Into the Blue – Exclusive Interview with Aythis

Most of you will know Carline Van Roos for her work in atmospheric doom metal band, Lethian Dreams. But her Aythis project is the one that brought her most attention in 2016 when three of her songs from The Illusion and The Twin ended up on various film soundtracks.

Now she’s back with her fifth solo album under the Aythis moniker, only this time the simplicity of the reverb-drenched guitar takes precedence over the sparkling ambience of synthesisers. Part dream pop, part darkwave, Secrets from Below is a masterpiece of introspection and melancholy foreboding wrapped in luscious melodies and floating lullabies. Darkwave legends, Lycia, come to mind, but so does the ethereal enchantment of Cocteau Twins. Carline’s vocals this time round are more angelic and less enamoured with the coquettish whisper of her previous records. To listen to Secrets from Below is to immerse yourself in a solitary world of snow-filled forests and picturesque waterfalls, where the promise of no human contact lightens the mood and hardens the soul.

With guitar as the primary focus, you might fear the latest Aythis LP will lose the trademark atmosphere of previous albums. Worry not. She laces her compositions with minimalist keyboards and subtle traces of synthesiser. The shoegaze distortions are a welcome addition to the mix. Fans of Lethian Dreams will recognise similarities with the band’s 2020 album, A Shadow of Memories.

As well as being a multi-instrumentalist, Carline is also a keen audio engineer and runs her own multi-media company, Orcynia Music Productions, which works as a record label and studio mixing and mastering service for other musicians. We caught up with the enigmatic woman to find out more about the creative process behind Aythis and the deeper meaning behind her music.

Let’s start with your spell-binding new record, Secrets from Below. This is your first Aythis album since 2016. What did you do different when writing this record compared to other releases?

Yes, it’s been five years since the previous album, The Illusion and The Twin. When I began to write Secrets from Below, I was really more in a guitar mood than a synth mood for composing, so I began to try building atmospheres with guitar effects. I have built up a new guitar pedalboard in the last two years, and I have been experimenting a lot with the sound to try and see what I could come up with. At some point, I thought I would maybe need to start a new project, that the new sound wouldn’t fit in Aythis’ Discography but decided not to focus on that too much at first. So, I completed the first song (‘Into the Blue’) and had a certain mood, a certain sound. I decided to capture that and write another song that would deliver a similar atmosphere. 

A few songs later, Secrets from Below began to take shape. It felt really right, and I became addicted to diving into this intimate place that you feel like while composing. I could feel the Aythis world in it so the album could definitely belong, and I started to be really excited about it.

To what extent are you an artist the tries to avoid listening to music when writing an album so you can be free of influences?

Yes, I am definitely one of those who try to avoid listening to too much music when writing an album. It isn’t so much to remain free of influences, but more because I need to stay focused on what I want to achieve. If I am distracted, for example, if I start paying attention to this or that great riff from this or that album, it will take me longer to get back to my own world again. Of course, I can’t stay months without listening to any music, so, when I do, I will rather choose a style that is different from what I am currently composing. I find it less distracting when I listen to other genres, and sometimes I can get inspired by them too.

We detect the sound of American darkwave band, Lycia, and traces of Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance in your latest album, but you have more of a neo-classical influence than these artists. What did you have in mind when you started writing this album, and did it turn out how you pictured it at the beginning?

Thank you, I really like the bands you mention there. I don’t know exactly why I often flirt with the neo-classical, it just comes naturally. It touches me. I always liked instrumental music, and I enjoy listening to classical or to movie soundtracks. I suppose my fascination for the band Elend has something to do with it too, without forgetting the French act, Dark Sanctuary, that definitely left a mark on me some twenty years ago.

But I decided at some point to let Aythis’ music evolve into something different than synth-based, so I added more guitar and more guitar atmospheric layers based on sound effects. Also, I think the essence of Aythis’ music remains the same. It is still very dark, very atmospheric, uneasy at times, and once you are finished listening there are melodies that might want to stick with you. I wanted the album to take the listener to some unknown places, beneath the earth’s mantle. The inner core. And hopefully to bring the listener to self-reflect as well. To me, I think Secrets from Below brings you all that and, yes, that’s how I wanted this album to be.

The song ‘Into the Blue’ captures a sense of blissful solitude that feels like it will last forever. Tell us how you would describe this composition.

I love what you captured from the song. It totally makes sense because ‘Into the Blue’ is about the emotional rollercoasters that come with depression. The highs, the lows, the numbness in between. ‘Into the Blue’ takes you to the place you can hopefully get to during one of those moments of rest from this tumult of emotions. 

I wrote it after I spent some time by the sea, staring at the waves. So, there’s definitely a sense of solitude to it. You also get this sense of calm, of blissfulness when you look at the sea, probably a feeling of eternity as well, and you get the feeling of nature back inside you. 

It is the first song I wrote for Secrets from Below and the one that defined the sound of the album.

Your vocals are introspective and dreamy like a person coming to terms with the inevitability of fading into an innocuous existence. Is Aythis an escape for you or the true reflection of how you were feeling when you wrote this music? 

Aythis is a reflection of how I feel, my way of expression combined with my need of writing music and being creative. It can surely be an escape at times, a way of dealing with my emotions. I guess Aythis is also the place I give to unsettling thoughts that come to my mind. I try to transform those thoughts or feelings into a distant dream music. Writing songs is also a way to reconnect to my inner self through self-reflection, through the dream state or trance-like state that sometimes comes when you follow your inspiration.

Often your words soothe and ache at the same time, like the classic dark ethereal bands from Britain in the late 1980s. How important is the emotion of your words compared to their actual meaning?

The words are always important but can play different roles in the songs. The emotion of the words usually come first. That said, it depends on the songs too. 

For some of my songs, the words have strong meanings that can be hidden behind metaphors and for others songs the power of the words reside in their sonority and in the images that come to your head when you hear them. They help paint the landscape. On one song from this album, ‘A Faint Butterfly’, it is only about the words’ sonorities.

The guitar work on Secrets from Below captures the power of ringing arpeggios and the texture of shoegaze. On which primary instrument did you write most of the songs for this record?

Guitar was the primary instrument for most of the songs. ‘Ashes’, ‘When Your Ghost Wanders’, ‘Just Like A Tear’, ‘Homelight’, are guitar born and conducted by guitar only. I have added some synth ambiance after the songs were composed. Regarding ‘Into the Blue’ and ‘Facing the Shadow’, both synth and guitar were taking turns as the lead instruments while composing. 

‘Into the Blue’ began with a simple synth pad layer, and I was improvising a few things on guitar above it until I got the catchy melody that gave birth to the song. For the other parts of the song, guitar took the lead, and then I re-added some synth afterwards. 

As for ‘A Faint Butterfly’ and ‘The Light That Turned Into Crystals’, synth was the primary instrument.

Secrets from Below is your fifth Aythis album. Looking back, which is your least favourite album and why?

Ah, this is a really difficult question. When I listen to my first albums, I hear so many flaws. I think my least favourite would be The New Earth, not regarding the songs but more regarding the way I produced it. It sounds too synthetic; it’s in my future plans to remix the songs, give them a new life and maybe some extra soul, some extra air. This album was released in 2011, and I remember trying my best with the production, but I actually did “too much”. 

Songs wise, I know I’ve put my heart in each song I’ve ever written in Aythis, so it would be unfair to degrade them.

Above: Carline Van Roos in 2007.

What is our favourite song on Secrets from Below and why?

Every song on the album has a reason to be there, every song has its story. Also, I had about seventeen songs before doing the final choices and starting the final recordings. Those eight that are part of the album complete each other on some level too (without counting the Twin Peaks cover).  The stories belong to the same book. When I am still in the process of making the album, I often doubt about this or that song, you know, the eternal “is it good enough”. But then the more I am working on them, the more I get excited and then all appear clearer, and I know they belong to the album’s journey. So, I am attached to each of them. ‘Just Like A Tear’, ‘Into the Blue’ and ‘Ashes’ are maybe those whose melodies and atmosphere pull me in the most.

What causes you the most anguish – the process of growing old or the possibility that the astounding beauty of the natural habitat on your doorstep might one day turn into an urbanised area?

The second, because for me there is no interest in growing old if there is no nature left before my eyes.

Your music seems to conjure the images of cascading waterfalls and the serene experience of traversing through snow-covered forests with no other human being in sight. What is the most poignant description of your music you’ve heard that gives an opposite perspective to ours?

I love your description. Thank you! Actually, I don’t read everything online, so I may have missed something, but I found the descriptions I’ve read about my music being coherent, fitting and often expanding my own vision of the music. Vision-expanding is really the good term. It is a special feeling when someone takes the will and the energy to “feel” the music you create and then even find the right words for it. I’ve been astounded more than once by descriptions people have given.

Your last album caught the attention of film directors and three of your songs ended up on film soundtracks. How did you use these unique opportunities to further your artistic career?

Before anything, these opportunities brought me some confidence. Daring to trust my musical visions, my compositions. It was an honour, really, and I hope I’ll have the chance to do it again.

Final question: People know you for your work with atmospheric doom metal band, Rethian Dreams and as a member of Remembrance. How much you do you listen to metal these days?

I do listen to a lot of genres, but metal is definitely a part of me. Lethian Dreams is so important in my life, and even if we aren’t very active with Remembrance at the moment, we have an album that is slowly taking shape. Yesterday I wrote the synth and song structure for a fifth track, so it is happening for real.

As for listening to metal, I am listening to the new album of Nightfall, At Night We Prey, right now while answering this interview, after reading the review from your webzine. There are months I can listen to metal daily, other times I’ll listen to post-rock, alternative or dark electronic… I like to be inspired by other genres too, so in the end they all have a place in my daily life.

*** Aythis released Secrets from Below via Orcynia Music Productions on 2 April 2021. You can read the original SBR review here.

*** Carline Van Roos is available to mix and master your music if you contact her using the URL below: