Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Starkweather interview with vocalist: Rennie. March 10, 2010.

Vista: Hey Rennie. Could you give us a brief history of Starkweather, year started, ex and current band members?

Rennie:The band started in 1989 with a different line-up. We switched drummers in 91, so, the line-up of Michelle Eddison (bass), Todd Forkin (guitar), Harry Rosa (drums), and myself was solid until about 2000. When Michelle left we had Liam Wilson (currently in Dillinger Escape Plan) replace her and, for about 2 years, we had a second guitarist Jim Winters.  Harry's brother Vince was brought into the fold in 05. Occasionally we have Bill Molchanow do lead work for us, but, given logistics, he isn't a full-time member.  

Vista: I see that you guys are now On the Deathwish label. How did that come about? Are there plans for new material? I heard that you guys have a lot of material ready for release, not only on the Deathwish label, but many other labels? Currently, what's going on as far as this goes?

Rennie:Deathwish helped us out with regard to certain contractual items. Jacob has been into the band from essentially the beginning so we asked him if he'd be interested in releasing an album we had already completed. Deathwish has the full-length, this sheltering night, and a split release with Overmars  which was recorded after the full length. We pay for our own recordings which is why we can do projects with different labels. Sure, it might be to our disadvantage doing a bunch of split releases when we could use the material for solo efforts, but, we can compile things later. In some instances I like the idea of pairing up with other bands. What we're doing with Little Girl Terrorist and Thousandswilldie is interesting to me simply due to the dichotomy of sound. Little Girl Terrorist sounds a lot different from us and they use different technology and studio techniques.  Thousandswilldie is a completely different animal in that they are grindcore. The split with Overmars involves two bands with a mutual respect for each other.  

Vista: I always wanted to ask you, who are your influences, vocally? Where did you pull your influences from, vocally and even lyrically? I'm also very curious as to the other guys in Starkweather, as far as direct influences?

Rennie: Vocalists that are a direct influence would range from hardcore vocalists like John Brannon (Negative Approach and Laughing Hyenas), Mike Dean (CoC), Blaine Cook (Accused), Sakevi (GISM), Daniel Kubinski (Die Kruezen) to metal vocalists that use different "voices" such as Geoff Tate (Queensryche) and  King Diamond, and, then, take Diamanda Galas, Sinead O'Connor, Bjork, Snake from Voivod, Michael Gira, Cronos. Lyrics are what they are. There isn't anyone I model stuff after. It's mainly grounded in personal experience - whether it's relationship based, how I perceive the environment, whatever. When you read them you'll notice a combining of abstract imagery with straightforward narrative. Some abstractions are images that capture specific memories.  People who I consider to be great lyricists are Nick Cave, Vic Bondi, Rob Miller (the Baron from Amebix), David Eugene Edwards, and Bob Mould. Musical influences? For Todd you can take Voivod, Gorguts, Celtic Frost, Amebix, Morbid Angel, Prong, early Metallica to jazz fusion players. Plus, he likes early punk/hc stuff such as Bad Brains, Husker Du, Minutemen, Conflict, Stiff Little Fingers to more poppy things like the Cure and New Model Army. Vince is more of a traditional metal guy - though he'll surprise you with something off the wall whether it's pop or left field. He's into Dream Theater, Thought Industry, Overkill, Anthrax, Machine Head, and the like. Harry likes a lot of old r&b, soul, funk, jazz and metal. Stuff that has good drumming he'll listen to.  He's pretty diverse with what he listens to. You're more likely to hear him listening to an artist like Blood, Sweat and Tears to anything associated with metal or hardcore. I listen to a lot of odd classical stuff, ambient and industrial soundscape artists, and most of the bands I like tend to have a more dissonant or atonal sound. Probably why I'm a huge fan of Voivod, Die Kreuzen, Articles of Faith, Celtic Frost, Swans.   

Vista: What was your first exposure to the hardcore scene? Also, what is your take on the current scene? I'm sure it's not something you've ever kept up with, to begin with, but I'm curious what your thoughts are compared to the 90's to this era?

Rennie: Early 80s. Where my dad lived at the time was a few blocks away from Love Hall, so, I'd see these crazy looking punk kids traipsing through the neighborhood and I'd check out the scene. So, I've seen a lot of the early wave of hardcore. Plus, once I was 16 I would take the train up to the cbgb matinees and see all of the NY bands that were around in the mid 80s. I don't have an opinion of the current hardcore scene. Or any scene in particular. I stopped going to shows once we were constantly playing out. Plus, I've been working a night job for 16 years. I've always been about specific groups rather than genre. Regardless of genre every era has its slop and garbage. What's so special about the 90s over the 80s or over more modern years? Not a whole lot. More access to music now. I find myself inundated with more bad music than I would've when I was doing cut and paste fanzines in the 80s. You can hear things instantly now via file sharing whereas you were tape trading in the 80s and 90s.  

Vista: Starkweather has been around for 21 years. Although, there have been many years of silence from the band, regardless, you're still active. What has been the driving force to keep this going after all this time?
Rennie: To be honest, we write music for ourselves. It's anger management and stress relief. Sure, there are huge gaps between releases and shows, but, we really don't concern ourselves with it. What we do we do for ourselves. That a small group of outsiders can enjoy it is all well and good.    

Vista: I know you guys went to Europe many years ago now. How was that tour & how many shows did you play? Also, what countries did you hit? Looking back on this now, how was that overall experience?

Rennie: A couple weeks worth of shows in France, Belgium, Germany, Holland and the UK. 13 shows in 12 days? I remember playing 2 separate festival events one day in Belgium. One was at night at the Ieperfest and I'm forgetting the name of the other event we played in the afternoon... It was a good experience. Though you do find some great promoters over here from time to time, it's generally far better playing in Europe than Stateside as things are run more professionally and are less haphazard. 

Vista: I always hear people as well as bands cite the "Crossbearer" release as a major influence. That originally came out in 1991 & was re released in 1994. From your memory, how was that album perceived from people back then & what are your thoughts on people NOW who cite this as a big influence?

Rennie: I read more musicians citing the record as an influence than anything else. When we originally put it out to now it's all the same: people either love it or hate it. So, that's always a good sign. Better to have that reaction than indifference.

Vista: What is the actual writing process like for Starkweather? Is there some type of set formula, meaning, lyrics built around music or music first, then lyrics?

Rennie: All of our songs are a collaborative effort, but our songwriting process can be a little off the wall. Usually it begins with Todd recording a ton of guitar parts before he begins arranging things. It used to generally come down to the both of us doing a lot of the structural work before bringing it into the rehearsal room. Todd will work out the transitions, smooth things out on the guitar and bring this framework into rehearsal. Most times it'll flesh out, other times we have to reconstruct it. Some of the individual parts are modified when Harry and Vince hear them. They'll suggest something to alter a part. Sometimes they hear things differently and it'll become different because it will put unexpected beats and rhythms to riffs that'll spin things on it axis. It can ultimately change the complexion of the arrangement. So, we're not really one of these bands that "jams" in the traditional sense.  It can turn out that way when we're working through specific sections. Songwriting is my favorite thing. I can't play an instrument but I have an ear for arranging. I enjoy building, tearing stuff down, arranging rhythms, figuring transitions, navigating the flow of a song.  I tailor what I do to the song. Once it's able to be comfortably played beginning to end I'll put in vocal patterns and then figure out where to go from there with actual lyrics.  

Vista:  Looking back on it, what are your thoughts on some past labels that Starkweather has been on? How was it being on Too Damn Hype as opposed to Edison Records? I vaguely remember reading an interview that you guys weren't too thrilled with the Edison Records release?

Rennie: Too Damn Hype started out as a great label with diversity. It was hamstrung by Dutch East India as the distributor. I really have no problem with Jeff. He did a lot, learned on the fly. I think he took on too many artists and when that's combined with the shady practices Dutch East India was known for it imploded. The main problem with into the wire was Dudeck, the owner of Edison, cutting corners on certain aspects. For the design he insisted calling in a favor. It looks atrocious. There's no continuity between the design and the images we provided. The guy obviously didn't get the connection with the title and lyrics. The font that's used for the logo, titles, etc is horrendous.  The vinyl pressing sounded far better than the cd. The control copy we have of the cd after being mastered sounded far better than the shrill things that came back from the plant. You can chalk some of this up to being the first release on Edison, there are things to be learned from the guinea-pig release. The best thing Dudeck had going was his distro. He was able to move a lot of merch for himself.
Vista: Outside of recording, performing & band stuff...What are some of your interests and hobbies?
Rennie: Rearing Asian rat snakes, reading, watching films.
Vista: I'm gonna assume that you have an ipod. What were the last 5 bands you've put onto it?

Rennie: No, I don't own an ipod. I don't like listening to compressed mp3 files. I'll keep quality over quantity. Last 5 things I've bought: Sewer Goddess - With Dirt You Are One, Phelios - Astral Unity, Latitudes - the Agonist, Helena Tulve - Lijnen, Queenadreena - djinn.    

Vista: What are some guilty pleasures, musically, that might surprise people? I mean, I'd be kind of surprised to hear that you sing "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga, while driving down the highway!?

Rennie: Sade always seems to surprise people.  I prefer Christopher Walken's rendition of "poker face" over the original.
Vista: What are your top 10 essential records of all time?

Rennie: I could actually boil it down to several releases by Black Sabbath,Voivod, Swans and Celtic Frost; but, I'll only include one from each. Gorguts - obscura, Articles of Faith In This Life, Amebix Monolith, Fear of God -Within the Veil, Mercyful Fate - Melissa, Voivod - Killing Technology, Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion, Swans - White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath  and Portishead - Roseland NYC Live.
Vista: Well Rennie. That's all the questions that I have. Thanks so much for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to add? 

Rennie: Thanks a lot for showing interest. The old material is available for download. Find it on someone's blogsite and download it. New stuff will be available shortly on Deathwish. Try to give us a grace-period before you download it off a blogsite.

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