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Solstice | Interview


Solstice. A band that play the kind of metal metal was made for.

Heraldic, heroic doom that mixes glory with tragedy in songs that have lasted the decades.

For many, their ‘New Dark Age’ album still represents a high point of the doom genre whole.

Yet they’ve had trouble keeping a stable lineup over the years, and as such, they’ve only ever released a handful of albums in their twenty year plus history.

But it’s been a case of quality over quantity. Recently they’ve held it down with a new vocalist – Irishman Paul Kearns.

Both he and frontman Rich Walker have talked to Anthony McGee about the trials and tribuilations of keeping the band lit, and why they’re certainly in no hurry to rush out new music with their newfound stability.

He began by asking underground metal’s doom stalwart whether he was satisfied he’s found the right set of musicians to once again bring Solstice to life. Live photos by Simon Ward.

***

Rich: Truthfully, only time will tell. We’re now writing the next group of songs for the next record and whether we make it through to the next record with the same line up, only time will tell.

It’s been a long slog, but I’m immensely proud of the “Death’s Crown Is Victory” release. I would hope that we stick together for a few more records at least. As for bringing a vision to life, the only vision we have is blurred by the ingestion of Grumpy Johns Cider.

No, seriously though, speaking about the ideas for the next record, they are germinating, and being worked upon.

It would be senseless have the usual heavy metal outbursts of bravado, with all the chest beating and posturing such as “our next record is going to blow your balls off” type thing.

I think that’s great when you’re in your 20’s, and it’s your first band, or maybe you’re being told to do so by your crooked label in old London Town – then it probably means something of significance to yourself and your fans.

To me it’s fucking ridiculous. Nearly as ridiculous as posting every review your band receives on your facebook page because you have nothing else to say, and are basically attention seeking. Yawn… give it a fucking rest!

I recall reading an interview you did in the early-mid 2000s. I cannot remember the name of the ‘zine and don’t have it to hand, but you seemed excited about playing music under the Solstice banner with musicians that included Scott Waldrop (Twisted Tower Dire) and Tom Philips (While Heaven Wept). Does that ring a bell?

I remember being thrilled by this given the high regard I have for the music of TTD and WHW. Whatever happened to this incarnation of the band?

I honestly no recollection of that, though given the utter disaster that was our first try with Tom as a member of Solstice, it would have been very unlikely to have seen the light.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a lovely bloke, and an amazing guitarist, but he has the gift of the gab and can sell sand to the Arabs, no doubt he sold me that idea and made it sound feasible…ha ha.

Not a chance of it ever happening. Scott’s kind of busy though as well, so for his part, it wouldn’t have happened either what with TTD, and his other band and his family.

You were heavily involved with Isen Torr. That group fell apart due to trouble with the drummer and the tragic death of vocalist Tony Taylor.

The Isen Torr story was meant to have taken place over 3 10”s. Were the remaining songs completed? If so, will anything ever see the light of day?

For all intents and purposes I was Isen Torr, I composed the songs, lyrics, and came up with the artwork concepts and everything else.

I wrote a couple more songs, but you have to remember that both the first two Isen Torr songs were for the third Solstice full length (but the band collapsed under bizarre circumstances mid 2002 – mind you, so did Isen Torr), so I just took the songs and thought, “fuck it, I’m going to record these at any cost” and gathered some other musicians.

It was a pleasure to record with Perry Grayson of Destiny’s End and Falcon fame, such a great and nice guy, again an amazing and talented musician in my opinion, at that point as well Tony was at the peak of his vocal abilities.

Zulle the bassist was an incredible player as well, despite his huge size he had amazing bass lines with those sausage like fingers, which he added to the final songs.

The only thing that soured it was the drummer. But he got his just deserts in the end. As the old saying goes, vengeance is a dish best served cold.

But, I digress, part of the second lot of songs is actually on the new Solstice, on “I Am The Hunter”, and the mid-section break down on that is even older, and was the original opening riff to “Cimmerian Codex”.

There is actually no chance of releasing them though in their original context, as all that exists are some rough demo ideas with me and a drum machine. No point in looking back anymore.

Which is why although I have hours of riffs on tape, I very rarely go back to them, as they feel “of their time” and it would be doing ourselves a disservice.

Still, there is a tiny fraction of passages that will get used, dating back to 2002, eventually….maybe, or maybe not.

Over the years, The Miskatonic Foundation has been responsible for issuing some heavy metal and doom classics. For me, the Twisted Tower Dire, Ironsword, and Warning albums will remain among my favourites. The Metal Archives list the label and dead. Is this true? If so, what caused you to shut it down?

I ran out of money, I spent all of it on cider and glue and saucy lithographs of Carol Vorderman.

Looking back on your time running the label what releases count among your favourites? Is there anything more you wish you could have done?

There is plenty I wish I hadn’t done, let’s put it like that. Some bands proved they were undeserving career opportunists, and we all know that people like this usually prosper, but I know their lyrics are a fucking sham, and now I know, I am forewarned and will not be suckered again. Cheap fakers…? Without a doubt!

When you shit on your friends and those who’ve done right by you then expect no mercy. A pox upon their house. My favourite releases? Twisted Tower Dire, The Lamp Of Thoth, The River and Ironsword.

Into the Void Records was responsible for a limited cassette run of ‘Death’s Crown is Victory’ and the band’s own label, White Horse, looked after the newly available cd and record. Will all future Solstice releases be on White Horse? Will White Horse ever release work by other groups?

Again, only time will tell. We’ve been offered a number of deals ranging from interesting, to utter bollocks from 9 different labels which all happened as soon as the new stuff went online.

Ultimately though, no one tried hard enough to make a reasonable offer and everything was either weighted in the labels favour, or unrealistic in terms of royalty payments, or just wasn’t what we were looking for.

Although we are not doing this for money, we are not a charity and we don’t intend to line the pockets of someone else through our music. So we took the decision and borrowed some money from a close friend to start a new label of our own, “White Horse”.

This proved to be the right move, as with two pressings of the vinyl selling out, and many hundreds of download sales, for a tiny band like ourselves the time and money invested has been returned giving us a small amount of financial stability and enabled us to pay for our locker/rehearsal room for the next year, amp repairs, some merchandise (A few hundred shirts and a couple of hundred patches), our next studio session (If we don’t spend it all beforehand) and some more new gear (Amp heads and drum kit) when we find what we are looking for.

As opposed to say a pitiful amount we could have expected from a label….oh yes indeed. Now who’s fucking laughing? Could we have done that on the 1000 Euros royalty we were being offered? I think not my friend!

Do the maths yourselves…so yeah, the next one will come via WHITE HORSE as well, unless someone steps up to the plate and makes us a serious offer that makes it worthwhile financially.

WHITE HORSE, the label, will not be releasing anything by other groups, they can do it themselves because we did, there is fuck all stopping them except their own reticence.

The EP was initially available for download via the Solstice Bandcamp. In fact, the MP3s I bought have been keeping me company and will continue to do so until the cd arrives at my door.

I was surprised to see new Solstice material available in this fashion. What prompted the group to make digital copies available? Is it a case of pragmatism or just moving with the times?

We sat down and thought the best way to spread the word about this, was to make it available online at a cheap price and promote ourselves, by ourselves.

We knew that not one magazine of the glossy variety would give us the time of day without the purchase of thousands of pounds of ad space, so we circumnavigated the whole rotten festering heap of self-serving parasites and their yes-men, and we reaped the benefits, not they.

There have been a lot of hungry Solstice fans waiting for new material and the tracks on the new EP have been very well received. How long will we the greedy have to wait for an album’s worth of material?< ?p>

Right now, we have honestly no plans to release a recording of anything longer than 35-40 minutes ever again.

I’m tired, we’re all tired, of ill thought out albums from all and sundry espousing their tedious philosophies on all matters theological or esoteric, of plainly delusional idiots and their ever wilder press releases released by their management who reside in the same house as them and repeated ad-nauseam on facebook every ten cunting minutes, especially I’m tired of all these buffoons who think that we HAVE to release a recording of 65 minutes plus to be taken seriously.

For us, it’s important now to live by the motto of “Quality, not quantity”. I’d rather have two/three songs I’m proud of to add to our live set, than 7-8 songs where 6 of them are purely filler.

Also, it was a conscious effort to remove ourselves from the “end of year lists” and just ignore all the stupidity where people and bands think they’ve “made it” if their album is voted number 7 in the year’s top 100 on www.total-fucking-gobshites.com.

Seriously, is this what bands aspirations are now? To record 65 minutes of mediocre music for five minutes worth of acclaim on facebook?

I think though, that ultimately it will work in our favour, as we strive to remove ourselves from that mentality and the shackles it places on you artistically, although I’m not one to really to describe our music as “art”, as I find that a little pretentious (I am after all, according to one online cock stroker, an “Uneducated thug”).

But I would like each record from hereon to feel “right” in terms of length and content and what each one has to say on our behalf. And that cannot be achieved if we are working towards a “marketable product” rather than a piece of work we are proud of.

This new set of lyrics is verbose in the typical Solstice fashion. To me, there is a sense of anti-church and possibly anti-monarchy feeling in them. Is this fair? Or have I missed something?

I think what people get from the lyrics, is entirely up to them and open to individual interpretation – which may seem like an easy thing to say, and a cop out, but I would rather folk think for themselves and reach their own conclusion than me filling their heads full of wild ideas.

But conceptually they’ve taken a much more realistic approach and darker outlook. Is that middle age? No, definitely not, but we do realise that one small step wrong the terrible precipice that we teeter on the edge of as a species could mean the difference between extinction and enlightenment.

I think with Paul taking on lyric writing as well he earns his keep so to speak, and he can realise my theories and ideas in lyric form in a much more poetic way that I can.

For the future I’ll probably write just partial passages and leave the rest to him. Makes sense, after all he has to sing them, not me!!

Musically, this set of songs bears closer resemblance to ‘New Dark Age’ than ‘Lamentations’. Will that be the template for future work or can you imagine writing songs akin to ‘These Forever Bleak Paths’ or ‘Wintermoon Rapture’ again?

I think for the past 18 years we’ve followed our own path. Alan Averill once described us as too left field for the “True doom” crowd, the “Black metal” crowd or the “True metal” crowd.

Whether that’s true, I don’t know. I know though that I don’t think anyone has quite the same ideas or style as us (Or a few are trying), but on the other hand I would be a total cock if I described us as “Original” – we just have our own take on things, and are not afraid to admit our inspirations remain the same as they were 20 years ago – Bathory, Frost, Maiden, old Manowar, and Candlemass…and don’t forget the English folk music. And Discharge. And cider. And Glue sniffing. and Razzle magazine.

Surely it’s closer to NDA, than “Lamentations”, but I’d like to think that it’s better than either in delivery and conviction.

NDA was rushed, and we hadn’t quite hit our stride at the time we recorded it (Or should I say we weren’t as tight as we should have been because of the pressure Misanthropy placed upon us to go into a studio before we were ready).

And I think it’s very unlikely that we’d record anything that sounded quite like that first album ever again, because time marches on, and so do we.

For the people who love that album (“Lamentations”), well there are many, many, more bands in that vein doing the rounds right now, and some are pretty fucking good.

So, one LESS band playing that style of doom metal is no loss.

To my mind, although the aesthetic and tone of Solstice is staunchly English, the band has always had strong ties with Ireland. This feeling is cemented by having Paul Kearns on the mic and your current relationship with ITV records. Would you care to expand on this?

Well, the first Irish bands we got to know and gig with were Primordial and Waylander, and that’s now almost 20 years ago, and we still have I would like to think a good relationship with both bands (Despite The Cardinal being an insufferable buffoon sometimes), we’ve also got to know Big Frankie Brennan and the lads from Mourning Beloveth, Terminus, Old Season, we knew Scobes from when he tossed it off at Misanthropy back in the olden days, and Darragh reissued “Halcyon” as one of the earliest releases on Invictus, so yeah, we’re pretty closely tied to the Irish scene, we have no problem with that at all.

I think Pat Clancy though is the king of the Irish metal scene, and everyone should send him buckfast and records – total star!!

I think a lot of the people we got to know at first came from the same working class background as myself, Chaz, Rick and Jerry, and were not middle class career opportunist fakes, they also liked a good booze up the same as we did.

In that respect as well, we found it easier to get on with bands like Primordial and Waylander than the London stoner rock crowd who were nought but rich hippies in our eyes.

Most of us know you as a trenchant supporter of the old, the arcane, and the underground forms of true heavy metal. Are there any bands around right now that you care for?

I like Terminus from Belfast, I think they have a bright future – James Beattie is one of my favourite singers right now partly because I love accented vocalists, and he doesn’t hide that Belfast accent.

In England, I think Eliminator, Deceptor and Dark Forest are great, and Monolith Cult. Outside of that I don’t really know many other bands as I mainly listen to 80’s metal and punk – the only other bands I could recommend are Atlantean Kodex, Ravensire, Procession and Wrathblade from the top of my head.

I’m actually pretty narrow minded in my listening habits, and these days it’s usually just DISCHARGE, or BLACK SABBATH, MASTER/WAR CRY, SEX PISTOLS, VENOM or ADAM & THE ANTS (1st two LPs only).

I had a period of being a NWOBHM fanatic, I still love Apocalypse, Radium, Reincarnate or Hell…but equally I might recommend Icons Of Filth, GBH, English Dogs, Chaos UK, Ad-Nauseam or Disorder to someone.

Music is still fun, but I have a real connection to the 80’s stuff, as that’s when I was a teenager and started going to gigs and buying records.

No one can take away the fact that I was there in the very early 80’s (We’re talking 1981) going to gigs, buying records and generally making a nuisance of myself.

Before a lot of these people who keep going on about were, still I wasn’t in my first band until 1983 though (and a copy of our 1984 demo recently sold for £43 on ebay, which is stupid as its total and utter shite!).

Those teenage years were incredible, I have some amazing memories of seeing bands from both the Punk and metal scenes, buying records like The Exploited’s “Troops of Tomorrow” or Metallica’s “Kill ‘em All” when they were originally released…and drinking cheap beer, putting on gigs, publishing my own zine; all those KILLER things you’re meant to do when you’re a teenager and love music.

Not just buying shitty glossy magazines staffed by writers who are paid to do as they are told in return for some free promo CD’s and buying into every fad going.

One thing is for sure, I still think that DISCHARGE is the greatest band I’ve ever seen live, ever heard on record and I’m completely fanatical about them, as well the other members of the band know.

It’s an obsession that’s lasted over 33 years now. I laugh when I see metal bassists trying to look technical because I’ve stood and watched Rainy, the bassist of Discharge run rings around them in techno prowess, speed and power.

No one plays like him, the man is a force of nature…and as for the lead playing of Bones…well we all know that all those big four Thrash bands recognise him as the master…and they all owe DISCHARGE big time.

I’ve heard nothing but good reports about the recent gig in Dublin. How did you feel about it?

Well, I enjoyed it. That’s all I can say, I would have like to have got drunk afterwards, but you can’t have everything. I thought after we hit our stride halfway through the first song we played one of our best sets yet, and I can really start to feel the band begin to gel musically at last, which is a welcome relief.

***

So now to that new vocalist – Paul Kearns.

Many readers will remember his powerful pipes from the much respected Irish band Arcane Sun, the dark metal band from the late 90’s who were somewhat ahead of their time.

Now living in Norway, he joined Solstice a while back and has now firmly found his place within the band.

Prior to DCIV, the last I heard from you was the unreleased 2nd Arcane Sun album. Have you featured on anything else since then? Why did it take you so long to get back on the saddle?

I did a couple of things, nothing that was really pushed or any of that ambitious stuff.

After Arcane Sun wound down and the terribly disappointing way that it fizzled out, I completely lost the desire or the energy to go through that whole process of starting a new band with all the hassles that brings and definitely didn’t have the enthusiasm of building it up in addition to all the other slog.

Luckily there were a couple of friends who had music they’d recorded that needed someone to add vocals where I was lucky enough they asked me.

One was with Cathal Rodgers and that was The Pale Fall which was quite a dark and somber take on what I suppose was a progressive rock foundation.

And then another thing with a friend in Oslo. That went by the name of Pieta that was probably best described as moody pop music…most definitely inspired by the Pop music’s golden age of the 70’s and 80’s.

The reason it took so long for me to become active again was simply ‘cos I had no interest in the normal band thing for a long time.

Actually that hadn’t changed when I saw Solstice were looking for a vocalist, not especially. There were a few things a bit different about the Solstice situation though.

Firstly, they were established both as an active band and as a name so all of that initial ground work that just seemed like to much ‘work’ wasn’t needed.

Plus as well as always being into their music, I liked the band aesthetic too and that was really important…for me anyway. I know some folk don’t care but it’s absolutely vital as far as I am concerned.

Is it safe to assume you were already a fan of Solstice before getting involved?

I was, yes. I discovered them shortly before “Lamentations” was released. I always thought their more traditional approach to the whole Doom thing that swept the UK in the early/mid 90’s,with clean vocals, showed they were more concerned with music and less concerned with fitting into a scene.

Plus they sat comfortably with the other bands on Candlelight and then Misanthropy Records despite being neither extreme nor avant-garde as most of their label mates on either would have been.

Again this was something that appealed to me seeing as I have never been much into traditional Metal and whereas most would look to Maiden or Priest as being their fanatical starting points in the Heavy Metal journey, I was never into those bands and my equivalents were probably Morbid Angel and Paradise Lost.

Simon Matravers and Moz Ingram are the vocalists that most people associate with the band.

Although different in tone and approach, both lent Solstice a unique energy. As a fan, do you have a preference? And as a musician, do you feel pressure to live up to their legacy?

Simon would absolutely be my favourite. His vocals on “Halcyon” are fucking phenomenal. I’ve always loved them. Moz did a brilliant job on “New Dark Age” but the vocals on “Halcyon”? Fuck.

I definitely don’t feel pressure to live up to their legacy, not at all. That’s not cockiness or lack of respect by the way, I just don’t generally think in those terms. Nor would I consider myself a musician, not at all. I’m a singer, true…but anyone can sing….some better than others maybe.

I can sort of understand how asking if I felt pressure to live up to Simon or Moz’s legacies could be an obvious question to ask and how some people would feel that pressure.

I think a lot of people involved in bands can be very sensitive regarding both the band itself and their own role within the band when it comes to people’s opinions and the like.

I think the biggest factor was the fact that even though it was an established and known band (in relative terms) I felt that Solstice’s ‘legacy’ to use that term wasn’t built around a singer as much as a band of that ilk would normally be.

Of course the immediate assumption folk might come to is that I refer to the vast amount of members that have passed through the ranks…singers included but I would say it’s more that the band is seen as the ship that Walker steers.

He’s always been the personality and face of the band. Mightn’t be that everyone appreciates it…ha….but they’ll acknowledge it either way, most likely.

Anyway, it made my joining all that less daunting and even felt to a degree that it almost slipped under the radar for the most part.

How do you feel about your work on the new EP? I’ve read some criticisms of your singing on ‘I Am the Hunter’? Does that bother you at all?

No. No. Not at all. What kind of vanity would it be to lap up the flattery of how ever many good reviews only to then get offended by a bad one?

Whether good or bad, these are all opinions…we all have opinions and are supposedly allowed to have and voice them. I don’t like everything I hear so expecting everyone to like something I sing on would be kinda pathetic.

What does bother me is that, so far, it’s been the only review to have made mention of it and try as I might I still can’t spot the vocal bit that Ciaran said was ‘sharp’…nor can the others. Why is that? So that does bother me a bit.

As far as how I feel about my performance in general on “Death’s Crown….”? I feel the same now as I did when it was done – very pleased overall, considering everything….maybe a seven out of ten if I had to put it that way.

It’s certainly made me determined to make strides next time, even though it was a pretty quick affair, my laying down vocals, I definitely learned a few things.

Will you be looking to contribute lyrics to future recordings or is that solely Rich’s domain?

Actually I contributed on “Death’s Crown….” the song itself, Rich had the chorus and the first six or seven lines written, asked me to have a bash at completing it myself…which I did…he liked it and so I finished the song’s words.

I’ve written words to two more songs that we’ll start working on musically soon. “Behold, A Man Of Straw” and “White Horse Hill”.

He had both titles but nothing more other than the idea. It’s ideal actually because as I am musically without a grain of talent, words have always been very close to my heart.

Even the most simple of lines can express something very complex and even beautiful so if I can make even the slightest contribution creatively I am very happy.

Funnily enough, the one area I have always struggled with was coming up with titles, so being asked to write something based on a title he has already is perfect so far.

In the past, Solstice have covered Maiden, Manowar, Trespass, and Discharge, to name but a few. Should the opportunity arise are there any groups or songs you’d like to pay similar tribute to?

Personally, I would love to cover Autopsy’s “Disembowel” with clean vocals. For years that song has struck me as one that is almost begging to have a vocal melody over it.

Doesn’t hurt either that “Severed Survival” itself is a masterpiece. I would also love to do something from the first Stone Roses album – it’s a milestone album in itself and a song like “I Am The Resurrection” could be very well tailored for us I reckon.

We have actually been talking about doing a new cover and have the particular song chosen.

I’ll say nothing now in case it ends up never going past the discussion stage. It’s an interesting choice though…well, I think it is. I never would have guessed we’d cover something from this lot!

You are a resident of Oslo. How difficult is it to organize gigs, rehearsals etc?

My usual answer when I’m asked about this is that it’s generally pretty good…and it is. Because we rehearse at weekends, getting a flight on a Saturday morning is usually very expensive so I will ideally try and fly to Dublin late on Thursday or early on Friday then fly to the Kingdom Of Yorkshire or as close as possible on Saturday.

It’s usually reasonable enough and the extra day or so is fine ‘cos I hang in Dublin.

The only thing that makes it tricky now is that if I am flying back on Sunday, it has to be from Manchester or Liverpool and if there are football games in either that weekend I’m likely fucked cos Norwegians travel in their droves for that stuff.

As far as gigs are concerned, that’s not a problem really. Just means that I travel separately but then so does James ‘cos he lives in Essex.

It’s actually our own internal logistics that tend to be the most disagreeable.

I’m in a different galaxy almost, James has to work some weekends, Izak has a few active bands who also rehearse, Andy’s missus is in Helsinki and he travels over often enough and then Rich has three kids.

When we last spoke in person, you were on a huge Kent kick. Have you introduced your band-mates to any of your more idiosyncratic musical choices?

Kent, what a band they were up until the “Du & Jag Døden”, just fucking amazing. “Isloa” and “Vapen & Ammunition” are dark pop classics but “Du & Jag….” is my favourite.

I truly believe that “Mannen I den Vita Hatten” is one of the greatest songs of the last fifteen years. Unfortunately they’ve gone off the boil these last years.

But no, I’ve made no effort to introduce these bands to any of the others….it’s safe to say that there would be less than zero interest.

I mentioned something one day about Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack for “Into The Wild” and how good it is and I think they thought I was joking!!

Anthony McGee ::: 07/04/14
With thanks to Simon Ward for live photos


6 Comments
  1. Great read! Nice one.

  2. nice…good to see Rich had more of a say then Kearns bro..
    🙂

  3. Great interview. Stone Roses…great to see them mentioned in a Solstice interview. Quality knows no bounds. I think the way Solstice do their business also has to be hugely admired in this day and age. Their music is some of the only music I’ve paid for in recent years and yet some of the most listened to..go figure.

  4. King Hostile Says:

    Good gig in the Pint. New stuff sounds great on record!

    2nd track is awesome….

    Now…. cans 🙂

  5. Yeah, Pedro, I was surprised by the Stone Roses reference. I can’t say I’m a huge fan, but I’ve been trying to imagine that particular track done in the Solstice style. Any other covers they’ve turned their hand to have been entirely made their own. It’d be interesting, to say the least.

    I’m very curious about the mystery cover that has been planned for the future.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I think like many bands the Stone Roses fit a profile…the mod thing, they were caught up in the Oasis even dance music thing but underneath everything the guitar playing is pure Led Zeppelin. Great guitars catchy as fuck, a bit like Solstice really 🙂

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