feature interview

Tara Vanflower

Last updated 09/05/05

Tara Vanflower is a powerful performer, a unique and original songwriter possessed of both a distinct and surreal lyrical approach and an incredible vocal range that brilliantly compliments her work. As a member of Lycia and now with the release of her second solo disc "My Little Fire-Filled Heart", Tara has created a stunningly original body of work made up of abstract and eclectic pieces which showcase both her song writing skills and her incredible vocal talents. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have the chance to talk to Tara about the writing and recording of her new disc, as well as some other projects she has on the go including her upcoming book "Violent Violet".

ping things: So you've released your second solo disc "My Little Fire-Filled Heart", on which you did all the writing, played all the instruments, did all the production. How does the experience of working on your own compare to working as part of a group? What sort of things have you learned since recording your first disc and how were you able to apply them this time around?

tara vanflower: The biggest difference is that there are simply no rules. The only person I have to please is myself. I can do whatever I want without trying to figure out how it will work within the whole. I've learned a tremendous amount about how to use my voice since the recording of the first solo release as well as learning some technical skills where recording is concerned. I think a natural maturity and confidence comes with age and experience. I simply no longer care about being cool (not that I particularly cared much anyway, but when you're young "fitting in" seems somewhat important on occasion) or trying to be a part of some subgenre that doesn't really matter or actually exist.

Did you spend time experimenting in the studio, trying new things you haven't had a chance to do in the past or did you have a particular vision that you were working with? If so, do you think that the end result captures that vision or did it become its own thing?

I went in with no preconceived notions whatsoever. The whole album is an experiment. Generally the way I work is I have one sound or idea in mind. I record that one sound and then build around it mostly by accident. A lot of what comes through in my music (and I use that term loosely as I don't know that I create actual music, but more soundscapes than anything else) is pure chance or accident. Certain sounds, vocalizations, are mistakes that I feel work on some level so they end up staying. The album became a somewhat cohesive overall vision once it was finished. There are themes running through it, though loosely, that seem to meld together.

On a related note, how much control do you have over the songs you write? Do they come to you fully formed or do you let them take on their own life, develop of their own accord?

They have their own life completely. I try very hard not to fight the natural progression of a song/lyric. There have been times where I haven't liked the way something has evolved that I've written until I step away from it and come back later. This also works in the opposite. Some things I've been happy with only to not feel connected afterwards. I think that's natural since we evolve on a daily basis.

"I feel very comfortable with the stripped down nature of the album. I want my music to feel organic..."

There's a definite sense of intimacy on "My Little Fire-Filled Heart", a much more stark approach than you had on "This Womb Like Liquid Honey", and I think that stark approach really lends itself to the new material, gives it a feeling of secrecy, solipsism. Was this a conscious effort to strip things down or was it something that just happened of it's own accord? Do you feel more comfortable working with a sparse musical environment?

I feel very comfortable with the stripped down nature of the album. I want my music to feel organic, despite the fact that it's created on a computer. Nothing is ever perfect. Nothing anywhere is perfect. So for me the more stripped down, intimate approach is most comfortable. I have a rough voice, it does a lot of different things, none of which are perfect, so it seems logical to me to strip things back and let people hear the imperfections. If I'm anything it's honest. The only real thing I wanted to do with the second solo album was for it to be honest and sensual. I don't mean sensual in a sexual way, but tangible to the senses.

One of the things I like most about the disc is some of the multi-tracked vocals that suggest a bunch of Taras singing. Is this a case of studio wizardry or is there really a little army of beautiful voiced Tara clones who work in the studio with you? If there are, where do you keep them when they aren't in use? Can one rent them out for parties?

Oh, no one needs an army of Taras running around! Trust me! Every voice is unique on the album...not duplicated tracks.

"Lyrics are always this strange mix of emotion and imagery and just some sort of free form flow that comes from somewhere hidden."

In addition to the new disc, you've also been working on a novel called "Violent Violet", which will be released later this year by Publish America. Which is really cool, because I've always thought your lyrics have always had a very literary quality to them, a sophistication that would lend themselves well to the idea of a book. How does writing a novel differ from writing music? Do you write with the same "voice" that you use when writing music or do you find that you draw from different sources of inspiration? Do you prefer the succinct nature of lyrics or the freedom to expand on ideas that a novel allows?

Writing a book is far scarier to me than writing lyrics. I can lay my soul bare to anyone and not be afraid with lyrics, but writing a story, telling someone else's story, so to speak, is horrifying to me! I've let a few close friends read what I've written and it was frightening. I have no training in this area whatsoever, I'm simply just writing the story as it comes. So I have next to no confidence in my skills as a writer. The reason I do it is because it's fun to me. I probably enjoy writing stories more than I enjoy writing lyrics because it's more real to me. Lyrics are always this strange mix of emotion and imagery and just some sort of free form flow that comes from somewhere hidden. Stories are real, tangible, they follow a plot that makes some sort of sense, that to me is easier to write.

I know you were a big fan of Angel while it was on. What did you think of the last episode? Brilliant wrap-up of the series or slap in the face of true fans who had invested eight years of their lives in the characters? Did you cry at any point? Personally I balled my eyes out during the scene when you know who changes back to you know who while you know who was you know what. I whimper every time I think of that scene...

Wow, the funny thing is that it's been so long now that it's hard for me to remember exactly what happened in the final episode. I do know that I felt satisfied at the time. I was completely disgusted that Buffy and her crew turned on Angel though. I wish that Cordelia would have had a bigger part towards the end of the series. I don't like what they did to her character over the course of the last few seasons. I loved that Spike joined the cast and am disappointed we didn't get more time with him. I'm glad I finally stopped hating Faith and Connor... I still need to work on my hatred of Xander. hahaha They need to make an Angel & Spike show.

I was at a bookstore the other day and I came across a copy of "Go Ask Ogre" by Jolene Siana, which I thought was a really wonderful example of the connection that can grow between artists and fans. And this started me thinking about your own connection experience which led me to thinking about the internet and the fact that there's this opportunity for near instant accessibility between performer and audience. What do you think about that? Do you think it adds to or dilutes the fan experience? Do you think that you would have made the same connections online as you did through letters? Do your own experiences make you more open to the idea of connecting with your audience?

I have always been a really open person. Anyone who ever came to our shows knows that I pretty much hung out and would talk to anyone. This is ridiculous to even discuss really because there's no reason why ANY "artist" shouldn't talk to anyone. It's always been weird to me to be around people who acted funny around me because I'm in some band they like. I was never popular in school and don't expect to be now, so the idea that I would potentially separate myself from "fans" is ludicrous. I've always kept correspondence with anyone who ever made an attempt to correspond with me... at least I've tried to. This having been said, yes, illusions are shattered really quickly. Some people have this strange misconception that musicians are somehow different from "normal people". Anyone who knows me knows I'm just a big dork.

Your turn! Ask me a question, any question and I'll do my best to answer it...

Tara asks: hmmmmmm... so, is there life out there in the universe besides us? And if so, how do you think this will effect the chances of the Arizona Cardinals winning a Superbowl? (told you I'm a dork)

rik's answer: Hmmmmmm, I believe very strongly that given enough opportunity anything can happen, so knowing that the universe is like, really really really big, like I'm talking really frickin' huge, yeah, I think there's a good chance that there is other life out there. As for that other life affecting the chances of the Arizona Cardinals, I'm also a big proponent of the whole butterfly wings causing hurricanes thing, so, y'know, yeah, I can see it all coming together in a positive and satisfying conclusion for the Cards.

Imagine that you're given the chance of getting a million dollars provided you never cut your fingernails again. Ever. You HAVE to let them keep growing naturally. Think about it for a second. Is a million dollars worth that to you?

No, I don't think it is. All I can think about are the things that would be next to impossible to do. Besides, a million dollars isn't even enough money to retire on anymore. I might change my mind if someone actually offered though.

You've been making music for a long time now, you've reached a level of respect, success, and popularity both as a solo artist and as a member of Lycia. What are some of the things you'd tell somebody just starting out, somebody with stars in their eyes who's been inspired by your example?

We've reached a level of respect, success and popularity? Hmm... That's questionable. What would I tell them? Never go against your gut instinct. Play out as often as possible. Learn to record/master your own material. And don't trust record labels (most record labels).

I always end interviews by asking what people have planned for the future. It appeals to my feeling that music and art and creation are ongoing processes, and I dunno, I just like the sound of it... So tell me Tara, what do you have planned for the future? Any projects coming out that you'd like to let us know about, that you'd like to comment on? I understand you're doing some collaborative work with some pretty cool people, what can we expect from that?

Right now Mike [Van Portfleet] is mastering the project I recorded with Timothy, Revelator (Stone Breath, Moth Masque etc) called Black Happy Day. The recording came out beautifully. Besides that I have a collaboration with Jason Wallach (The Unquiet Void) called Kali in the works for the somewhat distant future. I have a mini cd coming out on Dark Holler called The Folklore of the Moon which is a subscription series whereby every full moon a new cd comes out and those who subscribe get these copies as well as a "freebie" cd for the new moons. I have the Full Wolf Moon of January [Visit http://www.somedarkholler.com/moon.html for more information]. Other than that I'm just waiting for the release of "Violent Violet" and am currently working on the follow up.

Anything you'd like to add?

Thank you, as always, for asking interesting/entertaining questions and for being supportive of us through the years.

Thanks Tara, you're the best! =-)

Tara Vanflower's new disc "My Little Fire Filled Heart" is available through the wonderful people at Silber Media (visit http://www.silbermedia.com/taravanflower ). You can also read an excerpt from "Violent Violet" at the Lycium website (visit http://www.lyciummusic.com )

Care to visit our older featured interviews?

read an interview with Arms Full of Sound

read an interview with the Blue Man Group

read an interview with Richard Baker, Scott M2 and Jamie Todd
discussing THE AMBiENT PiNG and the PiNG AMBiENCE CD

read an interview with Mercurine

read an interview with Numina

read an interview with ambient pioneer Steve Roach