Stars of the Lid – Music For Twin Peaks Episode #30 Part I
As scientists of sound, Stars of the Lid compose their slow motion symphonies with an expansive, ethereal drift in mind. Lasty year, their Kranky-released double album …And Their Refinement of the Decline was met with widespread critical acclaim and has since been heralded as the duo’s masterpiece. However, despite the gushing praise, Adam Wiltzie insists that it’s certainly not ambience for the masses.
Your music has a sort of visual, cinematic quality to it. When you’re composing, do you ever think in terms of images or colours?
“Oh, definitely. I think there was a point where I was finding it harder and harder just to get influenced by other music or to be motivated to make music for its own sake, so I needed to find other outlets to inspire me. I started to actively search out movies and art, and I’d always scatter colours, shapes and images around my studio. Whether they’re pink squares or a picture of a beautiful sculpture, I really think it does have a huge, profound impact on me.”
Solo projects aside, how much of the last six years were focused on the new album?
“I was always working on it, but I’d say the last three years more intensely. The whole concept was to try to make a record where it would just be a case of working on it when something came to me. It’s as simple as that. Best way to make a record. Usually I take my time anyway but every six months to a year you’re being reminded that ‘due date for Christmas is September 1st’, so I feel…you lose yourself a little bit because you think ‘okay, we’ll put out something I’m not 100% on just so we can make a deadline’ and for me that’s not the way it should be. But I think that’s how most people to do it. Obviously, there are a lot more bands now than there were ten years ago, but people are putting out records at an unbelievable pace. Even with musicians I respect, I don’t like all their albums because they’re not making great ones anymore. They’re making a living from it and they have families to feed so I guess they have to bring home the bacon.”
So for the sake of quality control, do you prefer not to have to live off music in that sense?
“We don’t really sell that many records anyway. I don’t think it would even be possible if we wanted to. I think that helps a lot. I mean I’ve worked with a lot of bands that do live off their music and I think their material does, at times, suffer because of that. They have a label to contend with and managers to pay. It’s not solely about the music anymore, it becomes like a machine that they have to keep feeding or it will die. I just don’t want to ever be like that. I feel fortunate if people find our music, but in a way I’m glad it’s not more popular because I have to ask myself whether success would change me into thinking that I have to keep putting stuff out there.”
Given its sparse nature, are people ever surprised when they hear how long you spend creating the music?
“Honestly, I don’t know. It’s a good question. Maybe you could answer better than me!”
Well I heard that for the song ‘Music for Twin Peaks Episode 30’, you spent a month just mixing it.
“Yeah! Which actually isn’t that much anymore. At the time, I had forty or fifty different mixes for that song and I spent a long time just…listening. Different places, different atmospheres. Those levels that you hear, there’s a sort of gritty guitar that comes in at the very beginning and I couldn’t really get the right level, so it was really small things I was changing. But in the end I think I came up with the best mix. It’s a really harsh, distorted guitar but it sounds so soft and lovely when you hear it first coming in. It’s almost like a locust or something. So, it helps!”
I think part of the magic of Twin Peaks was that it felt like this strange little world actually existed out there somewhere. Similarly, your music feels like it inhabits its own particular place. Do you think that when your listeners are immersed in it, they’re all, in a way, occupying the same space while still in their own bedrooms?
“Yeah, I think a little bit for sure. People say that it’s their favourite thing to listen to before they go asleep, which is fine by me. This nocturnal activity seems to be the general thing that bridges everyone together so there is a sort of camaraderie amongst the application it’s used for. I know that when I’m making the record it’s always been the case that if I can’t fall asleep to a track, it doesn’t ever make the final cut.”
Is there a sense of relief when you finally finish an album?
“Oh my God, the biggest relief in the world! It’s like you took the biggest shit in your entire life and you just feel like a million bucks. And you never want to hear it again…Every time I just feel really spent, like I never want to do another record.”
Well that can’t be too good a feeling, can it?
“Well it’s a relief, you know? Although I do enjoy making music, it can feel like a burden.”
Brian (McBride) described your earlier recordings as ‘hectic’ – how do you think you’ve evolved over the last few albums?
“I don’t want to say that we’ve gotten better. We’ve just evolved a little bit like any band that’s been around for a while. I think we’ve become a bit more mellow and hectic is a pretty good description of what it once was. During my early twenties, I was really in a dark place. Although the music can be described as darker now, there was just a sort of insanity behind the first few records that really comes across. Maybe a normal person could listen and not tell the difference but I think there’s a huge change in what we’re doing now. And hectic it is not.”
Your music seems to reward time spent with it – do you think in a time of internet downloads and leaked albums, people’s attention spans are on the wane?
“I think in general people have really poor attention spans. With us, you don’t even have to sit and actively listen to the record, so I don’t know what people want. Personally, I love background music that you can put on and go about your business, but most people aren’t like that. I could never try to convince someone to listen to my music because I know nine times out of ten, the person probably listens to the White Stripes or something and would just throw our stuff out the window.”
So you don’t really care who listens to it then…
“I really don’t. I feel that we’ve been more than fortunate to have a nice label to put out the record and we have some people that have connected with it. A small amount it may be, but I feel fortunate to have these people. I mean I’ve been to festivals, I know firsthand, I’ve seen their faces, these people…I don’t want them to be my fans. If they find a way to discover it without having it pushed down their throats and if they really like the music for what it is, that’s great. I just don’t want to be mass marketed. I don’t know how you found out about it, but for me word of mouth is still the best way.”