Interview by Adrian Hextall
Star Circus is the brainchild of Dave Winkler (Trophies Of Man, Ryan Hamilton, Annabella’s Bow Wow Wow). The band evolved out of Dave’s passion to finally create an album focused around his own material, after years of playing the sideman.
Having released the single ‘Love is the Enemy’ with a spectacular launch show, followed by the acclaimed video for ‘Save Your Life’ in April 2020, the debut album, produced by Tony Wilson (BBC Radio 1/TotalRock/Mia Klose), is set for release in the Summer of 2021. With some great special guests appearing on their including Dan Stevens (Inglorious), Tom Draper (Carcass, Angelwitch) and added backing vocals from Ben Christo (Sisters of Mercy/ Diamond Black), now is clearly the right time to sit down with Dave for a virtual fireside chat to discuss all things Star Circus.
We reach Dave, virtually via the magic of a Zoom call to discover him on the verge of moving house with nary a possession around him other than the stereo, his laptop (for the call) and a reasonable wi-fi signal. Part of the reason he’s moving is the need to be able to practice (albeit with an acoustic guitar) wherever he’s living. You would think that wouldn’t be too hard really…..
DW: Even if I play acoustic guitar, the guy upstairs, complains. Once at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, I had a gig and I was just going to run one more song before I went out and his wife came down and complained to my flat mate. Another time, he came down and said he could hear me and hilariously he’s telling my flat mate when I’m not even there. She’s even offering him the option to come in and check but no, he stays on the doorstep, and he’s saying he can definitely hear me… Then I arrive, coming back from a gig and he just looks at me as if I’ve done some magic trick where I climbed over the balcony and come back upstairs. He just walks off, doesn’t even apologize. I don’t need that, no one does! [laughs]
Now typically in the past your the person who plays stage left or stage right but you’re not the person front and centre, the guy in the middle with the main microphone. It’s refreshing to hear the Star Circus material with you finally where you should be.
DW: It comes from when I was a teenager. I’d had a crossroads moment where I was first played in bands and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a lead singer or did I want to be a guitar player? I’d made friends at about 14 or 15 with a guy, whose voice I just liked more than my own. As the guitarist I also got the hang, partly through guitar lessons, of learning about harmonies. Listening to bands like Bon Jovi where you realise that, “Hang on a sec’ that guy, that’s Richie Sambora singing those notes. He’s singing a different part to Jon” and I learnt a lot that way.
Take a look at what you like Adrian [adds Dave] duel vocal harmonies with bands like The Wildhearts. That works so well but for me at the time, I ended up just putting bands together where I would find a vocalist to kind of sing songs that I’ve written or collaborate with someone who wanted to co-write or write the lyrics. And and it just, leading me that way and all of a sudden I found myself in my mid 30s where it just became the thing.
One thing that did change though was if I was wearing eyeliner anywhere, every 10 minutes, someone would come up to me and tell me I look like Ozzy Osbourne. Nothing wrong with that but it did lead me to fronting an Ozzy tribute band. It was a really weird situation
The first Ozzy rehearsal we did, I showed up to rehearsal with hardly any gear. As a guitarist, that never happens. I think I bought a chorus pedal with me. I had to carry something because it is too strange. [laughs]
The other bands I’ve sung in include Bordello Rose, I think you first saw us perform at the Underworld [Camden] a few years ago? Even then I had songs that I thought would work that would ultimately become Star Circus but of course you need the band to all agree what to record and perform and I just couldn’t get them to agree on some material so that now will be included on our debut.
Some of these songs are 20 years old and they’ve been messed around with and a couple of them have been in other bands and stuff like that but it’s they’ve never really been collected in one place.
Having listened to the singles released to date, you couldn’t put any two of these songs side-by-side and really say they’re influenced by the same bands or anything like that. Take a listen to these:
Yeah, I always feel that I want albums to have….., I have respect for bands who have a very specific sound in a very specific thing, but I’ve kind of grown up on stuff like Queen and Guns ‘n Roses and all these great bands rather than just creating say a Led Zeppelin classic rock clone.
You get the impression that someone in the band wrote a song and they thought “right, well if we do it it will be my stamp on the song and as long as it’s a good song then anything goes”. Queen went to a greater extreme than that embracing so many genres in their music.
‘Save Your Life’ was very much written about a friend who was going through really tough times. And it was also done not long after Chris Cornell passed away. I think his death hit people more than a lot of other artists that have died in recent years. Out of all those 90s guys I think he was the one that seemed to have it all together which is why his death was such a shock.
You never really know what’s going on in someone’s head. And if they don’t communicate, then it can often be too late.
Lyrical content is often there to try and help people and fans around the world often relate to the content more than the style or genre of a song. When we listen to ‘Just Like A Movie’ there is sense of ‘everything being alright’. It’s almost like the song can pull us out of where we are at the moment and give us hope, just down the road. There’s an encouraging aspect of optimism in there.
In reality, you wake up and life kicks in again and everything’s kind of the same, so there’s a sarcastic aspect to it, but I like writing songs, lyrics, to kind of give people a kick up the arse in certain ways, and it’s more like that. I think a lot of people have needed that over the last year.
It’s become very easy to be apathetic and I’ve suffered from it. Tremendously in that apathy to almost everything? Because the motivation disappears or just steps away. I found it difficult in terms of just trying to put the songs together and grab everybody, and it’s harder than it was 18 months ago to do all of this because it’s no longer quite as natural.
You had to force yourself back into it?
[DW] Yeah, I mean people have had more of an excuse than ever to not do something. I don’t know, I’m hoping that won’t be people’s reaction to all of this. And everyone WILL start coming to shows and actually buy tickets in London and stuff like that.
If you look at Dom who played bass on the recording of ‘Just Like A Movie’, he was saying, #2Oh I’m a little bit afraid to mix with people at the moment.” A lot of people feel the same way.
As things gradually return to normal, Dave has a show, albeit acoustic, lined up for Star Circus with three of the members supporting Trident Waters at the New Cross Inn, London on June 6th [link below for tickets]
It’s just three of us, me, Riccardo (Coccia, (guitar/vocals)), Thomas (Erbi, (drums/vocals)). Trident Waters are a great power trio so that’s going to be brilliant. The frontman is a great singer\guitarist, very similar to Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes.
The three of us have been getting together and me and Rick have been rearranging the songs for acoustic and three-part harmonies and stuff like that.
Then you have July 10 which is the big comeback. It’s Sophie’s [Aurelia Young ,(bass guitar/keyboard)] debut on the bass guitar, and that’s at The Black Heart in Camden. That’s a full electric show with the whole band.
As many people will know who live in or support gigs in London, The Black Heart has gone through all of its own traumas, to stay open as a venue. It was on the verge of going under before crowdfunding managed to save it. It’s great that you’re going to be back there. Hopefully, seeing the venue returning to normal as quickly as possible means more shows because it’s one of the best meeting places and venues. They’ve got some of the best beers on tap and then you go upstairs and there’s a gig on. It doesn’t get better than that.
[DW] It really is exciting. It almost feels slightly surreal possibly to go on stage. It will be for a proper gig which isn’t socially distanced as well because by then we should all be going in just as normal is the hope. So to be able to watch the event enjoy it standing up, having a drink singing along to the songs, so it’s even better.
The people I really feel for are those people who were like 16 and just just finished their GCSEs or 18 and they finished their A’Levels. They’re the ones who should have the freedom to do what excites them and they’ve missed out. I know a young guy died of a brain tumour a year earlier [ Falling Red’s Mikey Lawless, who had an inoperable brain tumour] and his bandmates took him on tour, around the country until he simply couldn’t play. We need to be able to give people the best life they can have if they have problems and need the help. We can’t just close everything until we’re ready for it to all go back to the way it was. At some point you’ve just got to say, “well, there’s things out there that kill us and life continues”. And I know that’s probably the controversial thing to say in an interview because that’s just not the popular opinion right now but I think we have to go out and, by all means take precautions like face masks, but we’ve just got to go and live our lives.”
But there comes a point when you’ve just got to realise that life is worth living and you’ve got to go for it.
I’m itching to get back into London. With a huge chunk of people, having now been vaccinated as well, the infection numbers are dropping tremendously so as long as we don’t start being stupid, I’m sure it’s got to work in our favor. We must be getting to a point where there’s more people now had at least one jab than not.
Now live shows aside, the million-dollar question is when is the album is coming out?
[DW] Well, it’s being mixed at the moment. We’re about halfway through the tracks and it’s really just happening track by track at the moment. Tony [Wilson , producer and the man behind The Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio One] has made a start on the next one.
One the back of it the assumption is that a tour will also be forthcoming?
Yes, that would be wonderful. I’ve spoken to a few friends and there’s a few possibilities about some shows around the country. We’ve got four, I believe, London shows booked now. Of course everyone’s still kind of tentative with tours at the moment.
It’s difficult because there’s acts who were already booked to be the supports for tours that were supposed to happen a year ago or in some cases, even two years before are now happening. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to play festivals for instance, till 2023 because all the 2022 slots are booked up.
The guaranteed shows though, Camden Rocks Presents [July 10] gives us multiple bands across a whole day. I hope multiple acts will be able to get shows in by playing all day events rather than just one show in an evening with maybe 2-3 bands.
[DW] We’re about halfway through the day but it’s a nice slot. I feel that’s nice for a comeback show when you haven’t been playing and it’s Sophie’s first show with us.
06/06/2021 – Trident Waters (acoustic) @ New Cross Inn
10/07/2021 – Camden Rocks @ The Black Heart, London
07/07/2021 – Bonfire @The Underworld, London?
25/09/2021 – With Primitai @ The Underworld, London?
The current line up of Star Circus features
Riccardo Coccia, (guitar/vocals),
William Robertson, (keyboard/guitar/vocals),
Thomas Erbi, (drums/vocals) and
Sophie Aurelia Young ,(bass guitar/keyboard).