Starset: The Must-Watch Electro Rock/Metal Concept Band
The Space-obsessed band who’ve scaled the charts with their recent album ‘Vessels’ are also releasing a graphic novel with Marvel later this year
Their name may not occupy the biggest space on festival billings (like Rise Above Fest in Bangor, Maine, where they played on July 23rd), but Columbus, Ohio’s Starset sure know how to fill a stage to its maximum potential.
From cryogenics to space-age material suits and one hell of an audio-visual experience, Starset have scaled up to narrate their story by whatever means possible ever since they came together in 2013. Frontman Dustin Bates is speaking to us over the phone from Portland, just a week after their set at Rock On The Range, which was home ground.
Bates, who was pursuing a PhD in engineering when a record deal came his way, which eventually led to the creation of Starset and its conceptual head, The Starset Society. The Sci-Fi loving vocalist and multi-instrumentalist is currently working with novelist Peter David to write an origin story for the Starset Society, teaming up with Marvel comics to publish The Prox Transmissions in September this year.
In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Bates talks about their Rock On The Range set, stage production and future plans.
You’re a Columbus band, and you’ve played at Rock On The Range before in 2015. Have you got the chance to just attend the festival?
I have. In between the years we played, I went to watch the fest, to see friends play. And I also played there with my earlier band too.
How was the last show at the festival? How do you adapt to different stages and clubs?
Yeah, that was at the side stage. What you saw at Rock on the Range this year was an adaptation too. It was a show made for nights, where we can control all of the environments. Even on the mainstage show [this year], we had to do add different elements to make it immersive, like cryo-freeze, compressed air and stuff. In addition to that, a bigger stage means more room to move around and have fun. But like I said, it’s not really that much of an adaptation.
At night, we have projection mapping, I have a touchscreen I use to DJ electronics, there’s a light show. Very little of it comes through during the day.
In terms of production – how much do you undertake and conceptualize?
It’s just me. I sort of have an idea and I build it. We go from there.
Why do you refer to your performances as demonstrations? How does that tie into the concepts Starset associates with?
The reason we call them demonstrations alludes to the fact that it’s something more than a show. It’s something immersive. We want people to join our world for the duration we’re playing and in addition, we want them to see our narrative and our approach. It’s our goal to make the performance more immersive every single time. We’re constantly reinvesting. My partner Ron [DeChant] and I, who’s also the bassist in the band, have never taken a dollar of profit from the band in an effort to be able to reinvest and make it more of an experience every time.
Is your engineering PhD research influencing it in anyway?
It certainly helps. I have this concept with the cube that goes around the drums – to be able to go from the idea to creation with ease is great. All the miniaturized thrusters that we have on the backpacks that they’re wearing, it’s all fun to be able to take it from idea to inception.
Has it taken a lot of time?
Yeah, I mean, I wish I could do more, but it’s taken on a natural progression. There are limitations to how quickly it can grow, beyond just money. We’re supporting other bands and we’ve only just three months ago got into a tour bus and we’re able to pull a larger trailer and we’re already outgrowing that. (laughs)
Vessels released earlier this year, how has the reception been?
All of our records are going to be cinematic and they’re all going to tell a narrative, but the narrative will change. And with that, my sonic approach will change. The constant is that they’re all going to be cinematic. In terms of the electronics, they’re more deliberate and concise than organic and the guitar work is more djent and metal at times than hard rock. I was really happy about it, I just wanted to meet this sonic goal. I’m really happy that people have embraced it. It seems to be growing more every day.
I’m guessing the themes and narrative of Starset is something that’s also self-indulgent? Is it risky trying to create this kind of intricate storyline in terms of getting fans into it?
Yes I think it is fair to say that I’m self-indulgent in this project, but at the same time I have this natural passion or inclination or taste for catchy melodies and meaningful lyrics, so I think luckily there’s people who also enjoy it.
The complexity of the story and the large goals we have aside, I think it’s been designed so that if people want to enjoy it just on the surface, they absolutely can. We’re still wearing spacesuits up there and we’re still using a lot of space metaphors, but at the same time, the average person can relate to it without digging it. If there’s 10% of people who can really get into the depths of it, then that’s cool.
How’s the Marvel graphic novel coming along?
It’s coming along, it’ll be out in the fall. I’m super pumped about it. Well it’s a partnership between the Starset Society, which is essentially the band’s parent group, and Marvel. That’s as far as we’ve publicized so far. It tells the inception story of the Starset Society.
Is that going to be coming along with any music?
Considering our timeline – we put the record (Vessels) out in January – it’s possible that we will brand the release with other things, but it’s still up in the air at this moment.
What’s coming up for you through the year?
Well there’s a lot of touring. I’m working on various videos – music videos and other things. We have tours that are going to pop up in Australia, Europe, the U.S. as well – I feel like we’ll be out most of this year.
Watch the video for “Monster”