Secret Thirteen Interview - Lycia


Stark corners, quiet moments and autumnal sublime - the interview with Lycia's Mike VanPortfleet

For many years Lycia has been silently building impressive sonic structures made of haunted, mesmerizing and ethereal sounds drowned in thick layers of long reverbs floating somewhere into the distant horizons, where cold autumn sun meets the complex ornaments of leafless tree branches. Even though the band has never flirted with the mainstream, their influence subtly seeps into many notable underground acts (one of the greatest examples of such legacy would be Tropic of Cancer). The duo of Mike VanPortfleet and Tara VanFlower have always immersed our ears into the depths of vaults of existence, solitude, distant memories and beautiful contemplations balancing on the borders between ambient, shoegaze, coldwave, dream pop genres. They have left the urban environment in favor of desert surroundings and the latter also made a significant mark to Lycia's sound. In Mike's own words, desert might be hot and desolate, but at the same time beautifully remote. Such dualism of emotions and moods often shines through band's music as the journey to the stark corners of the soul and mind leads to the enlightment and harmony. The coherent discography of the band quite clearly merges the sublime moments of clarity with haunting desperation.

Following the reissue of their masterpiece "Cold", Lycia unexpectedly released "Quiet Moments", their 2013 masterpiece, which was matured in long time and was instantly placed among band's best work. "Quiet Moments" is the record unifying all the strongest moments of Lycia's catalogue and sometimes fusing them with refined electronic experimentations ranging from droney rhythmic pulsation to almost industrial harshness echoing somewhere far. Yet the signature elements of the band remain and they are as prominent as ever.

Thus, it is an excellent moment to speak with Mike, one half of the duo and the founder of the band. In this exclusive, elaborate and heartfelt interview he talks about hope, solitude, deserts, the lengthy evolution of the band. And we are just left wondering what might be their next turn.


Many years have passed since your last full length?

The last official full-length Lycia album was 2002’s "Tripping Back Into The Broken Days", but that was supposed to be an Estraya release. We decided to release under the Lycia name just days before it went off to the pressing plant, so in reality the last fully realized Lycia full length was 1998’s "Estrella". Either way it’s been quite awhile. We did the "Fifth Sun" EP back in 2010. So it’s only been a few years since our last completed work.

What was happening during those years?

A good portion of the 2000's was an inactive time for us musically. All of us did solo albums though, and Tara did some collaborations. For me, I mostly just was away from music and just functioned quietly in everyday life. I needed to be away.

How did "Quiet Moments" emerge?

"Fifth Sun" really got me excited about doing music again, and I wanted to continue by revisiting the "A Day In The Stark Corner" style. That’s what got things going with "Quiet Moments". As the work progressed and morphed I began to incorporate unfinished ideas, some dating back to 2006, that had been started and then abandoned. I think the finished album flows well and all the different styles from the different time frames work together as if they had been written in the same sessions.

How this album was matured?

I’m a different person today, and "Quiet Moments" is a good reflection of my current vantage point. I feel it has matured from the earlier Lycia material without a doubt. I’ve been doing music for a long time, since the early 80s, so obviously with age comes a different way of perceiving things.

In your music we find quite a reoccurring motive of solitude. What does it mean to you? Is it an opportunity to experience and contemplate some introverted thoughts or more a frightening state of alone? How does this feeling relate to your music?

I’ve always been an isolated person, and while it has been a stark and unpleasant state for me a few times during my life, mostly it has been a very comforting place. I like being alone. It does give me time to look inward. Drifting inward is something that gives me great comfort. During my youth this inward looking was an escape from things in everyday life that I was uncomfortable with, and wanted to be removed from. As I grew older I was able to find the same type of escape in music and in writing songs. The title track from "Quiet Moments" is all about this…it pretty much sums it all up. How does this relate to the music of Lycia? It’s the fuel. It’s the soul. The music of Lycia is all about isolation.

Your music seems to merge quite opposite emotions and moods. While "Cold" or "A Day in the Stark Corner" resonate with starkness of winter, "Tripping Back into the Broken Days" reminds of a desolated, yet beautiful deserted summer landscape. In "Quiet Moments" we also face opposition with such titles as "Greenland" and "Antarctica". Where does that come from? And how do the seasons influence you in general? What do they mean to you?

It’s not only the seasons, it’s the sense of time and place. Place in particular. A mood of a place, that feeling you get when a place overwhelms you, has always been a major influence on me. It led me to study geography in college and it led me to want to create. So, place imagery is very strong imagery to me. I use the symbology of aspects of place, including the seasons, as a representation of the moods that I’m feeling. The actual physical landscape representing an inner perceptional and/or emotional landscape. The desert as a hot and desolate place. The desert as a beautifully remote escape. The same place and time can represent polar opposites in regards to feel and mood depending on your vantage point. You can apply that to other places or to a season.

Apart from nostalgia and sadness, there are lots of hope and light in your sound (as we hear it). How do you perceive both? Are you generally an optimistic person and what emotions inspire you to create?

I wouldn’t call myself optimistic, but I do feel hope. I’m not nearly as somber as Lycia’s music may seem to indicate. The creation of music is an emotional release to me. It is an emotional vent. When I look at the world around me I do see much that troubles me and I have been called cynical by some people who are around me on a daily basis. Perhaps I may be seen as negative. I don’t think I am, but some may see me that way. I’m inspired by deep feelings, probably not much different than most people that create. I’m just filtering it in a different way. I prefer to see myself as a realist that is also very reflective. In my non music life I’m a realist, when I create I’m reflective. But I do see hope, especially of late, through the eyes of my little boy.

"Quiet Moments" cover art is taken from your childhood photos and the album is very much about the memories, nostalgia, past. What is your relation with the past? How important is nostalgia to you? How do you see it after all those years?

I’m getting older, and as I do aspects of my past are fading. People from my past are gone. Youth is something that passes fast, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Large parts of "Quiet Moments" are about this. It is fueled by nostalgia, by lost times, by memories of things that can never be again. I definitely miss much from that era. I think being a new father has influenced my attention back to these times. I see them from the vantage point of my own memories, yet I also see them through the filter of my son.

How does your living environment inspire you? Having in mind, that you live in the desert, how does it affect you as a personality and as an artist.

The environment around me plays a major factor in who I am, how I perceive the world, and how I reflect that world via creating.

The re-release of "Cold" was also a pleasant surprise for all the fans. How do you see that album from the present context? What does it mean to you?

Before "Quiet Moments" completion and release I always felt that "Cold" was Lycia’s high point. In fact only a short time ago, in the early interviews for "Quiet Moments", I still stated that. I still think "Cold" holds up well, and I think it is one of Lycia’s most important releases.

The presence of new social technologies and the intense speed and loudness of the modern world sometimes make life hard for romantics. What is your relation to these things as an artist? As you have lived in both internet and pre-net times, maybe you could spot some interesting insights?

Well, I really feel quite alienated from the world of social media, but it is a necessary evil. Lycia has sites up and we participate in this world because it is required. The pre-net times were definitely better in my opinion. Bands actually had to work hard to get noticed. Just making a locally distributed cassette was a big deal. It was next to impossible to get on radio or in a magazine. You really had to work hard to get your music out there. Today anybody can buy affordable software, with pre-packaged samples, write a few songs, call it an album and get it up on iTunes. And with very little effort. I think modern technology has created a narcissistic world. Instead of pushing forward and ahead people are just staring at themselves.

As far as we know "Tripping Back" was initially planned to be released under the name Estraya. Why did you change your mind and released under Lycia name? How did it come up?

It was a decision that I made at the last moment. My arm was twisted to a degree, but I did make the decision. It really was about getting "Tripping" into the stores. I was informed that as Lycia it would be distributed, as Estraya it would be mail order only. I felt too strongly about the songs on "Tripping", and I did not want it to get lost in the obscure world that is mail order. So, I changed it to a Lycia release just before it went to the pressing plant. I regretted that decision for years and felt bad that I did it, especially considering that "Tripping" really didn’t sell all that well. But in the end I’ve brought all the side projects back into Lycia anyway, so it’s no big deal to me anymore. In fact, I’m glad that the Bleak and Estraya releases are now all under the Lycia name. They were veiled Lycia releases anyway.

Your live shows are very rare. Why is that? Do you find it difficult to channel the emotion of your music live on stage? Are you going to tour more in the near future?

Live Lycia is done forever. We will never perform live again. That part of our life is over. Live shows were difficult for us because we never really made the transition from being a studio only band. Our shows always seemed like a struggle. We had some good shows though and in the mid 90s we toured a lot. But for me personally, it was always a struggle. Lycia started as a studio only band, and our best days were spent in the studio. By accepting this it enabled Lycia to come back. If Lycia still played live, there would be no "Quiet Moments". The studio is the place where Lycia needs to be, and where we will stay.

What pieces of art inspire you most at the moment? Are you more focused on listening to music or tend to explore some non-musical artforms?

I get a mild amount of inspiration from newer bands. There seems to be a lot of atmospheric bands out there now in a variety of quite different genres. I find it sort of exciting to see this variance. I’ve even heard that some of these bands are perhaps influenced by Lycia.

But mostly, as it has been since the 80s, our main creative influence is the sound of Lycia itself. I think that is why Lycia developed an original sound, we’ve been imitating our own sound for close to 30 years now.

How do you see the future of Lycia?

The future is now. Tara, David and I will be working on a new album together soon. But it will take awhile to complete, probably a couple years. Who knows, "Quiet Moments" may be our last peak, or perhaps the end of the line. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it works better now for me approach it day to day.

More about Lycia: Website - Facebook

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.


  1. MyDamnedFutileHope on

    Thank you for this very nice interview. I am more than glad to read this. Quiet Moments is definitely my favourite album of 2013, it needs repeated listening, daily.

  2. Quiet Moments made me feel a sort of anxiety that I'd never felt before. It was one of the most intense moments of my live. Luckily I survived.

Leave A Reply