Interview: Kevin Starrs (Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats)
Based on name alone, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats sounds like a group of rag-tag garage rockers who slap songs together without much of a second thought, but this band from Cambridge, England isn’t some band of misfits. While initially deploying some smoke and mirrors tactics to drum up interest, Uncle Acid (nee Kevin Starrs) turned heads and captured the internet’s attention with a polish and craftsmanship that is rarely found in bands still in their infancy.
The band’s 2010 debut, Vol. 1, was limited to just 20 copies due to cost constraints. The breakthrough follow-up in 2012, Blood Lust, was initially capped at 100 copies before Lee Dorrian’s label Rise Above stepped in to release it to the masses. By the end of that year, the band wasn’t exactly a household name but they were popping up on enough year-end lists that people were starting to take notice. The band’s sound possesses that rare trait of sounding like it came from another era but also new at the same time. It had enough moving parts to it where it wasn’t just the heavy crowd that was singing its praises either.
The songs Starr’s released thus far suggest someone who has labored over cultivating the right hook time and time again. Riffs build on top of one another, minded from the same dark caves that brought listeners Pentagram and Black Sabbath some 40 years before.
Is there any one aspect of touring the states that you’re looking forward to the most?
Just playing to different audiences and seeing the country. I’m also looking forward to trying the best beers your country has to offer.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, but how was the tour with Black Sabbath? Did you get to hang out with them much? Did you pick up any pearls of wisdom from them?
It was a great experience. You don’t really hang with Black Sabbath, but we met all of them individually quite a few times and they would always stick their heads in the dressing room to say hello! I remember walking to sound check one day and passing Tony [Iommi] in a corridor and him patting us all on the back as we walked past. ‘Hi Tony!’….’Alright chaps!’. It was so casual and made me think how fortunate I was to have landed such a great job. From working shitty jobs in the past and being on the dole with no prospects to watching Tony Iommi play guitar every day! They were all really good with us though. It was the perfect apprenticeship.
The band has opened or shared a bill with a variety of different acts. From opening for Sabbath to playing festivals headlined by Blondie. When it came time to put together your own headlining tour and to finally have some sort of say in who you would be playing with, what were you looking for? Did you have an idea already of who you wanted? How did you end up with Davana as your opener?
Danava are one of my favourite bands of the last 10 years so I knew I wanted to tour with them. Greg has always been a great supporter of us even when no one else gave a shit. He helped spread the word in the beginning and I’ve always appreciated that, so it was a no brainer to tour with them. Great band.
Is there any particular reason as to why the band hasn’t toured North America yet? Given the reception that Blood Lust received, it just seems like there would have been enough interest in the band to justify going on a tour like this before now.
We haven’t had time! We didn’t tour the Blood Lust record, but since Mind Control came out, we’ve done a headline European tour, a U.K. tour, the full Sabbath tour, all the summer festivals in Europe as well as Soundwave in Australia…we’ve been constantly busy. Combine that with working a full time job which I did for a long time…you get the idea. Some people don’t see it though…if you’re not playing in their backyard, they think you’re not doing anything. It’s worked out for the best though, because half the shows are sold out already. It’s not cheap for a band like us to tour North America, so at least with sold out shows we stand a chance of maybe breaking even. We don’t do corporate sponsorship so you have to have a certain amount of your own money on the line for these things and hope for the best!
As far as presentation and execution go, will these shows be more of a bare bones, rock and roll show type deal or are you guys planning something with a bit more theatrics to it (a la horror movie footage, costumes, etc etc.) ?
If the venues have projectors, we’ll maybe use our visuals. We also have some other garbage to decorate the stage but its mostly a stripped down rock show the way it should be. The music comes first. We certainly won’t be wearing costumes!
In interviews from earlier this summer, you said you thought that American audiences hadn’t given Mind Control much of a chance. Do you still feel that way?
Yeah, it was just a feeling I had mostly because they haven’t had a chance to hear the songs live. I could be way off. We’ll see once we get going if that’s accurate though.
I read in one interview that you did from earlier in the year, where you said that when you write you try to think of the song as being a pop song. While I can see that, the band still gets limped in with the more heavy/psychedelic crowd. I mean, you guys did play Maryland Deathfest. In the future, do you see yourself moving even further away from the heavy doom elements and the riffs or will the battle between dark and light always be something at the heart of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats?
The songs are heavily reliant on melody, harmony and hooks. Those are classic pop traits which is what I was getting at. All our songs have those elements and always will. Melody before anything else. There isn’t a lot of heavy bands that put that to the forefront anymore but people are accepting what we’re doing. We got a great response at Deathfest the same way that we got a great response at a more mainstream festival like Pukkelpop in Belgium.
In the beginning, when your back story was more shrouded in mystery and not much was known about the band, there was a perception that you maybe were some kind of acid-gobbling mad man hiding out in the woods. Was any part of that portrait accurate?
The idea was not to give people information because they get too much of it all the time. There’s no mystery in anything anymore. Its good for peoples imaginations to come up with their own ideas about things. If there was that perception of me, then great! Its triggering creativity in peoples minds which is a good thing.
Where are you at with new material? Are you strictly focusing on the tour or are you kicking around new ideas as well? What do you see as the next step for the band/yourself?
We’ll be recording new material later in the year. I’m nowhere near finished on the songs, but a new record will be out next year some time. Who knows what our next step is. It’s better not to plan these things and just let them unfold…
Uncle Acid wsg Danava Tour Dates
Oct 1 – Triple Rock Social Club – Minneapolis, MN
Oct 3 – Marquis Theater – Denver, CO
Oct 4 – Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 6 – Neumos – Seattle, WA
Oct 7 – Rickshaw – Vancouver, BC
Oct 8 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR
Oct 10 – Slim’s – San Francisco, CA
Oct 11 – The Roxy Theater – Los Angeles, CA