.:.A GHOST ASCENDS.:.
An Interview with Tara Vanflower of Lycia
Like so many other dark music lovers of my generation, Lycia was a prominent and profound influence on my teenage self. Though I was only eleven when Projekt released the seminal Cold album in 1996, it would later find countless rotations in my rural Midwestern home on violently stormy evenings and those long wintry stretches when ice and snow would bring the entire area to its knees, leaving behind a quiet solitude that I’ve not experienced since leaving. The project’s atmospheric genius would only continue through Estrella, and Empty Space would mark the first release for the band outside of Projekt since 1991’s Ionia, but the following decade would fall mostly silent.
It was with whispered rumors of a vinyl reissue of that all-too-important album in Cold that my and many others’ interest would be renewed, and it was only a couple of short months beyond that release that an entirely new album in Quiet Moments found its way into the world thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Rich Loren and his Handmade Birds imprint. Now as the release of their follow-up offering, A Line that Connects, is only weeks away, I felt it pertinent to give Ms. Vanflower a much-deserved space to discuss everything from that decade of relative silence to her faith, and of course the band’s time with their new label.
Heathen Harvest: Hello Tara, and thank you for accepting this interview. You’ve been contributing to this scene for a very long time, and I can’t imagine that there are a lot of questions left that you haven’t answered. I suppose the easiest place to start would be the vacuous point in your career where a decade-long void existed between physical releases between—somewhat ironically—”Empty Space” and “Quiet Moments.” What caused your departure from your long-time label Projekt in favor of that one-off release with Silber Records, and coincidentally right after, the relatively long silence?
Tara Vanflower: There are a lot of reasons that lead to Lycia going silent for a while. We were under contract with Projekt and wanted out for a lot of reasons, and they refused to let us go. Empty Space was the catalyst to us ending Lycia. Our mindset was that we would rather not continue at all than continue as things were. Once the contract was finally up we decided to release the album that we had been working on before we quit Lycia with Silber. We were friends with Brian John Mitchell for years and he released the CD without controlling anything. I also personally did two solo releases—This Womb Like Liquid Honey and My Little Fire-Filled Heart—with Silber, and they also reissued two Lycia albums. Then we sort of went back into hibernation until Mike recorded Quiet Moments.
HH: What brought about your return with “Quiet Moments” on Handmade Birds in 2013?
TV: Mike wasn’t planning to release anything with any label ever again. We were just going to self-release our music digitally. Rich Loren of Handmade Birds had contacted us off and on for years as friends, and he wanted to put one of our old albums out on vinyl. Mike was always just kind of like, “why?” [laughs] But finally he decided that it was a good idea and Handmade Birds released Cold on vinyl. We have such respect for Rich, and the working and personal relationship was so good, that it just kind of naturally evolved that he would release Quiet Moments.
HH: “Quiet Moments” appears to have certain “chapters” through combined themes. For instance, the three-track span of locations (“Antarctica,” “Greenland,” and “Grand Rapids”) and the three-track ending that is dominated by the theme of death (“Dead Leaves Fall,” “Dead Star, Cold Star,” and “The Soil is Dead”). Does this serve a particular purpose?
TV: I consulted Mike on this since I was hardly involved with Quiet Moments.
Mike VanPortfleet: “Antarctica” and “Greenland” definitely belong together. They are indeed similar themes, yet opposite. The name “Greenland” gives the impression of the promised land, but the reality is bare and stark. “Antarctica” is the opposite: the exterior is barren and isolated, but there seems to be so much fascination with a lost history or lost story that lies hidden beneath the ice. Now think of those same themes but in regards to a person, perceptions, and emotions. Those two songs are tied together with that theme, and Quiet Moments as a whole is fueled by that theme. Musically, the end tracks—the ones you mention as well as “The Wind Sings”—are tied together. They were all started back in 2006 or 2007, and they all share a similar experimental electronic approach. Lyrically though, they are all separate.
HH: Both you and David Galas have recently informally announced the completion of the next Lycia album. Are there any surprises that we can look forward to, and do you have any idea who you will be releasing it through as of yet?
TV: Handmade Birds formally announced the release the other day on Facebook. We are looking for an August 2015 release date.
HH: What brought about the return of David Galas? His solo work has been impressive and widely celebrated, so it’s good to see his influence coming back to Lycia.
TV: You know, I don’t really know how it officially happened. I think it was just decided through conversations between Mike and Dave. It was nice working with him again and being back in a “band” mindset.
HH: Since the early days of Lycia, has your thematic focus shifted or evolved at all to fit current events or changes in your life? Or is your focus more or less the same as it has been since the beginning?
TV: I will only speak for myself, obviously, but essentially, for me, nothing has changed. I have always based what I create on whatever is happening inside and around me. So yes, I suppose my artistic focus does evolve as we evolve daily (sometimes hourly), but Lycia has never written anything based on “current events” or anything like that. It’s always been about inner introspection. In that way, nothing has changed. Naturally we’ve had some major events take place in our lives, so that is going to impact viewpoint and all that jazz, but my lyrics are almost always about love, death, and/or the loss of something.
HH: Just speaking with you personally, it seems that anyone that knows you can perceive an upbeat, friendly personality. That said, what inspires the incredible melancholy that Lycia has become famous for?
TV: As with anyone who has a functioning brain, I am multi-faceted! [laughs] I am an open and friendly person, and generally pretty happy, but my deeper thoughts are focused on the loss of time (death of time), the melancholy of life in general, the magnitude of the universe (other dimensions), how horrible most people are to each other, chaos, loss, love, and dreams. I just choose not to dwell on it on a day-to-day basis because if I did, I couldn’t function, nor would I be a very good mother, wife, or cohabitant of the earth. When I create, whether music or writing, it’s generally about something dark and/or dreamy but viewed with a sort of beauty to it all. If you think about watching something from birth to decay, you can see beauty even though the process can be horrific at the end, like those time-lapsed videos of a flower blooming and then shriveling. I have always been very cognizant of time passing, even as a little kid. I have a song called “Hiraeth” on the new album and that word very much sums up my condition.
HH: Your Christian faith is a core piece of who you are. In what ways does that faith bleed over into the music of Lycia? Are there any prominent examples, either new or old, of it shining through?
TV: It’s never intentional, but it is who I am so it’s going to seep into my lyrics and writing. I honestly don’t look too deeply into how the words I use come to pass as they generally write themselves, and afterwards the sense of it evolves or reveals itself—however you want to look at it. I don’t write in a blatant way most of the time, so if you look deeply into things you will probably see “Christian” influence in there. Some of it is kind of obvious, but my intentions aren’t to beat people over the head with any belief, let alone something very personal to me.
HH: It seems like the more time that passes, the more taboo it becomes as an artist to state that you’re affiliated with a religion. Has anyone ever given you grief for your spiritual stance?
TV: No one has ever directly given me grief about it because I don’t think most people are ballsy enough to do shit like that. They prefer to do it online where they can hide behind their computer, and even then they tend to tread lightly with me for some reason. First of all, if they tried I would just write them off as an asshole and not engage with them. Secondly, anyone who feels the need to make anyone feel bad about whatever they believe isn’t worth my time, or anyone else’s. No one can tell me what truth is for me, or dismiss what I have personally experienced. I have no problems with anyone and what they choose to believe, but I do have a problem with judgmental dicks who think it’s okay to belittle others for their beliefs. I respect everyone for who they are as long as they’re not forcing it on others. People seem to have forgotten the difference between having a conversation and assaulting someone with their opinion. I have no desire to surround myself with people like that. I am friends with Satanists, Buddhists, atheists, Catholics, Christians, pagans, whatever. The moment you start belittling people, I’m out. I see so much offensive crap online and then if someone calls the person out for being offensive they do the whole “you’re a baby and can’t handle your beliefs being challenged” thing. To which my response is “no, you’re being intentionally insulting with your passive-aggressive bullshit, you know you’re being insulting, and when someone calls you out on it you act high and mighty and get all butthurt.” I have a problem with this beyond just religion. It’s prevalent in everything from music to what you eat, political viewpoints, television shows, and whatever else you can imagine. Some folks seem to really enjoy making others feel bad about who they are and I have a serious problem with that.
HH: Surely most people can see the lack of understanding that is increasingly prevalent in our scene and beyond for the spiritually minded, particularly for Christians. How do you feel this social evolution is changing the shape of music, and what is your advice for those who are finding it difficult to make their faith a pillar of their artistic output in an era of anti-religion?
TV: One of the most hilariously annoying things to me is that in the music industry—which is theoretically so “open-minded”—it’s actually very much the opposite. This is one reason we honestly don’t get involved with anything. We aren’t part of a “scene” so to speak, and that alleviates a lot of this nonsense. There’s as many dogmas you are supposed to adhere to in the artistic community as there are in any religion. There’s also a lot of crap that’s accepted as “okay” that just isn’t. I think people just need to be true to themselves and be unapologetic about it. Be strong and be who you are, and people will either respect you or write you off. That’s just life. I don’t think anyone should change who they are one iota to appease others. I mean, you know, unless whatever you’re into is hurting someone/something obviously. I’ve always been insecure in some ways, but rebel enough to say, “fuck you, this is who I am; take it, or leave it.” There’s no way in hell I would let other people change who I am intrinsically, so my advice would be to just do your thing and people who are like-minded will find you, the others will fall away.
HH: You mention that it’s never an intentional decision for your faith to bleed over into your music, but why? Do you ever feel compelled to begin a side-project to more thoroughly explore that side of yourself?
TV: I just don’t go into any project with an agenda. I let what happens, happen. I don’t think “I want to achieve this” with any song. I just let the words come to me and they are what they are. I guess in some weird way it’s a form of automatic writing. There have been moments where songs were inspired by something in particular, but I just don’t view music as a tool to mold someone’s opinions or beliefs. They are a reflection of myself, not a tool. The Black Happy Day project (with Timothy Renner of Stone Breath) had a lot of old spirituals and hymns, and my solo releases definitely have a more “spiritual” bent to them, but it wasn’t done with intent. It’s just what happened while I was recording. I don’t have time for the projects I have going on now, let alone forming another one. [laughs] My writing, while character-driven, explores a lot of internal questions about the world, life, and afterlife in general. I feel very well-represented in everything I create.
HH: Can you tell us about the thematic focus of the forthcoming album? Is there anything in particular that you were looking forward to expressing since your involvement in “Quiet Moments” was so little?
TV: Well, as the title suggests, the general theme of A Line that Connects is that all things are connected, beginning to end, backwards and forwards, here and there, time and space, human to human. Mike and Dave have their own interpretation, but that’s the gist of it for me. My songs are as they always are: personal reflections. “Blue” has an absolute theme that was inspired by something very specific. However, it also represents more than just that “thing” it was inspired by. “Hiraeth” was a song that was inspired by the meaning of the word, but was definitely one of those “automatic writing” kinds of moments. Some of the lyrics in that song came from “somewhere else” as they aren’t particularly reflective of my personal life, which I find kind of interesting. I wonder, did someone whisper those lyrics in my ear or were they just random? I believe in connections with other people, though not always physical connections. I believe in alternate dimensions, dream travel, and all of that sort of stuff, so I sometimes wonder when something happens creatively if it’s an echo from somewhere or someone else.
HH: The music business was incredibly different when Lycia became so influential in the mid-’90s. Today, it is obviously a shadow of its former self. How do you view the state of the industry as artists who were happy with releasing music digitally? Obviously it has changed things financially, but do you feel like it has freed you to be more in control of your music, or in other ways?
TV: We gave up on believing that we could make a living off of music in the late ’90s when we first started seeing the decline. We noticed it more with other bands, actually. We would go to see friends when they came through town and there would be no one at the shows, compared to a couple years prior when the clubs would be packed. We got out right before it all tanked. Mike and I have been working professional jobs for nearly twenty years now because we knew the elusive dream of “making a living off of music” was next to impossible for a band at our level. We managed to do it before because we could tour, but without being able to tour—and truthfully, nonstop touring is not the kind of lifestyle we want—it’s nearly impossible to make any kind of living, let alone a living that’s desirable. Without financial backing from a label, which we never had, touring is just not feasible. This is all on top of the consideration that no one buys music anymore.
We also completely disagree with the “Kickstarter mentality,” which I think people are going to in ways that just blow my mind. How is it your fans’ job to support you beyond buying your product? They have dreams they could be funding too, so why should they fund yours in lieu of their own? I’ve seen people using this Patreon thing and it actually disgusts me. “Hey, I know you’ve got bills and stuff to pay, but how about you give me money every month so I don’t have to get a job and can work on my music?” I believe in supply and demand. If you’re selling enough, that means enough people like what you’re doing, and it should finance itself. If it’s not, then you should take on the burden of paying for it yourself and you shouldn’t be milking or abusing the few fans you have.
You want to know how I feel about the current state of the music industry? Not hopeful, but that doesn’t mean music needs to die; it just needs to evolve.
HH: Thank you for the great answers, Tara. As a final question: What has been the single most profound experience that you’ve had since you began making music in Lycia so long ago?
TV: Wow, I don’t even know how to sum that up. I mean, first and foremost, Lycia gave me my husband and my entire life. There are some moments I hold very dear—moments from touring where I met someone special, or a moment that happened that was special: the opportunities I have been given because of the vehicle that is Lycia; standing on stage and hearing someone actually yelling, “I love you,” because those moments are so fleeting in life; having someone tell you that your music comforted them in the darkest moment of their life; the fear waiting to walk on stage before an angry crowd; reading a review where the person “got it”; being able to see Teotihuacan with my own eyes because of Lycia; the collaborations with people I never would have known without Lycia… There are just so many singular little moments that add up to a whole.