In this week’s episode of Weekly Featured Artist, we’ve decided (or at least, I’ve decided) to follow up last week’s Louisville native with, you guessed it, another Louisville native! Spanning back as far as 2014, Vyva Melinkolya takes you right out of this realm and into a completely different one full of esoteric soundscapes and heartbreaking (or warming) stories told through layers of melancholic reverberations, gritty distorted guitars, and a myriad of haunting melodic passion. While Angel Diaz, the main brain and primary songwriter behind the project, describes it as her absolute brain child, there was a period of time where it was considered a band or at least had live performing members. Diaz describes the roots of the project’s conception, what drove her to delve deeper into music and keep crafting it, and what made her want to call it a ‘band‘ at a certain point.
‘As a child, music was not at the forefront of my interests, but I could play piano by ear, and my parents really tried to foster that kind of stuff (mom was in a band in her 20s, and she/Dad/both siblings are all naturally gorgeous singers). When I was in middle school, I had a phase where I wanted to build guitars and that eventually lead me into playing them more seriously. I think I started writing little songs when I was about 14 or 15. I started putting stuff out a Bandcamp when I was 16 (most of which I have taken down) disjointed music that was a hodgepodge of folk, punk and psychedelia. At that time I was really into projects like The Residents. Still very much appreciate them, but, as I’ve gotten older, I tend to gravitate more towards the ambient side of experimental music. I think of anything, aside from being increasingly obsessed with music, inspiration for the project was, like most musicians do, having a lot of fucking feelings and nowhere to put them. I think that’s the whole, or at least a big reason we do any of this, especially in this corner of music.‘
On the days of Vyva Melinkolya being referred to as a band, as opposed to a solo project, as well as her connection to the moniker and how she envisions this character to be:
‘Vyva Melinkokya is me. It has been my project since I was 16. There was a moment between 2018 and 2020 I referred to it as a band (even though, especially back then, I was still doing all of my writing and recording myself) for a couple reasons: 1. At that time I was blessed with a live band that played with me consistently. 2. I honestly found it easier to refer to the project as a band in the shoegaze scene, both in real life and online, I felt like people were more likely to listen. I had to hang up that it was more respectable to be in a band then to be a solo artist. This caused some confusion and come back to bite me a little bit. As far as a separation between me and Vyva as a character or entity, that’s some thing I’ve only explored in the last three years. The songwriting I contributed to Orbweaving definitely felt more like Vyva Melinkolya speaking, rather than Angel Diaz as Vyva Melinkolya, if that makes sense. Who or what she is outside of me is still sort of nebulous. She’s a vampire, she’s a banshee, she’s a woman from the 1400s. Both seriously and unseriously, there’s a lot of things she is, could be, and will be. Definitely a vampire though. In the coming releases, I’m going to be going back-and-forth between those two ‘modes’ of me and her. The record that will be out later this year, is still very much about my own experiences and feelings, so I’m excited to let ‘someone else’ take the helm after that for a while.‘
Some history on the aforementioned ‘band‘…
‘Between 2017 and 2022, I had a rotating cast of sorts in my live band. The longest stretch I think was with the lovely Radet 5 (from the Louisville death rock/no wave band Bathroom Laws) on bass, and Andrew Garrett (of Gentleman Pig and countless metal and electronic projects) on guitar. There were moments in time, where I had just a bassist with me, or a guitarist and a bassist, or just a guitarist and a drummer—with backtracks, without backtracks—-but never guitar(s), drums and bass, which I would like to shoot for one day. At the moment, especially being in a new city, I am without a live band. This is not the first time I’ve played solo, and it will certainly not be the last period I do so. There’s a certain freedom to playing solo, especially as the person that composes the music, however, I do miss having a life band, I miss being louder. There’s a certain energy you have with a band, especially if there’s a drummer, that is hard to capture when it’s just me up there. I hope to, when the time is right, get a proper full band together. Especially when it comes time for touring (which I have never done as Vyva Melinkolya).‘
…and when I asked about any ‘crazy show stories’ or experiences she might be willing to share…
‘As far as crazy stories from Vyva shows, I either cannot remember or care not to divulge publicly hehe. The time I spent playing guitar for SRSQ on the Europe tour was incredible. Glad to have that under my belt and Kennedy is such an incredible performer. As far as other artist shows, I could go on and on I would need a whole other interview for that.‘
The music composed and contributed by Vyva’s mind goes beyond the confines of a typical shoegaze style. Long-time friend to fellow dark music crafter, Midwife, the tandem efforts of both heard on Orbweaving highlight some of the most majestic frequencies imaginable, packaged within a span of just a little over thirty minutes or so. In particular, the track “NMP”, or “No More Pain” as it seems the title may be an acronym for, creates an eerie atmosphere that acts almost like a meditative soundtrack to one’s relief; Although the lyrics and tone of the song almost have me wondering if this relief is in the form of accepting death? At any rate, the song creates the vibe of walking down the aisle of a big, gothic cathedral; Dimly lit and completely empty, but with the rays of sunlight beaming down and sending a subtle sign that despite where you are and how it may seem, everything will be okay.
‘And when I see it; And when I’m near it
It’s so perfect; Not in vain, Not in vain
I promise to be good, I promise to be good
I promise not to lie, I promise not to lie
And when I see it; And when I’m near it; It’s so perfect
No more pain, No more pain‘
I mentioned above Vyva Melinkolya‘s friendship with Midwife, and given the two seem to base their music from the experiences, feelings, and general expressions no amount of words or other actions beyond what waveform weaving can do for the soul, it seemed only right to hear more about how their friendship started. It seems that their friendship ties into not only their collaborative effort, but also makes a reflection of how music itself bonds people together; I believe I mentioned in my WFA covering Gull that, as Gull described it, music is this universal language that goes beyond accents, words, phrases, and even tone. Amongst many other factors that makes Orbweaving such a work of art to me, as well as the solo work of Vyva and Midwife outside of their collaborations, is just how much it highlights this concept, whether intentional or not – that two souls connected through music and their passion for it are practically invincible forces of creativity.
Exclusively, either of these two write breathtaking material that is sure to leave an impression on any and all ears willing to listen. But as a duo, the end result is only furthered and beautifully expanded upon, to a degree that resonates on a nearly spiritual degree. Midwife‘s dark lullaby-esque vocalizations, paired with the soul-stealing wails of lapsteel embellishments delivered by Vyva, will have you sure that you’re attending both a wedding and a funeral at the same time. So how did this pair come to be, and what makes their friendship so meaningful to each other beyond this album, and what can be said about how the album impacted both as much as it has impacted the listeners?
‘On January 22 2020, I contacted Madeline for the first time over Facebook messenger. I had found her music a couple weeks before, and it felt like all of the years I spent falling in love with Grouper or Low condensed into a few days time. I was absolutely awestruck. Finding like author like daughter could not have come at a more crucial point. I would find any excuse to get home early, lay catatonic, and listen to the whole record front to back. Though I would later find she and I shared many of the same influences, I was truly hearing something that felt new, remarkable, a body of work that would inform our corner of music in the coming years. It turned out, we already had a show booked together. That show would be canceled by Covid, but she quickly became an older sister to me much of what I know now about being an artist, and just a lot about being a person, she would impart upon me.
Speaking more on the idea of collaboration, some of the new ideas and different things Diaz experienced getting to work closely with Madeline:
As far as Orbweaving goes, I remember over the first year of us talking, there were little whispers between us of one day working together (which made me beyond excited). That combined with some similar ideas on directions we wanted to take musically became the genesis for this project. This project was my first real foray into collaboration. Though I had somewhat of a live band back home and, at the time we made OW, was working with a producer on my next LP, Vyva Melinkolva has always just been me. I also had never spent time seriously playing in any other band in my local scene. The idea of relinquishing any sort of control creatively was alien. It took someone like Madeline, who I already looked up to immensely, to peel my blinders back. Though not Madeline’s first time collaborating, was her (and mine of course) first time working on lyrics with another person, which we did on “Plague X”. On “NMP” especially, one of the most unique parts of working on OW was getting to work with an artist I not only loved, but am influenced by. Surreal doesn’t even do the feeling justice.
As Diaz goes on to describe, working with Madeline opened her eyes to perhaps more of a minimalist approach, or at least giving it a chance. Although much of the record seems to follow in those footsteps of Madeline’s approach, I’d venture to say that Angel had also left sort of a trademark in the songwriting with added elements and still fairly big sound in the end result. Despite their opposite ends on approach, they no less work beautifully together.
‘Though Madeline and I are in the same ‘corner’ of music, our approaches to both songwriting and composition are quite different. I tend to be a bit maximalist, feeling the need for every song to be enormous. Madeline however has more dynamics to her sound, more head space. OW was a big practice in simplicity and restraint for me and our time together has given me a lot of tools as i start to transition Vyva Melinkolya out of a hardline shoegaze sound, into something with more sonic and conceptual possibilities.‘
So we know, now, that Vyva has not only a tight friendship with Midwife, but also a vast array of influence from that collaboration as well as having heard her music before. But, let’s hone more in solely on Vyva Melinkolya, or rather Angel Diaz, and what makes her the songwriting genius she is. What influences her music beyond the feelings and beyond who she gets to work with? What are some trademarks behind the process of her manifestations?
‘To name a few: Lisa Germano, Nicole Dollanganger, Low, MBV, Dan Barrett projects, Cocteau Twins, Songs: Ohia, Slowdive, Chelsea Wolfe, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Patsy Cline, Carissa’s Wierd, Tamaryn, The Crystals, Jesu, Duster, Lorde, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Slint, Corbin, Midwife, Loveliescrushing—and my number one of all time: Grouper and all of Liz Harris’s other projects. All of these feel less like influences to me, and more like teachers— only because I feel so constantly awestruck, like I’m a student constantly re-living day one, taking notes a bit too furiously. Some of these artists teach me more about texture, some of them teach me more about songwriting and world building, many of them do both. As far as non-musical inspiration, movies are a big one for me, especially horror. Blair Witch Project, Fire Walk With Me, Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain etc. Additionally, I owe a lot to spiders, ghosts, snakes, highways, The divine, stories friends share with me, vampires, bodies of water, caves— all things ethereal, decrepit, or both.‘
Being a fairly recent purchaser and player of a lapsteel guitar myself, I couldn’t help but talk about lapsteel with Diaz and how she decided it to be apart of her music. In context, it makes perfect sense that an instrument so traditionally heard as a key component in some of the most emotionally devastating country hits ever written would, naturally, find its way into shoegaze (a likewise emotionally devastating genre). I remember my first time messing with its electronic capabilities, sending it through various effects pedals and into my amp, which while so simple seemed like it opened the door to endless sonic possibilities. When I first discovered Vyva, I had seen copious reels of her experimenting with different sounds using it; This was one of many things that instantly made me a fan of her work.
‘I remember hearing slide guitar (either lapsteel or pedal steel) for the first time and being absolutely devastated. It feels like a sigh. Though I tried playing a regular guitar with a slide, it just wasn’t producing a sound I wanted (to be fair, though, the slide guitar I played on Miss America was on a baritone). Eventually I bought a 75$ lapsteel on impulse. I’m not actually sure how high or low quality it is because I think I’ve only ever played one other model. I honestly struggled with it until I got a volume swell pedal and it clicked all of a sudden, and now it’s become an extension of sorts to the pallet of ambient guitar textures I use. I had the pleasure of recording the lapsteel on Ethel Cain’s “House In Nebraska”. Listening back in the studio for the first time I was like oh, this works, I’m gonna be using this forever. You are going to hear much more of that on the next couple of records.‘
While anything in the Vyva Melinkolya discography is abundantly worth numerous listens, her 2020 release, Violet EP, is a masterful, 5-track wonderland of enchantment that I feel puts listeners comfortably into her universe. Songs like “Fog” and “Heaven or Philadelphia” pay a sort of homage to the dreamy delights of acts like Cocteau Twins and The Cranberries, while still presenting the grungy, heavy sort of grit reminiscent to bands like My Bloody Valentine and Nothing. Just as heavy a record as the emotional weight poured into it, it easily captures the essence of ’90s shoegaze greats, while still cutting its own path and calling forth the power of Diaz’s ‘enormous‘ songwriting approach.
‘Aside from “Snow” and “Machine” which are reprises of older songs, I wrote the majority of the (new) material for Violet, both lyrics and guitar composition, on my first visit to Philadelphia in 2018. I went there to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor and ended up meeting some people that are now dear to me. In the summer of 2020 I would, both separately and through those people, make more connections to what is now a big group of friends in a place that has become so important to me. Going to the Walmart pier, watching Mysterious Skin on a rooftop, making music in a basement with my friends, listening to Grouper as ritual, this all couldn’t be more formative and continues to inform me every year. I think Philadelphia’s influence on me, rivals that of Louisville, if I’m being honest. One of the friends I met on that very first trip in 2018 , whose voice is actually sampled at the beginning of “Heaven or Philadelphia”, passed away about a month ago. Someone else who was important to the group passed around this time last year as well. Living in western Pennsylvania now, I feel relieved to be just a little bit closer. I played my very first Philadelphia show, a memorial of sorts a couple weeks back. I definitely want to do more shows there, as many as possible. Anything to be there.’
Austin Lunn of Panopticon made mention of his music being ‘regional‘, where the environment around him tends to have a way of being direct influence to his music. Similarly, with how Vyva Melinkolya speaks of her approach to songwriting and what it means to her, I believe she is, in some ways at the very least, also influenced by her surroundings in this sort of fashion. While I’d say her reasons go a bit more specific to the people and specific experiences seen within the places she visits, it is no less apparent that her music is certainly personal and magnifying life as seen through her eyes to a wider audience. It’s funny; The things we consider personal and just as how we interpret or record them tend to become some of the most relatable and widely appealing subjects to a larger group of those who find connection within them than we’d ever anticipate – like a diary turned into a best-selling novel.
‘My music is incredibly personal, it almost feels too intimate sometimes. Like a nakedness. One of my favorite musicians once said (paraphrasing) that she knows she’s getting close to the finish when the songs feel embarrassing. Music is embarrassing, being a musician is incredibly embarrassing are you kidding me? There are many things I love about shoegaze, from a listener’s perspective. One thing, though, that for a time served me on the side of production is that, through fx and lowering my voice in the mix, I was able to create a ‘buffer’ between me and what I was saying. I definitely want to, especially with ambient moments, create a space where people can find their own interpretations and stories. That being said, I’m trying to slowly lift the veil with these next few releases. It feels like an eventual progression but it’s also terrifying. A good portion of the material I have out currently (writing I contributed to Orbweaving aside) is about heartbreak, things of that nature. Though the record that comes out next has some of that going on, there’s just as much material that’s a departure from that. The release after that even more so. Speaking more about message, though I am ‘guilty’ of trying to find or create beauty out of things that are at times dark or sorrowful (whether things we observe or our own wounds), I much more aim to create things that are beautiful ‘in-spite’ of pain. We can do and create beautiful things, feel beautiful ways regardless of what has happened to us or around us. We don’t have to forget either.‘
Touching on thoughts about her hometown of Louisville and what life was like growing up there, as well as how it has also influenced her music and what life is like living in Pittsburgh, PA currently:
‘Louisville raised me, and it raised me well. Louisville has been an inspiration for my writing but, I think I was so caught up in my own head and feelings during the writing of both the self-titled album and Violet EP that I could have stopped and taken in my surroundings more. Have gotten better that that. My last three years in Louisville, I spent a lot of time at the skate park, cradled by highways. There’s a song about that I can record. As of the past six months, I’ve been living in Pittsburgh, PA. I left Louisville kind of quietly, I’ve had some people and venues contact me, not knowing that I moved. I love Louisville intensely, I just need to not live there for a few years. A lot of the writing I’m doing for one of the future records about the city. I think I’ll be able to portray it with more justice after a little distance and memory.‘
Hitting more specifically on what she hopes the listener to find within her music: ‘Immersion, Catharsis, Solace. I want to engender a feeling of rapture, as a person who pursues that feeling endlessly that’s all I can ask.‘
So why check out Vyva Melinkolya? Because beyond writing music that feels like a nice, cool bag of ice to help relieve a fever, every part of what Diaz does and who she is as a person – her love for life, her passion, her sincerity, her desire to create (fully and wholeheartedly), her very essence and things she loves most – is viscerally enveloped into her creations. She is traced and immersed in her art, literally. I think she is yet another figure highlighting what music should be all about, with notes played, lyrics penned, and melodies sang straight from the heart.
Regardless of how sold you may or may not be on Vyva Melinkolya after reading this, nonetheless, she is unarguably an interesting individual with plenty to share and much to say. She is also going to be very busy over this next year! Fans new and familiar will find plenty in store as her work ethic only grows and she gears up for big plans in 2023 and after! When asked about these plans, a full-length was at the forefront of being mentioned…
‘You best believe it. For the past three or four years I’ve been working on a full length. Written between late 2019 and fall 2020, started recording Halloween 2020. Finished up mastering (for a second time) the day before this interview (July 16th). Reluctantly playing the the long game. Have teased it on and off and regretted doing so because every time I’ve given a ballpark estimate as to when it will be out, it has been delayed. What I can say though is, it’s going to be out before the end of 2023. Between features and enlisting the help of Louisville’s Chyppe Crosby (drums, recording, mixing), this is my first time working with others people on a record of mine (started before Orbweaving). Since that record has taken so long, I’ve had plenty of time to conceptualize, write, and even start recording what comes next. It’s either going to be two sister albums or a double album, one side ‘pure’ Vyva Melinkolya with a narrative in mind, the other moreso Angel Diaz as Vyva.‘
You heard it here first, folks! So what are you doing? Stop being in the dark, and instead get more metaphorically dark with the tunes of Vyva Melinkolya! Enigmatic, esoteric, exhilarating, and endearing…you need to be listening to what Angel Diaz has cooked up. Be sure to hit the Bandcamp, Facebook, and Instagram immediately and keep up with all things livin’ la Vyva – Eh, you know what, I’m actually not so sure I want to even try and finish that lame pun.
Point is, you’re either bumping Vyva in the whip, or you’re fuckin’ up! Get yourself together, man; buy some Vyva, play it over loud speakers, move to Philly, get 5 or 6 roommates, eat hummus with them, start a band, attempt to tour with Vyva, listen to more Vyva, burn down an Applebee’s (not at all an act in any affiliation with Vyva nor is she liable or condoning of this act, no matter how cool it looks), and… just listen to Vyva Melinkolya, okay? Okay. Great! Glad we could come to this conclusion!
Some final words from Angel Diaz on her appreciation of those who continue to support her (this could be you, too!):
‘I love you all so so much. I feel blessed that people could find some thing in my work. There is so much more to come, and I am so excited. Thank you a thousand times.‘
Vyva Melinkolya is:
Angel Diaz – Songwriting, everything noisy