Name: Valdis Stekelis aka Distant Voices
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: The Distant Voices debut Long Road To Home is out now.
If you enjoyed this interview with Distant Voices, visit the project's bandcamp page for more music.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Inspiration can come from many different places and is impossible to control. It can be directly influenced by things that happen in your life but not always – sometimes you just get a musical or lyrical idea with no real connection to anything.
For Long Road To Home the inspiration came directly from life events when I went travelling in Europe in 2019 and these events directly influenced the lyrics and music. As far as how the songs develop is concerned, I find they come in fragments and usually piece themselves together over time. Things do not often arrive in order either, so it is a strange process really.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I think you need to have something that you think sounds promising that you want to develop – whether that is a general idea or a chorus or bit of music or whatever it might be. It is all chance as far as I am concerned because I can't control when ideas I like come – they just seem to come randomly and piece themselves together into full pieces over time at varying speeds.
For example, with Long Road To Home, I had a verse for "View From Lake Geneva" which I was happy with but the original chorus was not what ended up on the album. I had a feeling it was not quite right and over time the idea for the actual chorus came to me. It was not somehting that was planned or controlled.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
No I don’t do that because I can’t force the ideas - I have tried...
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
No, things come at random times. Sometimes I’ll get an idea lying in bed in the morning randomly, or sometimes I’ll have a half finished idea and after weeks or months I will come across how to progress it for some reason. This happened with all the songs on Long Road To Home really. I did not write one after the other – I sort of had bits from multiple ones happening at the same time.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Things come in fragments usually I find. It happens differntly for each one so I can’t give an exact answer, but I am essentially looking for something that feels like everything fits together – that the right verse and the right chorus are together, that the structure is right. When I no longer have a feeling of doubt about the melody, sections or structure, then that is when I know it is finished.
Sometimes you can think something is good at first and then go off it shortly afterwards, so you are waiting for it to be in a position where you no longer have that feeling.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
It varies – sometimes you have an idea for lyrics and melody at the same time, sometimes you have the melody in place but you have lyrics missing. I often find that I am missing lyrics in songs and that they have to be finished last.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Different songs work for different reasons and this is relative to lyrics as well. It is good when the melody and lyrics seem to go together well, but it is not just the meaning of the words – the sounds have to be right as well, so i suppose it is about trying to find a balance between meaning and sound.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I follow things where I feel the idea should go as things occur to me. I cannot control it.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I have a sense of wanting a song to fit together in terms of structure, melody, production, arrangement etc, so I sort of follow my instict as to when things are working together in the right way. I find you often know that something is wrong even if you don’t know what the right answer is.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
It seems random and difficult to define to me. I have tried to sit down and create something but not been able to for weeks or even months sometimes. Then sometimes something just occurs relatively quickly.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I finish it when I am happpy that it is completed in the writing process. As for recording and production, I am working with more limited time and resources so I do the best I can up to a reasonable extent. You could always do things differently in recording and production and there is no right answer, so the best you can do is get things in a state that you are happy with in a reasonable time period – you will never be totally happy with it because your views can change.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
You are often thinking could I change this or that and you will always think you could have done things differently. I think I know when it is at a good standard, which is the best you can do really as you will always think you could alter certain things.
I do have things about Long Road To Home that I would like to have done differently, but you can‘t spend an infinite amount of time on it – beyond a certain point I think it is best to draw a line under it and move on.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I am a co producer with Ed Sokolowski (EAS Studios). The production and arrangement is absolutely integral to the outcome of the songs and it is something that I am very invested in. I have an idea for arrangement and production on all material before it gets to the studio, and it is fine tuned with Ed and developed once we get into the recording process.
As for mixing/mastering, these are essential also, but I am not an engineer, so I leave this to others at the moment. Ed mixed and mastered Long Road To Home.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Luckily I have another album ready to start work on so I am OK at the moment, but I am always trying to write new stuff and things don’t always come that I want to progress, so I am always wondering where new material will come from, and how much more I can write that I am happy with.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Music you like is very emotional. And I don’t like coffee that much.