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Remember Starset? If not, let me reacquaint you. In a few years, the far, far future… No, wait, that’s too much. The band opened the very first Dutch show of Breaking Benjamin a little over a year ago. His second album, Vessels, was released at the beginning of this year and a few weeks ago, the band was back in the country to open for Breaking Benjamin once again. Luckily, frontman Dustin Bates had a little time to talk to us about the new material, science fiction and Uranus!
Vessels, your latest album, is the heaviest album you’ve released, counting both Starset and Downplay. How did you decide to go more towards the heavier side for this material?
Dustin: I wanted to have a record, that was more diverse than anything I’d ever done, so I wanted it to be more pop and more metal and more, you know, dreamy and sort of floating at times. Hopefully I accomplished it, so it’s both of those things. I think some of the melodies and some of the songs are the most pop melodies I’ve ever done but, at the same time, there’s a lot of metal aspects, djent guitar and heavier drumwork than anything I’ve done.
Did the focus on grunts and the growls in Vessels flow naturally from that or did you really decide to put more of those in?
Dustin: Yeah, it happened naturally. A lot of times I start with base music, the general chord structure and dynamic of the music, and then I just go and I sing melodies and all of the vocal approach just randomly based on how it fits with the music and so some of the more screaming just happened naturally.
You usually have a special kind of equipment on stage, the Smithson-Martin emulator. How did you find that one?
Dustin: It actually started when I was working on a music video and I wanted to have a practical effect where I could have some kind of Minority Report effect, but I wanted to do it for real. So I went and found this thing, that was actually a musical device, and I was like ‘oh my god, this is perfect’ because then I could also blend the electronic part of our music and put it right up front and center at the demonstration. I wouldn’t have to hide the electronic component, but be able to DJ the stuff right there and do it in a way that’s incredibly, incredibly scifi.
You use a lot of astronomical terms in your lyrics, which makes it be able to have two different meanings, like a personal meaning and a very space-y meaning. Do you have a certain meaning that you lean more towards?
Dustin: Yeah, I do that very purposefully. In fact, sometimes I try for three meanings, none of those ever being incredibly direct. The one that comes to mind would be Telescope. There, it can be looked at metaphorically as a love story, using science and astronomy terms, but then it can be taken literally, as someone who is falling in love with someone via telescope. It can also have a third meaning that’s a little more sinister, almost, it can represent obsession. I love doing that, one of the requirements for a Starset record is that when you put it in, that it can can be listened to all the way through as a sort of journey that’s scifi in nature and space-y, full of vivid imagery, but at the same time, at any point in the record, you can take the song and apply it personally and have your own emotional reaction to it. Something that’s often times in progressive songs or in sort of concept records, concept bands, it’s out there, it’s intangible, but you don’t really tend to have emotional reactions and so I try to toe the line of both.
One of the other things that you’re trying to bring to the people is The Message. On the site of Starset it says that The Message will be released soon, but on the website of The Starset Society it says that The Message is trying to explain technology and stuff to the people so they understand what’s going on. Is the eventual message just going to be physics books that we never really opened in school?
Dustin: The Message itself is a complex thing. The overarching message is somewhat like what you read on the Starset Society, looking at technology and how it’s affecting our lives, positively and negatively, as things progress exponentially, trying to raise awareness of those changes so that we don’t find ourselves manipulated as a society. And then it’s a two-sided kind of coin, it’s scifi, hyperbolic, examples of which Starset utilizes in the narrative and in the record and that The Starset Society also utilizes in the various other media, such as the Marvel comic that’s coming out, novels and the videos. We actually intend to do videos that aren’t even music videos, we’re looking into creating some longer length narrative scifi science videos. And in addition to that, creating various other outlets to expand The Message and the narrative from a more scientific point of view.
With so many different sites and so many different media that you utilize, is it hard to tweak the message so it really shines on its own through all the media?
Dustin: As things progress it’s getting easier. The Marvel deal took a long time to get and is now coming to fruition, the second novel won’t be until next year but as these pieces come into place and people’s attention is put onto it, it becomes easier to promote it in a succinct way.
With all the current events, one could almost say we’re living in a dystopia, 1984 and Brave New World come to mind. Does that make you kind of want to incorporate more of that? Because so far, you’ve kind of stayed outside of current events with your music.
Dustin: Yeah, we tend to use hyperbole, when we look at things at their furthest extend, show a much more obvious dystopian result, and then allow the audience to see that in reality, these are just extensions of issues we have today. So until this point, you’re very correct, we don’t stay on the nose in the present, but I find it to be much more powerful to use hyperbole to exemplify the current issues and open people’s eyes to it, because a lot of the time, when you’re living in something, you don’t see it for what it is very accurately.
Then, for something else entirely: we know you’ve done a lot with space, so what planet, star, solar system or whatever would you really like to go to, if it was at all possible?
Dustin: Well, I guess, at bare minimum, one that can sustain human life so you know, that I can breathe the air and drink the water, but it would be amazing to go to a planet that has other life and explore it. Out of the planets that we’ve discovered, I always had an affinity for Uranus, but that sounds like a joke… I love it. I should really stop there.
Well Uranus is really underrated, everyone always thinks about…
Dustin: (laughs) It sounds like you’re piling it on!
No, but like…
Dustin: I know, my… no.
It also has rings, everyone always thinks about Saturn with the rings, but Uranus also has rings and it’s like…
Dustin: Yeah, and it’s just like… Uranus is blue. Alright.
(laugs) Thanks for your time anyway and good luck with spreading The Message.