Solstice have been out of hibernation for a few years now.
They’ve an overhauled lineup bolstered by former members of the excellent and eccentric The Lamp of Thoth and Ireland’s own enigmatic Arcane Sun.
While he may refute this claim – indeed he does refute it in this very interview- Solstice remains Rich Walker’s baby.
His was the vision that gave us two classics of English doom metal, namely ‘Lamentations’ from 1994 and ‘New Dark Age’ from 1998.
Yet he’s now readjusted its focus and reimagined what Solstice stands for twenty six years into its existence.
Not only is Mr. Walker possessed of a sharp ear for a powerful riff or three, he also has a knack for surrounding himself with the right musicians – ones who augment his vision with their own unique character.
As this new lineup gear up to recording the first Solstice album since ‘New Dark Age’ all those years (night decades) ago, Andy Cunningham caught up with Rich and Paul Kearns to find out about their penchant for demos and EPs and to suss out where Solstice stand in the year 2016.
Prepare to be entertained.
First off, tell us about this limited new 12″ that you have recently released. It obviously looks stunning; it’s DIY but finished to the highest possible standard.
It’s the third or fourth demo/EP that you have released in recent years. There are only one hundred copies pressed so who is it for and what is its purpose?
Rich: ‘Well, after we finished the recording it became apparent that the whole session far surpassed my expectations, I was purely expecting a rough quick demo for ourselves and some close friends to listen to what we had slowly been working on.
So you can imagine my surprise at the end result, and bearing in mind that our songs gradually mutate and evolve over time, it seemed stupid not to make it available for general consumption because the next (and final time) we record them will be for the finished record.
The difference in the next recording will be that the performance will be better I hope, and some new tweaks to the arrangements. I’m a fucking sucker for changing things at the last minute, I simply can’t help it. I always have this voice in my head saying “What if we tried this..?”
It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion for me that ‘White Horse Hill’ the album will define what we are about and be the definitive indication of where we are heading musically.
There’s only so far you can go with the “Candlemass” sound or the “Saint Vitus” sound or any other band that nearly every other band in the “doom scene” model themselves on.
I said it years ago, and I’ll say it again. For the record (and for the 45th time), I do not consider us a “doom metal” band anymore. Just a heavy metal band, with our own take on things and If that upsets or alienates people I am not concerned.
As for the purpose of the record, it was purely a gift for friends and people who show us support. It cost a lot of money to make, but the end result was something pure in intention.
It also annoyed a few collectors who found their offers of money could not buy them everything. I’m laughing now, but some guy in Germany, a well-known collector from the South offered me 600 Euros for one. Ha ha, no way, he hasn’t mailed me back since I turned his offer down.
This is just the kind of crap that makes me cringe. To the people who wanted one but were not so lucky, I’m deeply sorry, but my pockets are not that deep. What matters are the songs, not the format.
Download them for a mere £1 on our bandcamp page. Go on… Otherwise, wait because a tape version is on its way next via Scobes at Sentinel, and then I will possibly press 100 more to sell at gigs.
The new songs from the current lineup seem to carry on in some ways from the older recordings yet have a different overall feel.
For instance, the tones are less cataclysmic and dense that on ‘New Dark Age’, perhaps a little lees steel and a little more fire in the mix.
Also, the biggest change is having Paul Kearns in as vocalist now. He sounds more and more confident with each release and the band gels into an even tighter unit as the years pass.
Tell us a bit about how the new lineup came into being and what your intentions are with what could be considered Solstice Mk. 2 (if not 3 or 4 or…).
Paul: I’ll not go through the whole ‘lonely hearts find love’ recount that has bored more people than is ethically sound countless times already. First there was Andy pre-2011. Then there was me in 2011. Of course I am assuming that anyone still reading at this point is more than aware that Rich Walker is omnipresent.
The previous drummer before James wasn’t very suited, I was going to say he was too handsome but us recruiting Izak has shown we can function with a beautiful man in the ranks.
Better to say that he probably thought Candlemass was a town where an EU treaty was signed. He was released back into the wild and we asked James to step aboard.
We knew him from drumming in Deceptor, and I had met him when he booked us to support Manilla Road in London. He was a revelation – great drummer, a die-hard and on a personal level he is a very calming influence.
In late 2012 we were without a bass player and Izak, whom Rich and Andrew had known from way, way back (he was one of the founders and driving forces in Chorus Of Ruin) agreed to step in for Hammer Of Doom….we never let him leave.
As for our intentions? Well… I would think it’ll be business as usual – endless internet bickering, kicking folk outta the band, then smearing their name amongst our ever dwindling band of devotees and recording umpteen pre-production demos in lieu of an actual album’.
Rich: ‘I’m not sure what you mean by “Less steel and more fire in the mix”. Certainly an attempt has been made to keep it as natural as possible. The main reasons I push everyone into demoing stuff is for the recording techniques and practice. I am trying to remove as much uncertainty from the overall equation as possible when we finally record for the album.
As we will remain our own masters and not sign the rights to our recordings away to anyone for a few shekels and a cover feature in magazine “X” we pay our own bills and put the work in. Guitars need to be clear and have real tone in order for the listener to appreciate the subtleties of what we are trying to do.
You can’t achieve that with the typical molten lava sound used by everyone else – straight Marshall all the way, I love that growl!!
Of course, Paul complains bitterly. But, that’s the way it goes. I know it annoys him the way I work but again I want everything to sound as I hear it in my head, or as I imagine it should. And to me we have a good few months of weekly rehearsal left to get as tight as it needs to be, and to let the songs find true life of their own. We also need to wrap up the writing, which is coming along nicely.
We had to put things on hold for nearly eighteen months as I was caring for my father who was terminally ill. During that time, I just couldn’t really get my head around anything, and progress was slow, but in the year that passed since his death, things are moving again and I’m back into picking my guitar up every day and working on songs slowly, but surely at my own glacial pace.
As for less “cataclysmic”, well it’s nearly twenty years since ‘New Dark Age’ was written. In that time, I just found that I wanted, or had adopted certain motifs and styles in my writing.
The surplus fat of earlier compositions I just feel does not need to be there anymore and naturally after twenty years things change, and you digest a lot more music than you had before and learn and perfect your own style of writing.
Also Paul is a much different vocalist, he has a unique tone which I feel sets us apart not only from all the utterly shit vocals by bog-standard Euro power metal bands, or bad Ozzy clones, or worse still, Billy Bollocks from Mansfield affecting an American accent and pretending to be Wino whilst sporting a ridiculous beard and talking a lot about “the riff” and “weed”.
For me the proof in what we were doing was right, was when before Rick had been asked to rejoin, he still said he thought the songs we were writing now were leagues ahead of the ‘New Dark Age’ material, and that’s a mighty compliment!
We are definitely trying to move away from the “chug” style, I can feel that, using it sparingly to beef things up during lead breaks or bridges, and incorporate a “bigger” sound without sounding cliched. Still plenty of twin guitar harmonies, still plenty of great sing-along chorus parts.
As for the new line up, well our latest addition is our previous drummer from ‘New Dark Age’, Mr Rick Budby, who is back behind the kit.
Basically after four years, James had to step down and go into the reserve team with Andreas (our second bassist) which means not only do we now have a solid line up that is rehearsing weekly rather than every six weeks, we have two amazing musicians in reserve who we all get on with, know the songs and can step in if something comes up.
How does this work? Well as you get older you get more relaxed about the whole thing and love making music with different people and seeing what chemistry is there between you all. I’m really pleased that James will still work with us if needed, friendship is very important’.
In a recent excellent interview for Bardo Methodology Paul maintained that Solstice is still 100% Rich’s baby, which I’m sure will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the band.
But I believe Paul has contributed lyrics and I’m guessing from listening to the final results that the vocal melodies are his as well.
They have his own style stamped all over them. How much control of the final songs have you ceded to the other members?
Has Andy brought in riffs and do the band hash out structures together or are they all put together by Rich?
Rich: ‘Ah, no, I always dispute this whenever the thick bastard brings it up, and carefully explain to him that he’s writing all the lyrics now.
I only offer a title, a vague concept, and he does the rest. As for the vocal melodies, he works hard on them and I have yet to be disappointed.
It kind of brings me around to the previous question again with the leaning off in another direction to ‘New Dark Age’ that has its roots in that sound but is clearly a continuation of what went before.
When you write for a vocalist like Paul, and make no mistake I am writing music for him to sing, I try to think carefully how his vocals will sit on top of the riff and if it will bring out another great performance from him. His vocal melodies are nothing short of magical, combine that with his voice and for me it’s a recipe for musical satisfaction.
Still, ultimately we make music for ourselves and no-one else, the fact that other people like it is a bonus.
He certainly is not a standard metal vocalist, I personally think of him along with James Beattie of Terminus as the best Irish vocalist as both have great tones, I love James’ accent (I fucking love accents full stop. I hate homogenized vocal deliveries).
Paul’s deep and lush delivery sets him apart from other vocalists who are typical of the genre. He also has a huge manly mane.
Song writing is split into the same as always, I write passages, jam with full band, add guitar melodies, Andy writes main lead break, we argue over structure, change it, send a tape to Paul, Paul starts to add vocals, structure gets changed, Paul emails me and calls me a cunt, go back to rehearsal room, Andy calls me a cunt for changing something again, Izak looks perplexed and sticks the kettle on whilst muttering, jam again, send it back to Paul, and eventually we get there with a rough first draft. After that all the tweaks get made in subsequent rehearsals.
Let me just say, it takes FIVE people to make the songs work, not one individual. So fucking what if I write the riffs, Andy is still the better guitar player. It never really bothered me at all and nor do I see the need to draw attention to myself and shout out “I wrote this”.
Paul: ‘I wrote the words for the three songs although “To Sol A Thane” and “White Horse Hill” were titles Rich had and he asked me to take care of the words for them. “For All Days… And For None” is the one song where I came up with the title, words and melodies… Almost like an actual vocalist.
The vocal melodies in the three songs are my fault, albeit under strict instruction where to have and not have vocals.
That makes perfect sense though – Richard is quite forensic in putting the songs together and it would make little sense to entirely devalue the music by having me warble over each and every riff. So I basically have free reign in all ways except for those riffs which are to be left without vocals over them.
It’s worth mentioning that “I Am The Hunter” is an exception. It was more or less finished when I joined the band – words, music, vocal melodies and all. In all honesty, I never fully clicked in with the song.
Being the first song I did with the band, first new song, the itch and excitement that you would expect to go with that are what really carried it for me but as far as feeling entirely comfortable with it, I didn’t really get that. Also I think all the songs we have done since are far superior’.
There is a new vibe, a unified theme, running through the artwork of all the past few EPs. It works well, has a folkish vibe that fits with the medieval melodies that have threaded throughout all of the band’s work from the beginning.
Could the artwork be viewed in some ways as a demo run, as much as the recordings, for the final album? Can you give us some background on the various images and how they tie in thematically with the songs?
Rich: ‘I think that I would like people to draw their own conclusions and make the connection between artwork and lyrics themselves. I don’t think that I would like to go too deeply into it at all.
The initial lyrical concepts allude to the written lyrics that Paul writes and sings (or the other way round) but the lyrics are done in such a way that they approach the subject matter from a different angle. Or maybe Paul just thinks “Fuck that” and does the exact opposite of what I ask him to.
The unifying theme is there, it’s what we are now. I don’t like bands that just are lazy and pick a photograph or piece of renaissance art and think “fuck it, that will do”.
It’s just fucking slovenly. Using a professional artist or creating a design of your own should be of utmost importance for all bands when considering releasing something into the public domain.
But, I digress. People just need to draw their own conclusions and stop being so fucking lazy with lyric videos and blow by blow accounts of every line of a song’s “deep and meaningful” concept by the “mastermind” that created it. Yawn!! Think for yourselves….
The artwork itself featuring the Green Man and the corpses will feature as the front and main artwork, there is a second piece in production right now for the inner, and if we’re feeling that way out we may ask Chris Smith to create a third piece.
From my own point of view, I think I love his artwork more than anyone else’s, it’s just otherworldly. It has that style I loved from the 70’ and 80’s without being faux-retro.
And yes Andrew, we’re recording a full album, six tracks, 40 minutes plus long. A proper album, not a collection of half-baked crap to fill a CD and maximize profits for a shady label.
A real album fits onto a vinyl LP perfectly. Don’t let anyone tell you anything else, otherwise it’s a fucking swindle. Got that? Right on!’
The songs from the ‘Death’s Crown is Victory’ EP won’t be re-recorded for the album but every other song that has been released since will reappear. Why have you chosen to leave those songs out?
Are you happy that you have captured the definitive versions of those songs or did you just never consider them as album songs?
I think that the sound you have captured since that recording has been consistent but can we expect something else from the finished album?
Rich: ‘Well, the songs on ‘Death’s Crown is Victory’ are a snapshot in time; I don’t think we were properly settled as a band and I don’t think we were confident in writing. Things started to change with ‘Death’s Crown is Victory’, the song, and I thought that it made ‘I Am The Hunter’ look pretty tame.
‘I Am The Hunter’ took too long to finish, mainly through dealing with various dickheads in and out of the lineup, and some of the riffs were nearly fifteen years old.
For example the mid-section breakdown is the original version of the intro of ‘Cimmerian Codex’ (from ‘New Dark Age’- AC) – it also followed a style that might have been relevant in 2001 for us had we followed up ‘New Dark Age’ with the songs we had after, but Rick and I chose to walk away from the band rather continue dealing with the intolerable behavior of one other member, something that on occasion rears its ugly head with a lot of bands.
So, basically we got settled and things began to happen properly, as I said before writing songs for Paul to sing is a lot more rewarding.
I think with the full “White Horse Hill” album, it will present a bigger picture and work as a whole, and although some of that picture has already been revealed, you would have to hear it all, read the lyrics and look at the artwork to truly begin to appreciate the time and effort that we as a band have put in.
I want it to stand the test of time and be something people will want to listen to years later, not just a footnote in the annals of the bands history’.
Paul: ‘I don’t know what should be expected from an album when we finally do it. In reality you probably don’t have to imagine anything too radical, if you’re familiar with the band then you’ve an idea. “For All Days…” is different of course but nobody expects that to become the norm.
‘Death’s Crown…’ was an official release so those songs won’t be re-recorded. I can understand that folk are a bit confused as to what’s a demo or not with us acting like Captain Beefheart making “Trout Mask Replica”. Consider it like this: ‘Death’s Crown….’ is in the vault. Anything afterwards, meaning ‘White Horse Hill’ and now ‘To Sol A Thane’, will be recorded afresh for the album’.
Paul, you have been vocal in recent interviews about the high esteem in which you hold Mourning Beloveth, and who could argue with you.
I found it curious that you mentioned having the lyrics to ‘For All Days…’ written for some time but you never felt you would have the opportunity to ever use them until Rich sent you the acoustic music he had written for what would later become that song.
First off, what can you tell us about those particular lyrics that make them so special for you and secondly I wonder if it was Mourning Beloveth’s fantastic acoustic number, ‘A Terrible Beauty is Born’ that helped to give you the confidence and inspiration to use those lyrics in such a way?
Paul: ‘Actually….not at all. The words were written in late 2011 and Rich sent the music in or around September 2014 and we actually had a first primitive attempt to record it two months later. A full year before I heard “A Terrible Beauty…”
Entirely coincidental and anyway I’d like to think I have too much self-awareness than to flatter myself by thinking I could make a passable attempt to copy Frank Brennan.
As far as the words to that song and their value to me, I couldn’t even begin to explain plus I think when folk do that sort of thing it renders the subject that bit less dignified – ever seen anyone trying to share what the meaning behind their tattoos are? I shudder even imagining it, that’s how I would feel if I attempted to dissect those words here.
However, I can say that they were more or less the unravelling of a knot that had been twisting inside me for over eight years. In that time there’d been dozens and dozens of inadequate attempts to come up with something, all proving fruitless.
So when I did eventually have something I was pleased of course but the intention was never that I HAD to use them in a song, they likely would have just been forgotten about as has happened so many other times over the years ‘cos I truly didn’t expect us to have anything suitable. Luckily the boy genius Walker is more than just a pretty face…’
On the new EP the intro, ‘III’ (for the record, the intro didn’t end up on the released EP), has the sound of gunfire peppered throughout while the acoustic number, ‘For All Days, And For None’ has waves lapping in the background.
The waves I understand as they tie in with the use of samples from nature that you have used in the past but the gunfire stands out as something new for you. What should we read into them?
Should we assume that there is some wider theme being played out across the album that will make more sense of the two together?
Rich: ‘Not gunfire, but what you heard on that home demo was me playing a drum machine, badly. Sorry (roll’s eyes, and thinks what the fuck?). “III” is just an instrumental, I think thematically it sets the tone in a musical sense, however the full band version has a slightly different arrangement.
What you heard leads off into “To Sol A Thane” so there you have it, I’ve just told you the first part of the running order.
There is a loose connection between everything, but people have to decipher that connection themselves and make of it what they will, we don’t have all the answers ourselves…yet!! I think when you here one of the other “heavy” tracks,
‘Beheld A Man Of Straw’ it will make a little more sense, especially musically, and perhaps lyrically. But, everything is just conjecture at this point and maybe no one will get it all’.
It has been great to see Paul back fronting a band as I only managed to catch Arcane Sun live once before they dissolved, and it has been exciting to watch him grow into the frontman roll again. I expect you will hit the road once the album is out?
Do you hope to do some extensive gigging/touring next year or are you happy to pick and choose appropriate gigs? There seems to be a real fire under you lately so I’m guessing you are hungry to hit the boards with this new stuff.
Rich: ‘Personally, I’d like to see us gig more often. But we will have to see what offers come in next year when the new record is out. We are limited with what we can do with people’s jobs and family commitments, but we shall see I’m sure.
It makes no sense to spend hours in rehearsal to play once or twice a year. But, we have zero fucking profile in the media and it adds up to no profile = no gig offers, or should I say no decent gig offers.
We don’t want to play in a toilet to twenty disinterested people through a knackered PA and shitty amps, but sometimes that’s what gets offered so you take it on the chin and get on with it, hey ho!
Then again, we’ve had in the past eighteen months three strokes of pretty intolerable treatment by club soundmen where they just turn you down or give you a shitty live mix.
It kind of makes me want to break my promise to play as many club shows as possible. We played last weekend and I was fucking close to beating the sound engineer and his fucking bell end of a stage manager up.
Let’s get it straight, playing gigs at a polite level is fucking WRONG!! I don’t give a fuck about the audience’s ears, turn it up!! This is heavy metal, not a fucking lavender convention!
You should not only be unable to communicate with another audience member whilst watching a band, you should feel it to your very core whilst the band plays, pounding bass, crushing guitars, earth shaking drums, the lot!.
And for a band to be reduced to where it feels like you’re actually miming on stage is just plain wrong. Never again I tell you, never again! I’m gluing my amp controls so it will NEVER turn below 7 on the volume. And 7 just because you might want to play a quieter interlude…if you’re feeling unmanly’.
What the fuck does ‘To Sol A Thane’ mean??
Rich: ‘Steady on Tiger, It means you’re fucked. Unless you pay us off. Paul is cheap, I on the other hand…’
Paul: ‘In First World War Britain there were obviously a lotta things that were not very typical of day to day life as it was in the years leading up to the war’s outbreak.
The economy had basically stalled ‘cos all resources were pushed into war industries – armaments being probably the biggest. There were also very few able bodied young men around as most were serving in the army in one capacity or another.
All shops at that time basically stopped dealing with hard currencies because almost everything, as far as food and clothing, was dealt with via state issued ration stamps.
The result was that cash registers…or what passed as cash registers then were more or less useless. Shop owners in a sort of solidarity driven move voted to remove them from anywhere the public might see them – embracing the ration stamps and thus lending their support for the war effort.
These cash registers were monstrously heavy, expensive but also fragile and it was seen as a huge mark of manliness to be asked to assist the shop owners in moving these cash registers to a back room or wherever they might choose to store them. So men who were not in the army, for whatever reason, and may have felt that they could be perceived as being cowardly saw it as a chance redeem themselves in some way if they were asked to help move these large heavy machines.
Apparently the term originated on the Isle Of Man and comes from their Manx language and in English can be loosely translated as ‘To rebuild your manliness’ – To Sol A Thane!’
Thanks for your time. The final words are yours.
Rich: ‘Two words- “Pat”, and “Clancy”. If more people aspired to the levels of genius and dedication Carrigaline’s number one son did, the world would be a more fucked up place. Also I’m free after if you want to buy me drinks?’
Paul: ‘My life’s on time, But again my sense is late.
Feel a might unsteady, But still I have to play.
Six to one’s the odds, And, we have the highest stakes.
And, once again I gamble with my very life today’.
– Interview by Andy Cunningham ::: 06/10/16