It’s likely few seasoned songwriters think of writing lyrics that can be used as a Facebook status update, but synth-pop singer Lights does. That kind of thing used to be big for answering-machine messages 20-plus years ago, and of course continued with voicemail and then ringtones. “Sometimes, as a songwriter, it’s fun to think about a specific lyric that can be taken out and used as a status bar,” says the 23-year-old. “It’s funny how a lot of people write with social media in mind now because they want to put it as part of their Facebook status. It’s about pulling those lines that say a lot in just a few words.”

She cites a line from her song “Lions,” featured on her 2009 full-length debut, The Listening, as a perfect example: “You don’t have to feel safe to feel unafraid.” “That’s what the whole song is about and that line sums up the whole song,” Lights says. “Take that line out and it’s something kind of encouraging and something everyone wants to hear.”

Lights, who won a 2009 Juno Award for New Artist of the Year, says she aims to be “100 percent honest” when she writes a lyric. Part of that comes from writing how she speaks; the other part from writing what she feels. “That’s something that actually took a long time for me to learn how to do,” says Lights, who started composing gospel songs at age 11 and estimates she has written thousands of songs since, including acoustic, urban, metal and pop-punk before finding her signature sound — a kind of light, cute, fantastical electronic-pop. “It’s really easy to write about things you don’t know or things you don’t understand — just throw words down. A lot of people can do that. But the day you learn to write from your heart and write things you are experiencing, that’s an extra skill.”

Lights, who plays guitar and keyboards, co-wrote the majority of The Listening with either Thomas “Tawgs” Salter or Dave “Dwave” Thomson, and penned a couple on her own. She likes the feedback she gets from a writing partner. “It keeps you in check because in songwriting it’s easy to be indulgent and do something that’s not necessarily right for the song or doesn’t make the song better.”

She also doesn’t demo her songs, preferring instead to “seal them when they’re fresh,” she says. “From the minute the song was conceived to the minute it was finished was like two days. There are always touch-ups later. Very rarely will I do the demoing phase because I feel like when you have the spark that initiates that song, you’ll lose it if you walk away from it and you come back to it and you’re feeling different. You can’t really finish a song when you don’t know how to feel about it.” —KAREN BLISS


Track Record

  • Lights was born in Timmins, Ont., to missionary parents. As a result, she has lived in 20 different places, including Jamaica and the Philippines.
  • She was named one of 10 Artists to Watch in 2010 by the U.S. website Shred News .
  • In 2008, when she was a little-known artist, Old Navy used four of her songs in North American ads: “February Air,” “White,” “Drive My Soul” and one in which she has a cameo in “Last Thing on Your Mind”