with Mike VanPortfleet July 2004
Mike – The initial idea of doing a solo release came about shortly after I finished recording A Day In The Stark Corner back in 1992. But it wasn’t until late 1996 that I seriously considered recording a solo release. We were just so busy during that time though. Lycia always had something going on, and Lycia was my top priority. In 1999, both Tara and I planned for solo releases. We finished her solo release, This Womb Like Liquid Honey, but I never got mine going because we first went into the recording of Estraya’s The Time Has Come And Gone, and then we quickly went into the recording of Lycia’s Empty Space. Lycia broke up during that time and I drifted away from music for a few years. Since Lycia’s end in 1999, Tara and I recorded Estraya’s Tripping Back Into The Broken Days [officially released under the name Lycia due to label pressure - editor] and I recorded Beyond The Horizon Line. In a way I see Beyond The Horizon Line as a continuation of Tripping Back Into The Broken Days. They feel very similar to me. In regards to themes, I think they are the most fully realized releases I’ve ever been associated with.
QRD – How is your new solo record both a departure & continuation of the Lycia legacy?
Mike – Well, it’s different mostly in approach. The main creation tool used in the recording of Beyond The Horizon Line was the recording software itself. I used Acid 4.0 and created loops based on mostly unused Lycia music from the past. I used vocals and guitar very sparsely. Almost every sound on the release is a manipulated loop. In the past, songs were written and recorded in a more traditional rock music form. Granted, I was always very experimental in regards to the FXs I used, but for the most part we never drifted too far from that style of writing. The only way I see Beyond The Horizon Line as a continuation of Lycia is that I was once in Lycia and my style of writing was very present in Lycia’s work. There is a certain feel associated with my writing style that can be found on everything that I’ve ever done, whether it be Lycia, side projects or solo work.
QRD – Your synthesizer & guitar tones are often difficult to distinguish for me; does it annoy you when people talk about your synth as if it’s a guitar or vice-versa?
Mike – The guitar is my main instrument, and the only one that I play half way decent. I worked very hard over the years to really develop a distinct and unique style. In the mid 80s I started to experiment with the heavy use of FXs. With Lycia, quite of bit of what most thought was synth was actually guitar. It frustrated me at times, especially when I would hear whispers that I was a hack guitarist that depended on layers of synths to cover my simple guitar playing. The last Lycia release, Empty Space has no synth at all; its drum machine, bass, guitar, and vocals, but most of the reviews still mention something along the line of “Lycia’s wall of synths”. In all fairness though, I would at times double the guitar line with a synth tone, but not to cover my playing, but to create a new tone altogether. I still consider the guitar my main instrument, though I used it on only two songs on Beyond The Horizon Line.
QRD – I know you recorded Beyond the Horizon Line on the computer using looping software. How did this contribute to the sound of your record & how does it compare to your time spent with a stand-alone digital recorder & the four-track cassette recorder?
Mike – I see it as a continuation and evolution from my beginnings back in the 80s with the 4 track cassette recorders. Every step in this evolution has opened up new possibilities in regards to what could be created, and every step has been enjoyable and rewarding. The looping software was the main instrument in the recording of Beyond The Horizon Line, and it pretty much determined the style and feel of that release.
QRD – Did you use any effect units on this record or was all the sound manipulation done within the computer?
Mike – I have quite a number of good FXs plug-ins, and I used them extensively. Everything was done in the computer though, with Acid and Sound Forge, except for the source samples, which mostly came from old analog and digital master tapes.
QRD – What record that you’ve done do you feel most able to listen to & which one least able to?
Mike – For me, my favorites are Cold, Tripping Back Into The Broken Days, and Beyond The Horizon Line. I like Estrella too. My least favorite would have to be Bleak’s Vane. It seems sort of dated to me now.
QRD – Lycia has a cult following among the gothic community; do you feel as people leave that community they still hold on to Lycia?
Mike – Well, I think some may. I don’t really know. We seem to have a number of very loyal followers that have stuck with us over the years. I’ve also seen a bit of criticism directed our way from one time supporters. I don’t know.
QRD – What plans do you have next for your music?
Mike – I’ve agreed to do some collaborating on two to three songs for upcoming releases by The Unquiet Void and Numina, two bands that I admire greatly. I recently collaborated on a song with Vlor that I’m quite pleased with, which may come out sometime in the future. Tara has plans for a second solo release, which she may start soon. When that happens I would most likely help in regards to the recording. As far as beyond that I have absolutely no plans. I suspect that anther solo release may come about. As far as band type activities, perhaps another Estraya release.
QRD – Do you find that the difficult state of the music industry has affected you or had affected Lycia over the past few years?
Mike – When MP3.com first entered the picture I was a big supporter of all the on-line mp3 services, including Napster. I’ll admit now that I was wrong, and wrong big time. Sure, it exposed Lycia to quite of number of new people. But it didn’t lead them to actually buying our CDs. Quite the opposite happened, our sales tanked. Why buy something when you can get it for free? Most people don’t give a rat’s ass about the art work and packaging. I think this phenomenon killed hundreds of bands. It played a big part in Lycia’s demise. During Lycia’s decline in the late 90s, Tara and I had to take on day jobs, and we were lucky to find employment with a regional CD and video distributor not far from where we lived at the time. Unfortunately the overall decline in the music industry, which I also firmly believe was caused by the mp3 “revolution”, led to both of us losing our jobs two years later. We were laid off in January 2001, with about 30 other good and decent people, due to lack of business. So we lost our music career and decent day jobs for the same reason. That pretty much turned our lives upside down. I’m so sick and tired of hearing all these claims that the music industry’s decline is because of the current government. That’s nothing but a cop out by people unwilling to see the reality of the situation. Most of the people that make that claim have their heads firmly up their asses anyway, holding their breaths like spoiled little brats that didn’t get their way, still fuming over their perceived conspiracies of Florida and a fixed election.
QRD – I know you feel digital distribution is the future of music. How do you think this shift will affect the music industry in general & you as artist in particular?
Mike – It’s already happening. The day of full lengths releases is waning. Songs are what it will be about in the very near future. Go to any high school or college campus, and you’ll see that mp3 players are everywhere. It’s easy and convenient, and you can get exactly what you want. For more obscure types of music you don’t have to hunt it down or mail order it, you can have it in the time it takes to download. Why indie labels are not going full force in to this is a mystery to me. If I remember right, it seemed like quite a number of small labels disappeared during the transition between LPs and CDs. I assume that they felt that LPs were still the way to go. Everything in our society is becoming more and more computer based, I recorded Beyond The Horizon Line on a computer, I have a day job doing GIS computer mapping, I communicate with people via e-mail, I buy airline tickets, books, etc., etc., etc. on-line. I can’t remember the last day that I wasn’t at a computer. Digital distribution is the future of music, and as far as I’m concerned, the bands and labels that don’t embrace it will be left behind, and quickly.
QRD – What do you think is a reasonable way to price music in the digital download format?
Mike – I think the current 89 to 99 cents per song is fair. I think the alternate monthly fees are fair also.
QRD – What music have you been listening to lately & are there any current artists you follow?
Mike – I’ve been out of the loop of things for years now. There is really nothing new that I’ve been listening to. I really don’t know what’s going on musically anymore. I actually rarely even listen to music that much. Mostly I listen to talk radio. Last year, for a short while, I listened to music when I was driving. The two CDs that I played the most at that time were October Rust by Type O Negative and Medusa by Clan of Xymox.
QRD – Over the past seven years or so you seem to have become somewhat reclusive, with Tara seeming to take over as the spokesperson for the group starting around Estrella doing most of the interviews. Have you been avoiding the press for a particular reason?
Mike – Basically I just got tired of everything music related. When we went out on tour to support Cold it was tough for me. I had health problems and I pushed myself way too hard. I did quite a number of interviews during that time and a lot of the questions that were asked were actually veiled criticisms, for example “I’m not really into your new CD, but I love Ionia, can you tell me about…?”, that type of thing. I just got so tired of having to defend what it was that I was doing. In Lycia’s early days it was as if we could do no wrong when it came to the press. After The Burning Circle And Then Dust that all changed. From that point on it seemed as though I had to justify every musical move. It was very disheartening. Tara was relatively new to the music scene at that time, and it all seemed new and exciting to her, so I just let her take over that aspect of the band. When I ended Lycia during the Empty Space sessions I was quite bitter, and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with interviews or anything associated with music. Tara kept our name alive during that timeframe, continuing to do interviews. I’m still quite cautious of the press. I don’t trust 90% of the people that want to do interviews. I think that they don’t really want to hear what I have to say. They instead want me to say the things that they want to hear, if that makes any sense at all. I really don’t want anything to do with that type of thinking or approach.
QRD – What’s your worst fear & greatest hope for your new record?
Mike – My worst fear is that (once again) a release will come out and it will be categorized as something that it is not, and that the audience that actually could appreciate it would stay away from the release because of the faulty tag. My greatest hope? That people hear Beyond The Horizon Line for what it is, an experimental, ambient and atmospheric release. I feel that this is a very focused and effective release. I hope people hear and like it. That’s it basically. I’ve long ago given up hope of making it to the next level. I don’t think a band or performer can make it to the next level doing music in this style anyway.
QRD – What do you think are the most common mistakes made by young artists, and how can they be avoided?
Mike – I don’t know really. I know that I made tons of mistakes when I was first starting out. I continually sold myself short, thus holding myself back. I wasted six or seven years spinning my wheels, leaving my destiny in the hands of people I didn’t trust musically. I basically wasted the prime of my musical years, my early 20s, being timid and afraid. It was a waste. I have no doubt whatsoever that if I would have been more ambitious that the Lycia style would have come about in ‘81 or ’82 instead of ’88. Considering the musical environment back then who knows what could have become of me? My advice to young bands? Don’t sell yourself short. Go after what you want from the get go. Pay your dues in a year, not six or seven.
QRD – What would your advice be for aspiring musicians in the following age groups: teens, twenties, & thirties?
Mike – For teens and for people in their 20s I would say the exact same thing that I just stated. Focus in on what you want, find the right people to work with, and give it 100%. Don’t sell yourself short and believe in what you’re doing. Play out as often as you can, and if you get a shot to tour do it. If you get a CD deal, put the CD out and tour non stop. Bands that make it to the next level tour non stop. Lycia got a late start and that hurt us greatly. When we finally got the chance to tour I had to limit myself because of my health. That killed any hopes of expanding our career to the next level. If you are young and healthy, live your band, make it your life. If you are in your 30s, and you don’t have a CD out already then it’s too late. If you love music, and love creating music, that’s good, but music is youth oriented. That’s just reality.
QRD – How do you feel when you hear your basic guitar tone being used by another band?
Mike – I borrowed from my influences and I feel flattered when people borrow from me. It’s sort of weird though when I hear a well know band using a guitar FX borrowed from Lycia, not because they borrowed it, but because the success level they achieved is far beyond anything Lycia could have ever achieved. It’s cool, but is sort of sad too.
QRD – What do your co-workers know about your music if anything?
Mike – My co-workers know nothing of my musical life for the most part. I’m a very private and solitary person and I keep to myself. I like the type of work I’m doing now, I have a geography degree so doing GIS mapping is something that I want to do. I do my job and keep to myself all day long. It’s the way that I like it. I wear headphones and listen to talk radio all day while working.
QRD – You’re working with Tara on her new solo record as an engineer; do you think you two will record an album together again? Do you think you might at some point work with David Galas or John Fair again?
Mike – Tara and I may record under the Estraya name again, though absolutely nothing is planned. I could see myself working again with both David and John in the future. I worked with them before because I admired their styles, and I still feel the same way about both of them as musicians and writers. There is nothing planned though. My ambitions towards music are much tamer than they used to be. Truth be told, I may not even do that much more music from this point out.
QRD – Anything else?
Mike – Thanks for such interesting questions.
Once again QRD comes through.