Stars Of The Lid
(Copyright © 1998 Piero Scaruffi)
See my bio on Stars of the Lid

Stars Of The Lid is a duo from Austin, Texas, made of Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride, which debuted 3 years ago with the ambient project of {Music For Nitrous Oxide} (Sedimental, 1995), followed by {Gravitational Pull Vs The Desire For An Aquatic Life} (Sedimental, 1996), and has recently released the more ambitious {Ballasted Orchestra} (Kranky), a double album that clocks in at 80 minutes. Wiltzie plays also with Bedhead and Windsor For The Derby, We chat with McBride about the past, present and future of the duo.

How did the project of Stars Of The Lid got started?
"Adam and I met each other mulling over records at the local student radio station one summer. We eventually dj-ed together, realizing our common interests, we decided to do something more productive. I manned tapes and Adam would pass out whippets and guitar tones."

Where did the concept of a "rock guitar duo" come from?
"This question makes no sense. We do like guitars because they can sound not like guitars."

Why only instrumental music?
"It just satisfied something we wanted to express. When you're trying to pay homage to the sounds of your refrigerator, there's no need for vocals. We have other projects that are less instrumental. Most of the time, music expresses feelings or emotions we can't express with words. Music is affective, it's more than just an opinion you have. Opting out of words is a part of that strategy. Making music is a process of giving back. Trying to pay homage to the beauty of sound that surrounds us. But at the same time, with all the crappy "vocally inspired boogie rock" in Austin, it just seemed like the right thing to do."

What was Adam's role in Bedhead and Windsor For The Derby?
"Adam recorded the Dark Ages EP and Beheaded LP and also would run sound live on occasion. Adam also played and recorded on the all of the Windsor records."

Brian, what is your background?
"Very little musical training. I used to do a radio show here in Austin called the Dick Fudge show. I'd basically layer all the quiet sounds I could find. I spent about three years always equipped with a tape recorder in hand. The show used many of these field recordings, environments records, TV/movie samples, and a song or two interlaced in between everything. Eventually I just began recording these collages at home."

How do those experiences relate to Stars of the Lid?
"They were a precursor of course."

In retrospect, how do you see {Music For Nitrous Oxide} (Sedimental, 1995)?
"We kinda have a bad taste in our mouths from this one. We were working with this friend of ours - we thought at least. We have no clue how many he's pressed. He never given us any record of what's been sold. It's really frustrating to put out your music and then relinquish control of it to so many people including the people who put it out in the first place."

In retrospect, how do you see {Gravitational Pull Vs The Desire For An Aquatic Life} (Sedimental, 1996)?
"Well, it says Sedimental. But the latest one says Kranky. We're pleased with its latest incarnation. The vinyl release on "Gravitational Pull" was a mastering/pressing disaster. Once again the issue of relinquishing control surfaces. It so frustrating to work on something for days to have it tainted by some engineer who can't even get together to listen for surface noise. Oh well, Cantus is a track that we're particularly fond of. Especially it's most recent version which was inspired by the Labradford remix - ala Bobby Donnes. Thanks Bobby."

How did it evolve or differ or learn from the previous one?
"We aged another year. More depth than breadth. Less pieces which pushed us into working harder on each piece."

{Ballasted Orchestra} (Kranky) is a monumental work. How come you had so much material for an album?
"Actually, we pulled some material from the record at the last minute because it just didn't seem to work. I don't think we viewed that record as a lot of material, we were just thinking in terms of sides. In retrospect, when listening to the vinyl, each side seems to make complete sense - or at least we thought it did at the time. We kind of knew from the onset different pieces that would be a part of the record, we'd play around with different orders, and then expand them into each particular side."

The new album appropriates instruments and styles that go beyond your roots: can you elaborate on this? Why those instruments rather than others?
"Well we don't really have any roots, so that's a tough one to answer. We both listened to a lot of classical music growing up and we've also appreciated the sounds you might find in your house, it's hard to isolate what exactly one's roots are when appreciation is so divergent. I wouldn't say our roots can be found in guitars. I think we've always been interested in creating sound out of whatever was around us. That could be a didgreedoo, flute, harmonica, or your coffee machine. It depends on how you listen to your environment, how your environment becomes a part of you. You don't need musical instruments to create sound. Making do with the nonetheless."

Is there an underlying transcendental motif in your music?
"No. We do hope to transcend what we don't like - especially the music scene in Austin."

In your music I hear bits of Stockhausen, Schulze, Alan Lucier, Gordon Mumma, minimalism, Main, Seefeel... even raga: have any of these been an influence on your current style?
"It's always interesting to hear what influences people will tag up next to our music. I think both Adam and I are very isolated musically. It's way too difficult to keep up with what's going on, especially today. Music and most entertainment industries seemed to have proliferated dramatically, probably as a result of recording technologies becoming more affordable. I always enjoy checking out the other artists we're compared to, because I'm largely unaware of them. We do have influences such as: Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno, Zbignew Preisner, Arvo Part , Labradford, Gorecki and, Talk Talk/Mark Hollis. I think we're equally influenced by sound as we are by music. Or maybe it's the form of the music. I remember always listening to my father play his classical records through the walls of our house. The music was always there but not always audible."

Would you care to tell us something about the genesis and technique adopted on these pieces? Start with [Sun Drugs]...
"We used to play it live. We took several stabs at recording it, and never really satisfied us. This is pretty much an offshoot. Two different melodies in D which formed different verses of a live song of ours - which can actually be found on a new EP which just came out called "Maneuvering the Nocturnal Hum."

[Taphead]...?
"Completely an accident. It's a melody Adam's grandmother used to hum to him at baseball games when he was a kid."

[Fucked Up]?
"Adam came home one night at around four."

[Music For Twin Peaks Episode #30]...
"Probably one of most struggling pieces to mix. I think it took us over a month to get this right. We're really intrigued with soundtrack music and David Lynch's series was very moving for us. We thought it would be nice to sonically continue where Lynch dropped off. Maybe these two pieces just represent our enthusiasm for the series to continue."

How do you see evolving from here?
"I think we're becoming a lot simpler and paying more attention to the sound. We're always trying to listen to ourselves better. Most of our time we spend listening to ourselves. The music still seems to be slowing down more, softer - but the sounds are much stronger. It's really interesting to listen to older recordings, and think they're too hectic. Our new record hopefully embodies some of this. It's a collaboration we've been working on for about two years now. We've taken the sounds of John McCafferity painting and tried to incorporate them into music. We're trying to expand what we know of collaborations by blurring the lines between the visual and musical artist a bit. Per Aspera Ad Astra should be out in July of 1998. We're also hoping to delve more into the soundtrack world. It would be nice to reach a different audience than the pages of CMJ."

Side projects?
"Adam's still working with Windsor and Brian's working with the Pilot Ships. The Pilot Ships have one record out on Ata-Glance called "There Should Be An Entry Here" and a new EP "The Limits of Painting and Poetry" on Amberley out in July. These side projects seem to satisfy something that the Lid doesn't do. The side projects aren't typically guitar based, they're more keyboard, piano, and vocally maintained, which all kind of violate the Lid aesthetic at the moment."