Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Vyva Melinkolya and the art of the slow burn

19 February 2024, 09:00

Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Angel Diaz found her artistic fortitude as slowcore-inspired shoegaze visionary Vyva Melinkolya by taking the long way round, she tells Kate Crudgington.

“I want to have the patience of water, shaping a cave system,” Angel Diaz says, when extrapolating on the imagery and motifs that permeate Unbecoming, her second album as Vyva Melinkolya. “I don’t have it yet. But I would like to move through music like water through a cave.”

The iconography of this natural phenomena is something that resonates deeply with Diaz. The cover art for Unbecoming is a monochrome photograph of the artist, crouched in a shadowy cave. “There’s something so horrifying and beautiful about these voids in our world, that are millions of years old and carved by water,” she continues “The use of the cave on the album cover and in the song 'Safe' is literal. I had something happen at a cave in 2020 [and] that is a spiritual place to me in my writing and in my emotional world. I will forever be fascinated with caves. I will always respect them.”

On Unbecoming, Diaz mines her personal and musical reserves in order to create a work that aches with melancholy, but also rings with true catharsis. Sonically inspired by her favourite bands Low and Grouper, she tethers layers of gauzy reverb, swirling riffs, yearning vocals and poetic lyrics together to create an ethereal and disarming listen. Diaz dedicated the record to “survivors of intimate partner violence,” providing a space for reflection and ultimately, healing and hope.


Unbecoming came to life over a four-year period and is a testament to the art of taking one's time. "I am a very impatient person, and I’m glad I found one thing that is an exception to that," Diaz tells me. "I love making slow music, because I’m such a fast person. Nothing else will give me pause. I want to continue exploring patience and space in music. I’m really happy with how I used that in Unbecoming. I’m glad that I waited, is what I’m trying to say.”

Resilience is also a hard won byproduct of patience too. For Diaz, who identifies as a trans woman, releasing her self-titled debut album in 2018 coincided with the beginning of her physical transition. “In terms of stuff related to being trans, there is not very much talk of that on Unbecoming. However, I will say that I’m going to do a little more exploration of that in the next couple of projects that I’m developing.” She hesitates for a moment, before speaking again: “There was a moment before Unbecoming, where I hadn’t quite given up on music, as such…but music was my world when I was just becoming an adult. Then I got my priorities really mixed up, in a really bad way, and I think Unbecoming was me re-realising the dream, so to speak.”

Vyva press photo

Diaz talks to me from a room that could in itself be described as a creative cave, against a backdrop of wood-panelled walls hung with gothic paraphernalia, including framed butterflies. “I’m really proud of it. I have more insects that I’ve yet to put up,” she tells me. “Whenever I finish a part of a project or something like a music video, I’m like ‘okay, I can take a day to put up new decorations’. I’m on somewhat of a nocturnal schedule, I just always work best at night. My good friend finished a song last night, so she picked me up around 3am on a whim and we took a long drive, listening to each other’s demos. It was lovely. Hearing it on the car speakers brings everything full circle.”

A Louisville native, Diaz was raised by parents who were naturally-gifted singers. She learned to play piano by ear in childhood before uploading her early experiments under the Vyva Melinkolya name to Bandcamp in her mid-teens. Despite some of the heavy context that informs her work as Vyva, her well of empathy means she treats the spaces and the people around her with an immense level of gratitude and respect. This is most evident when she’s talking about the friendships she's formed through collaboration.

“It’s funny that we’re talking about caves and such,” she circles back once more. “A friend of mine, Hayden, took me to this tunnel, which is like a cave, as it’s a decommissioned road that goes into a mountain. She took pictures of me there in the snow. There were no lights, there was a blizzard forming outside, and being cradled by the earth was so terrifying, but also beautiful. I wanted to go back again because how often, in our daily lives, do we feel true - not that I’m a thrill seeker - but, true terror?”


The Hayden she is referring to is Hayden Anhedönia, better known Ethel Cain. The pair collaborated together most recently on “222” on Unbecoming, and Diaz played backing guitars on Cain's 2022 debut album Preacher’s Daughter.

“My friendship with Hayden is one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever had,” Diaz reflects. “I’ve never met someone that understands music quite the same way. Both working on some of the backing guitars for Preacher’s Daughter and her doing backing vocals for '222' couldn’t have been a better exchange of us both bringing things to the table and sharing them.”

Another kindred spirit of Diaz is Madeline Johnston – AKA Midwife – who features on Unbecoming track “Doomer GF Song” and worked with her on last year's Orbweaving EP. The pair first talked over Facebook messenger in January 2020 before forging a strong friendship during the early months of the pandemic. "Madeline 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," Diaz said of Johnston in an interview last year.

The two musicians guided each other through a turbulent emotional time, and in the process began spinning the intricately woven, affecting web of sounds that pacified the pain of their past. Orbweaving is a hypnotic collection of shadowy vocals and mesmeric guitar sounds and a byproduct of the altruistic environment in which they were written and recorded – Johnston’s Chihuahuan Desert studio close to the New Mexico border. Inspired by nights spent herping on empty roadsides for roadkill and orb-weaver spiders, the record smoulders with the residual heat of sun-scorched sands and the melancholy of desolate desert nights.

F23276 B4 3454 4762 A64 A 8 E0 E39 B766 DA

“An important thing to know is that I was working on Unbecoming, a good year and a half before Orbweaving,” Diaz shares, “so the fact that I continued working with Madeline after that still astounds me. Having someone else in your music can be really scary and intimidating. Especially when you’re working with people that you look up to. I can’t believe it worked out how it did. As much as I love being a hermit and obsessing about my own inner world, having people metaphorically fly in for a moment is so beautiful and I’m so glad that it happened with Madeline the way that it did.”

With Orbweaving, Diaz was able to embrace her love of nature - specifically spiders - and her love of music simultaneously. The way in which the physical landscape affects and interacts with her own “inner world” plays a crucial role in shaping her art. “I’m autistic, and when I was young, before I was obsessed with music, I was obsessed with animals. That was my fixation” she reveals. “So as an adult, getting to come back to that and have the music and my obsession with nature be tangential to each other was a beautiful moment.”

The accompanying video for Orbweaving track “Plague X” - inspired by the lifecycle of the cicada, whose 17-year periodical took place in 2021 at the time of recording - shows Diaz and Johnston indulging in this shared passion for music and nature together.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Diaz admits that she isn’t necessarily used to working with others when it comes to music. The power of shared values and interests is something that's helped her overcome this, a transformation which began when she spent time on tour as a guitarist playing with musician Kennedy Ashlyn, also known as SRSQ (pronounced “seer-skew”). Diaz had been a fan of Ashlyn’s work since she was a teenager, and was grateful when she agreed to sing guest vocals on Unbecoming track “Bruise".

“I’ve recorded for other people, but being part of another band as a member is something that was totally new to me,” she reflects about her time spent playing a string of shows in Ashlyn’s band in the UK. “It felt foreign but it also felt incredible. We played London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. This one venue in Manchester was an old auto-body shop, and it had exposed beams and dried flowers everywhere. The sound guy started playing Grouper and I met the most interesting, beautiful people there, which made me think I have to come back here as Vyva. There were a lot of places in Europe where I felt like I needed to come back to as Vyva, and Kennedy allowed me to have that experience in the first place so I’m going to be thankful for that forever.”

A spirit of connection with people and places also lingers elsewhere for Diaz. Online, she found like-minded musicians and fans who are affected by her work: “As much as I resent the Internet sometimes, it is how I know so many people,” she smiles. “For instance, Philadelphia was a city that I’d never been to, but then I made some Internet friends, and now it’s like my second home. I think that we forget that the internet used to be a fun and beautiful place at times. As much as I resent my phone, I’m really glad it’s led me to meet people in places that I would never have gone before.”

"I love making slow music, because I’m such a fast person. Nothing else will give me pause. I want to continue exploring patience and space in music."


Unbecoming was shaped by an undiluted empathy “I don’t expect everyone to feel the same thing, or understand the same narrative on the record,” she explains. “One of my favourite musicians, Grouper, said something along the lines of, basically, when you release music, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to whoever listens to it and they get to attach their story to it. One of the most important feelings in the rainbow of human experience is understanding. If I can make people feel understood, that’s all I can really ask for. Nothing makes me happier, I get emotional thinking about it.

"I don’t care if Unbecoming is the best album they’ve ever heard - well, I care a little bit about that - but you know what I mean. When someone approaches me saying that it’s helped them, or that it touched something within them, or even if they’re telling me a silly story. Someone was telling me about how they did edibles with their fiancé and they both had a wonderful evening together listening to it! However it finds people, however they understand it. What matters to me more is the impression it leaves. And that goes back to one of my favourite bands: Low."

Minnesota trio Low was a huge influence on the arrangements and dynamics of the songs that formed Unbecoming. "In my earlier records, I struggled with letting things have sonic space, but Unbecoming has some of the quietest moments,” Diaz reflects. “With songs like 'Whimper', or 'Song About Staying' and even '222', I felt the need to kind of let the room have some air, so to speak. For it to be more of a field, than a forest. I want to play more with minimalism, as opposed to having a monolith of sound. Low is definitely a reason for that.”

Listening to Low helped Diaz shape her own sound and her admiration for the band is endless. She first heard them around five years ago, during her time at college. "I was smoking a cigarette outside of class, and I listened to 'Lullaby'," she recalls. "Before that, I was very into ethereal music and was very much a musical maximalist. I didn’t quite understand music that was so sparse and so I was taken aback by something being so minimal, yet so all-encompassing."

"I think they have the most heart, of almost any band, ever," Diaz tells me. "I found this website that Alan Sparhawk made about all of their early records and early song meanings. I read the silly stories that some of the songs were about and other innocuous things, because it’s so interesting to me. I would never have guessed these things, because my experiences or my memories with this music are so different. I think that’s beautiful. I think as long as the goal is empathy and understanding, people can feel whatever they want.

"I didn’t leave my room for a couple of days when Mimi Parker passed away. I felt like a great innocence left the world. Both songwriting and texturally, I always look to their work as a teacher. I could listen to them at any time of the day, any day of the year, any weather. There’s not a time when I couldn’t find a song of theirs that wouldn’t be relevant to me and my feelings.

Re Scan Skate 3 of 18

Cult director Gregg Araki, is another influence on her music. The LA-born filmmaker's movies are liberally soundtracked by iconic shoegaze and indie bands from the 80s and 90s, with two of his works – The Living End and Nowhere – named after a Jesus and Mary Chain track and Ride album respectively. "He will have characters wearing a Cocteau Twins t-shirt, or they will be named after a Slowdive song," Diaz tells me. "There’s a movie of his – Mysterious Skin even detached from that film, if I’m writing about a feeling or writing about a person that doesn’t exist, that almost feels like ‘mysterious skin’ to me. Because skin is such a tangible thing.”

She takes an Araki-style approach on her work too: "He references the art he loves constantly, and I can’t help but do that [in my music]," she tells me. The title of Unbecoming is taken from "Stay", a song on Low's 1995 record Long Division, while “Song About Staying” is based on Carissa's Wierd 2002 album Songs About Leaving. “Stars Don’t Fall” both references and is a response to “Stars Will Fall” by Duster.

Diaz’s work is essentially a huge aural love letter to everyone who has influenced or inspired her along the way. "I am a music fan’s musician," she adds. "I really make the music that I want to hear in the world. Sometimes I feel like my emotions as a person, or how I understand emotions, or intimacy, love and romance, or heartbreak or strength - I don’t know what I would be like if it wasn’t for the music I love.”

Re Scan Overpass 5 of 7 JPEG

This year, Diaz is looking forward to playing live across America with Midwife and fellow ambient-shoegaze artist body/negative: “With shoegaze, there’s this introverted-ness that is assumed,” she continues. “Early in playing live, I was very much looking at the floor, but now I feel like I look directly into the audience. I have a song where I just sing with a microphone and walk into the audience. I’m interested to see how that also changes my songwriting and how I record."

The time it took to make Unbecoming also meant she was able to develop a plan for her next two records. "I feel like Unbecoming is a chronology of my life," she explains, "and I have one record that is going to continue that work and sound like Unbecoming, but the other record will be a little bit more like Orbweaving. It will be a lot more landscape-based, a lot more vignette based. I’m interested to see how the landscape on this tour plays into my writing.”

She offers one final reflection on Unbecoming: "A lot of it is a very dark album. Even at its less dark moments, it’s still very cloying, and yearning and beside itself. But I am so full of love, both for other people’s music, and just making music in general. I don’t feel like I have a choice, there’s nowhere else that feels right to put it. It’s my favourite language.”

Unbecoming is out now; listen on Bandcamp

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next