There are bands which you listen for the first time and you know that there’s no doubt about them! The power trio formed by Ric Bennet, Frank Sikes and Elisa Maria put their spell on me with extremely catchy stuff in a vein of low-fi doom rock. Doomy riffs, excellent rocking solos and melodies alongside a little bit of dark female vocals make people label Stars That Move as “occult doom band”, but well… dash it! Who needs the labels when we can taste it on-line and make our own conclusion? Here’s the interview with Ric and feel free to check “No Riders” album while reading it, I bet that opening track “The Devil’s Fountain” is enough to fall in love with them.
Hello Ric! I hate to start interviews like this, but as I didn't find interviews with Stars That Move, let me begin with the question about bands origin - how was it?
Hi Aleksey! Thanks for the interview. Stars That Move began with Elisa and I recording a few cover tunes acoustically under the name “No Evil Star” around 2012 in the home studio of a friend Frank who had played drums in my previous band Starchild. Originally, we were inspired by The Brian Jonestown Massacre to write some bohemian acoustic songs that were eventually released later digitally as the “No Evil Star” EP.
Ric, your story started with Starchild, why did you leave the band?
Starchild has been on hiatus since 2006 due to my struggle with severe tinnitus (chronic ear-ringing). So many years of playing loud Laney and Matamp stacks finally caught up with me! After I started playing around with home recordings in early 2015, I realized I could control the volume much easier than before. Then, after discovering the band Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, I was inspired to write some riffs on electric guitar again.
Does it mean that you really can’t play loud?
Yes, and it really sucks! Noise levels over 80 dB exacerbate the condition so I have to be extra careful when we go to lay down drum tracks. Earmuffs on top of earplugs keep it under control. I have pretty much habituated to the head noise now although it still continues to worsen with time. But I was so depressed during my time away from writing and recording that I finally just had to say fuck it and do what I love. As Joseph Campbell “Follow your bliss!”
Stars That Move works as the power-trio. How long do you know each other?
I met Frank around 17 years ago and we have played together in multiple versions of the same band only switching instruments and names a few times… haha. Elisa and I have been together for 8 years, but only performing and recording for 4 years now. As a guitarist I enjoy the freedom of a 3 piece (drums, bass and guitar) because I love to improvise and there is no real conflict with another instrument. The only challenge is filling more sonic space which has led to me developing a style of letting the open strings ring out while playing up the neck to create tension and atmosphere.
How do you usually share the roles during process of song composing?
For the Stars That Move debut sessions Elisa and I would get together late at night after work and talk about our influences and what we wanted to create. I would jam on guitar until I found a solid riff, while she would sit and sort of free associate lyrical ideas. Later we would work together to create a theme for the song and arrange the words into verses. For her, it was the first time writing songs and the first time I had worked with anyone else on lyrics. It was fun for me to help materialize her concepts.
Ric, what does the album’s title mean?
Actually, it was from a warning sticker on the back of a forklift at work! Haha… It was the original title of the song “The Devil’s Fountain”. To fit Elisa’s vocal range I re-worked the melody and lyrics and somehow came up with that line, so we switched it out making “No Riders” the album title. It’s always been kind of a non-sense title, but with the cover art it seams to fit.
Can you name most influential book which you did read in school?
From school, I would have to say… maybe “Flowers for Algernon”. I’m not much of a fiction reader though, I mostly was obsessed with the Bible and mystical new-age stuff during my early twenties.
Stars That Move released “No Riders” literally a few days ago – accept my congratulations! As it's your second full length work, what did you want to incarnate in it?
This new album does not intend to have a single concept or constant theme, lyrically. Some songs are many years old and some are brand new (plus a cover song thrown in just for fun). The main intention for this album was to have more of a “live-band” sound and feel. Of course, we are very attracted to a mysterious psychedelic and “retro” sound. Some of our influences for this album both musically and lyrically were Pentagram and Dead Meadow. We are obviously focused on songwriting and featuring the vocals with a few harmonies here and there, but I felt I was getting my lead guitar chops back after being a bit rusty with the soloing on the debut album! Ha-ha!
You have ZZ-Top cover on “No Riders” (groovy track indeed) and there was Black Sabbath cover on your previous full-length, did you set it as the tradition to record one cover for each new album?
Not at all, but we do have a lot of fun recording covers and those songs are two of our mutual favorites for sure. I did feel that both songs worked well as reference points for each album as far as style, although we seriously debated leaving off “TV Dinners” because it totally didn’t belong on a retro-y/occulty/doomish record, but then everyone said to leave it on and it’s had a really great response so far.
I believe that proper artwork is the necessary detail of each album, especially when it's released on vinyl. How did you choose the artwork for “No Riders”?
Barla Horn has been my favorite graphic designer from the first time I saw his work. I have worked with him on other releases through my own small record label and reached out to him for this one right away. The first concept I mentioned to him was my love for the biblical account of Ezekiels’ vision of the “wheel within a wheel”. After a few ideas back and forth, my response to his first attempt was “I love it!”. Barla’s style is always very classic and works so well with my vision for the band and the record label. He is the best!
“No Riders” is pretty impressive album, it's not too heavy, but it really rocks and the overall vintage vibe has its charm. How did you work in a studio over it?
This time we recorded the drums and guitar together live in Frank’s recording studio, then we added bass, lead guitar and vocals at my home studio. Although recording myself can be maddening, I love the comfort of working privately all night long to nail a lead part. Because I also perform bass duties, the bass lines are actually written as they are being recorded, so this takes extra time to work out. The home studio allows me to experiment with no pressure.
And your goals as a band...
For now, we’re basically a studio project because of other responsibilities, but I can’t help to fantasize about performing live again, touring or even making it over to Europe somehow. Maybe we will have a successful release one day with the help of a larger label or even though networking with my current label contacts. I certainly enjoy Elisa’s ability to pull off the vocal melodies and harmonies that I never really could, myself. We are already writing new songs and plan to expand on those aspects as well as work out more interplay between the drums and guitar.
Can you tell a story of a certain song which transcends main motives of the album?
Only that “The Devil’s Fountain” works great as an opening track. The intro sets the mood immediately and the guitar work is so trippy. When the vocals come in it’s wet with effects and psychedelic themes. That song sets the listener up for the experience of the rest of the album for sure.
Ric you released album through your label Twin Earth Records, what is the main focus of the label?
Twin Earth Records my attempt to expose hard-working quality bands and their albums to a wider audience. It was initially born out of my frustration from shipping demos around and seeking a label myself. Plus, I have always been so impatient that I can’t stand having to wait on someone else’s release schedule! A lot of times after scraping up money to record, some really awesome bands just can’t afford to press the album or simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of promoting a release and finding distribution. I actually love being a part of that process and connecting with the reviewers, bloggers and music lovers that are actively seeking new music. I’m also working to expand the label’s online webstore. I carry releases from other labels and try to set the best prices on imports for US customers. The webstore has been very successful so far, and the key to making the label a viable business.
How much money do you spend on the Stars That Move and your label per month?
Most things that I know about the bands show that bands who don’t have big label behind them spend more money than they gain. The sad fact indeed… Well, I know a few friends that have spent some serious money on studio time, but with a home studio it doesn’t cost anything for us to record. It’s a significant investment to have physical formats like CDs and Vinyl pressed, but now that the label has a few solid releases out there is just enough cash flow to stay on top my credit cards!
You also released the Psychedelic Witchcraft record, how did you find Virgi and company?
I find everything online now. Thank God for Facebook and Bandcamp, right?! Actually, I think I discovered Psychedelic Witchcraft through the Doomed and Stoned compilation put together by Billy Goat and Paul Rote. The “Black Magic Man” EP was already released in digital form, so I contacted Virginia about releasing the CD version with bonus tracks. Luckily for me, the band was still waiting for their vinyl LP to return from press and really needed something fast because they had shows coming up. I offered to get it out right-away as a one-off release and she said “yes”! Since then, they band has moved on to bigger and better things and I’m very happy for them. Hopefully, they can make it to the US for some shows sometime!
Can you name other albums you released through the label lately?
The latest release is “The Unknown Secretary” by BUS from Athens, Greece and the response for this record has been really incredible. The vinyl is in production now, but the CD is out as of 4/27. Next up, we got Fox 45 from Rochester, NY coming out late May/June and then a new album from Bastard Lord this summer.
What are your ambitions consider Twin Earth Records? And let’s resume your plans for Stars That Move for 2016?
With each release we continue to raise the profile of the label. It’s an exciting time. I love networking with other labels and distributors around the world. There’s an awesome online community for this genre and a seemingly endless array of internet radio, magazines and review sites to work with. Stars That Move has a few new songs we are kicking around already. I’d like to have a new EP available this year, but I want to step it up musically and production-wise. So I guess I’ll have to find time between other people’s projects to work on my own! Ha-ha!
Interview by Aleksey Evdokimov/2016
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