Brighton has been steadily making a name for itself as a hub for musicians. Stark are the latest trio to break out from the seaside with a fusion of alternative rock and blues that, while retaining a lot of classical elements, sounds forward facing and technical without descending into the navel gazey fret and drum workout that can alienate audiences.
By all accounts, Stark are a band who put as much work into their live performances as they do on their records, cutting their teeth on the Brighton live circuit while building and polishing what has become their signature sound.
We sat down with them for a chat to see what they're about.
So, you guys met whilst at university in Brighton, what's the music scene like down there?
If I was to use one word to describe it, it would eclectic. Whatever you're into, you can guarantee there'll be about the three different bands playing it that night. Obviously this was a brilliant place for us to absorb new influences, make contacts, and get a load of gigging experience under our belts - which is exactly what we did!
What was it like going to university in an exclusively musical environment?
We'd all come from bands playing in smaller towns where all the members had different priorities and day jobs etc. It was so refreshing to meet rooms full of people that wanted to do it professionally, and it would always be their number one priority. I think this is why so many bands form in Brighton - when everyone's committed to the same goal it makes everything easier.
To anyone thinking of going to study music at university, I'd say go for it, but personally I learned much more from the things I got involved with outside of the classroom. You really only get out what you put in!
You're predominantly an alternative blues/rock band but your previous Eps also have a strong folk sound about them. What made you move towards the heavier sound you hone now?
When we first formed, in order to get as much experience as quickly as possible we played loads of open mics, and so the acoustic, folkier sound was more appropriate (and required less drum kit to be carried around). As we started playing bigger venues, we found we wanted to create a bigger, harder hitting sound, so I put a humbucker pickup in my resonator and got myself an overdrive pedal!
Also, it was part of the natural development of the sound of the band - we were all listening to a lot of heavier music, and the songs we were writing really started to reflect that. Eventually it seemed silly to keep pretending we were a folk band!
What would you say you bring to the table in terms of modern day blues rock?
Hopefully, a unique sound and a fresh range of influences. It's also important to us to write catchy songs with good, meaningful lyrics, and not rely on virtuosity to hider poor arrangements. In that sense I guess you could say our approach is almost a bit pop! (Sorry hipsters).
You list quite an eclectic mix of influences from early blues artists such as Robert Johnson to heavy rock rappers like Rage Against the Machine - talk us through some of these comparisons:
A huge part of my early musical experience was in blues music - as I kept investigating further and further back in time, I found I liked it more and more! This ended up with me falling in love with artists such as Son House, Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The emotional honesty with which they sing and play is something we always try to draw from.
With RATM, although our music doesn't include any rapping (yet!) we love their ethos, especially towards recording their albums as a live band. We really believe that recording live, just like bands used to do in the good ole' days, is the only true way to bottle the magic. Oh, and just like RATM we also enjoy a nice heavy riff!
Do you all share the same musical taste or are there differences in opinion?
We all come from completely different musical backgrounds, with Josh growing up playing motown, Evan being a massive proghead and myself (Jamie) influenced by blues music. This mix of influences is our main strength in many ways - hopefully, whatever you think of our music, you'll agree it's never boring!
Talk us through your latest single 'Tunnel Vision' and the video:
This song went through many incarnations and rough drafts before we got in the studio with producer and engineer Gez Walton at Stronghold Studios. He really helped us get together an arrangement we were happy with, and then it was just a case of recording it! As mentioned before, we decided to play the track live as a band to capture the energy, and then overdubbed the vocals, harmonies and slide guitar.
The video is just different shots of our time recording in the studio. Nothing too fancy!
Lyrically the song is based around the idea that modern society encourages us to think of trivial, meaningless decisions as being important and somehow representing our personality, when in fact these are different tunnels we are funnelled down like rats in a maze. In a way, much of the freedom we take for granted is an illusion.
What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
Lots of gigs, songwriting, practising and hopefully scraping together the money to record our debut or a new EP!
You've already had the chance to support some big names in the blues industry such as Chantel McGregor and Grainne Duffy. What was it like to perform with these artists?
Obviously, it was a huge inspiration to see them live with their incredible bands, and also a great chance to piggyback on their audience, and to play at legendary venues like Dingwalls and The 100 Club. I think in a way it also made us realise how our approach is different to many blues bands in some ways, and to consider how we can emphasise our differences and play to our strengths in the future.
As an independent band, what have been your biggest obstacles so far?
Honestly, it sounds cynical but just finding the money to record has been a real challenge for us. We have a full album's worth of material we're really proud of ready to go, but finding the money to record it to a quality that we know we'll be happy with is very difficult for an unsigned band.
The flipside of this however, is that when we do get to record we have complete creative freedom, so it's swings and roundabouts I guess!
What are the plans for Stark in the long term?
We'd love to find a good Manager and/or booking agent who could help us play further afield, in Europe etc. Apart from that, we're going to keep doing what we're doing - developing our sound, writing new material, and playing everywhere that'll have us!
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