with Mike VanPortfleet of Lycia
Mike VanPortfleet of course is the main force behind Lycia. He’s been one of the driving forces behind QRD starting with the first issue & he’s really shaped a lot of the things I think about music & the music industry. Recently there’s a new Lycia release called Quiet Moments.
QRD – Are you still using the LXP-5 & outboard stuff to get your guitar sounds or are you mainly using a computer to get your guitar effects?
Mike – I loved the LXP-5, but it died over a decade ago. The last it was used was on Tripping Back Into The Broken Days. I miss a couple of the settings & I’ve been unable to recreate them. In the mid 2000s I decided it was time to change things up & I got a Boss GS-10, which is a desktop multi-effects unit made for computer use. I actually use it as my USB interface for recording. I started out trying to emulate my old effects style, from the Digitech GSP-5/Lexicon LXP-5 combo, but thought a new approach was needed. So I just programmed about a half dozen new patches from scratch. That’s what I used on both Quiet Moments & Fifth Sun.
QRD – Is there any ebow on Quiet Moments or is it all just effects?
Mike – Yes, quite a bit actually. I hadn’t used the ebow since the 90s, but it is very prevalent on a number of Quiet Moments songs.
QRD – What software are you using for recording?
Mike – I’ve been using Acid & Sound Forge since the early 2000s. I like it & it works great for what I’m doing. Some people have been critical. But you know how that goes. I’ve always been a firm believer of create with what you have. Concentrate on the creation, not the technology. I’ve always kept the recording set up simple & sparse going back to the Ionia 4-track days.
QRD – Are you using traditional synths or computer patches?
Mike – Both. I brought out the old Kawai PH50 & K-11 for a few of the songs. I also used some Reaktor & Proteus software synths.
QRD – What are you using for making your drum patterns now & how is it different than the old drum machine?
Mike – I still use the old drum machine, the Alesis SR-16. I used the newer SR-18 for Fifth Sun; but I still like the SR-16, so I used that on a good portion of the Quiet Moments songs. For the more experimental songs I used manipulated sounds for my rhythms.
QRD – Your vocals sound a bit richer to me on Quiet Moments. Is it just a different recording method or different microphone or have you been doing some sort of vocal exercises?
Mike – Age mostly. I recorded them in my usual way.
QRD – The last third of Quiet Moments (starting with “The Wind Sings”) has a bit of a different feel to me than the rest of the record. Were they recorded in a separate session?
Mike – They are remnants of the earlier Strange Star sessions. These songs were initiated back in late 2006 & 2007. Tara & I planned a full length release in this style, but I burned out & quit. The songs were only initiated & still needed lots of work. The only song that was close to finished was “The Soil Is Dead”. I revived these during the Quiet Moments sessions & did quite a bit of additional work. So even though they are old, they are also new & very much part of the overall Quiet Moments theme.
QRD – What instrument was the initial starting point for writing the songs on Quiet Moments? If I recall correctly, for a while you were writing a lot of songs on acoustic guitar even though the recordings ended up effect laden.
Mike – The SR-16 drum machine & the software synths were the starting points for Quiet Moments.
QRD – I’ve read you had a few aborted album attempts over the years, what caused those to end, but Quiet Moments to actually happen?
Mike – I was completely burned out through the 2000s. I struggled to get even basic ideas together. Going back to my initial beginning approach, the way I worked back in the 80s, primarily based around the guitar, with Fifth Sun snapped me out of that. But from the initial songs to the final mix, Quiet Moments took over six years to complete. The overall process was a struggle. The end result worked though, but six years probably reflects a bit of residual burn out still remained.
QRD – Is this a beginning of releasing & recording albums on a regular basis again?
Mike – It will never be like it was back in the 90s. I suspect that there will be more Lycia releases, but it will be sporadic. A new release involving David Galas, Tara, & myself is being discussed. But I suspect it will take awhile to get that going, if it even gets going at all. It’s hard to say. I have been erratic since Estrella. I feel positive now about Lycia. But based on how it’s been, one bad session could make me want to quit again. Who knows…
QRD – Do you think the future for musicians in general & Lycia in particular is leaning towards releasing singles, EPs, or albums?
Mike – I don’t know what the future holds for Lycia or music in general. A few years back I was convinced digital releases were all that mattered & that it was better to look towards future technologies then to be stuck in the past with CDs. I’ve completely changed my mind since. It seems to me that the download & streaming worlds are killing everything but massively popular bands. Quiet Moments was on numerous file-sharing sites even before its release date. You have them pull the files down & they are right back up there again a few days later. It’s a losing battle, in every way. There is this perception out there that musicians are greedy for wanting to get paid & that it’s OK for people to download from file sharing sites. It’s stealing & most people are fine with it. & some of the same people complain about a lack of good music out there & they are the very ones killing the type of bands that are capable of making good music by stealing from them. It’s ridiculous. I’m definitely leaning back towards the CD/LP world. Likewise, a few years back I felt we were moving towards a one song at a time digital release future. Quiet Moments reminded me how powerful a full album can be. I’m definitely refocused on that again.
QRD – I know Kickstarter is hot for a lot of bands right now, is there a reason you decided to go with a label instead of doing something on your own with Kickstarter?
Mike – I hate Kickstarter & everything it stands for. It’s completely fucked. A band has their fans fund the making of an album (which they usually record at home for virtually nothing) & then they have them buy it again when it comes out. So you double charge your most loyal fans? That makes no sense at all to me. You should half charge your loyal fans, not double charge them. If a band doesn’t think they can recoup recording & manufacturing cost from the sales of their release, then they probably don’t have enough support to justify them being professional musicians & probably should think about getting a job. Everybody has a hobby or something they love doing. But that doesn’t justify you doing it full time. That’s not real life. You either have what it takes to be successful or you don’t. Or you do what we’ve done for years. We work our day jobs & still find a way to fit in music. I have no doubt that Lycia could fleece thousands & thousands of dollars from our very loyal fan base. But why the fuck would I want to do that? It’s not about money to me; it’s about the music. & then there are the people that have made millions off of their fans from that site. I won’t even go into how wrong that is.
QRD – Cold was just re-issued on vinyl. Is there a reason you went with it on vinyl but a CD for Quiet Moments?
Mike – Handmade Birds approached us about doing Cold on vinyl. I was skeptical & mulled it over for quite some time, over a year in fact. I wasn’t sure there was any interest for Lycia on vinyl. I was wrong. It has been a very positive experience & it’s great to connect with people that are truly passionate about music. The vinyl community is the way it used to be back in the 70s & 80s. I casually mentioned to Rich at Handmade Birds that I was also working on some new material & that I was going to digitally self release it. He offered to do a limited run on CD & since the Cold experience went so well I decided to do this also.
QRD – I know part of the Lycia retirement was the compulsion to give Lycia every waking hour while still needing to do a lot of other things in life. Over the years off, have you found a way to balance that?
Mike – No. I find it hard to fit music in my life. But it is what defines me so I somehow find the time. I lead a very busy life & most of my day is spent doing things that I don’t want to do, but have to do. My focus is on providing for my son so I do what I have to do. For years I pretended that I didn’t need music, or I didn’t want to do music, but I was only fooling myself. When Dirk was born I realized how important music really was to me. It became important to me that he had memories of me being creative, as opposed to just being of a tired man coming home from work & generally being unsatisfied. It was a spark that has been good for me. Getting back involved with music was the best thing I could have done for myself. I’m refocused on what it is I am & what I need to do. The decade on 2000s was just so lost for me. Being a father & doing Lycia again has been a rebirth for me. I do find it hard to fit everything in, but somehow I do.
QRD – Do you think you may eventually do something like Jandek, where after you reach retirement age you’ll sporadically do one off shows?
Mike – I am not familiar with Jandek. Lycia is back to its rightful home, the studio. I have absolutely zero plans to play live again with Lycia. Lycia never truly made the live transition & with the exception of a few shows, never really presented the type of live show that I wanted. It is frustrating to think about how much I was forced to compromise to take Lycia on the road. In retrospect I never should have done it. All or nothing. I have a vision in my head of what Lycia live should have been (& could have been). But it never happened for a variety of reasons. As each year passes & I get older, my ability to present that type of live performance diminishes. It will never happen. Lycia live is done.
QRD – Do you still have the original 4 track tapes from the early Lycia era & do you think you might ever try to dump them in a computer to mix & master them?
Mike – I have all the master tapes, probably close to a hundred tapes actually. The conditions of all these tapes are poor though. A few are maybe salvageable, but most are beyond any type of restoration. It was sort of an obsession for me over the last decade plus to document this era & I did in fact dump a number of songs from the 4-track to the computer. Some of the restorations became what I called The Ghosts of Lycia & were available for free download from the Lycium Music web site years ago. If you go to YouTube you can still find most, if not all, the songs I made available then. But I was never satisfied with how these restorations turned out. This is also a major reason for me leaving Wake out of print. A restoration/remix was really needed & the master tapes were in horrible condition. After obsessing awhile with all of this I realized it was more important for me to concentrate on new material & finally just let that old material be what it always was, rough early demos. No need for demos to be released when you can instead concentrate on new or previously finished material. In the documentation of Lycia’s history that I see all over the internet, far too much attention is paid to this era. It confuses me.
QRD – What do you think are some of the advantages & disadvantages of both 4-track & modern computer recording?
Mike – Where I am now I see absolutely no advantage to the 4-track. But back in the 80s it was a wonderful piece of equipment that enabled me to take Lycia from just being an abstract side or solo project (while I was playing in other bands) to being a reality. It enabled me to ditch these dead end bands that I was always secretly frustrated with & to move ahead on my own with my song & musical direction ideas (which in my earlier bands were either ignored or laughed at). The Lycia idea percolated starting back in ‘81 but it wasn’t until ‘88, when I got my first 4-track, that I was able to really get things going. So for that alone I’m a big fan of the 4-track. But now I completely need the computer to record. The level of detail is to such a higher level now. I know it sounds sort of over the top, but a few of the Quiet Moments songs had close to 40 tracks. There are a lot of low tones, textures, & sounds floating around. In the perfect world I wish I would have had this level of control over the sound with all the Lycia releases. I can only imagine what A Day In The Stark Corner could have been.
QRD – Which part takes you the longest -- writing the songs, recording the songs, or mixing the songs?
Mike – It is all sort of the same process for me, though I do spend additional time on the final mixes. I write when I record & I pre-mix as the songs are being recorded. It is all very time consuming now. I obsess over every little detail.
QRD – Why do you think there is such a strong continued interest in Lycia after all these years of relative inactivity while peer bands of the era seem all but forgotten?
Mike – I don’t know. We’ve retained a very small, but vocal & extremely faithful fan base over the years. Maybe due to the fact of how vocal they are they give the impression that there is more interest than there actually is. I don’t know. I’m pretty reclusive & the over last 10 years or so it has felt like Lycia was pretty much forgotten to me. With Quiet Moments’ release the interest has naturally picked up & the press so far has been very good. I have also noticed that a lot of people think we may have influenced a number of more recent bands & particular scenes. That’s exciting for me, but it is all just hearsay. I do know from a few personal interactions that Lycia has influenced a few very interesting bands in the post-metal & black-metal scenes. I find that intriguing.
QRD – Anything else?
Mike – A couple things; I’m currently remixing a few songs from Fifth Sun, nothing major, but I plan to have these song properly mastered soon & thought I’d touch up a few of the mixes. When it is done we’ll make it available for free for a while, so anyone that previously bought it can get the mastered versions for free. We also plan to add a couple of additional songs. So I’m prepping all of that now. In the fall, work will hopefully start on Quiet Moments follow up. This one will feature both Tara Vanflower & David Galas. I have some really interesting ideas I’d like to explore.
Other QRD interviews with Lycia:
Couples Band Interview with Lycia (February 2008)
Interview with Tara VanFlower of Lycia (July 2006)
Interview with Mike VanPortfleet of Lycia (July 2004)
Interview with Lycia (September 2002)
Interview with Mike Vanportfleet of Lycia (July 2000)
Interview with Tara VanFlower of Lycia (July 2000)
i heart fx - Mike VanPortfleet (June 1998)
Interview with Lycia (May 1997)
Interview with Lycia (November 1994)