Interviewed by Adrian Hextall (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
“In the early hours of New Years Day 2013, a radio astronomer at the Allen Telescope Array in northern California discovered a mysterious signal emanating from a star within the Ophiuchus Constellation.
Contained within the signal was a Message–of human origin–foretelling the details of man’s imminent demise. The Message was brought to The Starset Society, who quickly realized the importance of its immediate publication.
Risking extreme danger, The Starset Society commissioned a group of musicians and scientists to assist them in spreading the knowledge to a broader audience. This group became known simply as STARSET.
Please hold. STARSET will begin the TRANSMISSION of the Message to the public shortly.
ignorance : slavery :: knowledge : power
To better understand the message, MGM spoke to lead singer Dustin Bates prior to their show at KOKO in Camden Town, London.
MGM: It’s quite a low key start for Starset in the UK. You’ve come over as opening act for In This Moment?
DUSTIN: you know, I think… because, I started the campaign in the US, it was very hands on. I knew exactly what my plans were before there was even a record deal.
And then, you know, it started to take off, started to grow. Then we got a record deal. And, we continued that plan. The marketing plan for Europe has been largely out of our hands, to be honest.
MGM: But the slow growth will prove to be advantageous building a core audience I imagine?
DUSTIN: Yeah. And, if anything I’ve read or talked to friends is true, people here [in the UK] will stick with you. They’re a little less fickle.
Actually, I heard that the English fans might be a little more fickle than sort of, the mainland Europe. I hear all kinds of weird things.
MGM: If they buy into a band, I think it’s safe to say they’ll stick.
DUSTIN: Yeah. And, I think it was almost, necessary to do the slow growth here. Because you know, we don’t have a ton of money to be spending on just throwing it at an entire continent to make it huge. We’re not a media driven pop band. We are a rock ‘n roll outfit and need to build our fan base.
We’ve also got the radio. Starset is kind of.. well the project’s kind of funny. Because there’s some radio singles in there but there’s also these more organic, songs that I’m actually more proud of.
I think, the radio here isn’t like it is in the US. In the US, if one of the big conglomerates picks it up, then it goes national which is great.
MGM: You talk about those more complex songs. I’ll take Halo as an example. It’s got the radio friendly elements but also the more complex cinematic side to it. It splits neatly down the middle with the rock / radio element to begin with. Almost as if a radio edit can provide the single whilst the longer track gives the listener the impetus to buy the album.
DUSTIN: Halo’s our third single. We’re actually working on a music video for it right now. So we’ll see what happens.
MGM: Talking about videos and singles. Of course, ‘My Demons’ has done extremely well in the US. It’s got a real, Prometheus [movie] feel to it.
DUSTIN: We made it ourselves.
MGM: And I believe the masks [space suit masks], you made them as well?
DUSTIN: It’s funny because all the components were bought from Amazon and then we actually did a show for Amazon so we told them all about the helmets. That was a pretty special moment.
The next ones are, I mean, I’m super proud of them. All we have right now is the design. But the guys working on them, it should be really cool.
MGM: The look and feel, especially the lights inside the visors, takes you back to sort of the era when [the movie] Alien came out.
DUSTIN: Yeah. H. R. Giger. ~It’s that look we went for with the art and design from Aliens. And he also did the imagery for the Dune movie that didn’t come out. There was another version of Dune, one that never came out.
MGM: Till they made the David Lynch version?
DUSTIN: No. No, it was a much, potentially cooler one. And, H. R. Giger did the art for that. And, anyway, long story short, he’s a definitely an inspiration. Even in our t-shirts and other band merchandise.
MGM: Okay. On the design side, The Starset logo. When I see it, it reminds me of Captain Scarlet. The Gerry Anderson creation. Is there a link here, did you get Captain Scarlet in the US?
STARSET / CAPTAIN SCARLET
DUSTIN: No, I’ll have to check it out.
MGM: It’s the same people who made Thunderbirds.
DUSTIN: Oh, nice, nice.
MGM: And, not a million miles away from your story. The Mysterons and their messages, coming through the radio waves on earth. So you can see where we draw the comparison from.
DUSTIN: Yeah, that’s awesome.
MGM: So in relation to the messages, tell me a bit about The Starset Society too.
DUSTIN: it is a group started by Dr. Aston Wise, who is a researcher for numerous governmental groups. And, he has received a warning from the future. From a guy named Steven Browning. Oh and, don’t worry about the names, they just confuse things now but without the novel which is coming later.
The message is warning us of our potential demise at the hand of manipulated technology. And that’s coming from 34 years into the future. And, the Society is planning to disseminate this information in order to keep it [the demise] from happening.
And there’s been a complication in that warning, in that it has come back, through multiple timelines. So now we live in a 2013 [where it was first set] where other groups have received this ahead of time. So they’ve actually been developing this technology, in a more sinister way. To actually make this dystopian future happen ahead of time.
MGM: Okay. And, on the back of that, one of the things I’d noted was about the society being created by musicians and scientists who have come together?
MGM: So of the four of you in the band, which are the musicians and which are the scientists?
DUSTIN: I’m the only, scientist. I’m the only person that’s actually truly, has a degree in science. Or a general intellectual inquisitiveness about science. So I’m the first, I put the band together.
MGM: Does that help then, when it comes to lyrical work and story-telling?
DUSTIN: Yeah. I mean, when I set out to write, I had two goals. To tell the story of Thomas Bell, who’s essentially the messenger [see the Starset web site for the detail on this].
He tells of the message and of its warning and also his life story. And he actually had a very inspirational story of love lost and overcoming life and perseverance.
And on top of the technological aspect of this space story. It’s become sort of a, romance in space at times, at least on the record. I also tried to write the lyrics with dual metaphors, so that people could, immerse themselves in it more directly. I also hope listeners can relate to it. I try to do that with all of my writing. And, hopefully it worked out. One of the main goals was to help people, empower people to overcome their own challenges.
MGM: And the subtext of the songs, as a story teller the longer ones help get that message of empowerment out I presume. Something that isn’t always easy with the shorter, as we were saying, ‘radio friendly’ tracks?
DUSTIN: Even that has been divisive. Some people were like, “I love this, it’s like one piece of…” and that was the goal. People have been cherry-picking singles for the last ten years, you know? I wanted to hopefully try to get something people could be like, “OH!!!, that’s what an album is.” But other kids on-line are like, “man I had to take off the, stupid endings and…” Aaaah!!
MGM: Defeating the object, really. Over the last ten years, people are going to go to music stores on-line and they see eleven tracks labelled but they only know the one they’ve heard on radio. So that’s the only one they buy. It’s a great shame because that might not be even the best track on the album.
Just jumping back to the singles again. ‘My Demons’ sat on the rock singles chart for about, forty to forty-five weeks?
DUSTIN: Almost fifty, I think in the end. It broke a Billboard record, for the longest rise to a top five song since the charts started. So it was nuts. It finally peaked at Number 3 but if you add up all the plays, it was well over the average Number one. So, it’s kind of awesome.
MGM: You’ve only got to go across the English Channel and then the wider European music scene. When you hit the German and the Swedish markets you’ll find they focus heavily on the album as opposed to one or two tracks.
Having said that I would like to focus on one or two tracks on the album, those that really stood out for me and I’d like to understand a little more about the lyrical content and composition!
DUSTIN: Halo as you mentioned is a cool one, because it’s a microcosm, of the overall, theme of the record, I would say.
It’s a song about…. it’s almost a superhero song about, someone who can do great things, but only in this dichotomous way. With his sort of, ‘damsel in distress’, he derives his power from the person he’s helping. And, so thematically, it has that.
But also composition / sound-wise, yeah. There’s, soaring strings throughout many times, and sometimes it drops to almost entirely electronic. And when we play it live, the band collapses into just a loop, while they switch back and forth in all these styles.
And, Carnivore is our second single. And it’s, really doing well in the US. But once it comes down we’re going to, I’ve always thought that Halo, could be our biggest song. But only if we can, turn around that sort of, stylistic expectation of the radio.
MGM: Yeah. Talking about the electronic side I likened it to Joe Hahn [Linkin Park]. It’s got that sound, that, you can almost hear him, pulling out the beats and loops in the background.
DUSTIN: that’s awesome.
MGM: The last one to ask about, ‘Dark On Me’. It feels like a sense of complete loss. Just listening to the lyrics at least, is that right?
DUSTIN: Yeah. Absolutely. Again with the dual metaphors. When I was writing that, I was visualizing someone in a space ship, where the electronics had failed. And something literal, but then I also saw, you know, more of a relationship-esque thing. And I was able to draw, unfortunately, from my own life, in that. Because, this band, this project was sort of the final straw in a long-term relationship. A challenge. And it just, it just sort of, imploded.
Well because, my entire…… everything I had been doing was like, you know, undergrad, then master’s degree and then work on a P.H.D. Then, almost making it in another band. And then, everything was just…… in fact my entire life has been sort of investment, it just ran first.
And so I was able to, because of the collapse of my own relationship, I was able to inject some of that in there, into the song.
I like to think that one has good emotion and that people can relate to it, definitely.
MGM: So one last question, if you I may…. The medium that you’re using to spread the messages, not only about the band but the Starset Society as well. You’ve got the novel, the comic book, obviously the album. There’s a movie in there somewhere as well?
DUSTIN: Well, yeah. So, the novel, when it’s done, we hope to get it published. And if there is any sort of advance at all, we’re going to reinvest that into a screenplay.
MGM: And the way you’ve gone about, sort of just pushing little bits out so far, harks back to the way, say the momentum was gathered originally for say Blair Witch Project.
DUSTIN: It’s funny you say that.
MGM: The element of teasing everybody and just, getting the attention and then building on the back of that. Is it, something similar; was that the thought behind it?
DUSTIN: Well I wish I could answer that, totally truthfully. But, to acknowledge that, but, yeah. It’s funny you say that.
MGM: Read into that whatever I will?
MGM: Yeah, okay. But, certainly, media is working for you on this one, helping spread the word.
As we wrap up, Starset are due to take the stage at KOKO at 7:30pm that evening. Our review and pictures of the show can be found here.