Interview: Derek Vincent Smith (of Pretty Lights)


To say that Derek Vincent Smith, the creative force behind Pretty Lights, has had a busy year would be an immense understatement. The electro/hip-hop producer has dropped two free EPs, challenged The xx for most live appearances, and the dude rocks a hoodie like nobody’s business.

During 2010, Smith has become one of the festival circuit’s most in demand producers (don’t call him a DJ because he self-admittedly hasn’t spun a record in his life). And as the long days of summer continue to shorten, Pretty Lights continue to light up a new generation of electronic fans. Before Smith commences one of the busiest Labor Day Weekends imaginable, he sat down with Consequence of Sound in his Denver studio, telephone in hand, to discuss the picking up of new vinyl, changing live drummers, the future of the duo, and what keeps the soul-influenced producer creative.   

Thanks for taking a couple minutes with Consequence of Sound.

No problem, it’s good to speak with you. Been pretty busy on the upcoming EP.

So, no downtime before you head to Tennessee?

I never really have any downtime. Right now I am in Colorado, working on the third EP of the trilogy. Hitting it really hard now that I have some time away from the road.

Since you’ve been so busy over the year, have you found any time to find some new vinyl?

Definitely. I still go out in the cities notorious for having good old school vinyl collections and visit some of my favorite stops. Last year, I spent some time in Memphis looking for vintage 60’s and 70’s soul. This year I took a week vacation to Detroit so I could really explore all the rare soul and funk of the city. Spent a lot of time just digging, trying to find stuff that inspired me, tracks with the warmth that I am really looking for in my recordings.

That must be the best place to find those tracks that you can really work with.

For sure. That is why I needed to take the trip.

Speaking of trips, you have a ridiculous Labor Day weekend coming up.

Lots of traveling. Friday we have the show at North Coast in Chicago, then to New York for Electric Zoo Saturday, and Sunday we’ll be in Texas.

I’m actually calling from Chicago …

I love playing there. Chicago is a one of my favorites places. There is always such a good vibe. I just wish I didn’t have a short festival set. If I could, I would play all night, but I am still excited to show Chicago what’s next for Pretty Lights. I am going to try to pack the energy of three-hours into the one-hour set. I have another tour coming up, and while Chicago’s not on the list yet, I am definitely returning. But I can’t say just yet…

Is drummer Adam Deitch going to be part of Pretty Lights for Chicago?

He’ll be there. Adam Deitch is part of Pretty Lights. He is an amazing electro/hip-hop drummer, and he has done some production work in the past. He has a real appreciation for my techniques and production style that I am going for. Adam has the ability to bring the Pretty Lights experience to another level.

Has the transition from former drummer Cory Eberhard to Deitch effected your ability to improvise during performances?

If anything, we’ve become better. Deitch can read what I am doing, and there’s already a strong sense of communication on stage.

Given Deitch’s history with production, will he play a further role in the creation of Pretty Lights recordings?

For now, no. I have totally created everything that I have released, and I want to continue do to that with the third EP. There is a flow between the three EPs, a certain line of creativity, and I want to complete that. In the future, though, I do envision a larger role for Adam.

I will take some time off next year, and I would like to start working on much larger projects — working with many live musicians, play more the role of a true producer working with a group of musicians. People in the past have tried to merge my style of production with a live-band, but I don’t feel it has ever been done to the level it could be. I want to bring my music and show to the level that nobody thought possible, and that will take an entire team.

Your live show is always a visual spectacle. The first time I saw you this year was at Miami’s Ultra. What was with you hosting the Bayfront Live Stage?

No one has ever really asked that. But for real, it didn’t even really mean anything, and I never really agreed to it. I had wanted to play a later show. I think they had me playing at like 5 or something. But Ultra said they couldn’t do it, but that I could host the stage. I think what they wanted me to do was perform in between other sets, but I never did that. All I did was just play my set at 5. I just had my name in the schedule, and I didn’t know that was going to be there until I picked it up.

pretty lights live e1283211474320 Interview: Derek Vincent Smith (of Pretty Lights)Can you provide any details behind how you title your releases? All of your prior albums have very active titles (Taking Up Your Precious Time, Filling Up the City Skies, Passing By Behind Your Eyes, Making Up a Changing Mind, Spilling Over Every Side)?

I wanted each album to be recognizable as Pretty Lights. Each title is designed to have a similar flow, number of syllables, meter, rhyme style. They are like…each, lines of a poem.

You have really blown up over the last year. Have you become as recognizable as your album titles?

I have been stopped on the street a couple times. People will recognize me now and then, but not really too often. I am actually a pretty tall guy, so I really get stopped more often for that actually. But if you want to know if I ever worry about going out, it’s never like that.

You have mentioned in the past wanting to acquire a vinyl press, and an analog tape reel to record a more vintage sound. Is this still in the foreseeable future?

Right now I am building my own recording studio, and those are just two of the things that I will be using. Now I am really trying to create that warm, pre-1970’s feel that requires vintage mics, amps, tapes… I want everything to have that vintage analog sound. Right now, with everything being done digitally, a lot has been lost in the process. It all begins to sound the same. You can’t fake the sound of 20-year-old vinyl. Its been sitting on a rack for 20 years, and there is no telling how many times it been played. Each one is distinct.

So what music have you been listening to? Anything sparking your creative energy?

Oh yeah, all that old, vintage vinyl I picked up. I’m really trying to learn as much as I can about those 60’s soul artists, getting to know rarities.

So, what’s on tap for 2011?

I want to keep evolving, bring what I am doing to another level. Me and the entire team just want to combine the media, lights, visuals, and sound that we’re creating and go to the next level. Every night, just putting on an amazing show. We want to do something bigger than anything that is currently being done, something that no one expects.

I definitely cannot wait. Any closing words for your fans?

Definitely love playing Chicago, wish I could play North Coast from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m.. But, I am gearing up for the hour long set, and I just want to show the city what Pretty Lights is going to be doing next.

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Far out, dude!