“We’re on a different planet than anybody else”
So I reviewed the new Uncle Acid album a couple of weeks ago, and it was great! The album wasn’t so bad either. Ha! Then this past weekend they played Webster Hall with super-rad Philly bands Ruby the Hatchet and Ecstatic Vision. Great, great show, and the day before it happened I had the singular pleasure of sharing a few words with the band’s frontman, K. R. Starrs:
So you guys just embarked on a 3-4 week tour across the whole country. I know you did the States last year with Danava; was that the first U.S. tour?
Yeah, we did a one-off show at Maryland Death Fest in May of last year, but beginning in last September was our first full tour over here.
Now, whenever you talk to American bands, especially in this kind of genre, who are lucky enough to tour in Europe, it’s always touted as this kind of utopia, where the venues put you up, and they feed you, and they pay you well, and the owners and fans and promoters are really appreciative of what you’re doing. I’m wondering if doing the opposite – coming to Europe to tour in America – is by contrast some kind of nightmarish drop in standards?
[laughs] To be honest it’s not, really. I mean we’re lucky that we’ve been playing in some great venues over here, so it’s not too different. Well, there are some differences, but it’s not as bad as some people might think it is. We’ve also been able to play in some slightly better venues than we would have last time, when it was a bit harder.
Well that’s good, if it’s been a bit of a step up. And the crowds?
Yeah, they’ve been great, but again it’s different even in Europe; in different countries crowds will definitely react a bit differently, so it’s kind of a strange one. No matter where you go, everyone has their own sort of differences.
On the topic of the whole international thing, you look at the history of rock music, and there’s always been this kind of back and forth between the U.S. and the England. Obviously today things are much more globalized, but a band like Uncle Acid still has very clear American influences, and very clear British influences. As a band, do you feel conscious of having some sort of national identity?
Yeah, completely, and the fact is that we’re from different parts of the world. People always call us an English band but in fact none of us are from England, so we’re very much an international band anyway. But yeah we’ve got American influences, British influences; it’s definitely a global sort of band.
So obviously this tour is in support of the new album, The Night Creeper, which I reviewed and enjoyed very much. I get the feeling that each album you guys put out isn’t so much an isolated statement as it is the next chapter in a kind of continuous aesthetic narrative. Does that ring true at all?
I mean it could be seen as that, as one long song, as one continuous thing, but at the same time each album is sort of set in different periods of time. For me, this album is set in a 1950s New York City, or London, or something like that. Mind Control was more of a 60s thing, Blood Lust was more of a 1700s, Witchfinder General era. So each album is sort of based in a different time period.
Yeah, gotcha. I guess I’m speaking in a slightly broader aesthetic sense, and it’s hard to say it without sounding like I’m accusing you guys of being monotonous, because I really intend it as a compliment. I think there’s really something to be said for a band that can achieve that overarching atmospheric quality to the music, that ends up seeming bigger than the songs themselves, or even the albums.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, some people would say that we’ve created our own little world that we explore. And that’s what it is; we’re on a different planet than everybody else, our own kind of creation that we’ve come up with.
And was that some big, conscious vision from the start?
Not really, it just kind of turned out this way.
Now I know that The Night Creeper is not the 60s-era Uncle Acid album, but I did get some criticism in the review for focusing a bit too much on the whole Charlie Manson thing. In my defense I had just finished reading Helter Skelter, and was totally floored by it, so it was fresh in my mind and maybe clouding my impressions.
Well you know, that’s the good thing. It’s open to interpretation, all of our music. Sure, I can say, “oh, it’s set in the 50s” or whatever, but I’ve heard some people say that it sounds like a Victorian album, it feels like Jack the Ripper, or as you say, a Manson feel to it. So everybody has their own interpretation of what the music is, there’s no real right or wrong answer.
Yeah. And I think maybe that comes from the fact that you’re the kind of band that brings to mind a lot of non-musical influences, if that makes sense. Obviously I could say “oh, they must like the Beatles, and they must like Black Sabbath”, and you can say that about any band, but when I think of Uncle Acid I can close my eyes and see Charles Manson, and B movies, and Hammer Horror, and motorcycles. I guess I’m asking why or how have you guys been successful in conjuring up imagery that isn’t just musical?
I think because a lot of our influences are actually visual, certain genres of films and things like that, and that plays a huge part in the songwriting process. For example, for this album I was watching a lot of film noir, a lot of Giallo, and that kind of inspired me to think of, “well what can I recreate based on what I’m seeing, in terms of music?” So you know, you might use a certain kind of fuzz to get that murky, muddy sound, and that might represent the shadows, or the film grain that you’re seeing on the screen, things like that. There is a lot of visual influence on this album.
Along those lines, I know I spoke earlier of a kind of consistency on the records you’ve put out, but I do think that, speaking in sonic terms, The Night Creeper shows a noticeable difference in terms of production. Did you go into the studio with the intention of sounding differently than you did on Mind Control?
Not really, but I think the approach may have been a lot different. This time, it took us only 3 days to track the whole album, we did it all live as far as the basic tracking, all in one small room, and we recorded it to tape as well, which was something we’ve not really done that much before. So the basic tracks on this album were all done to tape, were all done live, and that was definitely a new approach.
That makes perfect sense. I didn’t know that’s exactly why it happened, but I did think the sound on Mind Control was very textured, also very clear and even economical, whereas The Night Creeper has a greater hugeness to it. The guitars ring out very much, there’s a bit more just reverb on everything, and that difference in approach definitely comes through there.
Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of space in the tracks. Recording it that way, you get a lot of bleed, so it’s definitely got a live feel to it.
And I think I already know the answer this, but what’s next after this U.S. tour? More touring, right?
Yeah, after we finish the U.S. and Canada we’re off to do 6 weeks in Europe, and then heading to Australia after that, and that will bring us right up to the end of this year. Then next year we’ll be hoping to get back to the U.S., maybe hit the southern states, and then all the festivals back in Europe.
And I assume eventually it will also be getting back to focus on another album?
Yeah, as soon as we finish that whole touring cycle it’ll be right back to writing and recording again.
Well, on behalf of all of New York I welcome you for the show tomorrow.
Thanks, Kevin. You’re a class act, even if your songs are titled “Waiting for Blood”, “I’ll Cut You Down” and “I’m Here to Kill You”.