Melbourne psychedelic act The Starks have just released a new film clip for the single ‘The Earth & The Ego’, title track of their debut album. Tomatrax caught up with Jerome Higgins, guitarist from the band, to ask a few questions.
Where did the name The Starks come from?
It was way back when no one had heard of Game of Thrones, I promise. Actually I started calling us The Starks at one stage and Terry had no idea where it came from, he just liked the name so we ran with it. But yes I am a GoT fan! Terry really just liked the idea of doing an acoustic album down the track called The Starks ‘Get Starkers’….
What made you pick the Earth and the ego as the title track and single from your latest album?
Initially we were going to self title it, and this song was probably the last one we finished and it kind of summed up the process of the album for us. It actually started life as a completely different song, much faster and more stomping. But I was never really happy with it, and I just got this looped drum feel in my head, and the percussive acoustics and shakers and spacey reverse piano, and it took off from there. The drum take in the end was re-recorded by Terry, and the actual drum sound is mainly a room mic going through a really old Tascam recording desk whose preamps were completely spazzing out, so it’s kind of a mistake that we got that huge drum sound, but it worked and we ran with it. In fact I think it’s that drum sound that makes the song now.
A yin and yang sort of feel lyrically, and we were really happy with the outcome of the sound of it post mixing. Actually when we finished the album and started to figure out how we were going to release and promote it as a whole, we realised that we didn’t actually have a single as such. Or at least we never intended to have one. The whole process was really about trying to capture a mood of songs that would fit together as an entire album, like a jigsaw puzzle, and stand as a complete piece of work. But the more we played this to different people, the more this song stood out for it’s immediacy. We both are terrible at picking what a single is or isn’t so we’ll never know if this was a good choice or not! But here it is …
You had around 30 demos for consideration when making your debut album, was it hard to pick what made it in the album?
Yeah, we had 6 tracks mixed at the end of 2012 that we were going to release as an EP but I couldn’t quite let them go. Just didn’t feel quite right, plus we had no plan how to play it live or how to release it. By that stage we’d already narrowed the list down from about a dozen songs that were in at least a really good demo form, some pretty much ready to mix and release. So we took two songs of those six (Morning Sky and Scene of the Crime) and decided to completely blow the budget and nail a full album. There still another 4-5 tracks that nearly made the album, and it wasn’t as if we wanted more rockier or more ballad-y songs to fill out the album, it was just trying to make our best songs work as well as possible, and then seeing what fit together.
Are there any plans for the songs that didn’t make it on the record?
We’ve got an album of B-sides ready if anyone every wants to hear them! Or if I would ever let anyone hear them, probably more to the point! The other four that we had mixed a couple of years ago could be released as is, but they are a completely different feel to the album and some newer stuff. They’ve got a much more late 80’s Happy Mondays vs The Church kinda feel, which if you listen closely to the drums on Scene of the Crime and Morning Sky you might be able to imagine, maybe! So if we were to release those we’d have to redo them or put them out as is as a standalone EP. There’s still a few things that annoy me when I listen to them though so I can’t see me letting them go as is in the short term! There are a couple of songs that we’re talking about re-recording or trying again, so you never know. But in reality, we’ve already got another album’s worth of songs ready and we’ve almost finished recording two of them. And they’re really different to the old demos.
Where was the video clip for the ‘Earth and the ego taken’?
Up in Olinda at a place in the national park called Nib Nab Nob. It’s a beautiful spot, we just had to dodge a few walkers and mountain bikers. Plus we filmed at dusk in late summer so it was a perfect time to do it. The drums sounded amazing out there, you could hear them about 2kms away! I should’ve recorded the audio just to have.
You recorded your album in a garage studio in the Dandenong Ranges, what inspired you to use a garage studio?
By necessity really. I’ve never really felt comfortable creating music in recording studios. So I’ve kind of gathered enough equipment over the years to be able to DIY and take my time to explore different sounds and setups. We originally set up in the back of Terry’s folks house in the ‘burbs, and were just using an electronic drum kit. But once we finished soundproofing Terry’s shed, moved my old upright piano in and bought a vintage kit, it just felt like home and the album came to reflect the sounds and instruments we had in there.
I really need the space and time to be able to go in a do some guitars whenever I feel like it, and then go back and redo them if I don’t quite like the sound or the feel. Same goes for any instruments that we recorded. Even though it is a pretty, I think, organic kind of sounding album, with real guitars and vocals and drums and piano, there was actually quite a lot of looping and synth work going on in the background which takes time. At least it takes time the way I do it which I’m sure is really inefficient! We could never have afforded to do it if we were paying a studio by the clock.
You have a series of shows coming up next month, what can fans expect from your show?
We’re going to be playing most of the album plus a few new songs that we’ve started recording. So expect to hear the sounds of the album brought to life, guitars, synths, harmonies, samples and all! Plus we’re really excited about playing some new songs that are a departure for us, I guess less retro sounding and more upbeat.
Over time the band has expanded from a 2 piece to a 6 piece, how does being a 6 piece compare to being a duo?
It’s definitely harder to manage 6 people compared to 2, just organising everyone to be in the same room at the same time, but it sounds great live to have all the sounds actually played and enhanced by musicians rather than coming out of a sampler. And we’re really lucky that the other guys are all pretty laid back and great musicians. If anyone was as much as a control freak as me there could be trouble! It’s also not as restrictive with touring as you might think, because me and Terry, as with a couple of the other guys, have young families and other commitments so it’s not as though we can afford to jump up and go on tour for weeks a time,even if it was just the two of us.
And it’s great hearing our new songs being interpreted by the other guys, and them bringing their own input to the songs, so we have more of a directors or producers role rather having to perform all of the parts.
When writing what comes first, the lyrics or the music?
Usually melody, then music and an idea of arrangement, then lyrics, but if we’re lucky the lyrics and music come together all at once.
Do you ever listen to your own music?
No, it’s hard to be objective once you’ve heard something a thousand times. I know Terry still does but I spent so many hours listening to it in headphones while recording and editing the songs, then through the mixing process, that it’s really hard to hear the actual song as a whole anymore.
What music do you listen to?
A range of stuff, not a lot of recent music. Always lots of Bowie, early Oasis, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream, Miles Davis, Sharon Jones & the Dapkings, Radiohead, Phoenix
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Well we’re playing a few shows in September for this single and then we hope to finish off a few songs we’ve been recording. Maybe we’ll release one of those as a single, or maybe we’ll pick another tune of the album if we feel that people haven’t had enough of this album yet. I’m always itching to get back into recording new stuff, I find it really hard with following through with promotion and release stuff once I’ve moved on musically, but at the same time I’d love people to embrace the album that we spent so much time on. So we’ll see I guess..
thanks for having me, jerome Higgins, The Starks
Check out The Starks’ facebook page to find out more!