Interview with Uncle Acid singer and founder, Kevin Starrs
Not long ago, we sat down to talk with Kevin Starrs, the lead vocalist and founder of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. He talked to us about the formation of the band, influences and their take on cell phone use during live performances.
David Locklear: When you got started, how did you create the mystique of the band?
Kevin Starrs: Just refusing to do anything I didn’t want to do, basically. I didn’t want to do any pictures, didn’t want to give away too much information, I just put the music out there. I didn’t see the need to take pictures or do interviews, that sort of thing.
DL: These days, that is a pretty counterintuitive approach to take. With social media being sort of the cornerstone of every band.
KS: I think so, yeah. Everyone is so used to having so much information with Facebook and Twitter, and giving up everything about themselves, and we’ve never done that. No one knows anything about us, which is kind of interesting.”
DL: When you’re making sure that you aren’t a social media presence, is that fun for you?
KS: Yeah, because it’s just natural. I’m not into that sort of thing, I’m not a show-off or an extrovert in any way, and so it’s just a natural thing for me to do; to avoid that sort of thing.”
DL: So when you talk to people and they’re asking about your social media presence, are some of them enraged that you don’t have one?
KS: (Laughing) Yeah! Sometimes, yeah, it is a bit like that! But, what can you do?
DL: That’s kind of what I figured, I mean, like you said, everything is out there.
KS: I mean, there’s no need for it.
DL: So what brought about the birth of Uncle Acid and Volume 1?
KS: It started as a studio project. I didn’t have a job so I was looking to create my own job. So I thought, ‘I’ll just be a musician’ and I started recording with some friends, put everything together, and put it up on MySpace about 8 years ago and just let people discover it. Slowly, and eventually, people did discover the songs and they really enjoyed it.
DL: And this was when you were living in Cambridge, so was it difficult to find people locally who wanted to make this type of music with you?
KS: It was impossible! I was using any musicians that I could find-it was so hard to find bass players, so I ended up playing a lot of the bass. I played the keyboard, and I am not a very good keyboard player; the singing, which I am not a good singer, either; I just ended up doing a lot of the stuff I didn’t really want to do-not by choice-it’s just there was no one else to do it.
DL: One thing I noticed was that your singing on ‘Volume 1’ and ‘Blood Lust’ is at a much higher register than on ‘Mind Control’ and ‘Night Creeper’. Why did that change?
KS: At that point, we felt it would be good to have the band go out and play live. So to have so much material all in a high register, it becomes very difficult to sing. So I thought it would be good to have some songs that we could really do live, so we lowered the register slightly and that made a little bit easier on the voice. But now I’ve got the in-ear monitor and I can hear myself perfectly, so I can hit all of the high notes; but, back then, I was worried because I could never hear myself in the monitors.
DL: Now you’re not getting the hell kicked out of your throat.
KS: No. I sing really quietly anyway, so it doesn’t do much to the voice.
DL: Tell me about some of the bands music and movie influences. I know you’re all a fan of the classic Vincent Price flick, ‘Witchfinder General’
KS: My all time favorite movie is ‘The Warriors’. That probably hasn’t really had any effect on our music, but it really depends on the album we’re working on. Like ‘Blood Lust’ was very much influenced by ‘Witchfinder General’ and ‘Night Creeper’ was sort of 40’s/50’s film noir...so it kind of depends on what I’m going for, really.
DL: So it’s like one of those things where you’re into a certain thing at the time and it bleeds into what you’re creating?
KS: Yeah. Like when I came up with the ‘Night Creeper’ idea, I was really into the film noir and I was watching a lot, it was a black and white world for me. So I wanted to write an album that was like that: you know, creepy and shadowy. ‘Blood Lust’ was very ‘Witchfinder General’, which actually happened near the Cambridge area, so it was local history for me and quite interesting.
DL: ‘Night Creeper’ harkens back to the sound of ‘Blood Lust’ more so than ‘Mind Control’. Were you trying to do that? Or was it just a natural progression of the music?
KS: It was natural. I never really think about it...if I have a riff, and I like it, I write it down
DL: Do you ever run into social justice warriors who feel like the themes of your music and shows are offensive? Like the murders on Blood Lust or the prostitute in the song, ‘Melody Lane’?
KS: (Laughing) Actually, yeah! It’s funny, we used to have a projection screen behind us at our live shows, and there was a lot of nudity, but there was also war and death just horrible, horrible images. And I just think it’s funny but they would only pick up on a pair of tits being offensive as opposed to someone getting shot in the face!
DL: That doesn’t surprise me really. But you guys really don’t do the projection thing in your life shows much anymore do you?
KS: Not anymore. Because there are so many bands that do it and we realized it was distracting for people because they’re watching the screen and not listening to music. It was just too easy to be distracted by it. On this tour we’re doing the song ‘Slow Death’, which is a really quiet song and it’s funny seeing the reactions of people to that song. That’s the song where we see people get their phones out and start chatting among themselves...and many of them see that as an opportunity to do what they please. And now it’s distracting to us seeing everybody on their phone! (Laughs)
DL: Does that bother you like it does some other artists?
KS: It can get very annoying. There was this one guy a couple nights ago who had his phone out for the first three songs and it had this huge flash on it and it was so distracting. I wanted to be like ‘Just turn it off and enjoy the show!’ Pictures and small videos are great, but when you’re recording the whole performance it’s just really distracting.
DL: Is there anything that you guys in the band find shocking nowadays?
KS: Nothing’s shocking anymore. Everything’s been done. Maybe politics are shocking the way things have been going in your country and in our country-it just looks like a fucking mess!
DL: The sound of your music obviously evolves with each album, but have you had fans react negatively because your sound doesn’t stay the same?
KS: When we did ‘Mind Control’, people were expecting another ‘Blood Lust’ and they didn’t get that. And some people were really angry about that and they hate us now because we won’t do the same album every time-we’re not giving them what they want or what they expect from us as a band. If they like a particular song they want us to re-create it every single time. They just see ‘Blood Lust’ as the be-all and end-all and don’t like ‘Volume 1’ and they don’t like ‘Mind Control’. It’s like those people that just listen to ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath and you want to scream ‘There’s more to the band than that!”.
DL: Do you get people who have been pleasantly surprised with the direction you guys have gone?
KS: Yeah, you actually hear comments sometimes saying something like “I didn’t think they’d be able to top ‘Blood Lust’”. Or “I really like the ‘Night Creeper’ album,” so everybody’s got their own ideas. There are some people who have said ‘Night Creeper’ was more like ‘Volume 1’ and that made them happy. People just prefer certain albums.
DL: That’s got to be pretty tricky as a band.
KS: Yes, but I guess it’s good because it appeals to a wide range of people.
DL: But you really can’t be influenced by what people’s expectations are of the band.
KS: Yeah, if they don’t like this one hopefully they’ll make the next one.
DL: So ‘Night Creeper’ has been well received then?
KS: Yeah, it’s been very, very positive. I think it’s the first album that we’ve gotten onto the Billboard charts with, which is a big thing for us.
DL: How has it been touring the United States?
KS: Audiences of been really good, it’s been great. American audiences seem to really get into it more so than they do in Europe. Which is interesting.
DL: Are any of the members of the band religious at all? Or were you raised in a religious home environment?
DL: Really? That surprises me. Because 'Blood Lust' in particular was steeped in the idea of religious fervor.
KS: Yeah, that does appeal to me. I like religious imagery, the artwork, the iconography. The whole Matthew Hopkins/Witch Finder General was just a really interesting time the way he was using religion to sort of force his will on people to do whatever he pleased. I think it still happens today, but not to that extreme.
DL:I guess it does on some level, which is one of the things that you tap into on ‘Mind Control’.
KS: Yeah, yeah. To be honest, all of our albums are kind of about manipulation, so I guess they’re all really about the same thing! (laughs) I’m brainwashing myself!
DL: So what do you guys do to kill time on the road to avoid becoming drug addicts and alcoholics?
KS: (Laughs) Watch films, sleep. It can be quite tiring sometimes. I think film is the best way for us to kill time.
DL: That must be hard, because I had to exercise a little self-discipline to not drink beer before this interview. I can only imagine how difficult it must be playing gigs around beer every night.
KS: I know, I was just sitting at the bar not long ago and there are so many great beers on tap and so many great beers in the fridge. And I’m like ‘I can’t do that!’
DL: You guys got your name from the lead singer of Cactus, Rusty Day, his side band Uncle Acid and the Permanent Damage Band. How much of an influence has Cactus had on the Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats sound?
KS: I have always really liked them. I always thought it was strange that they were never bigger than what they were. They had great musicianship and great songs and they just never seem to get that big. Which surprises me. Especially in Europe, I don’t think anyone ever knew of them back then. They were great band.
DL: Well it seems like you guys have tapped into this Renaissance of retro horror music.
KS: Yeah, there are so many bands from the 70’s that never really made it.
DL: Do you hope that inspires people to look a little deeper into that decade for underground music?
KS: That’d be great if that were the case. I hope so.
DL: Are there any other genres that inspire you?
KS: No, not really. Most of my tastes are pretty mainstream. The band Slade I would recommend everyone listen to. They’re one of the greatest bands ever to come out of the UK.
DL: Yeah, it’s funny that the only way people found out about them in United States was because of Quiet Riot covering “Cum On Feel The Noize”.
KS: I know. I think they tried to break out in the United States a couple of times back in the 70s, but it just never really happened for them.
DL: But that really speaks to what a great band Slade were, considering that Quiet Riot’s two biggest hits were covers of Slade songs!
KS: Yeah! That’s true.
DL: Thanks for talking to me, Kevin. Can’t wait for the show.
KS: My pleasure.