Starkill – The Force of GravitySunday, 19th May 2019
As a band, it feels as if Starkill has really come into their own with their past two releases. First there was 2016’s Shadow Sleep, where a more modern sounding and infectious vibe permeated the material and pushed the band into some more melodic territory. If that was a stepping stone, consider the recently released Gravity as a culmination of Starkill to this point. From the early bombastic riffing and wild guitar heroics to catchy, three-pronged vocal attacks, there is plenty of musical ground to cover. The way everything is integrated makes for an album that is both fun to hear, but layered with nuance. We grabbed guitarist/vocalist Parker Jameson for another round of questions to dive deeper into the Gravity experience, continuing on independently, and much more.
Dead Rhetoric: Listening to the album, I think it’s really interesting how there are some changes, but underneath it all, it still sounds like Starkill. It’s probably the best release I’ve heard from you guys.
Parker Jameson: I feel that way too, it’s the first album that we have sat on for this long. Even when we did our debut [Fires of Life], we didn’t spend nearly as much time writing it before it was released. Virus of the Mind was super rushed. Shadow Sleep we spent a good amount of time on, but for this one we wrote it and recorded it, then re-recorded it two times over the course of three years before it was finalized. It was very intentional, the different direction we went in.
Dead Rhetoric: Doing the crowdfunding for a second time, do you feel it was more successful?
Jameson: It’s kind of weird to say, because when we did the first one Facebook was very different in the way it processed post reach. Spencer [Weidner], who is our drummer, is a senior marketing guy for a large company, and he is on the phone with Facebook guys all the time. Anytime you post something of value to Facebook, and they know that it is of value, they are going to throttle your reach. There are people still messaging me now, that are long-time Starkill fans, that are saying that they missed the pre-order. They didn’t even see it on Facebook. We put a lot of money to making sure the whole jist of it was kind of forced onto people’s Instagram and Facebook pages so they could see it.
Overall, yes it was successful. We got the funding to cover the mixing and mastering we did, and we did buy the new tour vehicle a little over a month ago. We just took it out on the Skull Fist tour. So everything we wanted to get done, got done. I’m content with it. We have some tours lined up for the fall, and everything has been moving smoothly. It’s definitely going to pay off, and it already has paid off more than if we had been on a label.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think having Sarah [Lynn Collier] involved on all the songs allowed you to accomplish?
Jameson: It’s funny because it wasn’t even so much until Gravity where I started to fully understand my own voice as a vocalist. With both screaming and clean singing, a large amount of what I figured out what to do was just to mimic other people’s styles. I didn’t try to mimic anyone for my cleans on Gravity. I know exactly where my range sounds the best to me, and being more humble about it – knowing my tones and where Tony’s [Keathley] and Sarah’s tone are allowed me to write differently. A lot of people that don’t like the new music consider us sell-outs or whatever, but the only reason that Fires of Life sounds the way that it does, is because we didn’t have a female singer in the area. We just wrote what was doable with the tools that we had.
We would have written stuff more akin to Shadow Sleep or Gravity if we had those tools at our disposal. For example, “The Real Enemy,” which is the closing track, was written during the Fires of Life era and it has been sitting on a hard drive for like seven years. We didn’t have a female singer and I wasn’t comfortable with my clean singing yet. So we could reach into way more melodic territory, and being big fans of Nightwish and Delain and that stuff, actually having a committed, full-time female vocalist allowed us to write different melodies. Ones that we had thought about, but didn’t want to force with male screams. It just gave us more colors in our palette to paint with.
Dead Rhetoric: We’ve talked about how the band has evolved before, so are you seeing this current version of Starkill has all of the tools that you need per say?
Jameson: Yes, and something else that super-solidified that – well, first off, I’ve had Gravity in my hands, or in my Pro Tools, for the past three years, some of the songs longer. We had basically a rough version of all 12 songs done maybe a year and a half ago. Then we sat on it and just listened to it for a long, long time. The changes that we did make were minimal, which meant that we got the sound where we wanted it. The other thing that really helped solidify all of this in our minds was when we just toured with Skull Fist. We did play the newer songs, and on the older tracks, I probably gave about 30% of my screaming duties to Sarah, which was awesome! She’s really good, and sounds very much like Alissa White-Gluz when she wants to, and it also helps me to just become a rhythm guitar player for certain chunks in songs.
Ever since the band has started, I have been pulling double-duty. Now it lets me be way more focused on more complicated guitar riffs. There have been some songs where I would give Tony more complex parts in the harmony, and instead of harmonizing it I would just play rhythm parts. It would just be easier to sing over. Now it’s like we can do everything! Maximum crazy all the time! If there is a scream that I can’t do on the old stuff, I will just give it to Sarah. When we wrote Gravity, we made sure that it all made sense in a live context. Its like, here’s me screaming and then Tony will do clean singing – I always give myself breaks between screams and cleans. So it helps not only with the album dynamic, but the live dynamic too.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering there is three of you doing vocals now at any given moment, going back to what you were saying about understanding tone and everyone’s range, is that really what it is all about at this point?
Jameson: Yeah, there are a couple riffs on “Not Alone,” for example, where it’s more Soilwork-y, and if I were to scream over that song it wouldn’t have the same emphasis as having Tony do it. So it really helps emphasis the guitar tone too, because certain timbers work better over different chord progressions. So it’s really neat to just be able to choose your tone.
Dead Rhetoric: Obviously there are jumps with each new album, which means there are going to be some detractors as well. What’s the point where you just say “Fuck it, I’m going to play exactly what I want?” Or did that happen a few albums ago?
Jameson: We kind of figured that out when we were touring with the Virus of the Mind cycle. That was still relatively “true metal.” The cleans were more sparse. Everyone in the band doesn’t really listen to that much metal. Spencer used to be a jazz drummer. I played saxophone, Tony plays a lot bass, and Shaun [Andruchuk] plays guitar. We listen to so much pop, funk, jazz, and all sorts of different stuff. When you run into fans and they find out that you are a Paramore fan and think it’s stupid, it’s like, “What the heck man?” Even from the get-go, we didn’t really consider ourselves a metal band. We are just a band that coincidentally plays music that can be lumped into the metal category. We never wanted to cater to a scene. Mostly because no one in the band really feels we belong. Outside of the musicianship thing, I’ve never really identified with the subculture. We’ve always been like loner kids. We just want the music to be what we are feeling at the time. I don’t care if people don’t like the new stuff. We like it. The end [laughs].
The other thing that is funny is that we are actually working on a remaster of Virus of the Mind as well as Shadow Sleep, and there is going to be some tweaks made to those. I think when those are finalized at the end of this year, and there’s a production consistency between those two albums as well as Gravity, I think a lot of people’s beefs are going to go away, because a lot of those inconsistencies are going to go away and it will be pretty even across the board. I think that is something that a lot of people overlook too, especially non-musicians or non-recording engineers that listen to music. The mix and the production is just as important as the songwriting. That’s another reason we were so stoked on the new album. We did almost all of it in our home studio and spent four years on it. We were really happy with that.
Dead Rhetoric: Sitting on the album for so long, were there any songs that you just completely revamped?
Jameson: “The Real Enemy” was the oldest one, but really the way that songwriting for us works is that I open up a couple Pro Tools sessions and I either write an entire song, like “Detonate.” Then it’s like, record it, listen to it for like three days straight, then don’t listen to it for two weeks, and then come back to it. You have to listen to your music like you are an outsider and be brutally honest with yourself. To be able to say, “This is boring” or “This needs to be jazzed up here.” So I don’t think they drastically changed, as far as how they were written. But it was more like production hooks – like go to the rise here, because that’s what the Foo Fighters would have done. The core progressions stayed relatively the same, but the listening experience, the little gimmicky stuff, that’s what we spent a lot of time on.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned Paramore and Foo Fighters, do you feel that if you got the right push, people that aren’t necessarily metal listeners could gravitate towards the band more?
Jameson: That was actually one of the biggest things we noticed when we did the tour with Epica back in 2016. We were kind of a difficult band to book since our first album came out, because a lot of people called it ‘Dimmu Borgir meets Dragonforce.’ Now the comparisons are even wider with the clean vocals. But since going into it as musicians writing music that is coincidentally metal, there were lot of non-metal fans on that Epica tour that said they typically don’t listen to metal but they really liked our music. That was before Sarah was in the band, and before Shadow Sleep was even out yet. We were only test demoing some Shadow Sleep songs. That’s kind of our thing. Obviously our main target audience is the Epica, Delain, Amorphis – melodeath/gothic territory, but non-metal fans I think can really hear the fact that it’s just musicianship going on, and that’s cool!
Dead Rhetoric: You are totally on your own, no label or anything. You all do the behind the scenes work as well. What do think the lay person misses when you look at the amount of time you spend into putting all of the pieces together, from music to videos to all other facets of the band?
Jameson: The main thing is the recording process. The engineering process, because we are turbo-perfectionists and want everything to sound a certain way, like you want the delay to repeat a certain number of times. Everything about that listening experience. Some other bands will go into a studio, like when we tracked Fires of Life – you are in there for four weeks and then you leave. Some guys spends his own time, maybe another month, and he just delivers it and that is it. There’s so much perfectionist time just on the music. But even like you said, with the videos, we have done 3-4 so far and have 2 more in the works. We are trying to reach out to distributors and handle merch. We pick all of our merch designs. I’ve heard of many bands that don’t even care what the merch is, they will have the label just pick merch for them. Everything is very personalized, intentionally. Everything Starkill since Shadow Sleep that you buy, watch, or listen to, it’s 100% us and it’s intentional. It’s a one-way conversation from us to the fan that is looking at it.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking at the last two albums, is it advantageous for you to write shorter songs so that you can play more of them live?
Jameson: The shortness thing wasn’t conscious, but what was conscious on the live scope was whose vocals were going where. To ensure that my vocals don’t get blown, or that Sarah isn’t going from a scream straight into a clean. Song-length shortened I think because we were embracing our non-metal music roots. That was one thing I noticed when we toured with Skull Fist – we played a bunch of songs. When only Fires of Life was out, we played like 3-4 songs and that was 30-minutes. I do like the fact that we can cover more emotional territory by shifting between songs so quickly. So it wasn’t conscious, but I’m glad it happened that way.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got a variety of different video content on the YouTube channel, from covers to mean tweets to cheap beer challenges. If you have an idea, do you just more or less go for it?
Jameson: That’s pretty much it. A lot of those videos are linked to our not very publicized or discussed Patreon. We might retinker with that once the album is done. All of my time for the past month has been finalizing the pre-order packages and stuff. But once that is done, and I can cool my jets for a bit – the videos link to the Patreon, people have been nice enough and supportive enough to throw a couple of bucks our way and in turn we make these videos that we have them vote on and stuff. It’s another thing for fans to see that we are just a bunch of dudes. We built a recording studio, we hang out.
I remember as a kid, before YouTube, you would try to find these videos and interviews of Rush or Led Zepellin – bands like that, and there was this big mysterious vibe around them and people would idolize them like superheroes and stuff. It was like, “What is Jimmy Page put on his pancakes?” Now there is Instagram for that. It’s about connecting more with people. It helps people understand where the music is coming from too. It also makes for much better conversations when we are live and hanging out at the merch table, because we sling our own merch and do a lot of our pre-mixing live. So it’s another way to connect with fans.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you see yourselves going back to a label at this point? Is being independent the best scenario for you?
Jameson: For our style of music, I would say yes. I think it was All Time Low that just split from their label and they made like $300,000 or something crazy for their new album. But record labels are banks. They provide loans. In exchange they keep so much of your publishing. Since we have been independent, just with the four singles we have dropped, we have seen more money through Spotify streams than we saw from all of our other stuff combined. A lot of people like to talk shit about Spotify, and how you only make a 1/7 of a penny for each stream, but if people are listening to your stuff, it isn’t that awful. You are getting money for nothing – you don’t have to sell a cd or anything. Since recording costs have gotten cheaper and cheaper over the years. I think Nirvana’s In Utero was like $25,000 to record. Now you can get a pretty legit sounding album for like $6,000. So why am I going to sell my soul to the record label and lose out on all future royalties when I can just chalk up that money with the band and prepare a few months in advance, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more bands go this route.
We are already seeing some bigger bands do it, and more people having Patreon. What do labels have to offer? I think the younger bands need to think about that. The biggest thing you get is the advance for recording – so if you legitimately can’t afford a recording, it is one thing to look into. There’s also clout, like “I’m on Nuclear Blast Records.” That’s cool – I hope they are giving you a nice record advance and tour support. That’s actually another big thing. But in the end, you have to weigh the cost and benefits. For us, it made way more sense to be independent.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned out on the road? I know you’ve talked about gaining influences on the road from bands like Amorphis.
Jameson: Amorphis was just legendary to watch live because they are so seasoned. Gravity, for us, was a real coming together of our influence. Amorphis, I feel, has been in that pocket for like six albums. A lot of it is really comfort on stage. There’s obviously more practical things. Like touring with the smallest possible drum kit. If you are not the headliner, two kicks does not make sense, nor does 40 cymbals – especially if you are only going to hit that china like one time. The rest of really a lot of practical lessons. If you sleep better at night – we built bunk beds into the van. I haven’t seen another band with a full 4-person sleeper in the back of a Chevy Express. A lot of it is related to comfort. If you are more comfortable on tour, you will be happier and you will play better. Being a nice guy goes a long way on the road.
Dead Rhetoric: The album is out soon, what’s the plan from here?
Jameson: I have some tours we are looking into, one will be in the fall and it will probably be a big, 30-35 day US/Canada run that we are stoked on. Another one will be a 2-week one in the later summer time. So we are trying to finalize those now. We have some music videos to come as well. We are also working on the remasters of the older material, and retroactively fitting Sarah and Tony’s screams over songs where they weren’t before, to mimic what we are doing live. There’s a whole slew of more material coming out. We are also working on a few licensing deals that I can’t really go into right now. So there’s a lot on the table.