SOLSTICE: 20 years older


This interview was conducted quite some time ago, but along with a couple of others it was never published. My apologies go out to Solstice, and especially Paul Kearns who was very enthusiastic and entertaining, even though he was heading off at 6 o clock in the morning to work on the Primordial-tour, selling merchandise.

– Since I came back to Ireland a few years ago, this has been my primary job. I was kind of hoping this would be my last tour, as I am going to start in a new job here, but I don’t have a start date yet. So here I am, tomorrow morning, a 6 o’clock i will fly off for another three weeks  with the boys.

Is it just as hard as being out on the road as a singer?

– You know, being on tour as a singer is really difficult, you have to worry about your voice a lot. I did a two month tour last year, selling merch for Devin Townsend. Every day he had to get up, do this rituals and routines, and then every night back in the bus he had to worry about not speaking too much. Being in the merchandise, is the least skilled job of all the crew jobs, but it’s also the hardest, as your day ends later than everybody else’s, because you have to do all the accounting each night. Guitar- and drum techs and those guys, they can set up and just leave. The merchie can’t, it depends on the venue of course, but at some places it doesn’t feel safe to just leave it all standing there. Then you have to stand around for fucking hours. Also, after 50 gigs with the same set every night, most bands become a bit painful.

When Paul joined Solstice, he lived here in Norway.

– In 2011 I saw Stian Fossum had booked Solstice for the Metal Merchant-festival. I remember speaking to him, I believe it was the week before at the Inferno kick off, and I said: “It’s a week, and Solstice hasn’t pulled out, looks like it’s gonna happen”. The next day I read on Blabbermouth that Solstice had pulled out of the festival and kicked out their singer. Then I learnt they were looking for applicants, so I decided to put my name forward. When I went over to rehearse with Solstice, the problem was that Norway probably has the highest amount of people travelling to UK for football matches. The flights especially on Saturdays, were extremely expensive, so what I did was to fly to Dublin on Thursdays, stay for a night and then fly over to the UK on Friday, rehearse for the weekend and fly home on Sunday. It was never too much of a hassle, but it was really expensive.

What was your relationship to the music of Solstice when you applied for the position as their singer?

– I think I first heard Solstice in 1993, it was their promo tape. A year before or so, I got into buying demos and tape trading, and it was around the same time that I started hanging out with Alan from Primordial. I think he gave me a flyer for Solstice, and then I got a copy of this promo, maybe a year before the first album was released. I was really into that demo and later I got into the albums as well, especially the mini album “Halcyon”. So I’ve been into Solstice for a long time, and like most people, I thought they were dead and buried until just before they came back in 2011.

Do you have a fave among the old material to do live?

– We only do about two or three songs from “New Dark Age”, so out of those it will definitely be “The Sleeping Tyrant”. It’s the first song from the album, and a quite easy song to sing. We generally have it in the middle of the set, because it’s a bit of a breather. We did a song for a while from the “Halcyon”-mini album, called “To Ride With Tyr”, which is also a favorite, but unfortunately it was too hard for me to sing.

How have you developed as a singer both on and off stage since you joined Solstice?

– When I started singing in Solstice in 2011, I hadn’t sung in a band for twelve years. I had a band in the late nineties, that fell apart, and has really not been doing anything apart from a few bedroom projects afterwards. It was January 2011 when the band pulled out of Metal Merchants, and I went over in March that year to try out. In hindsight, I was a bit naïve, because I never considered a couple of things when I went for the audition. First of all, your voice is like a muscle, if you were a runner 12 years ago, andd don’t run for 12 years, and then try to run again, you’re not going to get very fast. I went over to the rehearsal, I never considered vocal fatigue, the fact that I had been away from singing so long, and the result was that my voice started to go quite quickly. I got very hoarse and tired. Also during those 12 years, I went from hardly smoking at all to being a full time smoker. I got older as well, I remember after the first rehearsal, I was quite surprised they asked me back, because I don’t think it went very well. So then, when I went over there in June for the second audition, I had done some singing in the meantime to train my voice a little bit. I never did warm ups or things like that, but I’ve become better, and I am more mature of course. I understand that I’m not 22 anymore and that I have to practice. When I think back at the early gigs, it’s all a bit embarrassing. I think the vocals on the “Death’s Crown Is Victory” are a bit deep, I suppose I can have a deeper range of singing, but I wasn’t singing enough and wasn’t pushing myself enough. I was very conservative. What you hear now is a bit more like my natural voice.

It’s been twenty years since the last studio album from Solstice was released. Even if you haven’t been in the band for the most part of these twenty years, it must feel satisfying to finally have the album out?

– It does! Especially because I didn’t think we were going to do it. When we put out the “Death’s Crown is Victory” mini album in 2013, Rich said we were going to do another EP. And considering how long it takes for him to write songs, I thought a full length would take another 20 years or so. There is a song on the album called “For All Days, & For None” a kind of dreamy and soft song. That one was not in the plans, and when we had that one ready, it didn’t require much rehearsal, that was another eight minutes running time. Once we had that, kind of unexpectedly, it became clear that we had enough material for a full length release. It’s very pleasing, but the thing was it was such a hassle to get the recording done. The studios we used is the same place we rehearse. When we first started in the studio back in 2014, they were kind of testing it. We recorded one song there and the guy running the studio got a friend of him to help. He was really good, had a good ear and was obviously talented. He returned to do the album, but something had happened in the meantime, he just had no interest anymore. Rich (Walker, git) and Andy (Whittaker, git)  did like five days worth of guitars and shit, and learned afterwards that this guy had fucked up and everything had to be redone. That made things really complicated, pushed everything back and made the whole process horrendous. At that point I thought no way this is happening.

The new album contains new recordings of tracks that are known to at least some people from before. How do you keep the motivation to continue working on music that you have already recorded more than decent versions of?

– For the album it was a little bit different, as we knew it was going to be an album. When we recorded “White Horse Hill”, I thought: What the fuck is the point of recording that song again? It felt like a waste of time then, but when I went to record vocals for the other songs, I realized it was Solstice’s our first album in 20 years, and that was enough to keep me motivated. My only concern was that I would have preferred the album to have a couple more surprises.

“To Sol A Thane”, the 2016-demo, was pressed onto vinyl in about 100 copies and sent out for free to a selected group of people. What was the idea behind it, and would you do something similar again?

– I don’t think we could do it again, as the whole thing cost about 6 000 Euro. When I went to record the vocals for the demo in 2016, I initially thought it was going to be a demo for ourselves, and maybe something to put up for people to listen to online. Then Rich told me about the plan to press it onto vinyl and to send it out to people who had supported the band. I thought: What the fuck! That’s all the money we’ve made from “Death Crown Is Victory”- mini album and I thought it sounded insane at first. When I got a chance to think about it, it was a really nice thing to do. We had to get the addresses to all the people we knew, pack the vinyls and post it all out, without people really knowing the packages were coming. Of course there were some people who kind of guessed, as a few of the people that received their package first, made a number of it on Facebook, but generally nobody knew they were getting this thing. I think it was very good that we did it, but I think the cost, including the recording, pressing, postage and packing was somewhere around 6000 Euros.

CDmini_gatefold_PO2-V1FZ-003_both_flap_open.inddYou do all the lyrics in the band, why have  you chosen “White Horse Hill” as the title of the album? Is the title relevant for the other lyrics as well?

– I have always liked the English language and enjoyed coming up with expression. I used to write kiddie poetry and was pretty good quite young at expressing things through words. I like writing lyrics. Rich did the lyrics in the past, and when I joined the band, I was the new boy in town. I had to respect how things were set up and how things were done before I came along. In fact, I didn’t expect to write any lyrics. Then Rich asked me to write lyrics for the song “Death’s Crown Is Victory”. He liked what I came up with, and told me to continue like that. When I have been in bands before, I have never had problems writing lyrics, but I have had trouble coming up with song titles that I liked. The song titles all come from Rich, expect for one song from the album, “For All Days, & For None”, but generally Rich is the song title man. The title gives me an idea of what the song should be about, but the album title and the song titles are all his. So as far as “White Horse Hill” goes, that’s all Rich.

I read somewhere that the lyrics are rooted in old English folk tradition. I don’t know about England, but here in Norway at least, there are some concerns about the future of folk tradition in the digital age.

– I think it’s a concern all over the world now, because the way things are going. The art of speech is lost, all the writing is being influenced by textspeak and all that kind of shit. I would say Ireland is a bit different though, as the Irish are a very vocal kind of people, and have way more than England , and definitely more than Norway, of the storytelling aspect where people get together to tell stories and listen to each other. So I think the concern here is a lot less than other places. Even when you are sending out a birthday card, you always put in a song or a poem or a limerick. The Irish have always been language gymnastics.

When it comes to writing lyrics, do you put a lot of research into them, or do you already have the knowledge you need to write them?

– It’s very much a spur of the moment-thing. I used to have, several years ago, strict rules that I could only write lyrics when I was in the moment, or hit by a hurricane of inspiration. Nowadays I can write and go back and edit it, but I would never research for lyrics, because I think they have to be very spontaneous. I think that is very important, also to use your day-to-day vocabulary.

Do you have a favorite lyric on the album?

– Yeah, it’s “For All Days, & For None”. I had wanted to say something like that in a lyric for a long, long time, and I tried hundreds of times and I could never do it. And then eventually, one night I managed to make it right, or to the point when I was happy enough for the subject matter to have those lyrics.

“Under Waves Lie Our Dead” is a title that caught my attention. As you said, Rich is the guy behind the titles, but what can you tell me about the lyrics to this song?

– I had a couple of lines from way back. They are based upon something changing, not like leaving something behind, but more like missing old values or old ethics. The honesty of how things were beforehand and how they have become. That’s the main idea here.

Having watched the band from the outside so to say, it would be interesting to hear how Paul view “White Horse Hill” compared to the earlier material.

– I don’t think the album is all that different to “New Dark Age”, I think it sounds like the same band that has gotten 20 years older. 20 years of experience of writing or whatever. But it’s always difficult for people in a band to be objective about their own band and their own music. When people are in bands or are put in any kind of spotlight, they tend not to be able to be self-critical or able to look at things in a neutral way. Even though I am conscious about that, I still agree that I can’t be properly objective because I am a bit too close to it. If you are in a band and have a new album out, your natural response is: “No, no it doesn’t sound the same as the last one”, but then again, I don’t think it sounds exactly like “New Dark Age”. It’s more that I think it’s the same kind of band and in the same pocket of universal music.

Listening to your vocals, it seems important to put the words across with plenty of emotions.

– I never been the most natural talented or skilled singer. Whenever we are talking about brilliant, natural singers here in Ireland, we always mention Mourning Beloveth, because they have this guy who does the clean vocals in the band, called Frank Brennan. We always say: I am no Frank Brennan. He can be up for two days in a row, drinking, smoking and go out and be perfect. I am not really too concerned about the technical things, and as I said, have never been a natural talented singer. I have never been really into the heavy/doom/epic metal-scene that Solstice is part of either, I have always been more into the death and black metal-scene. If you did a take for a song and it sounded very genuine, but with technical flaws, that would not be a problem for me.

There are a lot of details in the music, and sometimes I catch myself thinking that you are searching for some kind of perfection. It must be hard working in an environment that strives for something close to perfection?

– Yeah, if I was living in the UK and rehearsing with the band, it would be hard for me. As everybody knows, Solstice is Rich’s band, he has been there since the beginning. Myself and Andy and Rick we have been with the band long enough now to be important cogs, but Rich started the band and is the only consistent member. All the fine attention to detail on the new album, that’s Rich, and that’s his nature. I don’t think I could be like that. While Rich is the kind of guy that does things over and over and over,  I couldn’t even imagine to have an album with all these kind of details involved. I am glad Rich is like that, because I think in the end, when the album did come, every detail had been considered, polished and cared over. It makes a better final product, but I am glad I didn’t have to do it myself.

Rich is also known as being very honest and unafraid when he speaks about individuals, labels other bands. Can the rest of you relate to his views?

– I do like his very honest approach. There are far too much backslapping and egocentric bullshit going on that is just fucking disgusting. It’s good that somebody stands up and says: Fuck that, this is how I see things. Sometimes Rich is a bit more emotional than me, so I tell him he should pick his battles, and not come guns blazing at all and everybody. Sometimes the best is silence, or choosing your words carefully, when to say it and when not to say it. Rich is very much spur of the moment. It’s great to have someone coming out saying: “This is bullshit”, but you  have to pick the right moment to say those words.

You recently had some members leaving the band, both the drummer and the bass player.

– Both things suck, especially Ian (Buxton), the bassist, leaving. Basically he plays in another band called Monolith Cult. He is also married and works full time, and it’s about an hour and a bit to drive for him to rehearse with Solstice. And then he would also have to rehearse with Monolith Cult as well.   Time was the main issue with Ian really, and it also came to the point where a couple of clashes with gigs arouse. The rest of the guys in Monolith Cult kind of said to him: “You should choose one or the other”, and then Rich and Andy pretty much said the same. With Monolith Cult, Ian is a founding member, and one of the main guys in the band, so he had to choose, and in the end he chose Monolith Cult. It’s a shame really, I would love to have Ian in the band. When it comes to James (Ashbey, drums), I think he just lost interest a bit. He started playing in the band when he was living in London. He used to come up to rehearse in Yorkshire, and then he ended up moving to Nottingham, which is like an hour and half away, which we thought would be good as it was closer to rehearsals. What we expected when he moved closer didn’t really happen though. James is an incredible nice person, easy going and laidback. Pretty quiet, and not too vocal about things. But over time it became clear that he was less enthusiastic than before. One day, he said he was going to quit. We could kind of see it coming. It was all very friendly, at least compared to the the old days when people quit the band.

The new drummer is an old acquaintance.

–Our new drummer is Rick (Budby) who played on “New Dark Age”. You know, sometimes, things are not at bad as they sound. Personally I thought Rich didn’t get on with any of the members back then, and I didn’t realize that him and Rick were still on friendly terms. When James was leaving, I was kind of surprised when Rich told me Rick, the old drummer, was coming back. As far as bassist, we have tried out a few guys and its down to two now. I will go away with Primordial for some weeks now, but I guess they will have a couple of long sessions with both of them, then decide one on.

Since this interview was conducted, the band has announced that Daryl Parson is their new bass player.

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