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 411mania » Music » Columns

411 Music Interview: Russell Spence and Andrew Spence of Starseed
Posted by Dan Marsicano on 01.25.2012

Starseed have gained momentum in Europe for their hard rock-meets-grunge sound, where the aggression is prevalent, yet melody is never far from sight. Their latest album, Peace Machine, has seen them get a ton of attention from seemingly everywhere except the U.S. That slight is about to be corrected, as Starseed looks to release Peace Machine in the U.S. after almost three years. I had the chance to speak to vocalist/guitarist Russell Spence and drummer Andrew Spence about possibly touring the U.S., how they feel about Peace Machine in retrospect, and if new material is coming anytime soon.

Since this may be the first time a lot of people are hearing about you guys, could you run me through how you guys formed and how the band has come up to this point?

Russell Spence: We grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, where there is a big American-influenced rock scene over there. It's pretty isolated from the rest of the world, so we moved up to the UK. We played the London circuit for a few years. We had a few changes in the line-up from the original guys - we're actually the only two original members - but we're a five-piece now. We eventually got together to record the album we're promoting now, Peace Machine. We've spent the last few years promoting the album with some UK tours. We've toured around the UK supporting some well-known bands there. The highlight for us was that we played the Download Festival in Donnington over in the UK the last couple of years, on the same bill as bands like AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine, and Linkin Park. It's been a great few years for us and we're looking forward to getting our music out here in the U.S. now.

Tell me what it was like to play on the Download Festival for the 1st time. Were your nerves all crazy when you went onto the stage?

Andrew Spence: In 2010, we worked with the Download Festival promoter Andy Copping and he booked us a last-minute show on the acoustic stage. That was amazing, because we've been going to the Download Festival since 2004. It's a great festival, so we finally lived the dream of playing one of our favorite festivals. It was a real good feeling. People really took to it. Playing this year in 2011, we ended up playing in a tent to 5,000 people. I was so nervous I don't even remember playing the show (laughs).

Russell Spence: It was probably the biggest show we've played to date. I think the adrenaline kicks in, and once you finish the first song, the adrenaline takes over and you forget about it.

Did the band's rise in popularity in the UK comes quickly after Peace Machine came out or did it take a little bit of time?

Russell Spence: I think the release of Peace Machine definitely was such a big thing for us, but I think going out and touring and playing the venues around the country, that's something any band should do that's trying to promote themselves. They got to get out there and play for the masses. Talking about the Download Festival in Donnington, that's in the middle of England. So people flock from all four corners. Having done tours all over England, Wales and Scotland, we have people from all over that's never heard of us that started spreading the word. I think Peace Machine has been a great vehicle for us to promote ourselves. We're just going to be launching it over here in the U.S. now.

For the U.S. listener who hasn't heard this album yet, what kind of stuff can they expect?

Andrew Spence: We've always been heavily influenced by the ‘90s grunge scene, but obviously moving with the times, a lot of great new metal and progressive bands has given us an up-to-date sound. If you're a fan of Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, and the grunge scene, you'll definitely get the vibe we're into. There are so many other bands we like - Mastodon and Porcupine Tree - that we draw influence from as well.

Do you guys will be warmly received in the U.S. as you are over in Europe?

Andrew Spence: Our main influences have always been what we perceive to be very American music. To do well in Europe was quite hard for us. The rock scene over there is very underground compared to the indie scene and the pop market. I do believe that, where our roots are and what our sound is inspired by, I really do believe that the United States would want us here.

Which of these songs from Peace Machine still stand out to you guys after all these years?

Russell Spence: We're going with the same single we released off the album. Our first single, "Shine," stands out as a single. Most people can agree to that. That's the first track we're releasing. We should be following that up shortly with a song called "See Through Your Lies," which is our second single. Those two tracks are the ones that stand out the best.

Andrew Spence: With those two tracks, they are always the mainstays on our play lists when you come to see us live. They are the strongest live and most enjoyable to play.

Russell Spence: Interestingly, when we were first trying to pick a single, we shipped them out to about 50 of our mates, who listened to the album. Every single song on the album was somebody's favorite song. It was quite a tough one to choose. We got very lucky, I guess.

Have you guys been working on new stuff, since this album came out back in 2009?

Russell Spence: We've been touring for this since it came out and our main focus is to get this record out there and get people listening to it. In 2012, we got quite a catalog of stuff that we need to get finished up. I think we'll definitely be focusing this year not only pushing Peace Machine out in the U.S, but you'll definitely see some new material coming out sometime this year.

What does this new material sound like? Is it similar to Peace Machine or something a little different from that?

Russell Spence: We have sort of been experimenting with different kinds of tuning and different time changes. It might slightly be more progressive, but I think ultimately, we stick with the heavy rock sound in the music, with a sort of melody. I don't think that's going to change. It's not going to sound the same, with different time changes, different tuning, and different styles, with some of the progressive stuff as well. I think it will be something quite interesting and something quite original.

On this album, there's a mix of melodic stuff, like on "By Your Side," and a lot more aggressive stuff, like "Falling." Do you prefer one over the other, or do you like them to mesh together?

Andrew Spence: When we're writing songs, we like songs to not only entertain the audience, but to entertain ourselves as well. We like to make sure when we're writing music, that whatever we put on the album has dynamics. When you're listening to the album, it's going to have different pieces and different flows across the album, so you're not getting bored by the end of the album. I think it's very important that we got these tracks like "Shine" and "See Through Your Lies," then we got a track like "Pills," which is a punky/grunge type with screaming. We got a punk rock song towards the end of the album, and "By Your Side" being our acoustic soft ballad. It's important we keep the dynamics of the band going in that way.

How does the band know a song is just right for being on an album?

Andrew Spence: When it comes to that, you just know. When all five members of the band are feeling something, we all just click. You play a song and everyone just latches at it and everyone knows that is a good song for us. We play many of the tracks live as well, so you can gauge from the audience whether they enjoyed a track. That, in essence, is how we pieced together the Peace Machine album. We played the tracks live. The key is that the five members click. I believe that, with any sort of band, if you enjoy it, then everyone else will hopefully enjoy it too.

Does this album has a firm release date yet for the U.S.?

Russell Spence: Not a firm date yet, but we're probably looking around February/March.

Is the band looking to tour around the states? Have you guys ever toured in the United States before?

Russell Spence: No, we haven't yet. It's something we've looked to do on the back of the release. One of our goals this year is come out and play some gigs over here.

"Shine" Official Music Video

Are there any places in the United States that you've heard about that you are excited to go to?

Andrew Spence: Obviously, from our history and what we know and the things that have inspired us, key points to us include Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. We had the privilege of going to really fantastic shows the other night at The Bowery Ballroom in New York. That was just a lovely venue; really great sound. That was our first experience of the United States live music scene. We haven't been to the states a lot, except for personal holidays. This was our first foray into the music scene in the states, and we felt very welcomed.

What's the one thing that you're most proud of with this record?

Russell Spence: We're proud of the quality that we got out of the recording, but also for me, I think the message that's in the main title of the album, Peace Machine, is a positive message that we're trying to put across in our music.

Andrew Spence: We focused six months of our time together and almost lived with each other during the process. It was such a great feeling when that came out. Every track means something special to us. I don't know what I would be most proud of. It in itself is an album that has done fantastically well for us.

If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?

Andrew Spence: I would say it's a real mix-up between Alice In Chains and Soundgarden for me. I probably would tour with Soundgarden, just because I've never seen them live - though I am going to be seeing them live pretty soon - and they've been such a massive influence in songwriting for me. It would just be an honor.

Russell Spence: For modern day, I would probably agree with Soundgarden.

Any final thoughts?

Andrew Spence: Our single "Shine" is out now. It's available on iTunes and there's an acoustic track on Twitter. All you have to do is tweet for the track and you get the free acoustic version of "Shine." Please go buy it and spread the word for us over in the U.S.

Russell Spence: Look out for Peace Machine in March.


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