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Interview with A Path Untold

Building Worlds with A Path Untold

Released earlier this year, Sourcery is the third full-length album by A Path Untold, aka producer/composer Daniel Merrill, who has been creating and releasing under the moniker since 2015. It is the most ambitious, intricate and intentional record he’s created so far. 

In relation to past works, it is ever more evocative and far-reaching in its scope, resulting in a progression of songs designed to transform the dancefloor into sacred space and back again, while providing an evolving, enthralling ride that facilitates as much of an inner journey as listeners want to take.

The album draws on genre elements from future garage, deep/slow house, ambient downtempo, medicine music and a variety of multicultural flavours. 

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With an album as thematically dense as this, we thought it would be a good idea to catch up with its creator. 

Thanks for talking to us… how has 2022 been for you so far? 

 Yes indeed, thanks for having me! This year has been a productive and inspiring one so far on my end. It feels great to have just released the album. Sharing music with people during this time of the world “rebooting” feels like a special experience. 

 You’ve been releasing music for a number of years, how did you first start out producing and being interested in electronic music?

I started my musical path as a metal guitarist when I was a teenager in the ’90s while growing up in an isolated region of Maryland (east coast) in the U.S.  There really weren’t many collaborators around, which prompted me to try doing everything on my own, using very basic recording gear. 

I got hooked on the one-man-band idea pretty quickly and then gradually got into making industrial music, which led to implementing my first synth (Korg N5ex). I did that for a few years with no real idea about the larger world of electronic music and then started tuning into early internet dance music radio (like Groovetech). I became absolutely fascinated by this new world of music I’d discovered, with an endless sea of new genres, which then led me to rave culture, and everything shifted. 

I started going to festivals, raves and clubs around ‘99, which changed my life and caused me to start hearing music very differently. I became quite obsessed with learning everything I could about electronic music production and culture, immersing myself in all the genres I resonated with (IDM, trance, breaks, house, downtempo, DNB). It really became a way of life and seeing/processing the world around me, and I knew it was what I wanted to put my energy into.

Because I was in an isolated/rural locale and “outside” of any one scene/genre, I really took influence from this vast range of genres, and that has always been a huge part of my relationship with electronic music (including my own work). I then started teaching myself to produce and started to get increasingly serious about it. I discovered Ableton Live in its beta stage in 2001 and it all went from there. 

Which artists do you listen to, and draw inspiration from?

My tastes are pretty extensively all over the genre map, but I’ve always been consistently inspired by music that is deeply emotive, cinematic and unforgettably melodic. Emotion, atmosphere and groove are everything to me. When I started out making electronic music, my strongest influences were Leftfield, Underworld, Sasha, Orbital, Aphex Twin, (old) Tipper, and a lot of deep drum n’ bass like the Certificate 18 label, Klute, Marcus Intalex, Seba, Polar, Teebee, etc. I’m a big longtime fan of dnb that is on the more moody, soulful and melodic end of the spectrum. 

Then, the Burial phenomenon happened, which influenced me massively and really got me hooked on quality future garage/post-dubstep, and from there I also went deep down a melodic techno/house wormhole… I ultimately am influenced by artists whom I discover to be very unique and uncompromising in their vision. Some more along the way for me are Lulu Rouge, Trent Moeller, Clubroot, Klatu, Max Cooper, Christian Loffler, Volor Flex. I’m a big fan of Gidge. 

Even though all these artists occupy a range of different genres so to speak, you can probably start to notice some commonalities. I’m always finding new music that I connect with and learn from.

Your new album “Sourcery” explores a lot of different, often conflicting themes – for example, melancholy and euphoria.

Why is this conflict or dissonance important to you? 

I personally find music and art to be the most captivating when it explores contrast or the spaces between opposites. For instance, I love uplifting, triumphant melodies… but I find them more impactful and relevant when they’re placed in a container of contrast, like with melancholic or mysterious connotations. I think this is something I picked up from listening to a lot of drum n’ bass. In a lot of good mixes back in the day there would tend to be darker tracks, then on to uplifting ones, and back again. 

This concept of exploring contrast or duality I found to be very interesting. Writing music for me is a way to document my life experience, so it’s important to me to be as honest as possible. Illustrating the relationship between conflicting themes can also feel like discovering a resolution between them. It just feels like the whole picture, and capturing that feels like the most authentic thing I can do as an artist. 

There’s a definite meditative quality about the album. Is meditation a part of your life, and if so how do you think that influences the music you make? 

I grew up very immersed in nature and therefore a lot of serenity and silence. My mom was and is extremely active in practices of meditation, alternative medicine, eastern philosophy, etc – so I was very much raised through that lens, which definitely had a deep effect on my development. Regular meditation is a practice I’ve experienced the benefits of, find very worth striving for and aspire to have more discipline about. That being said, just spending time in nature itself is powerful for me and helps me to stay in touch with a sense of quiet and mindfulness. 

I feel that it’s important to find quiet and solitude in order to tune in to your inner intuitive voice, as a creator. In my own experience, entering the flow-state of the creative act itself (and the resulting music) is a powerful form of meditation. The music is essentially the sound of me finding my meditative place through the act of creating it if that makes sense.

You’ve said the album is about “tapping into a relationship with infinity” That’s an almost unfathomable concept, so how do you go about creating music on these themes? 

With that, I’m speaking in reference to my personal accounts of the relationship between spirituality and psychedelics, and the sense of being connected to things beyond myself, past/present/future. I’ve been deeply influenced by these spheres in my life and they’ve certainly had an undeniable effect on my music… Their influence cultivated a desire to try and recreate these sensations in my work. 

Among a spectrum of experiences over the last couple of decades, I’ve found a lot of reward and inspiration in working with guided indigenous plant medicine ceremonies, and the integrated use of music throughout them. It’s hard to summarize in just a few words, but these experiences have provided me with an expanded sense of what is possible in the universe. There is a sense of dissolving of boundaries and any feeling of separateness, creating an increased perception of unity, which the world could certainly use more of. 

The cultures of plant medicine music and healing modalities are interesting to me because they tap into utilizing music as a vehicle for healing and growth. I’ve always found music to do that anyway, on its own, but traditional indigenous approaches take it to a different level than I’d previously experienced. The music acts as a tool to facilitate and catalyze realizations within you, it becomes a central vessel for the experience that delivers you through the journey. 

I’ve always felt similarly about great electronic music and the effect it has on people, both personally and in gatherings, because the music acts as a tool that allows people to feel more deeply, unite together and be present, dance, grow and expand. The music is beyond entertainment or even an escape…but rather a way to create meaning. The album is written from this perspective, somewhere between a medicine ceremony and a quality rave, and I very much stand between those worlds when it comes to formative experiences. I aspire to create rich harmonic tapestries that portray the emotions and visions I’ve encountered along the way. 

How did the pandemic affect the creation of the album? 

Among all its various challenges, the pandemic ultimately became an effective container of time for me to get some music done. Being at home most of the time and not having to interface with society nearly as much was creatively empowering, and it gave me a sense of being able to really dig into my process without being interrupted. I felt I had a lot I needed to express and say with this body of work, so I was grateful for the time, energy and motivation to do that.

Then, with the Black Lives Matter protests happening shortly after that (and resulting events), it was an impactful time to observe around me. When I started the album in early 2020, I had already been living in the city of Baltimore for many years, which is a city already shaped by its struggles – and the pandemic really amplified a lot of that. The adversity there also makes it a very creative city to be in. I started the album just by expressing what I was feeling and witnessing around me, and the first half came from that perspective. 

Then, life provided some very interesting changes and I found myself moving to a little mountain town in northern California called Grass Valley, which is where I’m living now. I moved here to begin working closely with some new collaborative forces, The Chambers Project. I wrote the last half of the album living in an off-grid cabin in the forests of the Sierra Nevada foothills. The contrast was, without a doubt, rich and useful for the context of the project. 

Sourcery is the first musical release from The Chambers Project – can you elaborate on what exactly The Chambers Project is? 

The Chambers Project is “the world’s leading psychedelic art gallery representing the most influential contemporary artists in psychedelic culture, holding long-standing relationships with the likes of Ralph Steadman, Roger Dean, the Rick Griffin Estate, Oliver Vernon and Mars 1.”

Most people know of Ralph Steadman through his legendary work with Hunter S. Thompson, providing the visual narrative for his books, such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, etc, although he’s done far more than that. 

The Chambers Project acts as a caretaker of the art from the Gonzo journalism era as well as the original school of psychedelic artists, and also the contemporary, expanding scene. It’s a physical gallery and collective of artists, based here in Grass Valley, CA.

Up until now, it’s been a purely visual art platform/collective that curates, displays and promotes cutting edge psychedelic works, but as of now (with this album), it is also acting as a functioning record label – with plans to continue releasing music we’re passionate about. We’ll be expanding the roster thoughtfully with an emphasis on quality over quantity while pushing unique, emotive sounds that have been influenced by the psychedelic paradigm…but in a way that redefines what that can look/sound like. 

In addition to making the music releases available in the digital domain, we plan to put out vinyl packages that are a collaborative effort/dialogue between the musical and visual artists on the platform. 

Creating a solo album is an incredibly personal thing, so now that it’s out in public, how do you feel? 

It’s definitely a process of finding strength in vulnerability, which at its best, is incredibly inspiring, and at its worst, can definitely be intimidating. This is my sixth full length album to date (incorporating my previous music projects), but my third under the A Path Untold name. So, I’ve been through it before, but you never know how it’s going to be received.

Luckily, it appears to be doing pretty well and people seem to be sincerely connecting with it. That feels like an immense honour to me, and one that I certainly never take for granted. It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve been honest and sincere with your work…and that there is reciprocity. It never hurts with the inspiration to continue, although I’d keep going regardless. 

Can we expect more music from you this year? 

Absolutely. I’m currently working on a new 3-4 track EP that I hope to release this fall. Then shortly after that, I plan to release the second EP in the “Numinous” series, which I started a couple of years ago – featuring music I’ve developed over the last decade and is only now being completed and finally released. There are a few other things in the pipeline, but that’s all I’m going to speak on at the moment. 

Finally, please can you recommend one piece of music that has especially resonated with you in the last few months…

Most recently, this new track from Calibre called “Dissolve in the Rain” has been hitting me pretty deeply… He’s also always been one of my favourite artists and continues to surprise me and take me to new places. His music has a sense of soul and nuance that is always present, regardless of what genre he’s working in at the time, which is something I greatly admire. 

I most enjoy artists who take risks and always stay true to themselves. Again, my tastes are pretty eclectic, and there are many great pieces I’d recommend over the last few months, but you said “one”, so I’ll leave it at that.  

Thank you.

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