There is no band that plays Doom Metal more English than SOLSTICE. There is something specific English in their music beyond the massive riffs and epic vocals. There are centuries of history hidden in the sounds of this institution of Doom Metal. I talked with mastermind/guitar-player Rich Walker and singer Paul Kearns.
15 years between 2 albums. Was this silence needed? Were there times when you were uninterested and thought of “leaving the scene”?
Rich : Of course, but that’s assuming that the scene is some sort of tangible exclusive club full of diehard maniacs dedicated to the sounds of metal (Or punk) and would do almost anything to see its integrity remain intact. Then I realized that my own apathy was caused not by the scene but by having worked with some rather nefarious individuals who were out to kick start a career in the “Music business” for themselves. It was never my love of the music in question, but the amount of people I had to deal with. From lazy feckless individuals content to wallow in drunkenness whilst occasionally complaining that “No-one recognized them after gigs”, to career opportunists who tried fucking us over for a mere £100. Pathetic worthless human flotsam and jetsam better suited to being cannon fodder or used as medical experiments instead of animals.
As for 15 years, well in those 15 years, I ran my own label, did a completely different band (ISEN TORR) and played in another band playing someone else’s songs, so I’ve hardly been sat on my arse in a sheltered housing flat complaining on the internet that no one likes my musical output. After “New Dark Age”, there were several more SOLSTICE songs written, which never saw the light of day, but instead of going back to these, after three years of hard work and settling on this line up, we started from scratch, and wrote brand new material with all the band in rehearsals from the beginning, I’m still the main riff writer, the difference is now I have Andy to help with arrangements, as he’s got an excellent ear for such, and criticize if he thinks something is shit. James and Izak both have arrangement input as well; it takes slightly longer now to compose a song, as we work as a team.
Another difference is that Paul is now writing 90% of all lyrics, I will contribute one or two sets in the future, maybe. It means more to me to have the vocalist write what he has to sing (As it does to have Andy write his own lead breaks, because he’s a far superior player than I am). All I do is drop hints and ideas where it has to go and leave ‘em to it!! Paul’s lyrics, are perfect, I think his style and abilities are far superior to mine, and they bring a much needed more human edge. I was heavily inspired by Lovecraft, Smith, & Blinko in my style and to some extent the cryptic content. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to who inspires Paul, but I’m happy at the end of the day.
You had a lot of people in and out of the band during the existence of Solstice. Do you think you are a hard person to work with? Paul, is Rich a hard case?
Rich ; I honestly can be difficult at times I’m sure Paul will say, but only on certain aspects of dealing with labels and promoters, who I think mostly are taking a liberty with a lot of bands to line their own pockets and gain some sort of credibility. But, I let Paul deal with them now, as I have no interest in any of that side anymore, and I haven’t for a number of years, my concern is writing songs and imagining different conceptual lyrical and artwork themes that will suit us as a band. I also have a full time family life that requires a lot of attention, so Paul takes care of the business side now otherwise nothing would ever get done. More power to him. We discuss all options with the entire band though, and arrive at a decision democratically. Everyone has a say. It’s what works for us, arguing stuff out.
Paul: Rich? A hard case? What do you think? Ha!!!! Rich is not a hard case, not as far as I am concerned. The problem, as I can tell, is that people tend to be quite sensitive. Rich is like this I reckon, he invests a lot in personal relationships and can easily become let down by folk. I'm a bit different than Rich....bit colder and not sensitive at all. Generally it makes no difference to me if people are critical of me, by the same token if people praise me....it doesn't really mean anything to me.
Rich though? If you're his friend he'll go a long way for you and by the same token he'll be unhappy if you let him down. OK, true enough sometimes his words get out faster than his reasoning filter can kick in but that's just human nature and unfortunately the internet has given too much platform for people to air grievances publicly. Rich and I have spoken about this and we both agree that this tit for tat spats online leave both parties looking bad but it's hard to be rational in the heat of the moment sometimes.
Rich: I think that’s a reasonable and fair assumption, but by the same token, both Andy and Paul try to portray themselves as cold and logical, but I know that underneath that veneer, both are wonderful and warm human beings. Hey, who wouldn’t want to be that?
You released the latest EP on your own label. Did you got bored of record companies and thought it’s better to be on your own? Were you surprised by the success of your latest MLP? You also re-released “Halcyon” short after that. Will any other old albums be repressed?
Rich: Yes, we got fed up, and knew it would sell well, but mainly so we ourselves could make all the profit, and be self-sufficient for a couple of years financially. The problem with labels is they want to pay you for example £1 GBP per unit sold, while they themselves will be making anything from £3 GBP to £15 GBP per unit in the case of vinyl. They will whine and moan about “Production costs” and invent new ways to steal your money with imagined overheads. So with the help of a friend we took the step to release it ourselves and reap the benefits. It worked out better than we could have imagined. But on the other hand, we needed promotion, although it’s not the most important thing at the end of the day of no one knew we had a new release out, no one would buy it, so we licensed it out for CD and cassette version to INTO THE VOID in Eire, who did a great job. Both parties benefitted.
Paul: Doing it yourself is rewarding, especially if you're a wee band like us, for the small things. For example, for the amount we sell we would get nothing back if we were on a regular label whereas doing it ourselves we make enough to cover our rehearsal place, print up badges and stickers that we can give away or pay for a flight for a stand in bassist we had to use at Metal Magic this summer to come over and rehearse with us.
Having said that there are labels out there that are very fair with their bands, or even those that put the aesthetic desires of their bands before money....Ván Records in Germany are an example.....they are the most ethically sound label I have ever known of.
For the future I would like to find a label that would work with us under fair and equal conditions because doing it alone means that you can only reach so many people.
Will be White Horse only a platform for Solstice releases or do you plan to release other bands too?
Rich: No, we have no plans to release anything by anyone else. We are concerned only with our own musical output, but having said that, we are discussing a split release with a great new band from Australia currently who I like a lot. Nothing concrete yet, but we shall see what occurs.
What happened to your previous cult label The Miskatonic Foundation? Were you grown tired of running a label? Was it ever financially OK to run it?
Rich : I just finished it, ran out of money and enthusiasm, release like TWISTED TOWER DIRE, THE LAMP OF THOTH etc. all pretty much broke even, The Lamp especially I spent a lot of money on, release like ASOMVEL lost money ( A foregone conclusion, a minor local band who sounded like old Motorhead/Venom in their best line up, and descended into a parody of themselves), or THE RIVER (Despite The River being one of my favorite releases and bands of all time from the UK, but I didn’t care, I was just honored to put something out by them). Some licensed stuff lost money like FUNERAL CIRCLE which was a poor seller, despite being the best thing they’ve done, but I have no regrets. I enjoyed every minute of it, I started the label with nothing, and finished it with nothing.
It has to be said though, that all the bands I released were underground trendsetters at the beginning, yet they all suffered from being ignored by the established metal music press, and I used to send out hundreds of physical promo CDs, but despite that, because it was tiny one man label ran from my kitchen, I didn’t have any advertising budget other than handing out flyers at shows, at WOA in 1999 my wife and myself gave out 10,000 flyers on the main gate for TWISTED TOWER DIRE, most of which ended up on the floor of the festival ground. It was then I realized you cannot deal with most of these fashion metalheads, they only buy or are interested in Nuclear Blast releases, the easy on the ear sickly sterilized sounds of commercialism
Lamentations was your debut full-length. I can’t remember another record being such heavy and same times epic doom metal album from the 90s. Only maybe Through the Darkest Hour by Solitude Aeturnus…Did you felt back then that you are doing something different than the other doom bands?
Rich: No, I think especially the Candlemass inspired sound was quite prominent, it’s an OK album, but I would hardly recommend it to anyone, it was a collection of very early songs basically re-recorded. I like old Solitude Aeturnus (First two albums) a lot, but would never say they were a direct inspiration, subconsciously perhaps, I loved Edgar Rivera’s lead breaks, and John Perez’s songwriting, but at the end of the day, they were a far superior band to SOLSTICE then, and better musicians. The only thing that turned me off eventually was the repetitive monotonous vocal lines of Rob Lowe, the same Arabic scale over and over again, and I grew to hate his voice, so I didn’t, and wouldn’t listen to any Candlemass stuff he sang on or later Solitude Aeturnus stuff where he has lost focus and inspiration. Technically gifted singer, but boring as hell to my ears. These days anyway, that whole classic Epic doom style is ruled by PROCESSION who do it better than anyone else, and Felipe is an astoundingly gifted singer and songwriter.
Halcyon EP came after. It was always intended as an EP? You never thought of expanding it for a full-length?
Rich : At that time, there was a lot of strife in the band, we were being fucked around by our “Singer”, Simon Matterface, he was lying to us a lot about various things, no one particular liked the guy, he was also pocketing money and he stole some rough mix tapes from Academy studios. He was definitely in my opinion a fucking oddball, and he couldn’t sing the songs live eventually and was more interested in having his ego stroked. I was glad to see the back of the cunt. If I had the choice now in hindsight, I would have liked to have recorded it with our original vocalist Paul Youdan who had a super powerful voice, and was quite the character. Huge in stature and personality, he was a veritable gentle giant. He was the original voice of the band, and to should have had the credit as helping shape those early songs. There are other people from the early line ups like Brenny Dawson, Lee Baines, and especially Lennaert Roomer who gave it their all at the time. I have massive respect for them all. Lennaert in particular deserves to be singled out, and incredible multi-instrumentalist with more of the hard work ethic than at least half of the other ex-members combined.
So no, we never had the chance to expand upon it, too much strife, and the band literally ground to a halt for 18 months with no gigs and a revolving door line up of ever increasingly idiotic chancers.
“New Dark Age” (1998) was your second full-length album. It was even more modern, heavy and epic – in a good way – than its predecessors. Just like Halcyon EP and the debut it stood the test of time, becoming a monolith in doom metal history. It could bring also a somewhat breakthrough for the band, how do you see that material after 16 years?
Rich: I think it’s ambitious, but poorly played, we were forced into the studio far too early to record, another 6 months and we would have been ready and played a lot tighter. I have no regrets, and looking on all the bands now influenced by it, I think that’s very flattering, so it’s legacy lives on in someone else’s music too. It got us noticed much more though, that and the live shows we were putting on, which were no holds barred at the time. It also enabled us to open the doors for WARNING by taking them on tour with us a couple of times, and me being able to finance and release both their albums (the first one was a massive flop at the time, sold maybe 250-300 copies, we were giving boxes of 25 away on their tour with JACK FROST to anyone who would take one).
We still play the songs, but now to a better standard than the very last of the previous incarnations of the band did, part of which is having a drummer in James who can play with the same power and precision as Rick Budby did. But these days, we have a better vocalist, that’s for sure, far superior. And he earns his position by being able to contribute to the songs.
And after such a fantastic album, you drew back in silence. How’s that?
Rich : I was totally pissed off, we had come off tour with Slough Feg, which we borrowed £1500 off my wife to hire a van for two weeks, and that all was never paid back, then I was saddled with a £1000 T-shirt debt owed to the shirt printers, and a certain amount of disinterest was shown in helping me pay back the £2500 we owed as a band, so I had to break my back over the following year, working 7 days a week to pay that all back, I worked a regular job for 5 days, then the weekends with my father. It all came to a head after our last gig in Germany in 2002, I just thought certain people were taking the fucking piss big time, constantly drunk and out of control, running up more debts for the band, and not bothering to rehearse. I thought fuck it, it was at the time my son was born, I just called Rick up and explained to him why I was quitting (Quitting my own fucking band – what the fuck!!!) and he said he agreed and was quitting too. I had other more pressing concerns, and nothing more to give. And despite me trying my fucking hardest, it was a massive weight off my shoulders to come out of that situation.
Today, I don’t give a fuck about those old days, I know I was taken for a ride, but that’s life, I took it on the chin, dusted myself off and got on with doing other things – There were good times, and there were bad times. Eventually in 2007, I got the bug to play again, so that’s when SOLSTICE officially became active once more, after plenty of false starts, we’re back playing shows and writing and recording. That’s all that matters to me, not wallowing in the past.
After splits and compilations you forcefully came back last year with Death’s Crown In Victory. How did you find Paul? Will he stay in the band for future releases? Paul, were you familiar with Solstice before joining?
Paul: I knew Solstice since about 1993. I'd been into their demos before Lamentations and had always followed the band. I was particularly into Halcyon and of course New Dark Age. I always expected Solstice to return at some point, just didn't expect to be singing for them. I've just moved back to Dublin after living in Oslo for ten years and it was whilst I was waiting for them to play in Oslo in early 2011 (Metal Merchants Festival) that I became aware of their looking for a new singer cos it was the show that was cancelled when they decided to replace Paul Britton. I had not been in a band for many years since the last band I was in split up. I was just not interested in all the time and effort it took once you had found people you connected with after my previous band fell to pieces.
Solstice was different though, not only was it already established so all that difficult ground work was not needed but it was a band that I liked musically and, very important for me, aesthetically. Plus, and this was the big thing, the band was not built around a particular voice – imagine someone trying to replace Carl McCoy in Fields Of The Nephilim? - but around Rich and his sound and his vision. So that made it possible for someone like me to come in and, to a degree, be anonymous. Which was perfect.
As far as me being here in the future? Who knows? Ha. I should hope so.
Which is the best Solstice release in your opinion and why?
Rich : “Death’s Crown Is Victory” is my favorite, but soon it will be the next record “White Horse Hill” because it represents this moment in our lives, who we are, and what we are doing and what we have achieved.
How do you earn your living? I guess playing in Solstice doesn’t fully pays the bills.
Rich: I teach monkeys table tennis for a local laboratory, and shout down traffic cones for a living.
Paul: I have worked in various areas. Computers back in the day. Printing in Norway. Now I have moved back to Dublin I am restarting everything.
Are you a collector? Do you prefer tapes, CDs or vinyls? Do you collect any specific band?
Rich: I collect Discharge, Venom, Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath, and old UK punk 7”s, pretty much the same as I have done over the years. (With DISCHARGE it’s a step further, as I collect absolutely anything to do with the band, photos, badges, old gig flyers, different pressings, ticket stubs, and old fanzines with them in) I wouldn’t get rid of my Candlemass LP’s, or my GBH LPs though if that’s what you’re saying. Some bands, I just like parts of their discography, so I just have the ones which I can appreciate. I toned it down though, I sold a lot of my collection off, and I’m only interested in specific records.
I like a lot of NWOBHM, I used to collect the 7”s, but having come into to contact with a lot of the original bands over the years, I realized that the majority of them were fucking career opportunists and complete fucking arseholes, so I sold the fucking lot except the HELL 7” and my VENOM 7”s, and some albums like ELIXIR, DESOLATION ANGELS, DEEP SWITCH, WITCHFYNDE and WITCHFINDER GENERAL. I’d rather have the money to spend on my kids than own records by bands featuring people I know to be dishonest greedy halfwits.
Paul: Never been a collector and never will. Vinyl I have never been into and now I consciously refuse to buy it 'cos people who are into vinyl cos suddenly it's vogue sicken me. Same as with tattoos. I will never have one cos it's been poisoned by people who cannot think for themselves. So CDs for me. I don't collect any specific bands really 'cos that's a waste of time too. Why should I go out of my way to get everything from a band when all bands fade and lose their spark. Almost every single band. It's that attitude that fuels this cancer that is reunions and classic album tour bullshit – creatively dead bloodsuckers who need their egos stroked whilst they taint classic music and ruin legacies. A band like Anathema are, in my opinion, the one example where they have constantly improved throughout a 20+ year career but they are a rarity.
What’s the best (doom) metal albums ever released in your opinion?
Rich: WAR CRY – “Trilogy of terror” demo, DREAM DEATH’s “Journey into mystery” and CANDLEMASS “Epicus doomicus” are the greatest in my opinion. With the first SAINT VITUS LP coming a close fourth.
Paul: Not much of a classic Doom guy myself, so for me under the banner of Doom.....
Paradise Lost – Gothic, Godsend (Nor) – As The Shadows Fall and more recently Mourning Beloveth – Formless. Others I love, or loved, Anathema – The Crestfallen EP, Disembowelment – Dusk, Procession – To Reap Heavens Apart.
Special note, Katatonia – Brave Murder Day. One of the greatest albums ever created.
I was only a teenager in the early 90s, tell me how were your early materials received? How was the scene in the 90s? How the scene is now compared to the early stage of the band?
Rich: Well, for a start, there was no internet, just good old pen and paper and stamps and tapes, so any feedback was slow to receive unless it was actually at a gig you/we were playing. I miss these old days because I genuinely feel people were much more respectful of each other, rather than getting on the internet and talking shit, and fans genuinely wanted to hear bands so searched them out by reading fanzines, or trading tapes. Unlike today, where everything is available at the click of a mouse. This is an opinion echoed by MANY of us older guys who were around in the very early 80’s and 90’s.
On the other hand, more people can potentially hear your band through the internet, and once you’re online, it cost nothing to promote yourself, but it loses some of its humanity, and sense of community.
Are you still inspired by the same bands by the time you picked up the guitar? Do you like any “new” bands? Do you follow the scene or are you satisfied listening the great old ones?
Rich: I like PROCESSION, WRATHBLADE, RAVENSIRE and TERMINUS and many others from around Europe, some American bands like ARGUS I think are doing great things. But I really only listen to a tiny handful of newer bands because I have so many old records I love, and I don’t really spend a lot of time listening to music except when I’m driving these days.
One old band I love is DARK QUARTERER, great people, great band. So, I might pull out for example the WRATHBLADE LP once a month to listen to while I have some free time; it just depends on what mood I am in. I think basically there are a vast amount of newer bands now doing good things musically, which more than makes up for the vaster amount of utter shit peddled by the rest of the scene. I don’t buy records anymore either, so I rely on the occasional gift from friends in other bands of their latest material to hear new stuff (Simply because I do not have any money to buy new stuff and any I did have would more than likely go on something by DISCHARGE, ha ha!).
I might occasionally buy a reissue of some old demo on vinyl, or stuff that never came on vinyl in first place, like the mid period ROOT albums.
If Solstice were a movie, which one would be it? Do you like epic movies, or series like Game of Thrones, Vikings, etc?
Paul: Bad Boy Bubby (1993). Not for public consumption and showing that shagging your Mother is not all that bad.
Rich: He’s talking nonsense, we would be Kes (1969).
It is trendy these days for bands to come up with their own brand of beer, wine, etc. Even if you are not interested in making a booze brand, what would be the Solstice booze?
Rich: We’ve had our own for some time, I’m sponsored by a local brewer, the GRUMPY JOHNS CIDER Company to promote and drink his fine fucking beverage. It gets me hellishly drunk. Look him up on facebook or something, we should really try and promote it more. The master brewer, Mr. John Bowman is a fucking genius. He’s trying to kill me I think by offering me cheap cider and the occasional free tipple.
What kind of gear do you use and do you spend a lot of time with searching for the right guitar tone, or do you have a more punk attitude on this?
Rich: I use Gibson and Gordon Smith guitars, mainly Gibson SG which I have customized with handmade pick-ups for a much more powerful sound (These are made by a company in my town for me) and I use a customized Marshall Head, and a Matamp Cabinet (Also made in my town). I don’t use any effects pedals except a volume pedal and a lead boost. I’m very picky about my guitar sound, almost never 100% satisfied, but no guitar player ever is. As for cables, again I only use a specific brand now that are made in Germany and very expensive compared to the shit we used to use, and I was turned on to them by Uncle Tom of While Heaven wept (Who also scored me my SG from the US – cheers Tom, ya fucking midget!!). The Gordon smith is also customized and loaded with new hand built pickups from the same local company.
I do have a BOSS metal zone in backup for foreign gigs where the amp I have to play through might not have enough gain, but I generally hate them, and all the other pedals like Metal Muff or Tube screamer because they color the guitars natural tone and to some extent the nuances of your playing. It’s great for run of the mill 90’s death metal, but not for me anymore.
Metal Archives says 3 bands with the name Solstice were started in 1990. A thrash/death one from US, a doom/death from The Netherlands and the mighty epic doom Solstice. Were you aware of this in the early years? Did you know the other Solstice bands?
Rich: We became aware of the US death metal Solstice, who actually started in 1992, after their management sent us a letter telling us to change our band name, I impolitely replied by wiping my arse on the letter, after I had written “FUCK OFF” on the bottom, and mailing it straight back to him, with no stamps on. One of them ended up in Cannibal Corpse, and I talked to the guy some years later, he seemed like a reasonable fellow, and slightly embarrassed by the whole affair.
People are talking about a possible future Solstice full-length “To Sol A Thane”. What can you say about this? It’s true that we have to wait another 15 years?
Rich: Right now we’re working on another recording, so far the results are reaching our expectations of how the finished music should sound, the next record is called “WHITE HORSE HILL” and the actual song “TO SOL A THANE” is part of that record. It will be six songs, about 35 – 40 minutes long. That’s all I can say right now, but were getting closer to the final recording, were currently making a first round of home demo’s, then next month we start some studio work with a round of pre-production demos.
This is the very end of the interview, thanks for the killer music, now say some things about the future and a few wise doom words for us!
Rich: Fight the future!!
Paul: Support Palestine.
Rich: Bomb the Arabs!!
By Rob, October 2014