“The Underliving”, a world of creatures old, talking through the silence
Interview with the spirit singer, writer and ethereal performer
Mary Vareli: Priscilla, within a six-year period from your first release (“Ancient Shadows”, 2006), you mesmerize us again with a new work “The Underliving”. During this period did you see yourself changing as a musician and what was the nature of this change, if any?
Sometimes to make the next step at the pace you actually can and not the one you would have desired, it took long to make The Underliving, not only because for me it was a bigger and more conceptual project, but also because the resources were tight and I didn’t want to limit the final product, so I waited till it was ready. During that time, some music instruments came to my life, most of them due to sponsorship or endorsement, so I studied hard and started to include them in the “sound” of my music. At the end I played around 15 in total and I think it has a more acoustic edge over the electronic and keyboards. Ancient Shadows, my first release, was more of a “compilation of songs”, while The Underliving is more of a theater or musical play with songs mingling, not only in music nature and also in lyrics and meaning. The format and display also grew bigger to be showcased more as an “illustrated book with music” and highlight my facet as a visual artist too. The artist, the progress and the work keep on evolving… I like to think that at least for me, The Underliving is a step ahead in my sound. And of course I’ll leave field to keep on improving and learning. 🙂
What is the main theme of your new release, what inspired you?
I made a comic back in the nineties called “Yidneth” which provides a name to my company, logo and entire project. The Underliving is one of the realms explained in that project, a world, close to our own, of things that never lived, nor will live, a world that feels alive; a world of mystery that influences the living through ideas, hopes and dreams that cast a shadow, or a light; with creatures playing with us and even shape our decisions. A world of creatures old that talk through the silence, through the voice of the wind, taking shape in the shadows, or in the mist, leaving an imprint of presence in empty spaces. It’s all rather subjective and a bit eerie, but also gathered by means of the story of an enlightened child that is guided and protected by them.
Who is the “chosen child that can perceive this “Otherworld” and longs to be part of it”, is it Priscilla?
I suffer from sleep paralysis and sporadic episodes of temporal lobe epilepsy. For people having this sleep disorder (see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis) it’s rather easy to perceive “strange” things when waking up or falling asleep. There were already several references in Ancient Shadows, and yet the little girl depicted in the illustrations is not me, but “Yidneth” herself, the female character of the comic that when reborn as “human” is raised by ghosts and “underlivings” around her. Also it could portray any child with an active imagination, me included. In general, it stands for anyone who has seen “things” with the corner of their eyes. I do not believe in paranormal, but I’ve experienced the paranormal through my sleep disorder. I see and feel things that now at least can be explained scientifically as a physiological reaction to a slightly out of sync onset/offset of my waking and dream life. I’ve learned to integrate that in to my art, both paintings and music, so this experience is perceived as something interesting and demonized because we´re way past the Middle Ages, aren´t we? I know in many ways they have helped some. For me conveying into art is what I find healthier to do with my experience to get over the fear it can produce. Wrap it into beautiful mist and magic.
I notice that the fantasy world is not your only concern; you, indeed, deal thematically with sleep paralysis disorder, hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations and the strange states of mind that may take place during temporal lobe epilepsy. What is the motive behind your metaphysics and psychiatry interest? Are these interconnected?
I’ve had SP since I was two years old, as old as I can recall my younger memories so the “night horrors”, “the shadow people”, and other lingering presences, products of the imagination of a child taking shape. I grew up and shaped my brain to make it all natural with my way of living. For me though it was and it is still sometimes a fearful experience, possessing also a “different from other’s” perception. There are also times that being prompt to lucid and vivid dreams too I very much have learnt to enjoy it 🙂
It makes me a spiritual person, though I am very much grounded and a scientific person myself. I studied science (molecular biology) so I always try for the “reason/logic” version first, it’s also healthier for my sanity due to the great amount of “experiences” I have.
Your work is characterized by harmony and melancholy, how close are these to Priscilla as a person?
This is funny because I’m a rather a clown prompt to jokes, a clumsy person and really far from the image of “ethereal moody diva” people tend to have in mind for this kind of genre. I was chatting once with my lovely fairy sister (and also talented songwriter Louisa John Krol) about making ethereal music but being very earthly and clumsy, and lively. Sometimes I wish I could project more a “moody aura” LOL. Some friends even nicknamed me “the fragile princess” so you can guess why. I always try to make a bit of script for the concerts and be “mysterious”, but it always works for five minutes till I crack a joke 🙂 Of course I have a heart for great joy and also for great sorrows, and I’ve tried to derive my pain, longings, yearnings and sentiments into art, so the moody being is also part of me. I guess I am both “the ghost and the fairy” as my first album states.
The ethereal, atmospheric genre is timeless; you are an indispensable part now, what attracted you first to the tradition of it? Was there a “decisive moment”?
I’ve always been addicted to film music. My favorite is The Dark Crystal with such epic soundtrack, choirs, strings, the sound of “journey” or “revelation” or “discovery” or “challenge”, it cannot be done otherwise. So more than being an “ethereal music” consumer myself, I find myself enjoying it so much. I love Cocteau Twins and other bands on a quiet edge 🙂 but film music but stone and nourishing source and moody floating strings, stormy bass drums and light heavenly choirs are my favorite 😉
You have a specific music idiom, combined with ghostly sounds, heart beats and haunted effects that provide an epic, narrative mood, almost classical a few times. What were your steps concerning music studies and what is your opinion on modern experimental forms combined with classical elements?
I didn’t study music; in fact I’m self-taught both in singing and in all I play. I was gifted a toy piano when I was four and started to create my stories (also write tales and drawings for it). I imagine everything like a movie in my head. I love to sample sounds and include them in the music, creaking doors, water, a thunderstorm, because as in a movie, sounds are part of the “soundtrack” and can stir the right moods and feelings. As I said previously film music is my genre and the one I maybe understand more because it’s the one I have listened to more. I think the classical undertones come from there. My dream is to perform with a symphonic orchestra and still combine folk and ancient instruments and electronic synthetized sounds. I am not a person that can follow rules or advice regarding art, art is free to flow, fuse, evolve, mix, mingle and become something new. At the moment it seems that classical music is like separated elite from popular music but it shouldn’t be so. Contemporary artists are composing now the music that future generations will re-tag as classical. I know my option is not trendy, nor commercial.
You have won the award of “Best New Age Album” for The Independent Music Awards and best ambient song and album award at JPfolks awards (Nashville), how this made you feel?
I’ve had also a few other mentions and a few awards 🙂 but these two opened quite a few doors for me. We all love to be recognized, and though I didn’t apply to many contests, because sometimes that costs a lot of money and effort I couldn’t have at hand, I was really happy to have at least some mentions and recognition of my hard work. Despite your liking my art or not, what matters is always subjective to everyone’s different tastes.
Are there any live shows so far, or a tour scheduled?
I just made a few during the summer. I wish I could perform more. The nuclei of my performance is myself (piano, harp, flute, dulcimers, voice and other instruments) and Héctor Corcín, my partner also in the label (percussion, piano, electronic sounds). But we also hire musicians to go with us as Biel Fiol and Sveta Tovstukha (cello), Armen Vartanyan (violin) among others. Thus the formula for every performance must be done according to the budget the booker has. And though we´re open to make promotional performances sometimes we can´t afford to make them with a full band due to the fact I’m a solo performance that book my musicians to perform along with me. So whenever the chance is provided, and costs fairly covered, we are happy to enjoy the pleasure of sharing our music live. I love to include also theatrical elements, dancers, props, and even design my dresses (I keep a blog about fantasy costumeshttp://yourfantasycostume.com). I’m also working in a simpler way to offer my knowledge of all my songs in the piano, the harp and also “defend” myself, so I offer brief presentations. I’ve proved to do it successfully for my rather often live-stream shows where people can request the songs they want and at the same time chat with me and see me live on my site 🙂
You are also an illustrator, tell us more about this.
I’ve always had a pencil in my hands. When I was younger I thought I had a bit of a talent for drawing but didn’t expect that I was going to be more recognized as a musician or composer. I collaborated with some editors, made a few short cartoons and made drawings for lots of fanzines when younger, and then embarked in a comic “Yidneth”. Still when in the nineties I approached editorials to get my work published I was very discouraged because they stated that full color publication for a beginner was just something they would not afford, so I stopped to go on with my studies. Then Music found my way, and through it I found the illustrator in me again as I made the drawings for my first and then for my second album. So for a long time it was illustration my main skill and music was the “hidden one” for quite a while, still you can never plan how things turn out and somehow illustration became a secondary thing, but not to the point I’d like to leave it behind. Now I’m fighting actively for being able to make known that I am also a visual artist and thus The Underliving is an illustrated digibook, having decided to put a drawing of mine and not photography as the main cover.I’m currently accepting commissions and plotting to rescue that old comic finish it and probably give it away in my site when finished or along with one of the forthcoming CDs.
Your works are fully illustrated with drawings and photography inspired by the songs. How important is for the artist to have full aesthetic control of her work?
“There is too much fantasy in your music.” This is a sentence I was told by an approach to be signed to a major label. Can you guess the reason of my denial? I had the chance to sign in several times, but maybe because I was just in the beginning I didn’t know how “the musical dream” works in reality, I sent my demos, as everyone else does, to see how it was like. I was either “too old” (I started at 25! and a decade later but I still feel the same about what I want to do with my music), or my music had “no commercial” a target of public. So I just went on to do what I wanted to do, and not to clone any other artist (as they even proposed).
You have explored ghosts, fairies and the underliving creatures, are you currently working on other types of ethereal creatures?
In my comic there are several realms, the living also called “the flesh” (us), the underliving, the transit (ghosts), the elemental (spirits – I prefer this term rather than fairy) so both of my CDs pretty much covered it. Of course I am still writing other fantasy stories, though I tend to drop them into these main categories for a reason (whether they are related, or not with Yidneth as a root project). Lots of the imagery of the comic and music settles on the difference between a SOUL and a SPIRIT.
In the past you said that “Roland Orzábal from Tears for Fears and Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins are my true sources of vocal inspiration combined with random forces of universe.” Do your inspirations remain the same?
Vocally I can say yes, Roland Orzábal, Liz Fraser, I could even add Cyndi Lauper, are among my most pivotal influence. In fact, regarding my singing, there’s a big influence of “male” voices as Roland´s, Curt Smith (the other TFF half), Bowie, Sting… and so many others. I really like energetic male vocals with moody flair. 🙂 Definitely there is a little warrior part in me. So vocally yes, Roland on the top list still 🙂 and musically film music the most, as I’ve stated during the interview. 🙂 to name a few: Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith, Trevor Jones and so many others.
What made you create your own independent record label Yidneth Records and remain faithful to it?
It would be nice to count on the support of a company and backing of good a promotion. It’s not that I decided to create my company because I was too controlling, but I had no option to be free to do what I wanted to do if that hadn’t been the case. Still after so many years I don’t regret to have done it, really.
You are also known as “Yidneth” which is not your artistic name but your comic project as illustrator, tell us more about it.
You know there were no references to that name on the internet back in the nineties! Well, I wish I was as pretty, fair, beautiful and pure as “Yidneth” in my comic is, but due to having invented the name and trademark I dedicated my music to Kira, my lost companion dog that died in 2003. In fact up till now I’ve managed to do so, dedicating one song to Kira in every album. This kind of personal things, the fact of using my artwork, the fact of making fantasy-noncommercial music etc., would have been impossible under a major company, or any medium company trying to project my music into the business schemes. The label is me and Héctor Corcín (my co-producer and partner) doing it all by ourselves, including our videos, management and all. We try our best but we also face the fact that times have changed for music and piracy is a reality. It’s just too easy to “pirate” indie works especially when they don’t have a solid distribution.I find it funny how people have now “stolen” this name as their username, maybe they saw it somewhere, and in fact it is registered. If a baby incidentally gets named “yidneth” it would be funny to know it is our “fault”.
What are your influences concerning literature?
Everything magical, eerie, spectral… Of course I like fantasy like The Neverending Story and The lord of the Rings 🙂 but also children classical literature, fairy tales, myths and legends. 🙂 A weak spot for spectral literature, one of my favorite, is the ghost tales of M. R. James. I like also H. G Wells, Poe, Maupassant, Doyle and also some romantic (yet moody) novels like Brontë sisters. I love reading. Watching a good movie and reading a good book are among the biggest pleasures of life, 🙂
It has been written that you have collaborations in soundtracks. Which ones?
I’ve collaborated with several short movies. El Atardecer de un sueño (directed by David Doncel Barthe) along with composer Daniel Tejerina, and on my own in several short movies with film maker Lisa Stock of In by the Eye (Titania´s prequel, Hell, Brother and Sister) and some collaborations with other film makers and writers and book trailers like Shawn Darling for Sablewood. I have a few pending confirmations for new short soundtrack participations and crossing fingers for a collaboration in a major feature but cannot give details on that yet. I was awarded “best fantasy composer” in Radio Rivendell last year and that has opened certain interest in the games music area, but still trying to work it out. Working, collaborating or composing for film music is my dream.
As Héctor my partner is also an aspiring film-maker we´re plotting to move from the videoclip format to a “short movie” and of course we would both provide the soundtrack. He´s an amazing composer himself and not only a collaborator to my own music.
Tell us more about your relationship with the amazing company Faerieworlds.
Faerieworlds is run by dear friends of mine, Kelly and Emilio from folk band Woodland and Treguenda. Amazing artists and lovely people. I just sent my cd to them as a gift and they sent me an email to be their guest in wonderful Oregon, it was always more of a holiday to be “among” friends and enjoy music with them than really a “business” matter. We keep on seeking times to be able to meet, here, there or in between. Of course as a fantasy lover and performer Faerieworlds is a total blast and I hope very much to return and experience it all over again :). They also handle the Faeriecon events so we´ve coincided now a handful of times and we also coincided together in a mini-tour in England in 2011, combining my band and theirs. They are about to release a new album now 🙂 in which both me and Louisa collaborate. Actually Kelly (from Woodland), me and Louisa have collaborated in all CD´s 🙂 so it’s more of a sisterhood and each other’s support than a “company” relationship 🙂
CDs:Ancient Shadows / The Underliving
Singles: The Walking of the Spring / No Matter What they Say
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