Interview: Mike VanPortfleet of LYCIA

Long-time fans of Lycia know that by now, the band needs little introduction.  But newly

In Flickers – Lycia

interested listeners need to know two things; this is a band of unquestionable introspection and they have existed for nearly 30 years unintentionally defiant of genre classification.  Main creator, Mike Van Portfleet has been the central creator of Lycia since day 1 weaving in from time to time the creativity of David Galas, John Fair and of course, Tara Van Flower.  Mike was kind enough to answer a few of our questions and we are very grateful for his time.

The new album, In Flickers is available now via Projekt Records.  Check the links at the bottom of the interview.

The new album is “In Flickers.”  Could you talk a little bit about the genesis from the initial inspiration for this release to the finished product?

After we finished A Line That Connects in the summer of 2015 I had one unfinished song. It was more just an idea and I wasn’t planning to do anything with it. I slowly and sporadically worked on it over maybe a year. It was a very short piece, less than two minutes, and it led to the idea of possibly doing a vinyl single with four micro songs. My thought was that it’d be like Tripping Back Into The Broken Days, with just acoustic guitar, synth ambience and vocals. I ended up combining this song with another idea that I came up with, which became the song In Flickers. Ideas really started flowing at this point and the initial ideas for The Path, She and 34 Palms were also coming about. When I started recording, mainly due to some cool new effect pedals that I bought, the ideas morphed from being acoustic based to more electric guitar based, and I started to think that I’d instead do a solo EP with these four songs. Everything was still very fluid and my plans changed almost daily.

I approached David Galas, seeing if he wanted to be involved. When he agreed I asked him to initiate a couple heavier songs and a couple ambient songs. He sent me quite a number of ideas, including a long lost Cold song that he never submitted back then. Around this time John Fair sent me a few synth songs and asked if I’d be interested in working on them for a new project he wanted to do. Over the next few months ideas from both David and John were absorbed into what I was working on, and a solo release became a Lycia release, and thus the In Flickers album. Tara was also involved of course. She’s been busy with her writing but I wanted her vocals to be part of the release. She ended up adding something to every song.

Does “In Flickers” revolve around a central “theme” or “concept” are should the songs be considered specific unto themselves?

No overall theme. Each song is it’s own thing. This is a very song based release.

How has your studio equipment evolved to what it is now compared to 1989?

So many changes. Way too many to discuss. Strangely though, the recording set up for In Flickers is the most minimal in years. In ways it has come full circle. Substitute the 4-Track from 1989 with Sony Acid for In Flickers. Besides that, for me at least, it was quite similar, my guitar and a bunch of effect pedals.

For a number of years you spent in Ohio and then moved South West.  How did the change of climate inspire or re-invigorate your creativity and the warm tones in your songs?

We returned to Arizona in 2001, and after Tripping Back Into The Broken Days we were stagnant for a long, long time. The new feel and new warmer tones just evolved as we started writing and recording again. More a reflection of the time than of the place. Though place always plays a part in my inspiration. I think the new sound also was influenced by all the great darker band that are out there now. I really became a fan again and just like back in the 80s being a fan influenced the direction of the music.

Previously, a lot of your songs have revolved around themes of reflection, “looking back,” “lost time,” and so forth.  But the name “In Flickers” implies spontaneity and “in the moment” type of thought.  Is this an accurate analysis of perhaps a change in your thinking or lyrical inspiration?  In other words, do you live more in the moment now instead of consistent looking back?

Actually the last three albums are my most reflective. It’s probably because I’m getting older. I’ve become quite obsessed with elements of my distant past. It’s all in the lyrics, and the mood of the music is almost entirely fueled by this reflection. Every song on In Flickers has a strong connection with my past. Antarctica from Quiet Moments, Monday Is Here from A Line That Connects and Autumn Into Winter all have immensely strong ripples from my childhood. These are some of the most tuned in songs I’ve ever been part of.

How did becoming a parent change your outlook on life as it relates to your musical inspiration?  Did you find any kind of shift in topics or themes to write about?

No shift in themes, more a maturing of the same themes I’ve always been writing about. But being a parent is why I’m doing music again. The 2000s were an inactive and dark decade for me. I really thought that my creative spark was out. I lost all my confidence back then. All the elements seemed lost, the playing, the writing, the studio, everything. Then our son was born and it ignited something in me. We had already started back doing music again with Fifth Sun before he was born, but that very easily could have been a one and done. My perceptions changed and the spark was reignited. Seeing the world around me through fresh eyes and through my son’s eyes opened doors again.

There are a couple of tracks on In Flickers-“Mist” and “A Failure” were you experiment with mid-tempo techno/electronic beats.  What led you to decide to play around with that?

That was completely initiated by John Fair. I worked with John throughout the 80s and he was a very important part of Lycia in the early days. We mostly worked on guitar and bass style songs back then, but we would occasionally work on synth style songs too, at times even venturing into synth pop territory. We had been out of touch for years when he approached me about working together again. He sent me a few songs that were complete throwbacks to the 80s, and the type of synth songs we worked on back then. It stirred up so much nostalgia in me that I immediately wanted it to be part of Lycia again. I am so glad that John is once again involved in Lycia and that he brought that element back to the band. It woke up a part of my writing that has been lost for years. It might seem strange to some but this style is and always was a part of Lycia.

A track like “Rewrite” almost sees somewhat of an immersive noise wall being created with the fusion of sounds and vocals.  How influenced by the noise/harsh noise style are you?

This is one of the heavy songs that I asked for David Galas to initiate. What he gave me was perfect. I love noise and I love the heaviness that he has brought to Lycia. It was more under the surface back in the 90s when we collaborated then, but on these last two releases he’s brought the heaviness that I always wanted for a part of Lycia. Will Welch and I briefly explored this territory back in the early 90s on songs like Excade Decade Decada but things stalled and never moved on.  I’ve used noise and dissonance in Lycia for years under the surface. It’s only bubbled to the surface these last few years.

Do you ever miss stepping on a stage and do you ever anticipate going back to performing if even for a one-off show?

I do miss it but I do not miss the difficulties in presenting a well rounded and well represented Lycia show. Lycia stated as a studio band but we never fully made the transition to being a live band. We came close a couple of times back in the 90s but it never moved beyond the struggle stage. Things are so different now and I don’t think any of us are in place to realistically make a live performance possible. I daydream about it, but in reality I can’t see how it could happen. Lycia’s sound is just so layered and varied and effects dependent. There are other limitations. Being studio oriented is really the best for us at this stage.

Discogs has listed that you had a solo piece called The King of the Tundra but yet little to no trace of this can be found on the net.  What more can you tell us about this obscure recording?

To be honest I really don’t remember anything more than the name of this song and that it was part of a limited run on Hand/Eye. The 2000s are a blurry time for me. I was in a dark place and much of that time is blurry and forgotten. It came after Beyond The Horizon Line when I was trying a restart doing solo ambient material. Horizon Line was an anomaly in a time when I was pretty much dead in the water as a writer and performer. It’s a work that I am still proud of and I think it came from a magic place. I still don’t know how I did that album and that time. It just came about. I tried following up but the magic had passed. I recorded a few things, including King of the Tundra.

What are your plans for Lycia in the coming months and into 2019?

Just like after Quiet Moments and A Line That Connects I feel quite spent at the present. These last three albums completely drained me and I’ve needed periods of recharge. After Quiet Moments it was a year, two years for A Line That Connects. In Flickers was just completed and I definitely do need a recharge. I have no idea how long, but at the present I’m detached from doing anything music related. But I do know that’ll it’ll come around again at some point. It always does.

Many, many years from now, a very distant relative locates a box in the attic of an old home.  In the box they find a Lycia discography and something to play it on.  What is your hope that this person learns about your legacy from simply listening to your music?

We’ve always had a hard time fitting in. We don’t fit the classifications that have been used to describe us. We don’t neatly fitting into any scene or genre that has been used to describe us. No place we’ve lived has accepted us into their local scenes or even acknowledged us. We’ve been outsiders even in groups of outsiders. But we have connected with a wide ranging and varied group of followers. And these people are wide ranging indeed. The one thing that I’ve seen over the years is a connection with that deeper perceptual and emotional side of what we do. That’s what I’d want our legacy to be.

Lycia 2018

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