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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

April 13, 2007
It may have been six years in the making, but Stars of the Lid have come up trumps once again with their latest release, And Their Refinement of the Decline [review]. In all fairness, the eventual landing of the album last week pays testament to the duo's unrushed approach to music. Busting balls to release a record simply wouldn't suit Stars of the Lid - a band, it would seem, very much in touch with reality. LAS staffer Mike Wright caught up with Adam Wiltzie, one half of the band (the other being Brian McBride), via a series of emails to discuss the record, and how his music fits into the general scheme of things.
---

LAS: How has the new album worked out for you; do you feel you've learned much during the course of writing it? Have you had much feedback yet?

Wiltzie: What I learnt was essentially in the past, or I should say around finishing Tired Sounds; I was pretty fatigued, mentally. I wondered why I felt it was so necessary to make a record every year, or to be in the endless cycle of recording, then touring, and then starting over again. I reckon that, in general, musicians can fool themselves into thinking the whole world salivates for more new music, and the result is letting that false sense of reality push them into releasing music that is not really finished, or just to make the release date their label wants them to make so as to beat the Christmas rush, et cetera. So, some people will pre-suppose that six years is a long time to wait to release a new record. But I do not buy into that assumption.

But Stars of the Lid has been going for over a decade now, and even though it was six years between Tired Sounds and the release of the new record, And Their Refinement of the Decline was still quite hotly anticipated. Do you think that that is something you are able to enjoy now, because you were more prolific in the past?

I am generally weary of musicians sitting around wondering what the world will think of their record, or "what will my record will do to the musical journal landscape," or something of the sort. I know that I am lucky to have a label that cares, and a few people to buy the compositions that I create, but I am a realist, so I know most people couldn't give a rat's ass about Stars of the Lid. Hotly anticipated? Geez, I am not so sure. A long time ago I decided that I would not pursue music as my sole reason to exist, because as soon as [I did] I would have to think about these kind of things more seriously. I have chosen another path, of part-time musical endeavors and long vacations in Greece, because essentially, for me, being prolific has too many negative connotations.

How did you go about writing the new album, what with Brian in the States and you in Belgium? Was it a case of you recording something and sending it to him to work on, and back and forth like that?

Even when we lived in the same city we rarely worked together in the same place. I would record a base to a piece of music, and he would come over for a glass of wine, and a listen, and would leave with a DAT tape to take home so as to add another melody. We continue that tradition, and I would him send tracks, through AOL instant messenger mostly. During the six years we got together one time in Los Angeles.

Do you both pretty much accept one another's ideas, or do you make a point if you don't think that a song or an idea is working out?

We are both highly critical of each other, and ourselves. It needs to be this way in order to achieve a level of quality to the compositions. It really would have to be dissected on a song-by-song basis. "Tippy's Demise," for example - I composed and recorded the song in it's entirety. Brian really loved the beginning build, but when the cello solo part that led to the bass notes... he wanted to change that part completely. So he came up with the "C part" that leads to the end pizzicato/clarinet ending. In the end it has made a better composition. In the early days, because he was a few years behind me musically, he did not critique as much, so maybe the recordings suffered because of this?

You seem to have used a range of different instruments and sounds with Tired Sounds and Refinement, as compared with the earlier, guitar-oriented albums. What prompted the idea to incorporate strings and woodwind instruments?

I suppose that would have to be directly related to my influence from film score music. As I may have said, it is painfully uncomfortable for me to talk about my body of work with any sort of reverence, but I think you can see a gradual change occurring that, at the moment, really sounds like score music for films. This is a pretty obvious reference, because it is essentially the only kind of music that I receive any sort of enjoyment from. I do not think I sound like any composer in particular, but the classical movements are there in spirit. I suppose many of the Stars of the Lid pieces have definitely seen a drop in minutes because of this theme that I am in search of.

Did you have a specific agenda or plan before you started to write and record the album?

The only agenda was to take as much time as possible, especially in the mixing. I tried to pursue more of a classical feel to the recordings than I maybe did in the past, and I also reckon I was not so keen on letting a simple idea fester for too long. Of course there are a couple pieces on the record that travel long distances, but in general the pieces are shorter.

What kind of reactions do you get from people who hear Stars of the Lid for the first time without a real frame of reference? Do you think your music is accessible, despite being quite far removed from what the general public tends to hear on the radio everyday?

I never sat around and listened with anyone. I suppose the only people that hear it that I get any feedback from is from my mom, Brian, or my girlfriend, Christina. It is a difficult question for me. Maybe you would have encountered more responses to this science experiment? As far as accessibility, I would say not much. I have a pretty low opinion of the human race in general, and I reckon we are all doomed, so I have not had much chance to wonder if maybe a little Stars of the Lid could possible save us. Maybe just save some poor sod from a sleepless night.

Is writing music a compulsion for you, or can you go for months without writing anything?

I don't know what the adjective would be to describe me on this one. I have a piano at home, so I am always playing - none of it being in play for some diabolical conceptual plan, but more of just an enjoyment to play piano by myself.

So you just play by yourself, and if you feel an idea has potential, you might take it further? Do you ever come up with ideas that you feel would be completely incompatible with Stars of the Lid, or any of your projects?

Strangely, no. I would say 99% of everything I write at this point is very much caught up in this vein. The past year I have been working as the sound engineer for Sparklehorse. [Mark] Linkous and I are friends, and I generally like what he does, but it has had an adverse effect on my ears; I think I never want to hear rock music again.

The tracks you used for The Dead Texan weren't too far removed from the Stars of the Lid style. Were they ever intended to be Stars of the Lid tracks? Do either you or Brian plan to revisit your solo projects?

I am sure they will be visited very soon. The Dead Texan is always ongoing. Mainly because we live together, and we can easily play live.

Do you have any plans to tour behind Refinement?

It would seem that it will happen eventually. It looks like more than likely Spain and Portugal in the fall.

There are quite a few additional musicians on the album - could you envisage them being part of the live show?

My dream live set up would be Brian and me with an orchestra, but that will never happen. We will most likely try some shows out with a quartet this time.

How did you hook up with Sparklehorse? Were you a playing member on the tour?

For some reason, Mark Linkous is a fan of my music. I was hired as FOH sound engineer. But coming up in May, The Dead Texan will be his backing band for a tour of Italy with Fennesz.

What's next for Stars of the Lid? Do you have any set plans, or will you just see how it goes?

November should see the first Stars of the Lid shows since 2002. We will start in Spain and Portugal. We are also working on a DVD with our projectionist, Luke Savisky, choc full of new films, and all of our recorded history as seen through the eyes of the very tall man.

SEE ALSO: www.brainwashed.com/sotl
SEE ALSO: www.brainwashed.com/sotl/deadtexan
SEE ALSO: www.kranky.net

--
Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other articles by Mike Wright.

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