(Our Russian interviewing fiend Comrade Aleks is back, this time presenting a conversation with Paul Kearns, vocalist of the British band Solstice.)
Solstice is a kind of unique phenomenon of the British doom scene. Being raised in 1990, the band built their reputation with two excellent professional albums, Lamentations (1994) and New Dark Ages (1998), and also with the extreme slowness with which Solstice write new songs. You’ll easily understand the situation if you remember that the band’s only original member today is the guitarist Richard M. Walker, who’s an incorrigible perfectionist. However, since 1998 the band have released a pair of splits and a bunch of compilations, though there were also demos and one EP recorded in 2013 (Death’s Crown Is Victory) with Paul Kearns on vocals.
As the band slowly strides toward their next full-length album, or maybe just to their next song, we got in contact with Paul and had a pretty cool and informative conversation, though it took some time, as does everything connected with Solstice.
Hail Paul! Thank you for your time, it’s good to have some news from Solstice firsthand! What is the band’s current status? When will you finally do it and finish the next long-awaited full-length? I guess that its working title was “Englander”, right?
‘Englander’ as an album title seems to have been changed at some point. I’m not sure when — to be honest I didn’t even really notice until someone pointed it out to me.
It’s not really important anyway. For a long time Solstice was really nothing but planning for a future that would only seem further and further away. Much better to act than to talk, even if I think we still plan too much and move to slowly… at least it’s something these days.
As much as I am aware, the next full-length we should record will have the title “White Horse Hill”. Let’s see what happens though.
You’re been in Solstice since 2011. How did you become involved in the band?
I saw that the Solstice were looking for a new singer, I think, on Blabbermouth. Kinda hard to think of Blabbermouth being any source for real information nowadays since it has become such an embarrassing, irrelevant third-grade tabloid… once upon a time though? That site was great.
So, I contacted Rich. Pointed out who I was, we always had lots of common friends and so on. I think he would have been aware of my name over the years even if he couldn’t immediately spot me in a crowd.
I sent samples of the most recent recorded vocal work I had. Luckily I had a few hobby/casual things around that time, so that I had at least some examples of my vocal work to give him.
He replied very quickly and soon it was arranged that I would head over to Yorkshire to have a tryout on vocals in the band’s rehearsal room.
So, rehearsal/audition number one did not go so well. I had not been in a band, not really, for over 10 years. I never considered that I would almost immediately have fatigue/stiffness with the singing. Singing uses many muscles that had been mostly inactive all those years, and so when I started singing… at top volume, which had not been done (more or less) at all for 10+ years… in no time I was completely hoarse, was losing my voice, etc. Still, I managed to do enough to be asked over again in June 2011 (first tryout was March 2011).
In between I actually did some practicing myself, and so was far better prepared during the second audition. So that was it, from then on Solstice had the first truly beautiful addition to the band – an Irish passport 🙂
There were eight (!!!) vocalists in Solstice before you. Do you try to follow someone’s manner of singing or do you just sing as you find better for the band without looking back in the past?
Absolutely zero effort to copy, emulate, or take influence from any of the previous singers. If I am entirely honest, I don’t think Solstice was ever a band defined by its singer… think of Rob Lowe with Solitude Aeturnus – when I think of “Beyond The Crimson Horizon” I think of Rob Lowe. Solstice never had that. If people associate anyone with Solstice it’s Rich Walker. Always has been.
So I think it was easier for me than most people replacing a singer in a known band.
Instead of ‘Who is the new front man in Solstice?’, I think it was probably ‘Who’s the guy gonna sing in Rich’s band?’, for some people anyway.
Also, I am not a guy with loads and loads of natural talent and skill, and I need to move up with my ability all the time. So, I struggle enough just trying not to be awful, rather than trying to copy another person’s style on top of that….
I read that you mentioned Felipe Plaza Kutzbach as one of strongest Solstice vocalists; and he sang right before you joined the band. Does this fact somehow affect you?
Actually, not so much. I am not the most confident guy when it comes to singing. In one way this can be good, as it drives you – you know that there’s a lot ahead.
The bad side of it though is that it can… and it has… messed with my confidence here and there. We have had a few gigs where I have been really uphappy with my performance. I am very sure that lacking some confidence does not help.
Anyway, I do hope this will be something that will pass with more experience singing live!
Since your appearance the band have released only one EP, Death’s Crown Is Victory (2013), and two demos, White Horse Hill” (2014) and To Sol A Thane (2016). What slows the band down?
Man, haha. Come on!! This is Solstice, the band that released no new music between 1998 and 2013. There might be valid reasons for a delay here or a delay there, but 15 years???
I agree that, for the time I have been in the band, it is pretty slow progress… but compared to the amount of time before, where there was nothing new?? At least there is some progress now.
However, if we look at the situation completely independently and not compare it to how things were in the years before?? Then, it’s kinda slow progress. I cannot disagree. Things just move slow in the band.
Rich is the main guy, main songwriter… and he is so meticulous. Every single note is arranged, and then he goes back again and again and again. Double, triple checking. It’s just how he does things.
I think the results are great but, for sure, it’s painful getting there!
Solstice – White Horse Hill
Can we suppose that “White Horse Hill” gives the listener a hint about how the full-length sounds?
Ahm, yeah, I suppose so. Kinda. But then, the other songs “To Sol A Thane” and “For All Days…” will also be recorded on the full-length.
“For All Days…” is not an indicator to how the music is moving. It’s more like a one-off kinda song. But I think “To Sol A Thane” is probably as much an indicator of how the music is moving as “White Horse Hill”.
How does the band write songs nowadays? Is it all on Richard Walker? Or do you share your duties and everyone in the band is free to put his ideas on the table?
Yeah, it’s Rich… pretty much. He’ll always listen to Andy [Whittaker] if Andrew has any thoughts, suggestions, or ideas. Always. There’s a strong bond of respect between those two guys.
James [Ashbey] and Izak [Buxton] have always had other bands besides Solstice where they have had more ‘leading roles’, if you wanna say it like that… but again, if they had thoughts they’d have no problem saying something. I can’t give you an exact answer here, because I am based in Ireland and those guys are in England and I don’t get over to rehearse all the time.
And as far as myself??? Well, I have written words for the last four songs we have done with the band. Rich just asked me one day if I would give it a try….
When I joined, “I Am The Hunter” was just about finished. All the words, vocal melodies, etc., were done some time before. I had virtually no input on that song.
When we started working on “Death’s Crown…”, Rich had lyrics for the first 8 lines or so, and the chorus. Then he asked me to finish it.
So I did, and he was very pleased. So since then I have continued. I don’t think he hated writing lyrics or anything, but it was another responsibility for him when he has others that are more important to him. I like writing words to the songs so I was happy to take over.
I also make the vocal melodies. He just tells me where there should not be vocals in the songs and then I take care of the rest! Works well for us.
There were a lot of different releases in Solstice’s discography, but people more often keep in mind the full-length albums Lamentations and New Dark Age. Because you do also write lyrics as the vocalist, do you try to keep the band’s early concept in your texts?
No, no. Not at all. The ones I write are very, very different.
It’s not that I want them to be different or anything… different people just have different ways of doing things, and writing lyrics is no different.
I was quite fond of writing when I was in school, so when I began playing in bands I continued writing words to songs and always enjoyed it. I always continued writing during the years when I was not playing in a band, too.
I never learned to play an instrument, so it was the only way I had to express myself.
It doesn’t matter whether people think what I write is good or if people think it’s bad, you do something long enough you’ll have your own way of approaching it.
So, it’s not that I made a decision to approach writing the words to the songs differently to how the older Solstice lyrics had been done… not at all. I just didn’t even consider it… I just approached it as I normally would. More or less!
Solstice – New Dark Age
How do you see the main features of Solstice nowadays? And how do you see the core of such a genre as epic doom metal?
People will say different things I suppose. Epic Heavy Metal is what some folk say. I think Rich likes that term.
I would prefer to say Doom Metal, even if some people think it’s not as fitting now as it was. But for me, I have never had any connection to Heavy Metal, and for most of what is classified as Heavy Metal or True Metal today, I have absolutely no affinity to it.
As a kid I went from being into Guns ‘N’ Roses, Def Leppard, etc., straight into Thrash Metal, and then very quickly into Death Metal. And that was when I found my ‘home’.
So where most people I know would say that Maiden, Priest, Kiss, Sabbath are their cornerstones… well, I was never into any of those bands. Never bought a Maiden album until Brave New World. Never bought a Priest album, Kiss album, or any of that. For me, it was Morbid Angel, Entombed, Paradise Lost. So when people say Heavy Metal, I really don’t have any strong connection.
Doom Metal though??? English Doom/Death in the early ’90s was massive for me. Then bands like Solitude Aeturnus, etc. So I have always had a connection to Doom Metal. So, if I say Doom Metal it’s because that is the music that I have a connection to, more than I have ever had to Heavy Metal. So I suppose I’m saying, if I say I would rather be called Doom Metal than Heavy Metal, it’s just cos I like that style more.
Paul, you also run a promotion agency and organize gigs here and there. How does your work go nowadays? What is the territory you cover with your work?
Oh, it has been some time since I was doing that, actually booking bands for concerts. Long story. These days, I am doing some work with touring bands as part of the crew. Doing merchandise actually. I had done it here and there over the years, simply through contacts I had from being involved in the booking of live shows, being involved with tours.
I then did some more ‘professional’ tours… starting with Anathema. And have done a couple of tours with them. A couple of tours with The Winery Dogs, Primordial, and am due to do another tour at the end of the year.
You played in a half-dozen bands in different periods of your career, and I suppose the last one is The Pale Fall, progressive folk rock. Are you in the band still?
There was talk of recording some more songs with Cathal (the other guy I did The Pale Fall with, the guy who did everything except sing). He had some more songs that I really, really liked. May happen some day. I hope so.
Just yesterday English and Russian football hooligans put up a fight at UEFA Euro-2016 in Marcel. Do you usually watch football? How active are you as a fan?
Don’t mess with the Russians, right???
I was into football as a kid and then grew to hate it when music took over my life. For 20 years I ignored football completely, had no idea what was going on anywhere.
Then a few years ago, I became interested again. Started following some news, reading some statistics, and now I actively follow what’s going on with Liverpool FC (a team I loved as a kid) and the Republic Of Ireland team.
I don’t watch it that much really. It’s too annoying seeing players who are mostly poor excuses for men, but I enjoy following the news, reading some interesting sites like These Football Times.
Bottom line though – don’t fuck with the Russian fans!