We turn our attention now to Daniel Merrill, also known as A Path Untold and co-founder of Aligning Minds. Last month he released a new album with the venerable Aquatic Collective, a lush, reverb-drenched aural expedition that is inspired by Daniel’s experiences with Peruvian medicinal ceremony as well as notions of unity and duality.
“The album draws upon a personal account of transformation and transmutation, each track a form of therapy and self-expression shaped around the need to transmute pain and struggle into beauty and triumph. Over the course of Daniel’s 17-year journey as a music producer, his relentless exploration through the genre spectrum has allowed him to retain an objectivity necessary for the fusion of eclectic stylistic influences. His alchemical style has evolved over the years through observing, collecting and fusing together a variety of inspirations, bringing together elements from future garage, slow house, downtempo/ambient, world music and IDM.”
We sat down with Daniel to discuss his new work. You can listen to the full mixed album on our SoundCloud.
[LIS] Congratulations on finishing the album.
Do you mind telling us a bit about the release?
Thanks a lot. It’s been both a process and a pleasure to see it through, as always, and it feels great to have it out. I haven’t been actively releasing for a few years, but it’s time again and I wanted to make something really true to where I am as a person and as an artist. This is an album I didn’t really set out to write, it just happened as a byproduct of living my life, in a way. It’s a nine track body of work that focuses primarily on exploring the spectrum between personal growth and collective changes I’ve been observing around us. I pulled a lot of diverse elements together to try and tell a captivating story that I find relevant to these times we live in. Music is how I/we make sense of the world, and I think we all need as much of that as we can get, so I’m just happy to be back in the flow and contributing.
What does the title Wander to Serve mean to you?
Well, I believe that we humans are here to be of service to each other, and that creativity is one of the highest forms of accomplishing that. Creativity is infinite in its scope of possibility, and something I’ve learned in my life is the more intensely I feel and experience, the more I have to give. I’ve always strongly connected with the concept of freely wandering and exploring the spectrum of human existence, from love & loss, elation & depression, creation & destruction, and so on, with an open heart. To me, the most powerful thing art can do is to transmute something painful into something beautiful that was previously beyond comprehension. This is what has always drawn me to it, its power to transform, uplift, and inspire – but for me, it needs to fearlessly explore both light and dark, and illustrate the contrast/balance. Therefore, I feel my work is most of service when it evolves through wandering, feeling, translating and transcribing intense emotions and experiences. I believe that’s where truth shines in art and it serves a deep, clear purpose for collective transmutation. The title is both representative of my own experience as well as something I feel we’re all going through together.
Were there any experiences you had that inspired you to write Wander to Serve?
I went through an incredibly difficult period in 2016, and my whole life shifted in a huge way. I experienced some deep trauma that took a couple of years to work through and honestly caused me to feel derailed from the things I wanted to do. It was a major life checkpoint. As usual, music was my primary source of solace, along with taking the time to receive some additional therapies, including work with plant medicines and healing ceremonies. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of loving and amazing people around me who helped facilitate some profoundly transformative experiences. It was throughout this process that I increasingly realized it was my calling to chronicle what I was going through. This album is the sound of me learning to open my heart again, of realizing that in the process of turning “poison into medicine”, our hearts expand and are capable of offering our gifts more fluidly and selflessly.
Are there any underlying messages or intentions you wanted to convey to listeners through the album?
I personally prefer and try to make music that is open to interpretation, so the listener can connect with their own sense of meaning from it. Taking that into consideration, the underlying message is no matter what one goes through, it’s often a matter of choice of how one chooses to direct something. We all have talents, visions and gifts to offer, and it’s paramount that we remember to use them to their highest good and potential. We must explore our depths with as much presence and passion as possible, especially in the face of difficult or painful circumstances. We all have a story to tell and it’s a privilege to be able to do so; it’s infinitely healing and inspiring.
What was the creation process like in starting the album?
I’ve long been fascinated with fusing disparate elements, things one wouldn’t expect to hear together and finding a way to make them work in a mesmerizing way. For instance, I’ve been melding opera and classical influences with future garage, house, and medicine music. I’ve been reinterpreting unique samples, field recordings, and prayer songs from the vast range of cultures around the world, all from different points in time that tell stories from diverse vantage points. They are unified into a story that reflects the present and can work well in different contexts, between the realms of a communal dance floor, intimate headphone space, or even a healing ceremony. I captured a lot of field recordings in Peru for instance, and got to weave these direct experiences into cohesive forms with my core melodic compositional style. Gathering the raw elements to reinterpret, and doing a lot of sound design to create a palette for the album was a crucial part of beginning the process of the album.
What was the hardest part about finishing the album?
I always find the final 10% to be harrowing, when committing to final arrangements and nuanced details. Overall, the most difficult part is the mixing, which I find to be consistently tedious, especially with a larger body of work. To me it’s the least enjoyable part of the process, as the bulk of creative work is done and it’s predominantly technical and cerebral. Not to mention you’ve heard the tunes so many times that it can be difficult to maintain objectivity. Making the switch from subjectivity to objectivity isn’t always a smooth transition. Taking breaks whenever possible, along with perseverance and patience, are absolutely critical. Luckily, once its completed and released, you pretty much forget all the anguish you went through!
What are some of your favorite VSTS right now and some you used during the creative process?
I’m pretty obsessed with Omnisphere 2, and I use it on everything I do really, mainly for melodic and arp components. Additionally, 2C-Audio plugins like Aether, Breeze 2, and lately Precedence are staples, and mostly Native Instruments’ Monark for bass. Soundtoys’ Echoboy, Decapitator, Crystallizer and Little AlterBoy… Melodyne and the Fabfilter suite are irreplaceable. Zynaptic’s Wormhole is amazing, and SoundMorph Dust for expanding into unfamiliar etheric territories. I could go on forever really, but these are some of my favorites that contributed to the sound of the album in an important way.
Is there any symbolism behind the cover artwork?
The cover is as close a representation as I could get to a dream I had in late 2016. This dream was a particularly special one, it honestly arrived in the midst of a series of terrible nightmares: an immediate result of the aforementioned trauma. It was the one beautiful and enjoyable dream I had during that period, and when I awoke it was imprinted in my memory with incredible detail. Again, I want to leave a certain amount of this open to interpretation – I don’t like to spell things out too much – but, let’s just say this beautiful, etheric tree is growing, blossoming on the top, but wilting, dying, and decaying on the bottom. The egg in the center is unhatched, untapped kinetic potential, waiting to be manifested. The balance between life & death, growth & decay, joy & despair is held in the potential of each moment, waiting for intention and awareness to conjure its contents into fruition. I’ll leave it at that.
You released your first LP “Secret Subtle Light” in 2015, do you feel like you sound has changed in any way?
Absolutely, my music is always a direct reflection of whatever I’ve been going through personally, so it keeps evolving. Stylistically, over the last couple of years I’ve been enjoying a lot more deep, melodic house and other 4/4 variations. People who know me would say this is an anomaly of sorts, because I specifically resisted making 4/4 tunes for years. I’ve always been much more into broken beats, breakbeats, IDM and of course the incredible shuffle of future garage music. However, through listening to a lot of emotive 4/4 stuff, I realized I absolutely love its potential to create a hypnotic groove without sacrificing any of the personal, emotive touch. I’ve gradually become more drawn to making slower, moody yet groovy 4/4 tunes that are inviting to dance to and to take you on deep excursions of the heart. I’m also drawn to incorporating garage influences and the respective focus on texture, syncopation and found sound. Then further still, I’ve also been making music for healing ceremonies and wanted to incorporate my own take on medicine music, in order to imbue a sense of sacred space. This album, to me, has all of that going on, and I think all in all, it’s a much more accessible record than Secret Subtle Light. That album was the darker, unapologetically moody album that I’d wanted to make for a long time; it was something I needed to get out of my system to some degree. I love making uplifting music as much as the mysterious stuff, it all just needs to fuse in a complementary way. On this album it came through naturally to strike a balance and to have strong moments of contrast.
How long have you been creating music and what has the journey been like so far?
I’ve been making music for about 17 years, I started producing back in 2002. That’s when I really got obsessed with composition and production. It’s been a trip, of course. It’s taken me to some really wild places, and opened up my life in ways I could have never imagined and I value so deeply. Most importantly though, it’s been a way of exploring myself and my relationship with this world (and others). It’s not always the easiest path, but for me it’s really the only true one. There is always more to learn about conveying emotions to tell a powerful story, working through creative blocks, and finding inspiration in anything. These are some of the major factors that continue to fascinate me and drive me forward.
Who are your top three most influential artists right now?
It’s quite hard to narrow that down, as I’m in love with so much music and do alot of digging. I’d say three that consistently hold it down for me lately are Christian Loffler, Djrum, and Gidge. These guys are more from the European side of things. If you’re not familiar, do yourself a favor! Consistent emotive storytelling, with incredible attention to atmosphere and detail. Of course there are countless others who deeply inspire me, and legendary albums that I revisit again and again and still influence me to this day. Just to throw a few out there – Burial, Leftfield, Sasha, Boards of Canada, Type O Negative (yes the metal band), Aphex Twin, Clark, Moderat, Massive Attack, Clubroot, so many more… I’m all over the map, I just love deep music.
You’ve been recently working at a school teaching inner city children the ins and out of Ableton? How has this experience been and how does it impact your music.
I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. Over the years, I’ve learned more and more that I enjoy teaching as much as learning and creating myself, they feed each other so beautifully. Over the years I’ve done some teaching here and there with one-on-one students, but teaching in a larger group context is new to me. Additionally a couple of years ago, I took a deep interest in the practice of creativity coaching, which is an approach to helping oneself and others overcome creative hurdles, using a variety of techniques that reframe one’s relationship to their work. The particular techniques I’ve learned are based on a Japanese philosophy called Kaizen, which is a practice of cultivating consistent progress through small, non-threatening steps. So along with my production experience, I find it inspiring to implement some of this insight in a direct way. The organization I’m working for in West Baltimore is called Believe in Music, and they’re doing amazing things to provide a platform for kids to explore their music making potential. We offer knowledge in the realms of production, lyricism/songwriting, singing and brand development. It gives them options that they didn’t previously have in their realm of possibility. It’s an honor to pay the gift forward that music has always given me, by introducing these kids to knowledge that can help them achieve a deeper state of peace and expression within themselves.
What was the inspiration behind the name A Path Untold?
There are a few meanings behind the name. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the Mysterium Tremendum, which means “awe inspiring mystery”, and is “experienced as mysterious, awesome, and urgent.” The idea is that creativity is a guiding light in life, illuminating a path of self discovery that lies within all of us. Both within ourselves and as a collective whole, our future is open, unwritten – and will unfold according to our own creative awakening. Embracing the path of creation within us guides us to new pinnacles of awareness, to transformative experiences we were previously unaware of. A means to reveal the un-revealed, we walk A Path Untold. That sense of mystery, of beckoning unknown realms, that’s what has always interested and inspired me, and I try to bring that through my music. A sense of the mystical, or numinous experience.
In what ways would you like to see the underground electronic music scene evolve?
Honestly, it’s pretty incredible as it is! There’s just so much out there, it’s of course sometimes overwhelming because you don’t want to miss anything. I’d say that if there’s one major thing I’d like to see happen, it’s for the scene to continue to be increasingly open to emotional, melodic music. Music that goes beyond the just the immediate dance floor appeal, impressive bass patches, technical prowess – and focuses more on emotional storytelling and has a deeper longevity. Unapologetically, unabashedly deep, honest, real and emotive music. I feel like some people resist going deeply into those realms, it makes them feel vulnerable. They’d rather not face some of those feelings, it’s unfamiliar. I’d like to see more of a movement towards unlocking potential, and encouraging as much heartfelt expression as possible.
What’s to expect from A Path Untold in the coming year?
Now that the album is out, I’m excited to keep the momentum of the music moving forward. I’m planning to release a string of EP’s in the coming year. Some will explore the groovier, dancier side of things, and others will explore the more downtempo medicine music space. I’d like to strike a balance. There will also be a couple of remix albums of both SSL and WTS coming out on Aquatic Collective. Additionally, I’m excited to start playing shows again and getting back out there connecting with crowds again, so I’m actively starting to take booking requests. I’m developing and redefining my live act, which is taking some interesting new turns, including working with performance artists and doing a lot of custom video work. I’m keen to create more original video content that really unifies with the music. My goal is to spread the sounds as much as I can and explore some exciting new collaborations, and put out as much new music as possible!
Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that we’ll be releasing the stems for both albums (Secret Subtle Light and Wander to Serve) to the public for remixes in the coming weeks. Then, we’ll be offering a remix contest for Wander to Serve and the winning tracks will be released on Aquatic Collective as an additional remix album, in addition to some other goodies we’ll be announcing. We’re looking forward to hearing what people come up with!
A Path Untold