A Winged Victory For The Sullen is Adam Wiltzie, also of Stars Of The Lid, and Dustin O’Halloran, previously of Devics. The band’s eponymous first album of 2011 was one of that year’s most graceful listens, a neo-classical collection of enveloping ambience which can still set the senses into a state of calm, whatever the situation.
The duo has followed up its debut with ‘Atomos’, a release of dual purposes: one, as the soundtrack to a Wayne McGregor-choreographed dance piece, for which it was commissioned; and two, as a perfectly embracing album in its own right. Read our review of the record here.
With O’Halloran and Wiltzie living in separate cities – the former Berlin, the latter Brussels – we thought we’d have some fun with our phoner time. Hence this (sort of) game of Mr & Mr, where we ask the same questions to each member, albeit not at the same time. Though, for the sake of tidiness, we’ve put their answers together.
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Has ‘Atomos’ met the ambitions you had for it, at the start of the process?
Adam: Number one, I didn’t really have ambitions for it. The amount of time we had to do it was just four months, from start to finish, so I think we got lucky a little bit. We didn’t realise that it’d be released [as an album] – we were working it up for the dance, and then it got to October last year, for the premiere, and we felt that it was a record.
Dustin: We didn’t have any idea of what we were going to do, going into it. We took inspiration from Wayne, and we knew it was going to be performed live with 10 dancers, and part of this whole other atmosphere, of a bigger piece. But we just did what we do, and wrote an album. He asked us to be involved for a specific reason, and we realised the only way to deliver that was to write how we always write – to take things in, but also to do things naturally. So I think we went into things as if we were making an album, but in a much shorter period of time.
Adam: When you’re doing commissioned work, you leave your ego at the door a little, because you’re not just working to please yourself – there’s a client involved. It’s a proper job!
Who, out of the two of you, was the calmest during this intense recording process?
Adam: I think I’m a naturally calmer person than Dustin, but he drinks a lot more coffee than I do. There’s always a balance, though – a push and pull. We’ve developed a communication in a short space of time that keeps us both grounded and comfortable. We feel a trust with each other.
(I mention the coffee thing to Dustin.)
Dustin: (Laughs) Coffee keeps me going. I love my coffee, but I have a curfew of six or seven in the evening, otherwise I don’t sleep. We both kept each other going in the studio, though. The way we write isn’t really conducive to getting things done in a short amount of time, and the first record took two and a half years. But I’m happy with the results on ‘Atomos’. It forced us to not overthink anything, and we were experimenting with new ideas and sounds, as a result of working with Wayne. I don’t think either of us wanted to repeat the first record. The only way we can be excited is to find new challenges, and the first record was completely unknown territory. When we don’t agree on something, it tends to become something else – and neither of us can do this on our own.
Who put in more hours in the studio?
Adam: I think it was the same for both of us. And we do prefer to work in the same room, together. Brussels and Berlin are not that far apart, really – I can be there in an hour. It’s super easy to work together. That’s how the first record came about, to be a little romantic about the recording, and have the space dictate part of the personality.
Dustin: We do try to be in the same room as much as possible, and ‘Atomos’ was a huge amount of work to do in a short space of time. We worked really hard, and we were both there until the bitter end of the whole thing. I’m glad that we’ve had something to light a fire under us – as otherwise we’d really be taking our time.
Let’s say that Wayne asks you to provide another score, and you accept, but two days later, some Hollywood guy phones you up and says he wants Winged Victory to produce the soundtrack for some forthcoming blockbuster. It’s big money versus something that, maybe, you’d rather do, but will pay less. What’s the call?
Adam: I think Wayne would understand if we took the Hollywood commission, but I don’t know if I’d work with him again, or in dance. I had a great time, but I don’t know if we make great music for dance pieces, as doing this was incredibly hard. We’ve had a good run, so maybe let’s not spoil this.
Dustin: Speaking for myself, I feel lucky to be able to create music every day, and that it’s my living. But also, you have to make the right choices – and that means things that inspire you. I turned down a lot of things to do Wayne’s project, which would probably have paid more. But at the end of the day, you have to feel passionate about what you’re working on. I definitely don’t base things on what I am going to be paid – I think if we’re staying true to what we want to do, the other parts will come, and that energy will be rewarded. You can’t drop things for money, otherwise you’ll hate your life.
Would you be up for doing a whole film soundtrack?
Adam: Well, licensing is such a lucrative part of our world, so I’d never frown upon such an opportunity. It could be possible – never say never. We do a lot of soundtrack-type work, so if the opportunity came up for just the two of us to do a complete score…? I don’t know, I guess I don’t think about it too much.
I’ve been doing this over 20 years, and the only thing I have learned about syncs is that you have to be super lucky, as there’s not really a method to it. I had a Stars Of The Lid song in the new Godzilla movie (‘Don’t Bother, They’re Here’, as heard on this trailer), and I would never in a million years have ever thought a Godzilla movie needed Stars Of The Lid music. But it did. The chances of that happening again? It’s so rare. The syncs that really pay well, they almost never happen. You can have a good publisher, a good manager, but the process… it’s all hairline fractures. It’s completely random.
Dustin: I do a lot of film work – I don’t know if Adam has much desire to go into that. He came in and worked with me a little on Breathe In, with Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones. That film features some music from the first Winged Victory album, too, so I guess we’ve sort of forayed a little into that world. But if the right project was to come along, I think we’d both be open to it. The challenge with film is that the music doesn’t come first, whereas it does with dance. We like to work without constraints.
The big question, then: Berlin or Brussels?
Adam: Obviously Brussels is the best for me. Berlin is great, but I wouldn’t want to live there. There are too many New Yorkers there. But Berlin does have great Mexican food – Brussels for Mexican food is a f*cking disaster.
Dustin: Brussels is a great city, and I’ve become fond of it. A lot of the times I’m there, I feel like I’m living there, as I’ve met a lot of friends there. You go into a restaurant and people greet me like I do live there. They remember you. Berlin is funny though – there are places I’ve been going to, by my studio, for years, and they act like they’ve never seen me. Berlin is more transient, but I like living here. It’s a great place to work. It’s a good city, and I don’t know where else I could live, in Europe. I lived in Italy for a long time, which was great, but that country is completely non-functional in a work sense. You know the trains are going to be on time in Germany. And yes, the Mexican food is pretty good.
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Interviews: Mike Diver
Photo: Nick Chloé
17th – St George’s Church, Brighton
18th – Dimswn, Cardiff
19th + 20th – Milton Court, Barbican, London