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Derek Vincent Smith is the electronic-music mastermind behind Pretty Lights, the Fort Collins-based act whose last two albums just surpassed 110,000 digital downloads. The music of Pretty Lights is like a mixtape of styles Smith grew up listening to, from '70s AM Gold-era soul to bass-heavy club beats to gangsta rap. Armed with an Abelton-equipped laptop, Pretty Lights ups the ante from just offering dance-friendly beats: True to its name, the live show is nothing less than a symphonic orgy of lights and lasers. We caught up with Smith, who's preparing for his first appearance at Red Rocks (opening for Sound Tribe Sector 9) and a six-week headlining tour of his own this fall.
Westword: Describe the sudden meteoric rise of Pretty Lights and how it has affected you.
Derek Vincent Smith: Being able to make a living as a musician is what I wanted more than pretty much anything since I bought my first bass guitar in eighth grade. I endured many, many years of financial struggle, living week to week, and sometimes even being looked down at as pursuing adolescent and foolish dreams. So I couldn't be happier that I am finally getting some recognition and am able to live comfortably doing what I love. It has all happened so fast, though, and the biggest way in which that has affected me day to day is in the adjustments I'm having to make in the way I write and create new music. Relentless touring can be very exhausting and often leaves very little time to focus on writing new material. It's a delicate balance, and I guess I'm still trying to find an approach that really works for me. The new Pretty Lights album, which is on the brink of being released, was, for the most part, created during the limited time between shows, often in airports, airplanes, hotels and green rooms.
Why do you drop remixes of songs like "Rumpshaker," "Regulate," etc?
Hmm...I completely remade "Regulate" with the original vinyl samples and added a lot of synths and newer production techniques. That's fun for me, to find the same records that Warren G used and remake the same beat but in my style. As far as "Rumpshaker," I would always get that song and "Paper Planes" stuck in my head at the same time because of the same lyric, "all I wanna do," in the chorus, so I absolutely had to hear those cuts mashed up. I might eventually take it a step further and work in Sheryl Crowe's "All I wanna do is have some fun." I basically love to remix/re-create tracks from my past that I either loved or are reminiscent of some time in my life.
All right, the million-dollar question: Do you classify yourself as a composer, producer, musician or DJ?
All of the above except DJ. I've never spun a record in my life, actually! Thanks for asking.