Canadian keyboardist Lights, born Valerie Poxleitner, wrestled with ethical questions as she considered her latest fourth effort, “Skin & Earth.”
She wasn’t seeking validation. Her debut “The Listening” earned her a 2009 Juno Award in her homeland for new artist of the year and her album “Little Machines” was named 2015 Juno Album of the Year. But as she came to the realization that music in the streaming era had lost its innate worth, she wondered: “Since nobody pays for music anymore, how do you inject a degree of value back into it and maybe give people a reason to care about an entire album again?”
Lights – who plays San Francisco next week — arrived at an unusual solution.
A longtime sci-fi fan, she sculpted synth-rockers (“Giants,” “Savage,” “New Fears”) in a dystopian future concept record revolving around a scarlet-maned female protagonist named Enaia Jin navigating the last city on a plague-ravaged Earth that’s divided into a gluttonous resource-depleting Pink Sector and an impoverished Red Sector (where Jin hails from). But that wasn’t enough.
Over a laborious year during which she consulted with graphic-novelist friends, Lights scripted and drew a series of comic books that told Jin’s story in splashy detail, which she then released with each advance single.
“That’s literally been a longtime dream of mine: to create a comic and an accompanying concept record,” she says. “So it was perfect timing for me, especially with it being my fourth record. I wanted to say things I’d never said before, because four records in, I think you feel like you’ve said it all.”
At first, the project seemed overwhelming. The 30-year-old had no clue about all the complications involved in comic books, like lettering, coloring, and storyboarding her visual ideas.
“But I watched a lot of webinars and tutorials,” she says. “And I found out that I was really over-thinking it at the beginning, because it didn’t have a natural flow.” Like the singer, comic character Jin – who must wear a mask to attend college on the privileged Pink side – still has hope for the decadent human race. The album’s “Logan’s Run”-ish videos embellish the theme further.
“I started writing myself into the character even more than I ever realized, until she became a version of myself,” says Lights, whose creation has inspired fan art and even cosplay outfits. “And then I became her – I dyed my hair red and got a tattoo of the book’s logo. So who knows? Maybe someday a TV show. I’m talking to you, Netflix!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 5
Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.ticketmaster.comGiantsJunoLightsListeningLittle MachinesNew FearsPop MusicSavageSkin & EarthValerie Poxleitner