Starkill – Taking the Independent PathWednesday, 10th February 2016
Starkill seemed to have much buzz about them with the release of their debut album, Fires of Life. They hit some big tours in the US and Europe and before you knew it, they were back again in 2014 with their second album, Virus of the Mind. A big step up from their debut, with a ‘mature’ approach and a diversified palette, all of the potential seemed to be there for the band to make an even bigger splash. They grabbed a few stateside tours (notably the Arch Enemy/Kreator/Huntress tour just after said album’s release), but there seemed to be a bit of quiet on the Starkill front, other than a recent tour of China and the announcement of their opening slot for Epica on their US tour to kick off 2016.
But when the floodgates open, they open wide. 2016 has the makings of a big year for Starkill, but they are looking for a bit of help. Severing ties with Century Media (you can read about this below), the band has opted to go the crowdfunding route for their upcoming third album. With this news fresh off the press, we asked vocalist/guitarist Parker Jameson to have a chat before the band’s gig at Irving Plaza in NYC to get a better idea of what to expect with album number three, the crowdfunding experience, as well as their recent tours.
Dead Rhetoric: You recently did a tour in China, how did it go overall?
Parker Jameson: It was the most different tour ever. We had gotten messages before we went to Europe from our European fans that there might be some culture shock in different countries [when we toured Europe], but everyone was pretty chill. Except for the language barrier, Europe was a friendly and easy-to-adapt-to kind of place. China was like an alien planet…it was so different! It is just a different culture. Even distances between people, when you are in public place, for example…it’s different. We were the only 4 white people in the train station and people were coming up and taking pictures! Or signing autographs…when people had no idea who we were. It was just kind of funny to be like a zoo animal at some places. The shows were cool. Hong Kong, Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, all of the bigger cities had lots of people. They really connected; metal fans who just support metal whenever it comes through. We had a blast for sure! Lots of weird memories.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there opening bands for the shows?
Jameson: For about half of the shows, there were local bands with a tight following there. I didn’t really speak that much with most people, except for our tour manager. In the bigger cities, they were more metal-aware and had more of a local scene. In the other cities, like Chengdu or Shenzhen, there were people who come to see music and it’s awesome. Sometimes if you tell maybe a 50-year old pastor in America that ask you what type of music you play and you say metal, he scoffs at it. To people in China, it’s music…they are way less judgmental, and people would show up just to hear “sound.” That was a really cool thing that was a bit different than the American scene.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you compare the Chinese fans then, in terms of their rowdiness?
Jameson: Again, the communication barrier was a bit spotty, but it seems like American bands don’t come through all that often. So we really took the time to hang out and connect with the fans, who seemed to be a bit more on the freaky-out-y side. I feel like the American and European fans chill and hang-out on a more casual level. For them, it was a bit more proper. Like more of an obligatory respect for the artist. It was nice – I don’t think it was necessary. I try to stay humble with people like that, but it was cool. That was a little bit different too.
Dead Rhetoric: Moving on, when did you become label-less?
Jameson: Basically, if you didn’t notice Metal Sucks and Blabbermouth’s posts a few months back, Century Media’s [California] address was up for sale. There was an exchange in ownership and there was a lot of close label family who had been working with us before we had even signed who got moved around or moved out. It became a lot less home-y. In conjunction with that, we have been writing new material forever. This is the longest gap that we have gone between being in the studio. Usually we have about a 12 months gap in the studio. Now we are pushing around 19 months or so. We have written and re-written the album a couple of times. We are ready to release it, we need to record it, and we need to fund it. So we had been measuring the cost/benefits of switching labels or going the independent route, and we crunched the numbers and looked at it from a long-term standpoint. The funding part is difficult, but if we can accomplish that, it means that we own our own music in the end.
There is no pre-determined profit margin on our music. So if we sell a CD, we take home a lot more of that money since we own it all. We can stay on the road longer, we can do this and actually have some hope of being able to scrape by, as opposed to having to save up to do stuff like this [tour]. There’s a video on the Indiegogo page that explains it a bit more in-depth. But the bulk of it is that when we have had to turn down two huge European tours because the small percent that we are making on our stuff – it’s not enough to cover the costs. We figured let’s make it so we can do it. So we bit the bullet and put stuff out there, and in 59 days we will assess. We are ready to enter the studio and we’ve got a lot of engineers and stuff lined up – we want to record.
Dead Rhetoric: With the new album being written and rewritten at this point – things are basically finished. You just need to record?
Jameson: All the pre-production is done. Obviously we have to do it for real, instead of shitty demo mics. Get into a studio with $1000 pre-amps and stuff. Everyone says that their new album is their best album – I think there is less inhibitions on this record. I know it is going to sound weird, but in our first, formative years, we were hesitant to admit certain influences for fear of “you’re not going to be metal enough.” In all honesty, this album is heavier than anything we’ve done while still drawing influences from maybe, non-metal bands. There’s a little more on the Gothenburg-y side, a little more Soilwork and Arch Enemy in some of the stuff. A little more of the first album’s over-the-top guitar solo antics. It’s just a giant, bombastic, melodic thing. And it’s 12 songs this time, which is more than we’ve done on the previous albums. Plus we have a few couple sick covers lined-up that we are really pumped to release. Kind of like a tongue-in-cheek Bodom cover factor. I think some of these might surprise some people.
Dead Rhetoric: So they are non-metal songs then…
Jameson: Yes. I’m not going to say what until they are out, but if you are familiar with some of those Bodom covers…some of them may be a bit unpredictable in that kind of way. We’ve never released a cover on a record before so it’s going to be cool. One that is kind of public already, since we played it live at Full Terror Assault Festival [in Illinois] last year was The Offspring’s “The Kids Aren’t Alright.” We are contemplating putting it on the record because it was pretty sick.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on this tour [with Epica and Moonspell]?
Jameson: This is a super, perfect, awesome tour for us, especially with the direction of the newer material. I think it’s no surprise that Amorphis was a big influence to us. We are pulling a bit more of the Nightwish card, which I’m glad to be able to be doing with this new stuff we are doing. We are playing two brand new tracks that are on the third album. I wish we could be playing all new material. We haven’t played Irving Plaza since 2013 with Wintersun. It’s been a while since we’ve been in NYC, so we are excited to just show them what they’ve been missing with Virus of the Mind, and give them a taste of what is coming up.
Dead Rhetoric: I remember the last time we talked, the Amorphis influences came up, and how you’d taken some influences from bands that you’d been touring with. Since then, have there been any bands that you’ve taken influence from?
Jameson: War Eternal was a big influence. You know that huge European tour with Nightwish and Amorphis and Arch Enemy? Squish all that into one record and that might give you a little idea [of the next album], because those are like three of our biggest influences. I think one of the bigger differences on the new record compared to our first record was that some people are going to be accusatory and say we are selling out because of the clean vocals. Well, really on our first record, I wasn’t aware or experienced enough with my clean vocals to put them on record. I had to purposely box myself into music that did not ever need clean vocals. The last thing I wanted to do on that record was write a song and then years in the future, listen back to it and say, “man I wish there were cleans on that.” Now it’s like, the barrier is gone, let’s do it – let’s add some Mastodon-y or Muse-y kind of parts and still make it this shreddy, ridiculous Starkill thing. We just don’t care what anyone else thinks about this stuff, which is making us way happier with the material.
Dead Rhetoric: The other thing that comes up, is that this is going to be your third album, and that one often defines what you are going for in terms of direction. Is there more pressure, or is it easier since you are doing your own thing?
Jameson: We are more connected to this music than the other stuff, on every level. On the first record, I had been writing the majority of the material. Charlie [Federici], our ex-guitarist was in there too. The second album was maybe 75% me, and the rest was Shaun [Andruchuk] and [Tony Keathley]. On this one, it’s been a really natural process, where we’ve been all been involved. It’s part of the reason that we’ve been working on it so long. We wanted to write it, sit on it for a couple months, rehearse it, and discover it while we were practicing it live – what can go here that can make this cooler live? What were we missing by playing it in our room [together] that we weren’t hearing just sitting in the studio? It’s all of our ideas and personalities, unrestrained, and it’s great!
Dead Rhetoric: If Indiegogo is successful – any sort of projected release window?
Jameson: Probably September-ish, just because of the prep time. Four-ish weeks to record and then we’ll probably sit on it for a week and step away from it. Come back for a week and see if it’s fine and then mixing/mastering. Next start a bit of advertising and promo for it, which is super important. Especially when Facebook and everything chokes your posts – that’s brutal for a band like us. You make a post that says anything like buy/help/support and the algorithm sees it and says “no no no – pay $100 and then we’ll show it to some people.” It’s so backwards for bands that are smaller, or even bigger-sized bands.
Dead Rhetoric: On the negative side, what if the Indiegogo doesn’t do as well as you’d like. What does that mean in terms of album number three?
Jameson: For this project, we had thought about it. There were two options: All or nothing, or take what you can get. We chose the take what you get, because we feel confident that we can hit it, or at least come close. If we don’t, the worst case scenario is that we have to take an extra month or two off so that we can work more, to put it back in. It would be really nice to be able to sit down, take that 4 weeks off, because we are all in a room for 20 hours a day – not working, not paying the bills, to do this. That’s the main reasons that bands are on a label, but on the back-end, you don’t own your own music. We are trying to turn that tide. If we don’t meet the Indiegogo, we will have to take time off and push it a little bit longer. The record is coming out – it’s just a matter of time. So hey fans, let’s do it now! We are sick of taking all this time off and rejecting tours for stupid reasons.
Dead Rhetoric: Anything else going on besides the tour and hitting the studio?
Jameson: The studio is the biggest project basically. We have a bunch of tours that are directly tied to the new album being done and slated for fall-ish, that are falling into place, which would be super, super huge for us to go out with a record that we own. It’s a big fingers-crossed. This could be a huge propellant forward for us. No pressure.