Pretty Lights: Fuckin’ You Up Every Time That I Drop

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Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights will melt faces with his music on Nov. 17 at The Complex.

Derek Vincent Smith, the mastermind behind Pretty Lights, has a vision: beautiful, emotional, hard-as-shit dance music. “Hot Like Dimes,” a song off his EP Spilling Over Every Side, samples a rapper saying “fuckin’ you up every time that I drop,” and no lyric has ever been written that more aptly describes his productions. His dedication to digging through old vinyl for samples, constantly producing fresh, soulful, banging beats and putting on live shows to melt your face off has fueled a well-deserved rise to success in the electronic music world. He’s amped by the music he is making—and it shows. On Oct. 20, he released his third EP of 2010 and this fall he is embarking on a tour across the US—check him out in Salt Lake on Nov. 17 at The Complex.

SLUG: How did you get your start as a producer?
Derek Smith: I really wanted to be a musician in middle school. I got a paper route and saved up and bought my first bass guitar. I played in a bunch of bands, and I got into the hip hop scene. That’s how I got my start as a producer, just wanting to make beats and make hip hop. It’s funny—a lot of the musicians in part of the scene right now are people that were in bands that are now trying to make electronic music, but I think that I really started just trying to be a hip hop producer. I made tracks to rap on and for my friends and eventually was exposed to the dance electronic scene and went to a bunch of raves. That’s when I kind of started trying to fuse the whole dance electronic thing with the hip hop beats.

SLUG: How did recording the third EP go? How do you think it’s going to differ from the previous two?
Smith: I’m really psyched on this one, actually. With the second one, I was trying to have genre-bending production, where the tracks switched from a really sort of organic break, like hip hop things that are really hard, to almost dub-influenced sections. The tracks on the last one were really long arrangements, with several different parts in every track. With this one, I’m making shorter, simpler arrangements, with slightly more minimalistic layering and sound design. I was trying to really focus on making the beats pretty and hard at the same time, just sticking to the meat of it, the basics and trying to really focus on making every element of it really dope and fresh. Both of the [previous EPs] had six, with this one I’m trying to have more songs, and have shorter songs as well. It’s hype, and it’s beautiful, so that’s really what I’m trying to do, is combine the two.

SLUG: What’s your process for producing a track?
Smith: It varies. I do a lot of listening and digging through old vinyl to kind of get the timbres and the sounds—at least one element of the sounds that I want in the music, because I try to have that vintage, old-school, warm feel to it. Then I start matching things together that I think will sound fresh, and I try to get several different sounds to work together. That’s a big part of what I do, making sounds from different decades and different genres and different keys and tempos work together like they were meant to be that way from the beginning. When I get a real foundation that I’m happy with, something that’s emotionally powerful and charged and at the same time fresh, I start building the drumbeats and the synths and the bass lines. Then I record the instruments that I play on top of that, and just build it, build the layers, and then I start making different sections and then at the end is when I arrange it. Other times, I’ll write the progression and the melodies and the chords on the Fender Rhodes I have in my apartment and then build it from there and add the vintage soulful kind of samples later. It kind of varies, but I usually approach it in one of those two ways.

SLUG: What’s next for you after the third EP and the end of the fall tour?
Smith: I want to make a record where I don’t use any vinyl samples, but I’m able to maintain the style and the sound that I’ve developed. I’m anticipating it being a very difficult and sort of involved process. The reason I go to old vinyl to get the sounds for my production is because I want that old school, warm sound that could only be created with the technology at the time. Right now I’m building this studio where everything in it existed before the ‘70s. I’m investing in a lot of old school, vintage mics, reel to reels, tape machines, old school instruments, pre-amps … The idea is that I’ll play a lot of the instruments but also work with a lot of musicians and record it and create it in a way where it hopefully still has the sound and the timbre and the warmth of the music created forty, fifty years ago. Right now I’m building the studio and getting the technology. I have a grandiose vision of it all coming together and happening, but I realize it’s going to be a massive undertaking. I’m definitely looking forward to it because it’s going to be such a challenge.

Visit prettylightsmusic.com to download all of his music for free (donations appreciated) and check out Pretty Lights on Nov. 17 at The Complex.

Photos:
Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights will melt faces with his music on Nov. 17 at The Complex.