Mike VanPortfleet, Tara Vanflower, David Galas (Lycia) interviewed

** The second coming of Lycia wouldn’t have been possible if main songwriter Mike VanPortfleet didn’t possess the same spark that kicked things off in 1988. Older, wiser, yet still wandering the same lonely plane as all those years ago, VanPortfleet (along with vocalist Tara Vanflower and collaborator David Galas) has released a vibrantly glum album in A Line That Connects. The title is literal, actually. Musically, it’s a nod to all things past Lycia, including the groundbreaking and influential effort, Cold. Read on as the Cold lineup, reunited for posterity, discuss A Line That Connects.

How do you separate Quiet Moments from the new album, A Line That Connects? If you separate them at all.
Mike VanPortfleet: When I first started thinking about a Quiet Moments’ follow-up I envisioned a continuation of the mood and style of Quiet Moments. But I also wanted to bring back both Tara and David, so I knew that would bring in some additional creative elements. So going into the initial recordings I envisioned something ambient and electronic. But as it so often goes the end result became something very different and unique. I’d say the album that A Line That Connects most closely resembles would be The Burning Circle And Then Dust, though it is a release that is unique to its own time and place. So yes, I do separate Quiet Moments and A Line That Connects quite a bit, in a similar way that I separate A Day In The Stark Corner and The Burning Circle And Then Dust. Quiet Moments is completely personal and A Line That Connects is collaborative. Because they were recorded one after the other there is that connection, and certain moods and themes do carry over.

You’ve welcomed David Galas back into the fold. What precipitated that move?
Mike VanPortfleet: Nostalgia mostly. Quiet Moments was a revisiting of the approach and feel of Ionia and A Day In The Stark Corner. That led to a desire to also revisit Cold and to collaborate with David and Tara again. It’s something we talked about doing for years. The right time and place just presented itself after the release of Quiet Moments.

This is the return or the resurrection of the classic Lycia lineup—specifically referencing Cold here. What does this mean to you in terms of having musical and personal relationships soldered while new music is in the offering?
Mike VanPortfleet: Cold was a special release and at times I see it as the apex of Lycia’s career. But it came at a cost. The recording of Cold was tense and the band dissolved shortly after the recording was completed. Tara and I regrouped a short time later but David’s involvement ended then. The tension really fueled the music and ironically made it better. There was just so much creativity and so many ideas that differences arose, and these differences did the band in. For years after I often wondered what Lycia would have sounded like, or evolved into, if we kept that mid-’90s lineup together. I see A Line That Connects as that follow-up.
Tara Vanflower: I think there’s an odd comfort in this line up despite the weirdness of the past. We went through something together that wasn’t always positive and yet that’s the forge of a lot of relationships, isn’t it? We are the only three who have those experiences and that creates a connection that exists personally and within the music.
David Galas: But we’ve all managed to remain friends since Cold was released in 1996, and since then, we’ve attempted on a couple of occasions to put a new album together. However, it’s taken this long for everything to fall perfectly into place, allowing us to record a full album (via the internet). We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time now, and we were extremely excited to work again with each other to make this happen. We’ve always had a great experience in the studio together, and I’ve greatly missed the dynamic musical and personal relationship we’ve all had together as a band. It’s much like a family reunion, or a musical homecoming of sort.

What inspires you to craft music?
Mike VanPortfleet: Looking back, there was a pivotal moment for me back in the late ’80s when I stopped trying to emulate my favorite bands, and became more influenced by the music I had previously written and recorded. Lycia became a serious band the day I became influenced by Lycia. It was the first step in the evolving style that became Lycia’s unique sound. To this day it is still the same. In terms of mood, it’s all about the feel of time and place. I try to keep it simple, though there are abstract corners, some pretty dark.
Tara Vanflower: Dreams. A fleeting image that comes from somewhere random or purposed. Catching words and images from some place between physical and metaphysical. It sounds cheesy, but there’s no explanation of “where it comes from” a lot of the time.
David Galas: Anything and everything. From movies, books and art, to the mundane and frustratingly boring routine of normal everyday life and work. That being said, both myself and Mike have, on several occasions, tried to quit music all together. But something manages to inspire a change that results in us returning to working again. That something is difficult to define or express clearly. Subconsciously it’s a perpetual burden that we feel in the backs of our minds, and something that seemingly hangs over us each day. I’ve always defined it as the obligatory monkey on the back reference. It’s an odd continuous drive to write new music. We don’t do it for money or fame, or anything in particular actually. It’s just something we’ve become accustomed to and it’s a strange part of our individuality.

Has it always been the same inspirational spark?
Mike VanPortfleet: For the most part, yes. It still feels the same way to me. “A Ghost Ascends”, from the new album, was written back in 1983. What inspired me then still inspires me now, thus part of the album’s theme…connection. Defining that inspirational spark is hard though. How do you really explain feelings and perceptions? A quick side note, Michael Irwin, who sings backing vocals on this song, was my original collaborator on an earlier version called “Ghost In The Tower” from back then. It was very intriguing including that 30-plus year gap into A Line That Connects.
Tara Vanflower: Always the same for me. I’m on a constant quest to put words in order that describe something exactly. Since that is impossible to do the need is always still there. There’s also an escape that comes from creating other dimensions with words. It’s almost like words are codes and if you put them in the right order what you’re trying to explain will finally make perfect sense.
David Galas: In many ways yes, but in many ways it’s constantly evolving. For instance when Mike and I recorded The Burning Circle, we were inspired at that specific moment in time, all the things that were happening around us. After we moved to Ohio, things became slightly agitated due to problems associated with touring as well as our own personal lives. This resulted in the overall atmospheric and emotional focus that the Cold album represented so clearly.

When we talked in 1997 (yes, a bit of time ago), I said Lycia reminded me of winter, the sparseness of life in winter, and the beauty of it. You responded by saying most of the music was inspired by the desert. Do you still have close association to the desert?
Mike VanPortfleet: No. I’ve been back in Arizona for 14 years now. The desert hasn’t influenced much of what I have done since I’ve gotten back. I feel sort of detached from it, actually. And with the grass always being greener I now find an appeal in winter landscapes, which showed itself on Quiet Moments. Mostly I’ve been looking inward though. The landscapes of my childhood in Michigan were the fuel to the lyrical and thematic elements on both Quiet Moments and A Line That Connects.
Tara Vanflower: Right now it is summer in the desert. We are living here again and you cannot but help but be connected to it. The oppressiveness of the sun here is a bit all-consuming. It dominates. It bleaches everything. On the one hand it’s beautiful, and on the other it’s very isolating. I’m not sure this is where people like us belong.

What kind of effect did the distance between Quiet Moments and Empty Space have on you and Lycia?
Mike VanPortfleet: From Lycia’s low point to Lycia’s high point. Throughout the 2000s it was quite an inner battle for me, trying to get over the sensation that I had creatively lost it. That led to one musical false start after another. In 2009 I went into Fifth Sun with no expectations. I just wanted to write and record a few songs like I did back in the ’80s. My initial plan was to not even release it. Fifth Sun restored my confidence that I could write a song again, and that I could actually play the guitar like I used to play the guitar. It gave me the needed push and focused my vision again. It opened the door for the creative clarity of Quiet Moments, which in turn influenced what I brought into A Line That Connects.
Tara Vanflower: I felt personally adrift during that time, lacking purpose almost. I felt like my identity was lost in some ways. But it also opened up another avenue of creativity. I worked with some other people on some musical projects and put out a couple solo albums. But I also started writing and that really sparked a whole different aspect of creativity that I probably wouldn’t have had the time to start exploring if we had been working solidly on music. It’s like three different personas almost. Day life, Lycia, writing. Three very different aspects. I think it kind of gave me a more well rounded identity having a separation from Lycia for a while.

You’ve stated Quiet Moments is one of your most personal releases to date. Is A Line That Connects, if I’m using the title literally, of similar import?
Mike VanPortfleet: My input to A Line That Connects is a continuation of the personal themes of Quiet Moments. But A Line That Connects is a collaborative release, in fact it is Lycia’s most collaborative release ever, so both Tara and David have their personal contributions. And their input is strong on this release. My lyrics and guitar to “Monday Is Here” and “The Only Way Through Is Out”, as well as the song “Silver Leaf”, are without a doubt a continuation of the Quiet Moments feel and theme.

How did A Line That Connects come together, in fact?
Mike VanPortfleet: The recording and mix of Quiet Moments went so well that I didn’t want or need a break. So the work started immediately on what I initially had planned to call Superstition. I knew that I wanted to have both Tara and David involved and initially I envisioned something along the lines of Cold meets Vane meets Quiet Moments. The initial ideas that I brought in eventually evolved into being “Bright Like Stars” and “Illuminate”. The first song David brought in was “The Fall Back”. Very quickly after that the release took a life of its own and we just followed where the creative flow took us.
Tara Vanflower: I was really happy that we would be collaborating with other people for the adventure aspect of it. I loved that Michael Irwin was involved and I was thrilled to have another girl in the band for a song! I had become friends with Sera Timms as a fan first. I respect what she creates and we connect in a “soul sister” kind of way. So when she asked me to sing on the Black Mare track “Low Crimes” we decided it would be perfect for her to also collaborate on one of my songs on the album. Our voices are so similar in tone. Her’s is more soulful, mine a little more sweet. I was so thrilled to get to work with her. We had also discussed the concepts of hiraeth and saudade on a few occasions, so this theme was perfect for her to add her voice.
David Galas: Over the last decade or so, we’ve attempted on a couple occasions to regroup and work on new material. However, it was in the summer of 2013 that Mike emailed me about his idea to try and work on new material. I was working on my fourth solo album at the time. We had initially planned to take over two years to record the album, the idea being that it would be an easy and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. The actual recording didn’t begin until winter/spring of 2014, which ramped up quite quickly during that Summer. We finished the majority of the tracking towards the end of December. Most people don’t realize that Mike and Tara live in Arizona while I live in upper Michigan. So everything is essentially emailed back and fourth a hundred times until it’s finished.  

Was the Lycia sound easy to replicate? Lycia is pretty unique sonically. The tempo, the musical and vocal patterns, and so forth aren’t like other bands.
Mike VanPortfleet: For me, it was very easy because it is all that I do musically. There isn’t another sound or feel. Lycia’s sound is my sound. It’s how I play, write and record. So going in I just wanted to be as pure as possible.
David Galas: A lot of the vocal and music patterns have always been influenced by Mike’s unique style of song writing and guitar playing. We use it as a sort of primer when writing material. Very mathematical at times, almost regimented. I think that’s one of the things that really distinguishes Lycia from many other bands of the same genre. Although we have our own specific musical influences, when we write new music, we use Lycia as a reference. But overall, we’ve done it for so long now that replicating the sound is quite natural.

I really like how you explode at the end of An Awakening. It’s almost metallic. Where did that intensity come from?
David Galas: It comes from the same sort of mindset that was used when working on the Bleak project, specific songs from Ionia and several of the instrumental tracks from The Burning Circle. Before we recorded The Burning Circle we wrote a 20-minute build up piece entitled “The Last Thoughts Before Sleep” which is a very guitar heavy song towards the end. Lycia’s beginnings had a lot of inspiration from the post-punk and no-wave movements, so there has always been a strong heavy guitar element, albeit extremely effected. Even though most of our music is lush and atmospheric, we do enjoy to break that up with something more abrasive.

“The Rain” is also different. Up tempo and bright. This reminds me a little bit of “Pray”.
David Galas: “The Rain” is definitely this album’s “Pray” song. The Rain is very much retrospective of ’80s goth rock style of music. In a way, it’s sort of our nod to that period in time.

Actually, now that I think of it, is Side B meant to represent something different? It’s still Lycia, but there’s something else at the fore.
Mike VanPortfleet: Not sure what you mean by Side B? The song order for A Line That Connects was organized a bit randomly, and after the fact I see three sections. From the “Fall Back to Blue”, slow and true to Lycia’s past moodiness; “An Awakening to A Ghost Ascends”, showing some variance, at times more up-tempo and even hinting at aggression; and lastly “Hiraeth”, “Autumn Moon” and “The Only Way Through Is Out”, sort of standout songs for each of us I guess.

When you look back on Lycia, what in its history has given you hope to carry onward? Perhaps that hope is in the present, rather than the past?
Mike VanPortfleet: I see what we’ve done the last few years, from Fifth Sun up to A Line That Connects as a restart in ways. What we are doing now definitely feels more in tune with the present than it does the past. In fact, I at times feel quite detached from my past work. It seems so distant, so long ago. I feel fortunate that we’ve been given this opportunity, to be on the fringe of relevancy again. At times in the 2000s it felt that we were all but forgotten. To hear current bands and musicians cite Lycia as an influence, to work with labels like Handmade Birds and Magic Bullet, and to be recognized by this faction of the press has been an absolutely breath of fresh air. Most bands are lucky to get one chance. To be given this second chance is unbelievable. But I have to admit, it sort of feels like I’m functioning on borrowed time.
Tara Vanflower: I honestly don’t think I could extricate Lycia from myself at this point. I was given this gift of involvement and I never forget that fact. I have had amazing experiences, met wonderful people, because of this gift. There are regrets and second guesses about what could have been, or how things should have gone. So with everything there is always this touch of sadness. I think Lycia moves forward because we don’t know how not to move forward. There seems to be a need more so now that we have a son for some reason. Like, this is part of who he is too, if that makes sense. Like leaving him a glimpse of who we are so that when we’re gone he knows a part of us we couldn’t articulate in words.

Will we see Lycia on stage at any point? I know touring isn’t part of the cycle for Lycia.
Mike VanPortfleet: I can’t see any scenario that could make that happen at this point. Lycia started as a studio band and we never really made the transition to being a decent live band. I’d like to think we could do it again, but I am a realist and I can’t see it happening.
Tara Vanflower: My goal is for our son to take over Lycia and tour with his friends so people can finally see Lycia live. [Laughs] I would be content running the merch booth and Mike could run the lights, which has always been his dream. 

** Lycia’s new album, A Line That Connects, is out now on Handmade Birds. It’s available HERE. Also, pick up Quiet Moments (HERE) and the reissue of Cold (HERE) from the same awesome label.