news, but let's please focus on the pleasant. For the first time in history, people have relatively cheap access to just about every tool they need to create almost anything they can imagine. This leads to what Chris Anderson has named (in the October 2004 issue of Wired, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html?pg=1&topic=tail&topic_set= ) The Long Tail. He describes it as "the theory... that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of 'hits' (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail." So we are all being flooded with all these new small-time artists. How do I make the leap to free releases? My original motivation was that it was the only way for my music to get out there, but I've come to realize there are much more pure reasons. What do I think I would say looking back from my death bed? Be pure in heart. We live in a very materialistic society that is constantly bombarded by people shouting at us to be consumers. But don't we all know that money can't buy happiness? Things will never fill this hole in my heart. I will be the happiest (in the end) if I stay true to myself, and to my art. Although it might not have been true in the past, in the year 2007 I can afford to be pure of heart. I can work a day job and come home and be this crazy artist that only ever has to think about the art itself. If I started off making music to make money, too many outside influences would have entered the creative process. My dear friends and I seem to be on the forefront of what I have come to call the new Free Artistry movement. Industry itself is changing, but let's look at the music industry in particular. People don't like paying for music anymore. Programs like iTunes and E-music certainly have something going for them, but that's because they caught up with the times and made it convenient for people to buy music on the internet. It's important to remember that right now we've got a generation of young adults that grew up downloading all their favorite songs off of Napster and Kazaa. I'm not saying that there is no way people are going to continue to pay for music, but I think a future of mostly free and pure art is more likely than most people realize. Would it be nice to make a living off of my art so I can devote myself to it all of the time? Yes. Might I one day sell my music? Yes, but only if I was at a point where I was sure I wasn't writing music for the purpose of it being sold. I don't want to make the impression that I think all artists that sell their work are sellouts. It's more that if you start out with the wrong intentions, you're probably going to end up with the right intentions. I'm trying to start off on the right foot.
OA: What's next for Dan Govier/Lights.On?
DG: I've got some money saved up to hopefully get me some actually decent recording equipment. One reason I've been doing electronic for so long is that I just never had the microphones or the instruments to do acoustic music (see current studio microphone/headphones here: http://projectsigma.xepher.net/lightson/images/picture_11.gif ). So, right now I'm hoping to get two good microphones, a mic stand (imagine how much simpler that will make things), an MBox and some monitoring speakers and once I have all that I want to get a bunch of old cheap junk antique instruments off eBay, and make whatever I can. Or I might make a hip-hop album, I haven't decided yet. I'd also like to see if maybe I could do something live. As for other things in my life, I've been working on some web-design and some writing recently. I'm going to be the cinematographer on the Peter the Cleric short early this summer, and I plan on working with Zach on a few other shorts before the year is over. I also want to start painting, if I can find time. I work 40 hours a week and commute an hour to work and an hour home everyday, so finding time for everything I want to do is hard. Oh, and I want to try and be a vegan again. I did it for three months this year but I started passing out and getting short of breath and being sad all the time, so I had to quit. I want to try and go back and do it right though. I have a fanatical care for animal rights, and I wish I could live more honestly.
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?DG: I've never had coffee that I liked I'm afraid. Maybe you could recommend something? I like a lot of teas. Chai Tea is my favorite and I've got some great cinnamon apple stuff in my cabinet. Mostly though, I'm a Diet Coke drinker. I could really go for a good coffee spot kind of thing, but I'm lacking the four main ingredients: time, friends, money, and a laptop.
OA: What is the most interesting job that you have held while supporting your music career?
DG: I used to retouch photos for a really great local portrait photographer, but right now I've got a pretty interesting job as it is. I caption telephone calls for the deaf and hard of hearing around the country at a building in Madison, Wisconsin. I'd explain it to you, but I signed a very large non-disclosure agreement and I'm not quite clear on the bounds of what I can and can't say, so I'll play it safe. It's even more interesting than it sounds though, and I get to help people and get paid for it. I also work late so I get a lot of artificial light (which I love), and when I get home it's late in the night, or even early in the morning. That's when all the magic happens. I have a secret pact with the night. She puts everyone to sleep and as I let my magic loose, finally free from watchful eyes, she is proud of me.
I've Got a Song (mp3)
Love at the Drive-Thru (mp3)
The Hardest Heart (mp3)
The Glory of Green (mp3)
To Live Without Fear (mp3) from Tape
For more information on Lights.On visit his website or his myspace page. To download to the amazing new album 'Please' go here.