Brian McBride (Stars Of The Lid)

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From time to time, I will post old features in an attempt to archive posts from past incarnations of my blog(s) that don’t make me squeamish while reading them. Here’s my 2007 interview with Brian McBride of Stars Of The Lid circa the release of And Their Refinement Of The Decline

Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie have been crafting ambient symphonies under the Stars Of The Lid banner for well over a decade now. Stars Of The Lid’s latest album for Kranky, And Their Refinement Of The Decline, continues to develop the classical tendencies of 2001’s acclaimed The Tired Sounds Of. I recently had the opportunity to field questions to Brian McBride, who performed a solo set in New York City last month to close out the 2006 – 2007 Wordless Music Series.

McBride has lived in Los Angeles for several years now while Wiltzie resides in Belgium. They pieced together their new album by sending each other ideas by way of computer. I wanted to know how SOTL makes this work. McBride explains, “I can say that it helps if each of the artists are motivated. You have to send stuff back and forth on a regular basis. You often need deadlines. You gotta talk about what you like and don’t like no matter how abstract and obtuse it is. Talking about the minutiae of music is real difficult from far away especially with our music. The most comical thing in the world is for us to try to describe certain sounds that we like to the other person.”

If someone were to ask me where I thought music like this was created, I wouldn’t say Los Angeles. McBride agrees with me that L.A. probably isn’t the most accommodating source of inspiration for an artist of his kind. “The only inspiration that L.A. provides me is alienation. I call it the effective disconnect. L.A. is a friendship of utility, but I’m not inviting that friend over to my place any time soon,” he says. However, living in L.A. has allowed McBride to continue his other passion: debate.

McBride has been a debate coach at USC since 2006 and has previously coached at Northwestern University. He was also a prolific, award-winning debater during his own college years in Austin. McBride describes how his other passion started, “Well, there’s no doubt when I first started debating I quickly became an addict. I was addicted for easily a decade (4 years in high school and 5 years in college). My older brother, David, introduced me to debate. He debated in high school and I obviously wanted to follow in his footsteps. I resisted at first and then I realized how, with a little work, it was possible to prepare yourself for these little verbal encounters.”

“As far as my love of coaching goes, it all depends on the situation. By that I mean the students that you’re working with, the institutional support and your state of mind,” McBride adds. “There are parts of debate that I still really admire, but there’s also a lot that is truly a waste of time. I often feel like I live this incredibly contradictory double life: on one side, I listen to debaters speak really, really fast and the other side makes music so slow it’s almost backwards in time. I’m either real balanced or totally fucked. I have to be able to discern sound on both extremes.”

In 2005, McBride released an excellent solo album, When The Detail Lost Its Freedom. McBride relays his progress on a follow-up, “It’s in what we call the nurturing stage. Given that the previous record was concept heavy in the sense that it was kind of a scrapbook through a particular time in my life, I have quite a bit of music that is not a part of that time. At the moment, I’m sort of looking for the missing musical sock. I have so much stuff recording that I’m cataloging a bunch of what I can still listen to.” McBride also mentioned that he may use portions of his Wordless Music performance for a future recording.

It has been quite some time since SOTL last performed live. There are no definitive dates as of yet, but in a recent interview with Lost At Sea, Adam Wiltzie noted that there have been talks of a trip to Spain and Portugal later this year. When asked about the possibility of U.S. performances, McBride said, “Given that Luke [Savisky, who has directed videos for SOTL] will be with us, it makes little sense to play the same cramped rock clubs. Luke’s projections and Adam’s tendency to drool on stage require wall space. At the moment, we’re thinking that we want to do a U.S. tour in some combination of planetariums, theatres, museums, galleries and observatories. We’ll see if it pans out. Lid over America will happen, but it all depends on America.”

Luke Savisky directed a video for “Apreludes (in C Sharp Major),” a track from the new album. Savisky has also provided visual projections for SOTL live performances. McBride feels that Savisky’s contributions to SOTL are vital. “Luke’s work provides a certain ballast to what we do musically. The pace of his films are often times necessary to remind us to slow down. Playing live is tough for us in that way. It’s very easy for us to overplay or play too quickly. There’s something about the live environment that requires a mood for us and his pacing is one such reminder.”

Given the cinematic quality of SOTL’s music, it should be no surprise that McBride’s recent playlist is full of soundtracks. “I enjoy Alexandre Desplat’s recent work in Birth, a track or two on the Syriana soundtrack, and even some of the pieces on The Painted Veil. I enjoyed both scores that Michael Andrews composed. I’ll give anything Zbigniew Preisner has done a spin. Although I mostly find myself diving through the old stuff, I do listen to a bunch of new stuff: Alberto Iglesias’s work, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Johann Johannsson, Function, Loscil, and Hélène Grimaud (especially her smile) to name drop a few. I even count [Ennio] Morricone as recent, given that he’s still releasing stuff to this day. I mean that soundtrack to Malena was pretty much the humpty hump for me.”

McBride has also been stocking up on DVDs. If you are familiar with the Lid’s 1997 release The Ballasted Orchestra, you may remember a suite entitled “Music For Twin Peaks Episode 30.” Kranky’s bio for SOTL mentions that both McBride and Wiltzie are avid fans of David Lynch’s classic series. McBride placed an order for the long-delayed season two DVD release of the show, “Season two is in route right to my house right now and can I say it’s about time! I know the world really needed season five of Everybody Loves Raymond and all that but couldn’t we have released it a little faster?” I share his frustration on that one.

Stars Of The Lid continue to align themselves as superior composers. They have amassed a consistent discography that is challenging and inspirational. While many instrumental acts fashion a sound that is almost instantly inviting, Stars Of The Lid force you to fight for an invitation to their party. They never take the easy way out and for this I am thankful. McBride and Wiltzie are disciplined artists, but if you are patient with them, yours ears are rewarded in spades.