All The Pretty Lights: A Rare Chat With Derek Vincent Smith

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“Pretty Lights? Bassnectar? Those guys fall into a different category all their own. They are unclassifiable. It’s where the whole EDM scene is going… undefined. The more and more it moves that way, the better. It gives DJs and producers so much creative control to do whatever the fuck they want to do… and get away with it. Those guys are all setting the bar.” –Datsik

Derek Vincent Smith gives off the aura of having a higher purpose—sort of like a younger, more musically talented Steve Jobs. Not to sound weird, but when you first see his turquoise eyes up close, miniscule sparks of white light seem to ping off of his stable, unassuming gaze. Like the soulful music he painstakingly creates as Pretty Lights, it seems kinetic somehow.

Smith was one of the first guys to let anyone and everyone download his music for free in an attempt to garner enough income from live show draws and attendance to finance a music empire. Today, this immense belief in his music is steadfast as it continues to finance his boundary-defying production, label and music maker dreams.

“My whole goal all along is just to make music and manifest my vision,” Smith explains during a visit to Los Angeles. “… Just to be happy doing that for my life. I really feel blessed that people enjoyed what I did enough to help me get things off the ground and invest back into it. I feel very proud to be completely independent and not only make original music, but approach the industry in a different manner.”

As proven in mesmerizing tracks like “We Must Go On,” “I Know The Truth” and most recently, "You Get High" Pretty Lights’ music possesses a hypnotic quality strewn around synthesized vocals, gorgeous melodies, minor tones, bottomed out bass and off kilter breaks that almost say, “Isn’t that pretty?” and then in the next millisecond, “Wake up!” To keep creating the epic live production fans of electronic music have come to expect, Smith continually invests back into the production of the Pretty Lights live show experience. He is currently focused on evolving his state of the art LED light shows of cityscapes to a never-experienced-before video element that takes his hard-driving emotional music over the edge.

I wouldn’t be able to do this without my previous success. Sure, everything has been built from the DIY mentality, but I don’t see much changing because I’ve always been about doing things the real way by putting the soul back into the dancefloor.

Like Mr. Jobs, he admits his unorthodox approach to doing business may have come from somewhere outside of himself. “It definitely came from somewhere,” he reflects. “I remember thinking in the beginning, before my career even started, that if I ever had the choice between advancing with a major label or starting my own long-term thing, what would I do? I knew at that moment I would end up going with the latter. I didn’t really expect it to get as big as it is, though.”

Pretty Lights started out in 2007 as two young guys from Colorado. It was hip-hop loving, college dropout Smith, and his friend Cory Eberhard. They played around the state opening for acts like Disco Biscuits and Widespread Panic (yep, the jam band). They were lucky enough to get booked on Bonnaroo and Electric Daisy Carnival, which led to doing their own tour. By 2010, Smith had replaced Eberhard with drummer Adam Deitch by debuting their partnership at Red Rocks that summer. Today, you’re more apt to see Smith perform solo. In January 2011, the newly formed label, Pretty Lights Music, released two albums and is now home to Michal Menert, Paper Diamond, Break, Paul Basic, SuperVision and Gramatik. You can download all their music for free on PrettyLightsMusic.com.

The boy from Colorado talks about his ongoing quest, “You know, I strive to continue doing what I do, whether it’s partnering with (media sharing platform) BitTorrent—like we recently did to get the music out to the masses internationally (with a free global media sharing bundle)—or running a record label to support friends and family or working on the Re:Generation Music Project (for Hyundai). It’s all about exploring new ways to build both my music and the label, and so far it’s been successful.”

Does he find it hard to keep his DIY aesthetic alive as he become more and more involved?We’ll see how it evolves,” he admits. “But up to this point, I’ve been able to work it to where I’m actually able to do it more so. For example, for the record I’m working on now, I’ve been able to move away from digging and sampling old records. Because I have more musical experience, I can collaborate with actual bands and create everything originally. And I wouldn’t be able to do this without my previous success. Sure, everything has been built from the DIY mentality, but I don’t see much changing because I’ve always been about doing things the real way by putting the soul back into the dancefloor.”

Pretty Lights may be known for delivering banging tracks, but it’s not Smith’s first priority. “It’s about having a song that captures you emotionally and channels new or existing feelings. I think it’s important to combine all of that with another sensory element, which, for me now, are music videos. So I’m really trying to push that these days.”

So what’s it like to now stand alone in front of a massive festival crowd like last summer’s Lollapalooza, Ultra Music Festival or Electric Daisy Carnival as it goes absolutely mental? “When I play big crowds like that I try my best to take a few seconds to slow down time and just simply enjoy being up there playing a set,” he says. “I feel like so many people get caught up in continually playing big shows like that and don’t realize how crazy it is.”

Today Pretty Lights kicks off a string of tour dates across the US, starting with a headlining slot at Sasquatch Festival and ending up at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas in June. All those dates, sans EDC, are headlining slots. He’ll also be enjoying the view on an international level, playing a bunch of festivals this summer: Glade Festival (UK), Sonar Festival (Spain), Les Ardentes Festival (Belgium), Roskilde Festival (Denmark), Shambhala Festival (Canada), Skrillex’s Canada by rail tour, Full Flex. Then it’s back to the US to be one of the headliners on the just announced Counterpoint Festival in Atlanta on September 27 – 29.

To conclude, Smith reverts to remembering a quote from one of his musical heroes, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. “He said something along the lines of how hard he was working towards something and when he finally reached a certain point, he realized he had been doing what he was working towards all along. So I just try to enjoy as much of it as possible and remind myself that I’m not looking to continually jump up to the next level, but mainly focus on expanding the level I’m currently at. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but you just need to appreciate it all.”

US Tour Dates:
05/25 Sasquatch Festival, Quincy, WA
05/26 Sunset Festival, Tampa, FL
05/27 Summer Camp, Chillicothe, IL
05/31 Wakarusa Festival, Ozark, AL
06/02 Meltdown Festival, Grand Prairie, TX
06/03 Houston Free Press Festival, Houston, TX
06/10 Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas. NV