Interview By Marco Schmellentin / April 2010
Formed in 2003 by former Vicious Rumors and Chastain bass guitar player Dave Starr and multi-talented female singer London Wilde, the band WildeStarr released its debut album ‘Arrival’ in late 2009. This piece of powerful and melodic metal music is definitely one of most outstanding releases of a new band in recent years – and after hearing the first few guitar chords, it’s quite obvious that the music of a very well known metal flagship from Birmingham had a huge influence on WildeStarr. A very good reason to speak to Dave and London to learn more about the present, the past and the future…
First of all, I’d like to congratulate you for WildeStarr’s debut album ‘Arrival’, a great piece of metal music – but…why did it take almost 6 years to get it ready?
Dave: Thanks Marco! Although London and I started to write songs together back in 2003, it was not really until 2005/2006 that things really got going for us. I had a few albums on bass with CHASTAIN (In an Outrage) and VR (WarBall) that I needed to record before we could focus 100% on WildeStarr. Plus, I needed to quit drinking, and that took place in 2005. So there was lots going on in our lives. It won’t take us nearly this long for the next CD!
London: Thanks, glad you enjoyed the record Marco! The time line on the band starting to work seriously was closer to 2006 when Dave had completed his other commitments. We went through 6 drummers before we found Jim Hawethorne, which also caused upheaval and delays. I think the fact that there were just two people initially writing and recording, took us a bit longer, as there are only so many hours in the day. With my duties as recording engineer for the project, I found it difficult to have time to work on vocals, melodies, lyrics and keys, and toward the end I think everyone was just waiting on me…
Dave: I try not to think of all the drummer problems we had!
A demo version of ‘Generation next’ was posted on the band’s myspace site a couple of years ago and already made it clear what the main ‘ingredients’ are: bands like Judas Priest, Vicious Rumors, Queensrÿche and Crimson Glory had a huge influence on the song writing, obviously – or would you disagree?
Dave: Aside from Crimson Glory, I would pretty much agree with that. Judas Priest is my favourite band, but I have been influenced by lots of other groups as well; Thin Lizzy, KISS, UFO, Savatage, BOC, just to name a few.
London: Judas Priest, Queensrÿche and Dio are my biggest influences, but I think Judas Priest being the common denominator in our influences, and Dave’s long years in Vicious Rumors, those bands probably come to mind first for many people when they hear our music. I just think we sound like ourselves!
The main difference to the above-mentioned bands is that WildeStarr are fronted by a female singer, London Wilde. London, your singing is quite impressive and different to the vocal styles of other female singers in the world of rock and metal. As I only know very little about your time before WildeStarr, except from what can be found on the band’s website, I’d really like to learn more about your career as a singer/musician…
London: I am a self-taught musician, I began singing in church choir at age 14. My father was an amateur entertainer who played guitar and sang old rockabilly/Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash tunes, and I began performing publicly with him at age 20, on guitar and vocals. I wanted to sing metal, and began auditioning for local bands from the mid 80’s to early 90’s. In those days the heavy aggressive metal bands which suited my style could not envision a female front, and I was rejected at most auditions, or offered a back up vocal position. The few bands I did join were excited in the beginning by the power of my voice, but tended to have second thoughts about their image, and I was always asked to leave after a few weeks or months. Frustrated, I taught myself how to record, so I could make my own demos, which led me to recording others.
For the next ten years or so, I wrote, recorded or contributed backups, keyboards or other instruments for local band’s projects in several genres including rock, metal, pop and techno. I even did a film score for an amature film, which was unfortunately, utterly horrendous! When the opportunity with Dave came along, everything fell into place for me at last, and I was able to have all the creative freedom I needed to make the kind of music I love.
Dave: London went through the same BS and frustration that most people go through trying to get bands together or find the right musicians. And its much harder for women, or at least it was back then in a music genre that is 99% male. Things are a lot different today.
While Dave was recording the bass guitar tracks for Chastain’s ‘In an outrage’, you began discussing your common future plans. Did you know each other before and how/when did everything get started?
London: I knew Dave from the local music scene. We met at a show back in 1988, and we became friends. I was a regular at Vicious Rumors shows, one of my favorite bands back in the day. Actually Dave had some drums done at my studio in 1993 when he first left Vicious Rumors, and had a demo project going on. I think we both had forgotten about that, I just ran across his demo tape backups…
Dave: Yeah, I had forgotten all about that recording project. That was my weird classical Celtic instrumental stuff I was doing after I left VR.
I’ve been a huge Vicious Rumors fan for many, many years and only knew Dave Starr as ‘the bass player’, but your job as a guitarist on ‘Arrival’ is really impressive. How long have you been playing the guitar?
Dave: Thanks! I started on guitar years ago, but I was never really that good. I switched over to bass in 1982 and it opened lots of doors for me. Now I have come full circle and I am back on guitar! I did not get really serious on the guitar until about 4 years ago. Thats when I quit drinking and London and I got into serious WildeStarr mode 24/7.
I am very proud of all the great music I made playing bass with VR and CHASTAIN, but for all those year I really only scratched the surface of what I was capable of. This is the real me now.
Am I right, if I say that you, as a guitarist, are more focussed on riffs and catchy melody lines than on showing who good and fast you’re able to play? Well, you had the pleasure to learn from some of the most talented guys (Geoff Thorpe, David Chastain, Vinnie Moore and Brad Gillis)…
Dave: I think songwriting is the most important thing. There are lots of amazing guitar players out there, but how many of them are gifted songwriters? I think it’s all important, but it all starts with the song. And that’s how London and I approached this album. As for the solos, much of the shred stuff puts me to sleep. I try to write memorable solos that tell a story and fit within the context of the song. I would rather play with feel and emotion than blaze at 100 mph and say nothing….FAST. Having said all that, I have been getting lots of compliments on my guitar playing, and that is very gratifying. I do have some fast stuff on this album, but I don’t write anything to be fast just for the sake of playing fast, everything needs to fit. To me, the mark of a great guitar solo, is when you can play it by itself and people will know what songs it’s from.
Have you discussed the possibility to invite some befriended musicians to add a solo on ‘Arrival’?
Dave: The original idea was to have Geoff Thorpe, Mark McGee, Brad Gillis, and David Chastain help me out with solos, but the more I worked on my playing, and the better I got… I decided to do everything myself. I think it was the right decision. This way, it makes the CD more personal, since London and I did everything ourselves (aside from the drums).
London: I remember in the early stages of tracking, Dave was putting in his own solos. I recall turning to him from the board and gently suggesting “Maybe we should think about bringing in someone else for the solos, and you can do the rhythms”. I am not sure what happened, but in a very short time after that, Dave got GOOD. Really good! It’s funny to think about now, me suggesting another guitarist for solos, because Dave’s solos are so incredible now, and for me, some of the best highlights of the record!
Dave: Maybe it was divine intervention. Whatever it was… it sure worked out. It still seems really surreal how it all came together.
…and nobody really knew about your song writing skills, Dave. I do not remember reading your name in a VR booklet when it came to song writing credits…
Dave: If you go back to the first 2 VR albums, you will see my name in the song writing credits. I wrote or co-wrote 7 songs in my time with VR. Digital Dictator, RLH, Replicant, … those were a few of my contributions. I did not do so much writing anymore after Carl and Mark came into the band. I still submitted song ideas, but they never made it to the later albums. It was frustrating, because some of my ideas that were rejected were better then some of the songs that ended up on the albums.
Most of the songs are classic heavy metal stuff, but not old-fashioned at all. The record has a very modern overall sound, especially the guitars. Did you use real amps or plug-ins?
Dave: I agree. I think the CD has a very modern sound to it. I compared it with some of the classic VR CD’s I did back in the day. ARRIVAL sounds better to me. I used 2 Les Pauls with EMG active pickups,and played through a Tech 21 GT-2 amp simulator for rhythms. For the solos, I used a Line 6 Pod XT. No real amps were used on the album, not even the bass. I went direct with my custom 8 string bass for all the tracks.
London: We tried mic’ing different amps, we used different pre-amp combinations, and it never sounded right to us. After one pre amp electrocuted me and started smoking, I said THAT’S IT! Let’s just do what we always do…plug in that sansamp to the board, and make our lives easier! Funny thing about guitarists, they tend to have their own unique sound, no matter what gear you plug them into…
What equipment did you use in the studio, generally?
Dave: I am a big Les Paul fan. I used a 1977 Gibson LP Custom and a 1977 Greco Jeff Beck Les Paul. Both guitars have EMG 81 and 89R active pickups. I used those 2 guitars for all the tracks. They are strung with D’Addario EXL140 Light Top/Heavy Bottom 10-52 strings, and I use COOL XHVY picks. I played my custom 8 string bass (equipped with EMG active jazz pickups) on all the songs. It’s the same bass I have used for the last 3 albums I’ve recorded.
London, a couple of weeks ago the band published a video for the title song. Dave told me that you did most of the work (programming, directing etc.) and he was full of praise of your contribution to WildeStarr. I really like the atmosphere of the video as the scene remembers me of movies like The Crow or Dark City… Could you tell me a little bit about your work?
London: Thanks Marco! Yes, the video is heavy on the atmosphere, and has a very surrealist quality. I look at it stylistically as a graphic novel come to life, in the vein of The Crow, or The Dark Knight, as well as the movies Underworld and Blade Runner. The gothic scenes were inspired by silent German Impressionism Films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where it was typical to have heavily shadowed sets, and actors with white pancake makeup, over-lite faces, and wide eyed over-acting. I agree, there is a Film Noir nod in there. There is also a Japanese Kabuki feel to the gothic scenes, and a bit of Japanese anime style thrown in for good measure.. Just all the stuff I like!
The video was my brainchild. I did the story board, filming, lighting, make-up, costumes, special FX and editing by myself. I have never made a video before, so there was a huge learning curve in the filming/editing process. Probably one of the reasons the video looks a bit different is my background in oil painting, which was my only reference to doing visual arts. I approached each scene as if I was painting a picture with light, atmosphere and color. It took me over a year just to draw the background sets, and another year to edit and create the special FX. What I love about working with Dave, is that he doesn’t put boundaries on me, and trusts me enough to do my thing. Even though I wasn’t sure myself if I could pull off a video of this magnitude and complexity, Dave went along for the ride, and never doubted me.
Dave: I think the video looks amazing, it’s definitely not your run of the mill crappy metal video. I should know, since I have been in a few of them. I don’t know why, but it seems that about 95% of all rock/metal videos are garbage.
It’s probably not wrong, if I say that, until today, everything was more or less ‘do-it-yourself’. How did you manage all this on your own? It must have been massive work and, as we all know, the day has only 24 hours.
London: Well it helps to be an insomniac! It was an incredible amount of work for just two people. Self financed as well, the hours, pressure and financial strain have been beyond what “normal” people would consider embarking on. Dave and I are both stubborn and hard working people with a vision. WildeStarr was the proverbial underdog, and a hard sell to get the music industry, and other quality musicians interested in working with us. Dave being known his whole career as a bass player, switching to guitar, with an unknown female vocalist…didn’t sound too promising to others before they heard the final product, I am sure! I consider our record “Arrival” as a trial by fire.
I believe we have proven ourselves as a force to be reckoned with.
Dave: It has been tough for sure, but also very rewarding. This is the most ambitious and complex endeavour I have ever been involved in.
With Chip Ruggieri of Chipster PR & Consulting Inc., who worked with Fight, Priest, Halford and many other big names of the business, you have now an experienced guy on board who will give you support and will probably open up some doors for WildeStarr…
Dave: Chip has been a huge help. He is opening doors for us in the areas of press, promotion, and distribution, helping us in many ways that would not be possible on our own. He knows everyone in the biz, so now thanks to Chip… all those people will now know about WildeStarr.
London: It’s really an honor to be working with Chip, he is the perfect fit for WildeStarr with his experience working with Fight, Priest, and Halford. We feel right at home!
What about WildeStarr live? Are there any plans for a tour or single gigs, at least?
Dave: Chip is working on booking tours for us right now, It looks like we will be playing live in 2011, and that will most likely coincide with the release of our next CD.
At the moment, WildeStarr are London Wilde, Dave Starr and Jim Hawthorne. Have you got any ideas about the touring band, yet?
Dave: Jim Hawthorne was just with us for the record. So we will need a drummer, bassist, and another guitarist in order to tour. Geoff Thorpe from VR really loves the new CD, he has been behind us since day one and he even said he would like to play live with us.
London: Geoff Thorpe is at the top of our list right now for the second guitarist slot, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Finally, let’s talk a little bit about the roles KK Downing and Priest, in general, played for you. Dave, you mentioned Priest as one of your favourite bands and the guitar duo Tipton/Downing as one of your major influences. How and when did you get into Priest and what makes them special for you?
Dave: The bottom line is this… without Judas Priest, I don’t think I would be here today! I first got into them back in 1979. I saw the Hell bent for Leather album at a local store. I thought they looked really cool and bought it. That record blew me away! Since then, I think I have seen them 25 times or so over the years. I think KK and Glen are the ultimate guitar team. When you hear them, you know its Judas Priest. They have that trademark Priest sound, with their own unique style. Rob is the greatest singer of all time, and Ian Hill flat out kicks ass. In 1982, I practically taught myself the bass by going back through the Priest catalogue and learning all of Ian’s bass lines! And Scott Travis is the standard by which all other drummers are judged!
London, you once said ‘Dio made me want to become a singer, Geoff Tate made me want to become a better singer and Rob Halford made me want to become a God’. What does the music of Judas Priest mean to you?
London: As a fan, and growing up with Judas Priest’s music, I have all the powerful memories and incredibly intense positive emotions you experience with your favorite bands. As a musician, Judas Priest defines my level of taste. The two part harmony guitars by KK and Glen have become what I associate with good metal, and good songwriting. A driving rhythm and double bass drums in the style of Scott Travis and Ian Hill is what I imagine in my mind when I am working on raw song ideas. And of course, the mad vocal skills with range, power, intensity and awesome lyrics Rob Halford delivers, sets the bar for me personally as a vocalist, and makes me want to really challenge myself. But most importantly, since music is a language, and you are collaborating with someone in songwriting, you have to have a common ground. For Dave and I, Judas Priest is that common ground. Without Judas Priest, there would be no WildeStarr.
Ok, now let’s do something different. I’ll post two words/names – you have to choose your favourite…and please tell me why…
‘Welcome To The Ball’ or ‘Warball’?
Dave: Welcome to the Ball! It’s still a great album almost 20 years later, and it’s the best VR album of all. WarBall is cool, it was great to play in VR again with Geoff, and to work with James Rivera and Brad Gillis….but I can’t compare it to the classic VR with Carl and Mark.
London: Welcome to the Ball. Carl Albert. Need I say more?
‘British Steel’ or ‘Defenders of The Faith’?
Dave: Damn, that’s a tough call! I would have to go with Defenders. The sound is a bit more refined and mature on that one. But, British Steel is still epic!
London: British Steel is such a landmark for metal music, and a personal favorite of mine…even the cover art has become an icon. Seeing the British Steel anniversary tour last year was incredible and moving….yeah, British Steel for me!
Flying V or Les Paul?
Dave: Les Paul all the way! But, I do want to get a Flying V some day.
London: Would that be a Gibson V? Hmm..going with Les Paul, for the richer, thicker tone.
Santa Claus or Easter Bunny?
Dave: Santa! Christmas is my favourite time of the year.
London: Santa Claus..I love Christmas time, it’s magical.
Hugh Hefner or Hugh Laurie?
Dave: Hugh Hefner. Although I think Hef needs to stop sleeping with ladies 60 years younger then he is. I had to google Hugh Laurie, I had no idea who he was. I don’t watch much TV.
London: Hugh Hefner…anyone who appears in public wearing nothing but a robe and pajamas, is my kind of strange!
Kermit or Miss Piggy?
Dave: Kermit RULES.
London: Miss Piggy…she always upstaged Kermit in my opinion!
Thank you very much for spending your precious time on this interview.
Dave: Thanks Marco!
London: Thanks Marco for the opportunity to raise your readers awareness of WildeStarr! I think we have something to offer that Judas Priest fans will definitely appreciate! Take Care!