Interview with DUSTIN BATES of STARSET
The innovative American Sci-fi rock band STARSET will be touring Australia for the first time in August. Amnplify’s Emily Horton caught up with the bands lead singer, songwriter and keyboardist Dustin Bates.
Check out the interview below!
In the early hours of New Years Day 2013, a radio astronomer at the Allen Telescope Array in northern California discovered a mysterious signal emanating from a star within the Ophiuchus Constellation. Contained within the signal was a Message–of human origin–foretelling the details of man’s imminent demise. The Message was brought to The Starset Society, who quickly realised the importance of its immediate publication. Risking extreme danger, The Starset Society commissioned a group of musicians and scientists to assist them in spreading the knowledge to a broader audience. This group became known simply as STARSET. Please hold. STARSET will begin the TRANSMISSION of the Message to the public shortly.
ignorance : slavery :: knowledge : power
Emily: Dustin, how are you going?
Dustin: Not too bad, how are you?
Good thank you. Thank you so much for talking to me today, I know you’re incredibly busy and I have a million questions I want to ask you so I’m just going to dive right in if that’s alright?
You have a very interesting history… With a Masters (and PhD) I believe in Electrical Engineering, you’ve completed research for the US Air Force and taught at the International Space University. And now you are in a band. What makes you go from electrical engineering to music?
I’ve sort of always had music. Since I was a kid I played the drums, bass and guitar, and eventually vocals. In fact I had another band that was signed to Epic Records for one year unfortunately it didn’t come around so that project was dropped. They were always both passions of mine for years and years.
Most people would have to choose between a career in music and their other profession. You are lucky enough to incorporate both. Are you satisfied with the balance of the two paths?
Absolutely. In fact more and more I am able to do more with the science and tech in this more advocacy way. As you may or may know, it’s sort of the central linchpin in all of this. Starset is one of many other media whose goal is to create public outreach for the mission of The Starset Society and that general mission is to create awareness of how science and tech is changing our present and near future in both positive and negative and me personally I’m able to more and more weigh in on all of that using the mouthpiece The Starset Society has given me and that’s going to get more prevalent.
It is quite interesting to see how you can incorporate scientific, electrical-engineering and technological aspects to music.
In the lyrics and in the actual production and themes of all of this, we use these things to create unique metaphors and visuals that actually people can relate to just average human experiences that are given extra meaning or uses.
Lyrically your songs are quite multilayered and ambiguous. With subtle inspiration from famous literature such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, historical events and scientific theory and you somehow manage to wrap it up in a relatable human experience.
Yes, it’s absolutely the goal. Sometimes I have three parallel metaphors running throughout a song; the literal, the human and the Sci-fi.
You describe your music as “cinematic rock,” can you explain to me what cinematic rock is?
Essentially it’s the sound of a Sci-fi blockbuster movie if a hard rock, melody centric rock band was scoring it. So we’re blending cinematics and symphonics, strings and horns, and this orchestral element with the baritone hard rock with a specific focus on melody. All having a backbone that’s often electronic/EDM based or inspired.
Your debut album Transmissions was released in 2014, and is accompanied by a graphic novel, can you explain to me a bit about The PROX Transmissions?
Oh yeah, certainly. There was actually a novel that was released last year and it tells the inception story of The Starset Society. The forthcoming Marvel graphic novel is also based upon this early narrative. There is actually another novel on the way.
That’s exciting. Your second Album Vessels was released at the beginning of the year and debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. It steers away slightly from the hard rock/metal feel of the Transmissions album, how would you describe the composition and sound of the album Vessels?
There is a lot of differences. In the electronic elements they’re more deliberate and clean on average, where as in Transmissions the electronics were a little more ambient. The guitar has a rock element, on Transmissions it’s a little more hard rock whereas, Vessels it gets genty and its metal when it goes there. It gets much heavier when it chooses to and it can go more pop at times and more atmospheric at times. I just wanted to broaden the dynamic of it. I was really proud of one line that Apple gave it was something like “totally blurring the lines between pop, rock, metal and electronic” that was like a way of describing what I hoped to do. So I was really happy with that.
There is quite an amazing interconnectedness between the narrative, the music, the message and other elements such as video and technology. How do you manage bringing all these elements together?
It’s a little bit of a dance I guess. Often times it starts as a concept and then the music starts an overarching concept drives the sonic pulse of the music. Then the pulse drives the lighting and then the vibe of the song that’s being created then drives the specific concept of the song and once that’s done comes the videos.
I guess one of the overarching mechanisms for creating videos on this record has been a little bit of an algorithm that I created, that we created, that’s to choose a technology and look at how it would affect the world in a dystopian way. Then you build a plot, a human plot, around that and then fit it into the general universe and as you may or may not know, we try not to like put ourselves in the music videos because it’s not about that. These are little cinematic pieces and we try not to be too on the nose or literal in the video as well. The novels are essentially the bibles of it all and everything else is like a satellite orbiting around that.
You and the band are heading down under on tour, and I believe it will be your first time in Australia?
Yeah, and we’re all super excited about it. I was there for the International Space University a few years ago so it’s just going to be amazing to come back touring and playing music.
What are you looking forward to most about coming to Australia?
I want to show the guys Adelaide; because that’s the city I know most. I’m looking forward to seeing just the natural beauty; the animals, the plant life, the geological formations. I’m big into that stuff…and Australia has that in troves!
Yeah exactly. There is quite a vast array of nature down under. It’s quite an experience because everywhere you go is so different, I hope you really enjoy it.
What can we look forward to in the demonstrations (shows) you are bringing to Australia?
We always do our absolute best to make them as immersive as possible. And we are actually spending more than we are making to do that. We’re bringing a cellist, automated lighting systems, video content as well. It should be pretty intense for our very first club tour there for sure.
Well the Australian fans will have something very exciting to look forward to. Are any of the other band members scientists or involved in the sciences as well?
Not exactly. Mostly musicians while also having varying degrees of interest in science and it is fun to actually randomly teach them stuff. I find myself giving them all science lessons here and there.
How did the band come together originally?
I put it together after finishing the record. Yeah, some people around Columbus where I am from, just musicians I had played with in the past.
What is your music and song writing process?
I guess I start with an idea, then typically create the general music, the chord structure and things, and build a melody from that. From there I brainstorm concepts for specific songs and when that comes together then add lyrical content typically. This takes a lot of time, I often go insanely long walk or I drive for like ten, twelve maybe even fourteen hours just trying to find clarity or ideas.
I have a random question for you… Elon Musk plans to get 1 million people to Mars. Space X’s Interplanetary Transport System could potentially have humans there in early as 10 years. Do you think you will be on the first mission to colonise Mars?
No. I think it would be too dangerous. Maybe I’ll go on the ten thousandth mission.
If you did live on Mars, would you still make music?
Yeah of course.
What’s next for Starset?
More touring, always making videos and touring, and working with The Starset Society for the new campaign that they are launching very soon.
Can you explain to me what the Message is?
In general it is an overarching message that looks at science and tech and how it is affecting our lives politically, socially and economically in the present and near future both positively and negatively.
What is the band Starset’s role in delivering the message?
It’s just one of the various mouthpieces and the media creations of The Starset Society. Other ones would be the Marvel campaign, the Marvel graphic novel, the videos in general and the novel.
Thank you so much for talking to me today.
Enjoy your tour down in Australia. I know a lot of fans are looking forward to it and I can’t wait.
Cool. Absolutely, thank you so much.
You can catch Starset in Australia from the 9th – 13th August 2017. More info about dates and venues below.