The State Of Dreaming: Stars Of The Lid Interviewed

Before ambient legends Stars Of The Lid head to their long-awaited European tour, Adam Wiltzie talks to Nikita Velichko about recurring dreams, long distances and heavy expectations

Sleep is the most accessible way of getting away from reality.

It’s freezing in my room. Before I call Adam Wiltzie from Stars Of The Lid, all I can hear through the silence is my heater’s rumbling and chirring. The sound stops for a split second in indefinable intervals, as if it were an independent droning musical instrument. The same way the heater helps me maintain warm temperature in the room, nearly every night Stars Of The Lid’s music lulls me to sleep. And that seems to be a common thing – just type “stars of the lid sleep” in Twitter search and see. I ask Adam if he has something against using his music as a cure for insomnia. “I’m the one who always says that I don’t put out anything unless I fall asleep to it”, he answers.

But don’t get fooled that Stars Of The Lid’s music is tiresome or simply dull. It has a wide range of emotions, as in dreams you can experience different feelings. However, on the fundamental level their peals of longueurs create the intensity of tranquility. Each part of the track is escalating, dissolving in infinity. The pieces are limitless and majestic, absorbing your attention, preventing you from being constantly wired to the amounts of multiform information. You watch the beauty, then disconnect.

By the time we talk with Adam, who’s also a film composer and part of ambient duo A Winged Victory For The Sullen, he and Brian McBride haven’t seen each since their last concert in the US – almost for a year. They met in Austin, Texas, in early 90s; now Adam lives in Brussels, while Brian decided to move to Los Angeles. Both got used to working independently – not only for solo projects, but also for Stars Of The Lid’s compositions, changing audio files as well as still sending DAT tapes by mail.

The duo hasn’t released a new album for nine years, since the critically acclaimed Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline. Now they tour Europe, including most of the dates in UK, ending in Brussels’ church right across the street from Adam’s home. The uniqueness of this tour is that at the suggestion of Paul Smith, the founder of Blast First label, Stars Of The Lid are experimenting with legendary Moog system, bringing along friends – Bobby Donne from Labradford, studio collaborator Francesco Donadello and the Echo Collective string ensemble. Guitars, samplers, strings, keyboards – and Moogs. Why were Stars Of The Lid interested in working with Moogs?

Adam Wiltzie: Moog is not really something I’ve ever used before. I think most people think that we’re using keyboards, but we’ve always traditionally just used guitars and samples of guitars. Moog has always been something I enjoyed, but just never used. I ran into Paul Smith, who asked me if I wanted to use this Moog System 55. It’s expensive, it’s rare, and it’s huge. It’s a giant piece of furniture. Sometimes life windows open, and you choose – do you go through the window or not? And I’ve decided to go through the window.

Can you describe how it’ll influence your sound during the tour?

AW: I don’t know if it kind of influences anything, but it’s a new palette. It’s a new voice. It’s going to be really fun to bring it in and to play the old songs, to breathe new life into them. At the same time we’re going to work on couple of new pieces. The thing about that Moog system is that it doesn’t have any presets. You have to be really careful with it. It’s a fine line with this machine – it can sound incredible one second, and it can sound totally ridiculous the next. It’s very delicate. But when you get it, when you massage it just right, it sounds incredible. It’s like a giant bear, that’s the way I would describe it. If you push it the wrong way, the bear gets very angry.

What stops you from finishing the new album?

AW: Nothing stops. I think it’s more like a problem with the world. The world thinks that as an artist you have to follow this pattern – musicians record, and they go tour, then they go back record, they go tour… For me, I like to do different things. 2007 was the year we put out our last record. Sure, that was nearly ten years ago. But I’ve been doing other things; it’s not that I didn’t want to do any record – it’s just that I felt doing something different. For me, just doing something because it’s popular is not really a reason to do something. You need to be inspired, you need to feel it’s fresh. That’s why getting this Moog and bringing it to the palette of Stars Of The Lid is an appealing thing. Maybe this will inspire us to push on and finish the record. But you know – we’re still together, we’re still productive, we’re still working on music. Just recording a record to record is not really a reason to record for me. And you have to have a reason behind it. You just make art, because you feel like it. I never wanted it to be like a job.

Did you have a reason for releasing And Their Refinement Of The Decline?

AW: We’ve been working on it for a long time. At that time, we felt like we were doing some new things, some new sounds that we thought were interesting to us, that’s why we finished the record. That’s not that we don’t have new music – it’s just more finding a sort of time and space that you could dedicate to it. You know, the world has an interesting way of feeling entitled for something. Just time passing is not a reason to just make a new record. There’s plenty of music in the world, don’t you think? Don’t you feel as if there’s a lot of music that’s released, so that’s not really very-very good? I wish more people would spend more time and think about what they’re doing. Even me – I’m releasing way too much music. Sometimes I think that I need to slow down even more.

Brian once said, “I wouldn’t say electronic music is really all that ignored. It depends on what someone does with it. Electronic dance music seems to have quite a lot people who flock to it. It sort of depends of the function of the music.” I’m interested in this question of functionality. How do you understand the function of ambient and psychedelic music? Do you ever think about it?

AW: I don’t actually think about it – isn’t that more of your department? I think about making art, creating something beautiful, but I don’t think about its functionality. Yes, when I create something, in the context it seems to work with what I’m feeling. When I’m making my own record, it’s one thing, cause I get to make something exactly that’s 100% my personality. But I just made a film score for a French thriller that’s gonna come out in November. It was asking for tension, so I had to add some tension, which is not really a 100% my personality – that’s something I’ve just learned over the years of being artist, to create a sort of this feeling, this emotion. So I guess that’s functional – for the job of creating a film score. The art that you’re creating has to has to work in the context you’re creating it. But for my own records, when I have a 100% choice on the sound, I probably don’t think about it that much. Or maybe I’m thinking about it directly. I’m not sure. I don’t think I think about it very much, unless it’s for a job.

What do you think of using your music as a drug for curing insomnia and depression?

AW: I think that’s fantastic. If some people can get that kind of relief out of our music, that’s great. I know a lot of parents, friends of mine, who have kids. They use my music to calm their kids down. It works really well. It’s a drug in some sense – a baby drug. I make baby drugs.

Do you ever have musical dreams?

AW: I mostly dream in French. Usually I dream about tennis.

Could you describe any of your dreams about tennis?

AW: It’s usually related to Björn Borg. He was my idol when I was growing up. I’m swimming in a lake in Sweden, and there’s a tennis court. I come out of the lake and I play tennis with Björn Borg. It’s one my favourite dreams. Maybe it’s fantasy, but it’s a recurring dream I have.

Do you remember most of your dreams so well?

AW: Not lately. As I become older, my dreams become more and more blurry. They’re not very vivid anymore. Some nights, but most of the time no.

Do you or Brian have any problems spiritual, physical or psychological that music helps solve?

AW: I would say not anymore. I can’t speak for Brian. For myself, I don’t really listen to music much anymore. Because I create so much music, I’m not listening to it recreationally. Mostly, cooking has become more a therapy for me. I do like to go see visual art, go to a gallery or a museum. Or silence. Sometimes silence is what I need more of anything – just to turn anything off, sit in the quiet. That can be like music too. Silence has its sounds. That’s very therapeutic for me.

And when did you start listening to music less?

AW: I would say, over the past ten years. When it sort of became my job, I’ve listened to it less and less. It’s not that I don’t love it – I still love music, it’s still an important part of my life. But when it becomes a job, a huge part of your year you’re composing for different formats: for your own music, commission pieces, for films… Your head becomes full, and you need to not to listen to anything. What do you do when your head gets full? Get off the computer – that’s probably part of it too. If you work at the computer, it feels like it’s zapping your brain after a while.

Last year you said you got better at writing sheet music and dealt more recording with orchestras. Did you always want to do that?

AW: Even though I didn’t study classical music to learn how to do that, over the past ten years I’ve been recording more and more with orchestras. It’s kind of like learning another language. That’s the part of the reason I moved in Brussels. I just wanted to leave the monolingual society. When there’s very one language, and it’s very dominant, it also creates strange nationalism, kind of strange stupidity in a sense, that I wanted to just to not live anywhere one was saying. It’s always been something that I thought was really beautiful; that’s kind of how I felt about classical music. I didn’t understand it, but I wanted to understand it a little bit. I’m not fluent, but I understand that I can speak a little bit. A metaphor for writing music. But it’s something I’ve become quite passionate about; I love it. It gives quite a calm feeling for me.

You’ve once said that you benefit from the geographic distance between you and Brian. How exactly?

AW: Time and distance have a huge metaphorical value with what we do. For whatever reason, we don’t really need to be in the same room. Although sometimes we create beautiful things in the same room, in general most of good pieces we’ve created have been in a kind of distance, in separation. But, you know, classic example is ‘A Meaningful Moment Through A Meaning(Less) Process‘, a song pretty well-known from our last record. Brian sent me a tape with the piano loop; then I had the guitar drone on top of it. It’s a perfect example of how Brian and I get inspired and do something really quickly, actually. But completely separate from each other.

When did you come back to Austin for the last time? And how did it change from the last time you were there?

AW: I was there a few weeks ago. It didn’t change at all. It’s hot. I don’t really like it very much. But man, there are delicious tacos.

Did you really work in porn theatre in 1996, as you wrote on Facebook once?

AW: Yeah. I had a porn job.

For how long?

AW: I did that for maybe a year. I needed money, and I was in a pretty dark spot. Just seemed fitting that I was working at a pornographic movie theatre.

Have you recorded music during that job?

AW: Yeah, I’ve recorded The Ballasted Orchestra during that time. It’s a pretty dark record.

What do expect from new Twin Peaks?

AW: I’m actually not looking forward to it. I’m a little bit afraid. Twin Peaks has a great feeling with me, I hope they don’t ruin it. Obviously I’ll watch it. But I don’t know what to expect. What about you?

I’m also afraid, and my next question was if you were afraid.

AW: Yeah. I’m afraid. I have fear.

How do side projects appear in your lives? When you’re composing, do you understand this thing’ll work for Stars Of The Lid, and another for your film score or some side project?

AW: Not really. You can easily tell the difference between A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Stars Of The Lid, but for me they’re all connected. There is a uniform, sort of texture in sound to a lot of the compositions. But I don’t know if it really matters so much. I like that. I like being vague; I like the fact that people don’t really know and understand, that I’m still being anonymous. Although I’ve been doing this for 25 years.

Stars Of The Lid are on tour in Europe now

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