Derek Vincent Smith of Colorado-based Pretty Lights (the electro-dance group of Smith and, currently, drummer Adam Dietch) says some people assume he uses samples because he can't write music. In fact, "The reason I sample the way I do is because I'm trying to make music that is combination of the cutting-edge and new-electronic styles, but also has the warmth and timbre of music from past decades," says Smith. "I listen to massive amounts of old records to find the one little guitar note or the one vocal hum to really put them together. Every track is a combination of more than 10-20 different sources of old school sounds to really create something new and different."
That painstaking approach makes Smith's latest undertaking — releasing three EPs this year — even more impressive. "I came up with the concept of doing three EPs in the year, as opposed to one album," he tells Xpress. "In my mind that seemed like a good solution as far as releasing music in how it worked with with the timing of my touring. I'd be able to release more music, more often, and keep my show fresh with new material but also maintain that sort of surprise element to when I'm releasing records."
Smith adds, "It was definitely a massive goal to try to pull off … but I think this is going to be the best one yet."
The musician has, in fact, been honing his style since he was in high school. He got his start producing hip-hop beats and later got involved with the trance scene. But it was only last year that Smith, with drummer Cory Eberhard (since replaced by Dietch), gained recognition while playing a slew of festivals (Bonnaroo, Rothbury and Camp Bisco, among others). Surprisingly, Smith had only attended one festival — High Sierra — before landing gigs as a festival performer. "On my spring tour, I played Coachella and I requested not to have any shows on Friday and Sunday. I played Saturday and was able to come in a day early and hang out for the whole festival and see all the bands I wanted to see," he says. "If it's a festival I want to kick it at, I try to make time to be there. It's cool — I love going to festivals and see what other artists are doing. It's fun, but it's also inspirational."
When it comes to inspiration for his next project, Smith is turning to the vintage sounds he loves. The plan is, he says, "To make a record with the sound and style I've developed without having to go to old vinyl. Right now I'm building a studio that's completely analog — old tape machines, instruments from the '60s and before and microphones from those eras." He's also networking with musicians who use a similar approach. "I'm trying to create a studio where I can record sounds that are similar to the ones I'm sampling."
This doesn't mean Smith will be releasing a retro-rock or soul album next year — the new project will be trademark Pretty Lights, only Smith will record all the sounds himself, press records on a vintage vinyl press, and then sample. The hoped-for result? Probably not a vision typical among electronic musicians: "What I'm really trying to is build a studio that has none of the current technology and only the old stuff," says Smith. "The aim is, at least in the recording and sound-creation phase of it, to not use any of the technology that didn't exist before 1972."