Lycia’s elusive nature goes hand in hand with the soundscapes they have crafted throughout their two-decade career—sonic washes of moods abrasive and soft, morose and distant. Their classic albums such as Cold and Estrella conjure cold autumn mornings and the fury of blizzards on winter nights, a sound that encapsulates nature in its most desolate atmosphere. 2013’s Quiet Moments sees the return of Lycia, reeling in the thunderous cries of doom for a gentler stroll through snowy forests and foggy mountains, all the while baring mournful overtones that elevated them to one of Projekt Records’ most celebrated bands. Quiet Moments drones, hums, murmurs, and crashes distantly like waves in songs that span from three to eight minutes. Mike VanPortfleet and Tara Vanflower are weary Gods roaming the planet’s most barren soils, collecting tragedy in the wake of ice and frost.
We were lucky to catch these two darkwave pioneers for an interview regarding the current state of the band and this newest release. Read on. – Zander Buel
1. What kind of growth does Quiet Moments signify to you personally in the progression of Lycia?
It’s the end result that I’ve always strived for. The scope and depth of Quiet Moments is what I always wanted for Lycia. It’s more mature. It the right release for this stage in my life. It fits in the natural flow as I see it.
2. Quiet Moments, to my ears, conjures imagery of blizzards, snowy forests, and frozen roads. The lyrical content references cold landscapes at times, most notably on “Antarctica” and “Greenland,” in conjunction to references to childhood and family. What is the motif at work here in comparing these two ideas?
They are the same. One is external, the other internal. I use the symbology of winter, and the isolation of its landscapes, as representations of an inner isolation, and a separation from a past that is far removed and gone forever. Antarctica and Greenland are the centerpiece thematic elements for Quiet Moments. They are the same in regards to climate and geography but completely opposite in regards to what they represent. Antarctica in reality is a stark and truly isolating place. It’s the end of the world. But there are theories that interest me, I’m not saying I believe them, but I am fascinated by the imagery that they evoke… that below all the ice lies remnants of a lost and truly ancient civilization. So something that appears frozen, remote and isolated is in fact, below the surface, something that was once quite wonderful. Greenland, as its name indicates, was presented as a promised land, but in reality it was a bare and desolate wasteland. So a similar theme for both, but opposite. Now apply that to a person, and their outlooks, emotions and facades, perceptions inward and outward, as well as their connections to the past. That’s the crux of what both of those songs are about, and what the release is about as a whole.
3. Is Quiet Moments the result of long held emotions or new developments in your character?
It’s as it has always been. The Lycia from the 80s and the Lycia of today is pretty much the same in regards to what fuels the creativity. The little boy on the cover of Quiet Moments is the same man that is answering these questions. I think with every release I direct the outflow in a somewhat focused direction, and with Quiet Moments it’s a direction that I’ve never really concentrated on before. So in that regard it covers new territory. But the fuel has always been the same.
4. While recording this album, was there an overarching sound and concept in mind before entering the studio?
Yes, but as the recording progressed it morphed. When I first started work on the song Quiet Moments I envisioned a four or five song EP, with all the songs being in a similar Stark Corner-esque style. That’s how I went into the next few songs…Antarctica, Greenland, Grand Rapids and The Pier. Lyrically and thematically there was also a similar feel with all these songs. But when I decided to add The Visitor, a song that had been instrumentally written a few years earlier, the initial theme began its change, which eventually led to the inclusion of the older and more experimental songs that are at the end of the release, as well as the guitar based Spring Trees.
5. Quiet Moments sounds equipped with a sort of clarity that on past albums was filled in by dirge and distortion. This time around, there sounds like there is more breathing room, a sort of silence used to enhance the tone. Is that the sort of sound you’re aiming toward?
A lot of that has to do with a really good mastering. We worked with a top notch guy, James Plotkin, and he was able to expand the sound a bit. The older releases were mastered a lot quieter. Not intentionally, and I don’t want to go into tech details here, but because of all the reverb that we’ve always used in Lycia, there have been limitations with getting a good volume while retaining the dynamics. I’ve learned that a quieter mastering volume tends to sound muddier than a louder one. With Quiet Moment we were able to get a good mastering volume while retaining the dynamic flow, and the end results seem clearer and wider. I have no doubt that if we had the older releases re-mastered that they would also have this quality. The end result sound on Quiet Moments is exactly the sound I was hoping for. It’s the sound that I’ve wanted since the very beginning.
6. Even in the evolution of technology, Lycia still sounds as cold and crushingly authentic as in the early records. How did the current technological landscape shaped this album, if at all?
It made it easier. It enabled me to really fine tune what I was striving for. I wish I would have had the same level of control on all of the earlier Lycia releases. In the past, especially during the 4-track cassette days of Ionia and A Day In The Stark Corner, I was always limited. I knew what I wanted and I had to find different ways to bypass the numerous limitations of the sparse recording set up that I had. I was able to get more than what was expected, but I did have to compromise some songs. Two Stark Corners songs come to mind, The Body Electric and Sorrow Is Her Name. I am happy with the end results but they are not what I had originally envisioned. Both had much harsher undercurrents. The studio limitations, and my work arounds led to a more ambient feel for both. I really do wish I had a recording setup like I do now back then. I think a release like Stark Corner would really have benefited from it.
7. What does the future for Lycia’s creative vision look like?
We just started Quiet Moment’s follow up. The next release will be more collaborative with both David Galas and Tara being much more involved. The first song was just started a few weeks back, so it’ll be awhile before it’s completed. We plan to take our time so it may be a few years.
8. And now for my fanboy question: Will Lycia ever be on a stage playing in front of people again?
No. Lycia’s comfort zone is the studio. Lycia started as a studio band and it is now one again. It’s the best place for us.