Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Lord of the Wasteland: A Chat with Kevin Starrs of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

Any band can play music, but only a truly special band can twist music into something utterly refreshing.

Led by sonic visionary Kevin Starrs, UK cult heroes Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats recently unveiled their fifth album, Wasteland, on Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above Records – and it’s one of the most exciting releases to hit this writer’s desk in ages. If Space Ritual-era Hawkwind decided to take on the brightest moments from the Phil Spector catalog, record whatever happened and then blast it to the world through broken speakers, you might have an idea of what this sounds like. Or maybe not. Maybe youll hear and experience things on this album that will prompt you to come up with your own colorful descriptions. Thats the kind of magic these songs possess. 

Wasteland is a gorgeous mindfuck – and a clear sign that there are some serious creative gears spinning in Starrs’ head. I recently tracked down the man himself to get inside his mind and explore Wastelands creation. 

What brought you guys to Los Angeles to record this time around?

Partly out of convenience. Our bass player [Vaughn Stokes] lives in Western Canada, and our new drummer [Jon Rice] lives in the States. It was easy enough for me to fly over rather than bring both of them over here. Of course, the other reason is the quality of studios in Los Angeles is incredible. The equipment they have there is being used all the time, whereas a lot of the great classic studios over here have all shut; they’re long gone. It’s a shame, really, but it was great to be able to record in a legendary studio like that.

It’s interesting that you mention the quality of studios, because one thing that really strikes me about the sound of this record is that it has a lot of lo-fi elements to it. How did using equipment of such high caliber aid in getting the raw sound that you ended up actually having on the record?

It got us part of the way there, but really a lot of that comes down to the mix. I’ll run all of the guitars over the mix and into various preamps and just crank up the gain – crank everything up into the red to make it as offensive as possible for people. I want to be the exact opposite of whatever the current modern production style is. At the moment, it’s all very clean. You can hear every single element, and everything is perfect these days. I really dislike that style of mixing. I wanted to go the exact opposite way and make something that’s really offensive and really dirty-sounding. It’s just basically trying to destroy what was created in some ways. I think we did quite a good job of that.

You guys are with Rise Above. They’re kind of an interesting label in that there seems to be a general aesthetic among the bands, although each band is really quite different when you unbox what they’re presenting. What makes them a great label for you not only musically, but also with what you’re trying to project with the overall vibe and look with the band?

Lee gives the bands the freedom to do whatever they want. That’s all you can ask from a label. He doesn’t interfere; he just lets us get on with it. He’s always there to offer advice when you need it. Of course, because he’s played in bands, he understands what it’s like on this side of it as well. It’s really the perfect label for a band like us. I certainly couldn’t take direction from a label boss or anything like that; that wouldn’t work out too well, I don’t think. So to be able to just do whatever we want is perfect.

As far as the image of the band, if I had to pull out my box of descriptions, I think the easy one to use – and perhaps the one you’ve heard more often than not –  is “’70s Occult Rock.” There’s a certain Hammer Horror aesthetic and vibe in what you’re doing. What was it about that particular visual representation that most appealed to you as you were developing what ultimately became the band?

For me, it sort of started very much like that. Volume 1 [2010] and Blood Lust [2011] were very Hammer Horror and that sort of 60s and 70s thing. I wanted to sort of move on. Mind Control [2013] was nothing to do with Hammer Horror; it was more of a 60s Charles Manson thing. With The Night Creeper [2015], we moved on to film noir and that sort of thing. For me, it’s been a constantly evolving thing. If you look at pictures of us, we don’t dress up. We don’t wear flares; we don’t dress up like it’s the 70s or anything like that. It’s just black jeans, black shirts – and that’s the way it is. For the videos and things like that, we can edit a lot of different clips and stuff together because we just don’t have the budget to film something that would be suitable for us. We’re not the sort of band that can just go out with an iPhone and film a quick, cheap digital video and put that up. That’s not our sort of thing. We need that sort of analog film quality to go along with our music. For me, it just all fits together. You’ve got the analog sound mixed with the analog visuals as well. That’s something that I’ve always been more attracted to rather than this sort of cold, sterile digital stuff.

In the past, you’ve talked about some of your influences that may be surprising to some. I know you’re a fan of Neil Young and Girl Groups. There are shades of those things in your music - along with plenty of other things. Obviously, you’ve talked with a lot of journalists over the years, and you’ve spoken to fans who may have offered you their thoughts on where your influences come from. When they’ve commented on your sound, have you ever encountered someone who’s suggested a certain artist as an influence on you that completely blew your mind because you would never have imagined they would have drawn that from your music?

That’s a tough one. Stuff like Kyuss and a lot of those Stoner Rock bands gets thrown at us as an influence. That was never really my thing grown up or even now. Kyuss is a good band and everything, but it’s not really the sort of music I listen to. When people start saying, ’Oh, yes, it’s a real Stoner Rock/Doom thing,’ I can’t really trace much of that into the music personally, but other people can hear it. It’s difficult, really.

You’re a consistently touring band, and you have put out a number of albums. Both of those things can be difficult in the music industry in 2018. How would you define “success” in the music world under the Uncle Acid banner?

I think just the fact that we can earn a living out of it. I’m very grateful to be able to tour the world, see all these places and play live. That’s what we all wanted to do growing up, so to be able to do that is great. You don’t make a lot of money out of it, but if you just earn enough to keep you going, then I’m pretty happy with that.

Next year is the 10th anniversary of this band. Looking ahead, what might be your goals for Uncle Acid within the next five to 10 years?

Just keep going, really. Keep touring. Keep recording albums every other year or whatever, keep moving forward and keep spreading the word. It’s a slow process; we’re slowly getting a little more recognition. A band like us isn’t going to get a lot of mainstream press coverage – or any sort of coverage. It can be quite difficult. It’s hard to get the word out there, but you’ve just got to keep going. I think that’s all we can do, really.

*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity. 

Official Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats Website

Uncle Acid @ Rise Above Records 

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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