Wednesday, 21 February 2018
Home / Interviews / Interview: Neil Starr of PHIL CAMPBELL AND THE BASTARD SONS

Interview: Neil Starr of PHIL CAMPBELL AND THE BASTARD SONS

PHIL CAMPBELL AND THE BASTARD SONS, led by the legendary long-time MOTÖRHEAD guitarist, have released the second webisode for their upcoming debut album, The Age Of Absurdity. Get to know more about the album’s title, artwork, and concept.

The album is now available for pre-order in various formats here.

The Age Of Absurdity was recorded at Rockfield Studios and Longwave Studios in Wales and produced, engineered and mixed by Romesh Dodangoda and mastered at legendary Abbey Road Studios in London.

ANTIHERO: How does it feel being the only non-Campbell in a family organization?

Neil Starr: Actually, it doesn’t feel like I’m not part of the family, honestly. I’ve been friends with all of Phil’s friends for a long time. And I’ve also known Phil for quite a while now too, and, we’re all just really good friends and it’s like one big happy family, I suppose. I do have the benefit though that if there is a family dispute, I haven’t got to get involved. It’s nice, you know. I can leave them to it. But no, it’s great. It’s a very relaxed kind of band to be in; everyone gets on really well and there’s very rarely any drama, which is nice.

ANTIHERO: How did that work creatively in the studio? Do you find there’s like, sides – that you’re on your own when it comes to making decisions about a particular song, or a particular way a track was recorded?

Neil Starr: The beauty of it really for us is that, because everybody’s got input in the writing process, everyone’s on the same page really that ultimately everyone wants that particular song and the album as a whole to sound the best it can. So, obviously, Phil would be more than entitled to have a massive ego, with him being in a huge band for 32 years. But I mean, he doesn’t have an ego and he wants what’s best for the song like everyone else does. So, you don’t have somebody in the band who’s trying to make something work because it’s a part they wrote, for example. Nobody cares. Ultimately everyone just wants the song to sound as best it can.

One of the beauties of having Phil in the band for us is, you know, he’s got a wealth of experience and he can sometimes take a song in a different direction that we wouldn’t even think about. To him, it’s just second nature because as you know he’s written dozens of albums. So, he’s got tons of experience behind him, and that really helps us. Some interviews I’ve done with him, he’s commented that he’s found it nice because the onus isn’t on him to come up with riffs on his own; he likes the fact that the rest of us and his sons can all play guitar and write riffs as well, and come up with musical ideas. He finds that quite liberating, you know?

ANTIHERO: Yeah. What was that first live gig when you were playing together. I’ve seen you live a couple of times before when you’re playing those Motörhead songs and looked across on the stage, and there was Phil Campbell doing those Motörhead songs with you, was that not a bit surreal, or was it something you’ve just got used to?

Neil Starr: It was insane, to be honest. I mean, when they first asked me to sing, it was just at Todd’s birthday party. That’s how the [inaudible 00:03:14], I don’t know if you know, but we eventually got up together and played three or four or five maybe covers. Not even Motörhead songs, just party songs really, for Todd’s 30th birthday party. And I didn’t think at any point that would actually turn into an actual band, but then when we did, and it was an obvious thing that we would play Motörhead songs, it was quite a daunting prospect for me really. Because I knew straight away I wouldn’t even want to try and copy Lemmy in any way, because that would be disrespectful. And also, I would fail, because no one can be that man; no one can get that tone. You know, it’s unique. So, for me it was obvious from the start that I wouldn’t want to do, you know, Lemmy; that was never part of my plan, to do anything like that.

So, I was always a little bit worried at the start that you know, Motörhead fans coming to see Phil would not understand that I was trying to do my own. Does that make sense? But in all honesty, like, the majority of people I’ve met have been super supportive and have actually said they appreciate the fact that I’m putting my own spin on it and not trying to replicate the legend, you know? So, it’s been nice. I’ve had some very encouraging words of people in that respect. But now, those kinds of inhibitions have gone for me and I just really enjoy singing those songs now, because at the end of the day they’re fantastic songs, and to be able to sing those songs with the guy who wrote them is pretty special for me. And it doesn’t get old for me. Every day I go on stage and I basically pinch myself because I can’t believe I get to do this and I’m in a full-time band and I get to play this music all over the world and just do the thing I love, which is obviously for me personally it’s a dream come true.

ANTIHERO: And of course, you’ve got your own album now coming out at the end of the month. First of all, the album title, “Age of Absurdity,” what does that specifically refer to? Is it a reflection on the current state of the world, or was it something more specific?

Neil Starr: It wasn’t anything actual specific; I mean, you’ve nailed it there, it’s basically, you know, the world today is a pretty insane place, and that title for us kind of summed that up. I guess in years to come people might look back and call it something like that, you know. If the world ever got better; it’s probably just going to get worse. But I mean, trying to be a little bit optimistic and hope that this crazy shit can’t continue forever. But it’s a daily occurrence now, you turn on the news and something else has happened and the sad thing is it doesn’t even seem, to me now, like it doesn’t shock me as much as it should. Because I’m so used hearing bizarre stories and atrocities, you know. Todd came up with the title actually. He messaged us all and said, “Look I’ve had an idea for the album title,” and when I read it I thought, “Oh yeah that’s a brilliant title.” You know, I looked through some of the lyrics that I’d written for the album, and it tied in with some of the songs as well. And Phil’s always said that his sense of humour is like, a bit absurd, at his own admission. So, it also kind of tied in with that, you know? And then once we had the idea for the artwork, the whole thing kind of just, it really felt right, and we were really pleased that we went with it.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned there the artwork. Was that something that … How does it work, does the record company bring you some ideas once you get the album titled? Or is that something that maybe you guys in the band knew somebody who did art and hit them with your idea and they approach you with designs? How does the whole creative process come about for the album cover? And tying it in with the actual songs on the album.

Neil Starr:  Nuclear Blast has been very good to us. I don’t know how it works with all labels, but they haven’t given us any kind of restrictions or anything; we’ve been able to come up with everything ourselves. Again, Todd had the idea of like the 1930s vaudeville kind of circus; he had the kind of idea. Once he gave the idea to me I kind of just let my imagination take over me; I contacted a guy who does, you know, hand pencil and pen drawings, which is what that artwork is, it’s all hand-drawn, you know, physically not on a computer. And we gave him the idea of the front cover, and then my brain just started taking over. Have you had the physical copy of it yet?

ANTIHERO: No, just a download link.

Neil Starr: So, when you actually see a physical copy, if you do, the booklet we’ve had a piece of artwork drawn specifically for every track as well. So, the artwork is really beautiful, when you get to see it. So, every song has its own character from a vaudeville theme. So, you have like a bearded lady, and you have a Medusa character and you have a two-headed character, you know all those typical things you get from those 1930s circus posters kind of things.

So, he hand-drew all of those and they look amazing; we’re really happy with it. And again, for me personally speaking, the artwork’s important. It’s not just music for me. I think music about like the whole package, which is why I’m not such a fan of the digital age, from that point of view. I mean, you have streaming and stuff that give bands an opportunity to be heard by people that wouldn’t necessarily check them out otherwise. So, it does have some positives. But for me, I like to buy albums. I like to buy vinyl actually and have it in the bigger format, and I think the artwork’s still a special part of music. So yeah, we didn’t want to just put any old crap together really for the artwork. So that’s what we got. A guy we know called Matt Riste who also lives near us, and he hand-drew it all. Phil’s got all the originals actually; they look amazing.

ANTIHERO: The album then, it will be released in vinyl format; I know it’s something that Nuclear Blast do a lot with their releases, they do tend to release it a lot in vinyl.

Neil Starr: Yeah. And asked them if they could do a few different colours, because I’m a bit of a collector myself, so yeah, they haven’t just gone for the standard black, we’ve also gone for, I think it’s a clear vinyl, limited numbers. And there’s also like a white and red split thing. So yeah, it’s pretty cool. 

ANTIHERO: What about the recording process? Was it recorded in Wales, yeah? I think Phil has a studio?

Neil Starr: Yeah, the whole thing. I mean, we had a long discussion about it. Obviously, we had a lot of different producers that we shortlisted and that would have involved going to different places around the world depending on who we chose. We decided that we had an amazing producer on our doorstep; we had some brilliant studios on our doorstep, Rockfield and Langley, so Phil had never been to Rockfield either, which I couldn’t believe. And none of us had been, and it’s such a legendary studio that we kind of decided that yeah, let’s just do it in Wales. We don’t need to travel halfway around the world to record when we’ve got like a wealth of beautiful studios here and a great producer. So, that’s what we decided in the end. Yeah, we’d just do it locally and I think in a way it’s probably impacted on the album. We were so relaxed recording it; there was no … You know, if we wanted to travel home for the night we could. It’s all so close to where we all live, so going to Rockfield, it’s a bit cliché to say it, but it was a very inspirational place, you know; there’s been a lot of amazing songs and …

ANTIHERO: Albums made there.

Neil Starr: Artists record there over the years. And yeah, and the actual owner of Rockfield came in to see us one day, and she was telling us about like, Lemmy apparently named the band Motörhead at that studio, when they were apparently recording.

ANTIHERO:  That’s amazing. The cycle of history

Neil Starr: So, that was a sort of coincidence.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, that circle of life that people talk about, you know.

Neil Starr: Yeah, exactly. So, I know Phil would love to go there again; we’d all love to go there again, you know. It is a great studio.

ANTIHERO: What about the recording process? I mean, did you have the songs already written when you went in? Or did you do it old school, go in, jam out ideas and the songs gradually evolved when you were in the studio?

Neil Starr: No, we had written everything before we went in. We’re lucky that Todd has got his own recording studio. We did the EP in Todd’s studio; Todd engineered that. So, we’re lucky that we can just go and download songs whenever we want; that’s quite a lucky thing for us. So, no, we’d actually written in all in Todd’s studio and already put some rough demos down for Romesh the producer to hear and stuff so, you know, you obviously make tweaks and changes once you actually get in the studio with producer, he has ideas and things. But I think 90% of what’s on the album is what was done in advance of getting to Rockfield.

Neil StarrANTIHERO: Going to put you on the spot here. Obviously, all these songs are going to be precious to you and you’ll find it difficult to choose between; I wondered if you could just pick maybe, single out a couple, tell me a little bit about how the songs came together, maybe the subject matter, how they came to be recorded?

Neil Starr: Sure. I’ll try and pick a few different styles then I guess. There’s one called “Dark Days” which is, I guess, a bit more of a bluesy number. It might be one that people don’t expect to come from us, to come from Phil. And we weren’t sure when we were writing that if it’d actually make the album or not because we’re obviously quite diverse from what we were doing what we thought maybe people would expect from us. But that turned out to be one of our favourite songs on the album, all of us. That track actually fits in with the album title; it’s basically, we’re living in dark days, apparently explains itself. It talks a little bit about being a bit scared of the world we live in and how it’s become a crazy place.

And that song is about that; it’s not the most optimistic song in the world, unfortunately. But you know, it’s got a kind of, I felt when I heard the music I couldn’t be singing about sunshine and good weather, you know what I mean? It’s got a kind of bluesy rock feel to it, kind of needed to be a bit self-indulgent. I love that; I love the harmonic on it; Todd plays the harmonica on that as well. So, it was all done in house, which is great.

This song, one of my favourites to write lyrically was “Dropping the Needle”. I love some vinyls; that song is basically kind of about a love for music and a love in particular for vinyl. When I was writing I was kind of like, trying to, you know, incorporate diction into music. So obviously you’ve got needles with drugs and you’ve got needles with vinyl, so I could try to play it on words, and I had a lot of fun writing that song, lyrically. Because it’s so short and it’s over so fast, it’s one of those songs that I just put on repeat a few times to make sure I get it out of myself. It’s really fun. I love the guitar riff on it, the start, and loads of energy, and yeah, lyrically probably one of my favourites to have written.

“Freak Show,” that song, basically like, I was like, “I’m not sure what to write about for this song.” It’s got a bit of a party song. Some of the other songs are, you know, getting a bit dark and bit sort of negative and a bit active, you know, quite a bit of oppression on some of them lyrically as well. And he reminded me of a night we had in Switzerland where it was the last night of the tour and after the gig the bar owner said, “Look guys, you’re free just to have a free bar all night. Stay as long as you want. I’ll keep the bar mates here for you. Just go wild if you want; just have a good time.” So, the tour managers they have on the bus called at 6 a.m., so there’s not much point in sleeping, so we made full advantage of the free bar and we had a pretty great night. And that’s what that song’s about, really. It’s about like a pretty freaky night in the middle of the mountains in Switzerland.

ANTIHERO: After midnight…. as per the song lyrics.

Neil Starr: Yeah, the freaks come out after midnight, and there were some freaks in there, let me tell you. It was good fun though; we had a great night, it was a good blowout, you know; it was a long tour and we had a great tour, but, you know, me personally speaking, I don’t get to do a lot of drinking on tour because I’m not one of those singers that’s lucky enough to be able to party hard and still be able to sing the next day. So, I have to take it fairly laid back. So, when I do get an opportunity, I tend to grab it.

ANTIHERO: Do you find that Phil tends to reel in the band, and you’re always aware of him sort of kind of watching you, the fact that he’s lived that kind of life? Does he leave it up to yourselves to sort of moderate your behaviour, your excesses on the road or does he kind of let you learn from your own mistakes.

Neil Starr: Yeah, he does. He does. I mean, you know, he very much, he takes it easy these days, you know? But not many people are going to have partied harder than he has already with Motörhead.

ANTIHERO:  Yeah exactly.

Neil Starr: So, I don’t think he’d have any legs to stand on if he tried to preach to any of his boys. Out of the three sons, I’d say Tyla, he’s the biggest drinker out of them all. He likes to have a good whack every night. But no, actually he’s super chilled out on tour. He loves playing the shows, and he just loves to then relax and watch DVDs and that kind of thing. He’s super chilled out these days.

ANTIHERO: Okay, I just listened to the album and all the tracks would seem to fit perfectly in the live set. You’re going back out, touring with Ugly Kid Joe soon.

Neil Starr: Yeah!

ANTIHERO: I just wondered how much of the new album you’re actually going to be including in that set, because as I listened to it they all seemed to be born for the stage, really.

Neil Starr: I think that’s probably because we’ve spent a lot of time, I mean we gigged a lot before, you know, when we wrote the EP, we hadn’t really gigged a lot as a band, you know? Phil hadn’t long finished with Motörhead at that stage, so we hadn’t really as a band ourselves had a chance to tour much so I think in the interim period between doing the EP and recording the album, we did a lot of shows and I think we got more of a feel of how we wanted to go out and do things live. So, I think that might’ve been in the back of our minds really, to keep the live setting in mind, because that’s a big part for us, playing live. So, I guess we wanted to make we songs that we would be able to perform live, and not songs we just put out on a record and then not be able to perform. So, I think we’ll probably, it’ll be quite heavy on our own songs I think for that tour. To be honest. I think we’ll always play some Motörhead songs.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, I was going to ask, would they all be a part of the set or would they gradually be phased out as you starting writing more of the bands own material?

Neil Starr: I think especially in the headline sets it’ll always be a good part of, I think. Because, first of all, they’re really good fun to play, you know, for us! If it was a chore for us to play them, maybe we’d think we don’t want to. But everyone really enjoys playing them. And I think, you know, people coming to the gigs, they’re not going to object to us playing Motörhead songs; the majority of people who know us it’s through that band isn’t it? So, I think it’s good for everybody if you play them. Because we enjoy playing them and I think people enjoy hearing them. So, I think there will always be a large part of our live set, especially like I say, the headline ones. The problem with the support ones is I don’t know how long we have with Ugly Kid Joe, but I mean sometimes you get a 45-minute slot, and sometimes you get an hour; sometimes you get half an hour; so, it all depends, really, how long the set is. But, even if it’s a half hour we’ll still be able to squeeze one or two in it yes.

ANTIHERO: I’m predicting there could be a bit of jamming going on. I mean Ugly Kid Joe are known to sort of encore with a Motörhead song or two.

Neil Starr: Yeah! I mean, honestly like, I’m a massive Ugly Kid Joe fan; they were one of the first rock bands I ever got into as a kid. So, in the summer we played Hellfest and they were on after us.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, I was at that myself.

Neil Starr: I got to meet Whitfield Crane for the first time, so it was a bit of a fanboy moment for me and I was really happy. Yeah, I got to sing “Born to Raise Hell” with him, so like, everyone was like about how Guns N’ Roses’ shows are the best thing of the summer, but for me it was singing “Born to Raise Hell” with Whitfield Crane in France at Hellfest That was even better than playing with Guns N’ Roses for me.

ANTIHERO: They’re surprisingly heavy live. I saw them a few times in recent years. I mean, here music fans only generally know them for “The Cat’s in the Cradle” and “Everything I Hear About You”? But as a live show, there still pretty brilliant, pretty heavy.

Neil Starr: They’ve got some heavy songs though man. They’ve got some heavy riffs. 

Like, “So Damn Cool,” that’s a flippin’, that’s a balls-kicking riff. You know, and there’s plenty of kickass riffs off “Menace to Sobriety” as well, you know?

So, I’m looking forward to it man. And it’s going to be a good week for me. And I know obviously the rest of the boys already know them really well and some of them are obviously really good mates with Whitfield Crane and stuff so, it should be a top week. Looking forward to that.

ANTIHERO: What have you got lined up then for the rest of the year? Obviously, 2018’s just starting; you’ve got those Ugly Kid Joe dates. You’ve got the album release. Will you be coming back to the U.K. doing maybe a headline tour, or do you plan just to go out a bit further abroad, maybe do some support slots?

Neil Starr: We would’ve done a U.K. headline tour at the earlier part of this year if it hadn’t been for the Ugly Kid Joe offer. So originally, we were meant to be going on a full headline tour of Europe and U.K. I understand now because we had the offer from Ugly Kid Joe, we’re just going over to mainland Europe in March for a month, and then we come back to April and do their shows. So that’s why we’re not doing our own headline shows in the U.K. straightaway.

But I think the plan is to do some shows at the end of the year; I know we’ve got Hard Rock Hell soon. Hopefully, they have announced it. So, I think the plan might be to do some more U.K. stuff around that time of the year, which is obviously quite a long time to wait. But obviously when you commit to do a tour like Ugly Kid Joe, you obviously give them a bit of a grace in that you won’t gig yourself too close to their tour; it’s only fair you know?

So, we’ll do those gigs in April; we’ll do some festivals. I know we’ve got a couple of festivals in the U.K. already announced, in the summer. And then we’ll definitely do some U.K. headline stuff at the end of the year.

ANTIHERO: Okay. That’s me just about finished. Neil, thank you very much for the chat with me. I’m actually going to be popping along to that Ugly Kid Joe show in Manchester, so I’m looking forward to seeing you guys and hearing the new songs performed live.

Neil Starr: Any favourites you want to hear that are of interest?

ANTIHERO: Oh, you can play the whole album for me! It’s a great album.

Neil Starr: Thanks, I appreciate that!

ANTIHERO: Really love it. Thanks very much.

Neil Starr: If Phil was on the line now he’d tell you that he’s really excited and he’s actually really proud of it; it’s exceeded his expectations he’s been telling people on the interviews I’ve been on with him. So yeah, he’s well pleased. As we all are. And, looking forward to playing some more songs live; we did a couple on the Airborne tour, and they went down really well even though people had never heard them before. So, it’d be great for people to actually hear them once they’ve had a taste of the album first as well, you know? So, looking forward to it.

ANTIHERO: That’s brilliant.

Neil Starr: Hopefully see you in Manchester.

ANTIHERO: Indeed, you will. Thank you very much.

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