Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights talks Fort Collins - Reverb

The Reverb Interview: Derek Vincent Smith, a.k.a. Pretty Lights

Derek Vincent Smith, a.k.a. Pretty Lights, is wearing shades. Yeah, his future’s that bright.

Seriously, Smith – featured in our recent take-out on the burgeoning Fort Collins music community, even though he’s recently moved down to Denver – is excited about what 2011 holds.

We chatted with him earlier this week about his history in Fort Collins (battle of the bands? 311-like punk bands?), his documentary idea and his future with a challenging – groundbreaking, even – new record.

Question: How are you doing?

Answer: Great. I’ve had some time off. I took a little leave of absence, hopped around Europe for a bit and now we have a few projects we have going. I’m working on a record and on a bunch of things going along with that. I have a grandiose vision for the year.

Q: Tell me about it.

A: A huge part of it is the album. There’s no vinyl sampling – but I’m creating my own vinyl to sample instead. I’m going to Brooklyn to work in an all-analogue, all-tape studio. It’ll be like a shout out to the people I’ve sampled before, you know, taking it to the next level. I’ve always dreamed of making my own records to sample from. We’re going all out on this. We’re going to film it and make a documentary and everything.

Q: Looking forward to hearing more about this, man. But let’s talk about Fort Collins and your connection to the music community up there.

A: Fort Collins is a really cool place, and it surprises people to hear that I’m from there. Especially when I’m traveling around, in New York or L.A. or London, people are like, “This style is different and fresh. Where did you come from?” I tell them, “Fort Collins, Colorado.” And they’re like, “Colorado? Where are your cowboy boots?”

People don’t realize that things have been evolving and developing outside of these other genres and cultures and that’s what’s allowed it to develop in such a creative, outside-of-the-box way up there. I’m trying to look back and wonder, “How did I end up making this kind of music coming from Fort Collins,” and I think it was because there was a little bit of everything going on up there. It was small enough that you could get a taste of different cultures and genres without being swallowed up by a scene.

I was in a punk rock band in Fort Collins, but I was also in the hip-hop scene as it flourished and it continues to do so – especially in the early-2000s. The rave scene was huge at the same time. And I look back at all that, and I had my hand in the hip-hop world and the rave, electronic party scene and the live punk rock scene – but I was also working as an engineer in a studio in Fort Collins. I worked with jam bands and funk bands and blues groups.

It’s isolated enough and connected enough that, in this day and age, it’s a great place to be able to develop and form a vision without the pressures and expectations and things that come along with living in other communities. This is all conjecture and using hindsight in thinking about the how and why such a fresh and creative music scene has come out of Northern Colorado. As things go on, and as artists come out of this community and begin to gain respect and garner attention, it will only serve to inspire more people and get more people from the community into it and onto the map.

And it’s not only Fort Collins – but Northern Colorado is its own community with Greeley and everything else. Fort Collins also has a cool, encouraging, supportive vibe, and the arts are very important in that community. There were always community battle of the bands-type events – and they get people to step their game up. I remember (Pretty Lights Music signee) Michael Menert and I and another producer, Paul Basic, who will soon come out on Pretty Lights Music, were in a band called the Freeze – funky hip-hop kinda thing with guitar, bass and drums, kinda trying to be Beastie Boys and 311 with a little Korn on top. We payed together in high school. We played in a community battle of bands and got second place – which was pretty good for some 10th graders. I think I still have the article they printed with our picture in it.

It’s cool to see that, even tho we’re not in a band together anymore, that we’re all still homies. Now through Pretty Lights Music, this record label, we’re finding some self sufficiency and success and turning it to our livelihood. I couldn’t be more stoked about things.

Q: Nice, man. Do you go up to Fort Collins much anymore?

A: I go back a lot. I have friends and family there, so I’m up there at least once a month – when I’m not on tour.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.