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03 April 2018

INTERVIEW: Alyc Diaz of Vyva Melinkolya. Interviewed by Ellie Sleeper.

Vyva Melinkolya is the project of Kentucky-based solo artist Alyc Diaz. Her recently released self-titled LP has captured a lot of people’s imaginations – including ours – with its distilled dreaminess, incredible talent and personal subject matter. If you haven’t checked out her long player yet, we encourage you to do so. Enjoy getting to know more about her in the following interview, conducted by Ellie Sleeper.

Usually we open with asking how and where a band was formed, but it seems you've been working under this name for a while with a very different sort of sound. So, more accurately, when did this iteration of Vyva Melinkolya coalesce for you? What prompted the stylistic change? 
Well, Vyva Melinkolya was never by design a solo project nor a band, and I intend to keep my options open in terms of turning it into a group. However, it has remained solo, both because: being in a band is logistically challenging, and I'm also afraid of change in general. When I first started playing music, I was obsessed with folk instruments. For a long time, my music was sort of an experiment, a little directionless--even as far as experimental music goes. When I heard shoegaze for the first time, something sort of clicked; to me, it sounded like the “ultimate” form of music. Naturally, that's where my sound headed. I had always been playing around with psychedelia, but it didn't actually embody it until the last few releases. 

On Ms. Menthol, the LP you released at about this time last year, you mentioned feeling confident for the first time in the liner notes. It seems, as a listener, that you've found something that's very comfortable for you; that confidence shows. Is this a sound we should expect to hear more of from you?
With Ms. Menthol, I think I really “found my sound”. With the self-titled I’ve honed it to the point where, if it wasn't my music, I’d probably be listening to it. However, my confidence is constantly in flux; there are days where even thinking about my music makes me anxious and frustrated. Though, on my good days, it’s literally the best fucking feeling, better than sex or drugs or almost anything. When I’ve recorded something great, that feeling can last me for days, even weeks. This sounds so corny but, it’s a journey.

This is a big question, I know, but what are some of your future plans? Should we expect more shows in the future? This is an album I could certainly see a small lineup executing really well, and it's washy in a way that would translate nicely live.
Well, shows are tricky for me. I do intend, one day for Vyva Melinkolya to be a band. However, playing in a small band would be compromising in the respect that most of my music is very heavily layered. To put on a show with sound “missing” would feel unnatural to me, even though many bands do it successfully. In an ideal world I’d have two other guitarists, a bassist and a synth player (a drummer would be nice but it’s not a priority for me since most of my music uses synth drums). When I do play shows, I run everything through a PA system, loudly, with guitar and voice through my interface. With lights and fog machines it all works out. In general, I get more satisfaction out of recording than I do playing shows, and that’s my own damage. Every year for the past 3 I’ve released an album, and I’m stuck between going that route again or releasing an EP instead. Also, hopefully soon I’ll be releasing a split/collaborative record with an Ambient/Darkwave artist P/E/N/C/Y.

The album took about 8 months or so to complete, if I understand right. The attention to detail shows. What was the songwriting process like during those months?
I started out with a good amount of songs and ideas already there. Whenever I release something there's always stuff left over that didn't make it to the last album. Sometimes a song would come along after stringing lyrics together for months; sometimes I’d be in a mood and write one in a day. A lot of the time the final lyrics come to fruition once I've laid down preliminary tracks.

Were there particularly interesting challenges or epiphanies you had in the studio? Any fun studio stories?
With this record, I really took the time to go back into stuff again, going beyond tweaking knobs, sometimes redoing entire songs if that was needed. That’s the main difference between the production on this record and the way I recorded Ms. Menthol. For the most part, I moved away from looping guitars, to give everything a lot more personality and. on the flipside, most background vocals were created with a loop pedal. One of the most challenging things about the record was finding the right vocals. My voice has vastly improved since my earlier music, but it was still tough knowing how soft, how angry, how pained I wanted my vocals to sound. Also, Ms. Menthol was recorded through a USB mic and a small amplifier, whereas the self-titled was exclusively recorded through a Scarlett interface, which allows me to record directly into my DAW via line in and a mic for vocals. It's a double-edged sword because it allows me to record in the dead of night, silently (I live with my family). On the other hand, there's certain tones I feel like I'm missing, and I’ve spent so much time using the interface, I almost forget how amps work.  

What's the most important piece of gear for your sound? Are there any particular guitars, pedals, or amps you prefer?
My Strymon Big Sky is probably my most important piece of gear. It's the only reverb pedal I’ve used, and if it ever breaks I'll probably kill myself. The guitars I used on the self-titled were a Thinline Telecaster and a Jazzmaster; the latter I received toward the end of the 8 months and it allowed me to put the Kevin Shields “Glide” guitar on a few tracks. I use a Thunderbird bass that was used by one of my favorite punk bands growing up White Reaper, it’s probably decades old but still plays amazing. As far as pedals, the majority of the ones I have I buy used at a music store; I’m impatient like that.

Knowing most shoegazers are gear nerds--myself included--is there any gear you find yourself lusting after? Is there a dream rig by chance?
I’d really like to own the Electro Harmonix Canyon delay; aside that, nothing specific comes to mind. I tend to avoid looking for new gear because I’d just start buying everything.

Lyrically, I noticed a particular openness, a real vulnerability on the majority of the new songs. Are there particular themes you find you're drawn to? Are there any stories about the song you think listeners should know?
This album, I tried going into myself and being honest about how I feel; I’ve done this before, but not with the same frankness and vulnerability. “1am” is about fickle lovers, how difficult dating as a trans person can be, and how unwanted I feel because of it. “Exist” was written in two sittings, during a good acid trip and during a really tough night by myself, it centers itself on a feeling of wasting away, a little bit about being an addict in denial. “Identity” is about how confusing and distressing gender and self-image are for me. This album coincided with my first 7 months of hormones, which has been, honestly, a ride. When I sing, I don’t really feel like my voice has a gender, and that puts me at ease. If I had a choice, I’d be able to sing higher, but I work with what I have. On a brighter note, “Soft Red Lights” was about kissing a friend and “Flowers in the Void” is about Rachel Goswell.

Who were some of your influences on this record? Sometimes it felt to me more like maybe you were drawing from the whole Japanese shoegaze sound. "Starry Black Eyes" also had some goth-tinged moments. What inspirations were most present for you on this self-titled?
Cocteau Twins and Slowdive are, and will probably always be, my biggest influences, and alongside them in that family of sound, Skywave and Bethany Curve. Some bands that I’d slept on for years whose sound leaked onto the album were Deftones and Smashing Pumpkins.

What was your process for recording this time around? What gear and/or software did you use? Was there anything you'd recommend to others?
Usually, when I have a direction in mind, I start with looped guitar; that and scratch vocals will show me the structure of the song in Logic. After that, I record bass, then midi drums. Then I delete the looped main guitar and replace it with a complete version, adding the other guitars and synths. I usually do all the vocals last. The recording can take a few days to a week, the mixing can last for weeks, and I’ll probably have started recording other songs by then. It's a miracle I finish everything.

Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel aligned with any particular genre?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aiming for the realms of shoegaze and dreampop. If I had to choose my own “interpretation” of genre, I’d consider my music Goth Psychedelia. Some other genres leak through the cracks as well: post rock, bedroom pop, drone; I like covering all bases.

How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?
I actually love genres! I love splitting hairs about music because there are so many sounds being made that cannot be accurately described as just “indie” or “alternative”. Every music scene is like Pandora’s box in my eyes, the end of the Thames valley. Shoegazing wasn’t the end of the genre; it was only the beginning. Sure, the difference between some kinds of music is negligible but, no, I don't think there are “too many” genres.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream-pop/psychedelia bands? Have you got any favorites?
Some of my favorite music is on the newer side. To list a couple: Them Are Us Too, Tamaryn, Drab Majesty, Chelsea Wolfe. In particular, there's a label called Wild Patterns that is run by just one guy. He has a heavy shoegaze, an ambient/slowcore, a synth pop and a goth project; I cannot recommend his stuff enough!

The landscape of the music industry as we know it is always changing. How do you feel about the state of the modern music industry?
Honestly, the only info about the music industry I have is what I’ve personally experienced. The mainstay, as its been for a while, is online listening. I’ve adapted to the social media aspect of music; I’ve always spent too much time online so it's second nature to me. I’ve gotten more fans and more listens by being an attention whore on the internet than I ever have by playing local shows. In addition to the page I run for my music, I also run two meme/music sharing pages on Facebook: “Slutgaze” and “Cocteau Twins, being Non-Binary and Fog Machines”.

When it comes to label releases vs. DIY/Bandcamp, what is your stance, if any?
I’ve been self-releasing more by habit than anything. I hope one day I can have a label release.

What's your preferred listening format? Any strong preference for vinyl, CD, cassette, or MP3?
I mostly listen digitally; it’s most convenient to me and to most people. I have some vinyl but it’s not something I use every day.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?
I’ve probably mentioned some of these in other questions but, musically: Starflyer 59, Grouper, Medicine, Slowdive, Chapter House, MBV, Loveliescrushing, Deerhunter, MGMT, Cocteau Twins, Julee Cruise, Grimes, Slint, Deftones, Chelsea Wolfe, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Galaxie 500, Bethany Curve, Tamaryn, and Durrutti Column. In terms of visual media, I’ve taken influence from the films of David Lynch and Gregg Araki.

Is there anyone you're listening to lately? Or have you got anyone you think readers should know about?
Aside from the projects of the Wild Patterns label, which I recommend highly, I’ve been listening to a lot of slowcore. Low and Codeine in particular

If you had to choose one track that was the ultimate definition of your sound, which would it be and why?
The first track on the self-titled “Love’s Easy Years” (a play on a 1986 Cocteau track) is a good summation of my sound. The drums are sharp, not quite like an analog kit but not quite a drum machine. The main guitar is super heavy; it rips through the mix, while the other guitars and synths swirl around it. I’m always chasing a “larger than life” sound.

What is your philosophy on life, if any? Is there any particular outlook you live by?
I don’t really have one. Not to be dark but, I didn’t even think I’d wanna be alive this long. I’m kind of just here to make music, some other things, but mostly that. I’m kind of like a shark I guess:  if I stop swimming I die.