Interview with vocalist Bruce Turnbull
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: June 19, 2015
The United Kingdom has always had a rich tradition of Heavy Metal music going back to the early 70s with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Motörhead, into the 80s with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal right on up to the present. Newcastle may not be a name that jumps to mind for people outside the British Isles when thinking about Heavy Metal but several NWOBHM bands originated there including Venom and Raven. Extreme Metal dominates the scene there now but one band, Starborn, is looking to bring back the glories of Traditional and Power Metal with their second release, The Dreaming City, released by Stormspell Records as part of their Trend Killers series.
Starborn is five friends with varying musical tastes but with a common vision of producing quality Heavy Metal and doing it in a way that is both easily recognizable and unique. With the release of their latest EP The Metal Crypt caught up with singer/lyricist Bruce Turnbull (a once and future reviewer for The Metal Crypt and regular contributor to the message boards here) to get a little more information on the band, the EP and music in general.
MetalMike: Congratulations on the release of The Dreaming City and signing with Stormspell. How did the deal with that label come about? Were there other labels bidding for Starborn?
Bruce: First of all, Mike, thanks for taking the time out to interview us for The Metal Crypt. We appreciate all the support you've given us, so mighty hails for that! As pleased as I am to be working with Danny from Stormspell, I wouldn't call it a deal in the traditional sense. We first got in contact with him when we were looking for distributors for Born By The Wind (the band's first demo – MetalMike). He didn't think it was right for him at the time but as soon as we released "Triumphant Resolve" from the new EP, he emailed us and asked if we'd like to be part of their Trend Killer line, which specializes in old school releases and pays tribute to the Price Killers series from back in the day. Of course, we jumped at the chance, but there was no long term signing.
MetalMike: What does your deal with Stormspell include? It is for distribution of The Dreaming City only or are they helping with the cost of production as well? Will the relationship between Starborn and Stormspell continue beyond The Dreaming City?
Bruce: The EP was already recorded when we started working with Stormspell, so there was no financial contribution towards the production. Like the demo, we paid for it ourselves. They basically took it off our hands, pressed it and distributed it. They helped an awful lot with promotion, though. Because of Danny's hard work, we've seen a significant increase in interest, with reviews coming in from all over the world. I've talked to Danny about releasing our forthcoming debut album, and I'd like to do it with him, but nothing is set in stone as of yet.
MetalMike: The Dreaming City is a step forward from your demo, 2014's Born by the Wind. The Starborn lineup remained intact from the demo to The Dreaming City so I imagine that helped with the band's progression. What else has the band been doing to hone its sound?
Bruce: I think that band unity has always been a strength of ours, so that played a large role. First and foremost, we all have a solid relationship with each other; it keeps us strong. We did a lot of talking in between the demo and the EP, deciding how we wanted it to sound, learning from the mistakes we'd made with our first recording experience, broadening our field of influence and fine tuning the details. Beyond that, we just practiced our asses off.
MetalMike: Practice makes perfect or so the saying goes but I'm sure nothing beats playing live. What have those opportunities been like for Starborn? I'm sure everyone in the band has a busy life (for example, drummer Dan Alderson's Death Metal band Horrified) so how does that impact what you are all trying to accomplish with Starborn?
Bruce: Being a power metal band in the UK is hard enough as it is, so there aren't many gig opportunities, especially in Newcastle. There are some great acts around here, but most are of a different stripe, which means we tend to play with other underground bands in the scene, mostly extreme metal. We've only played a couple of shows, but since we rehearse a lot and work out our songs as a live band, we're always prepared for shows. We're hoping the EP will garner better options; I know most of the band would like to play overseas. Everyone is indeed busy, studying, working with other bands, and for me, keeping a home and a family intact, so it can be difficult to get everyone together at times. We're all committed to the band one hundred percent, and we're respectful of what the others have going on in their lives, but when we get together for a rehearsal or a show, we have a blast.
MetalMike: Finding ways to separate your band from the crowd is a priority for most musicians, I would hazard to guess. Starborn is clearly influenced by the early output from bands like Iron Maiden and Fates Warning but what other influences, maybe even ones outside of Heavy Metal, have you tried to incorporate into the Starborn sound? Is it even your goal to forge a unique sound or is it just to create the best music you can regardless of how it ultimately turns out?
Bruce: Naturally, we'd like to create a unique sound, and I think we're on our way to doing that. Like you said in your review, there aren't many bands doing what we do, and I can only see that as a good thing. We try to unite the sound of the old guard with a bit of modern know-how. I always like to think the sound we're going for is Arch-era Fates Warning covering early Blind Guardian, but we all listen to a crazy amount of music. Foley and I are all about USPM these days, Sean is mad for J-Power, Kelsey likes the classic 80s stuff, and Dan's bread and butter is death, black, and doom. We like to keep everyone happy, so we try to cater to the personal taste of each band member, hopefully creating something original in the process.
MetalMike: Can you tell us the general inspiration for your lyrics? Do you see Starborn being a "message" band where you will focus on a theme or several themes that relate to the modern world in the way many Thrash bands tend toward the political or will topics of fantasy, horror and science-fiction be the focus?
Bruce: Mostly I write about things that disturb or resonate with me, be it literature, movies, or personal events that have scarred me in some way. The general theme of the band, I feel, is inner darkness, outer isolation; tales of sorrow, revitalization, and, ultimately, revenge. Some of our newer tracks cover the whole spectrum in one song, so I guess you could say this is our "message". We don't want to be another sword-waving, dungeon-crawling flower metal band. I love that stuff, but I don't want to be singing it day in, day out.
MetalMike: The title track from The Dreaming City is a retelling of the crucifixion, though with a bit of first-person perspective. Why tell this particular story, one that's been told and retold many thousands of times?
Bruce: I just thought since "The Dreaming City" was our most epic track to date, it should cover the greatest epic in human civilization. I didn't want to push religion down anyone's throat, so I tried to stick to the narrative as I see it; a dramatic, sweeping epic that covers some of the themes listed above, rather than the kind of thing I hear in church. Also, I really admire the way Virgin Steele dealt with these topics in the past, giving them an ornate significance, and I wanted to pay tribute to that.
MetalMike: The source material for "The Dreaming City" seems obvious but what about "Triumphant Resolve" or "Carnival of Shadows"? The former makes me think of the origin story of the Marvel Comics character The Silver Surfer while the latter reminds me a little of Metallica's "Leper Messiah." Then you've got the introspective "A Merciless End to Words" and the horror movie-esque "Cruelty Unchained." Were these songs inspired by singular sources?
Bruce: As I mentioned earlier, my inspiration for lyrics come from various sources. It's interesting that "Triumphant Resolve" reminds you of a comic book origin, as it was written as an ode to a relationship that had gone sour at the time. That's one of my more personal pieces. "Merciless" is about a woman my girlfriend knew who committed suicide last year in a mental hospital. She was a pretty young girl who couldn't deal with this world, and I wanted to do something for her, contribute in my own way. "Carnival" has a veiled message, but it's up for interpretation, as are all our songs, and "Cruelty" covers topics usually reserved for my fiction; child abuse and the dark places it inhabits.
MetalMike: In reading the credits for The Dreaming City I can see the songs were put together in different places at different times. Is that an accurate description of how the EP came together? If so, would you have preferred to have the band all together in the studio to play the songs together or has that style of recording gone by the wayside?
Bruce: It hasn't gone by the wayside; our demo was recorded in those conditions. This time, Foley recorded the guitars at home, and Dan was on hand for the bass and basic mixing. Then we tracked the drums and vocals in the studio and stayed there for the mix and master. It was a better way of working because we could be more pedantic with it and iron out all the creases.
MetalMike: What are the challenges for a young band like Starborn? I'm sure money is always in short supply but getting everyone's schedules to line up, finding the right studio and technical help and a label willing to get behind the product have to be significant hurdles as well. Considering all those things, what keeps you going and remaining dedicated to the band? It must be hard some days...
Bruce: Of course it's difficult, but we all just want to contribute to the scene, even in a small way, so that keeps us going. We're dedicated to making music, maybe even art, so we just squeeze in as many rehearsals, meetings, shows, and recording opportunities as possible. The more we crack on, the better things turn out. The competition is scary, though. Every time a band like Visigoth or Noble Beast rears its head, we get a little nervous, but at the end of the day, you've got to walk your own path. Persistence is the key.
MetalMike: What are the short-term goals for Starborn now that The Dreaming City is out?
Bruce: We'd like to get as many people behind us as possible, play some more shows, and start recording the full-length. Some merchandise is in the works and we're already making demos of the new songs, working out the kinks in the rehearsal room, and trying to hone our skills even further to make sure the progression continues.
MetalMike: Where would you like to play (give me both your "realistic" and your "blue sky" answers!)? If you could make the phone ring right now with an offer to open for any other band on a world tour, which one would it be?
Bruce: I've never really thought about it. Probably the Keep It True festival or something. As for the perfect band to open for? Can't go wrong with Iron Maiden, although I'd personally be happier playing with Atlantean Kodex or While Heaven Wept.
MetalMike: Artwork for both The Dreaming City and Born by the Wind was created by Luke Oram. Tell us how you came to work with him and if the goal is to have his work be a part of the Starborn image much the way as Derek Riggs' Eddie is such a huge part of the early Iron Maiden albums? On a side note, how does it work when a band uses an image created by an artist? Do you license if from him and does he get a fee or does he allow you to use it hoping it acts as an advertisement for his other work?
Bruce: The basic idea is to have Oram do all our artwork, to get some consistency going, much like the Riggs connection with Maiden. We all just love his work, and he has the ideal underground aspect to his art, like the pulp science fiction paperback originals from back in the 50s and 60s. In terms of the agreement, we just ask him to design a cover for us with ideas and specifications, he sends us a few sketches and we pick the one we'd like to proceed with. We pay him upfront and take it from there.
MetalMike: Now the big question; what is the ultimate goal for Starborn? Do you see this band as a career that you hope will be a full-time endeavor in the future or will it be just a part of what you and the other guys do? Obviously the music business has changed significantly and making a living in a band is much more difficult these days.
Bruce: I doubt we will ever make a living from Starborn. That's not really our intention. We put all the money we make from the band back into it for recording and merchandise purposes, so if we could just make an impact and leave a small underground legacy with a number of regarded albums under our belt, I'd be happy with that.
MetalMike: Well Bruce, congratulations again to you and rest of the Starborn guys on The Dreaming City. It is obvious you gents have big dreams and I wish you all the success in the world. Any last thoughts you want the readers to know about the band or the EP and where should fans go to learn more?
Bruce: I'd like to raise a glass to those who have sat and read this. I'd like to think you're about to hit up our Bandcamp page (starbornpower.bandcamp.com) to purchase the EP or demo right about now. I'd also like to think you're going to get in touch with Stormspell and buy the CD, as you need it in your collection, or maybe try and track down a stray copy of the limited Born By The Wind cassette, if you're a true metal warrior. Or maybe even just like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/starbornpower). Either way, thanks for listening!
|Other information about Starborn on this site|
|Review: Born by the Wind|
|Review: The Dreaming City|
Copyright © 1999-2017, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.