by Niklas Göransson
This is an article I wrote back in 2012, it was meant to be published in an English speaking magazine but for various reasons, this never happened. SOLSTICE have undergone line-up changes since then, as well as a few new releases – most notably EP “Death’s Crown is Victory” which can be heard in its entirety on their Bandcamp.
– Mate, I don’t do interviews – I have nothing to say; I like playing music, drinking beer and decking idiots, that’s all.
Dublin – September 2011; initial efforts to secure an interview with Solstice founder and guitarist Rich Walker yielded less than prolific results. After some campaigning he grudgingly relented and agreed to grant some insight into this legendary UK doom metal band. Hell’s Pleasure Festival in Germany, July 2012; grand plans of a historically themed article are swiftly shot down upon attempting to discuss the band’s formation.
– 1990, says Rich, very little to say. We formed and that was it. It’s of no consequence; all that matters is this line-up now.
Failing miserably at investigating SOLSTICE’s origins, slightly more success can be had in their rebirth; the band resumed activities in 2010 following a few years’ hiatus.
– This line-up came together when Lenny (Robinson) said ‘I’ll play bass for you’ and I thought I’d give it a go. I knew him from releasing his band ASOMVEL on my label (The Miskatonic Foundation) and we became good friends. He’s an amazing bassist, plays like a cross between Geezer Butler (BLACK SABBATH) and Rainy from DISCHARGE. After some initial hurdles we got Andy (Whittaker, guitars) who used to roadie for us during the “New Dark Age” (SOLSTICE‘s second album, 1998) period, he also had his own band THE LAMP OF THOTH. Del (Nichol, drums) is ex-ASOMVEL, he’s been with us a year now and working out fine.
After a brief stint with Paul Britton from the old NWOBHM band SCARAB (regularly and to constant sniggering pronounced ‘Scawab’, leading inquisitive minds to suspect the involvement of a speech impediment) on vocals, SOLSTICE decided to try their luck with another Paul – this time an Irishman living in Oslo, previously frontman for ARCANE SUN and FIFTH DOMINION.
– I hadn’t played in a band for over ten years, Paul Thomas Kearns explains, and I wasn’t really interested in starting something new. SOLSTICE is a band I’ve followed since 1993 so upon reading that they were looking for a new vocalist I sent Rich an email. I ended up going over for a try-out but hadn’t really sung in a rehearsal room for a long time so…
– You were crap, Andy reminisces helpfully.
– Well, I thought it went quite badly. Rich said it wasn’t that dreadful so I went over for a second audition…
– We had no other options really, Andy adds.
– In the meantime I had started practising at a rehearsal place back in Oslo and it went much better, so I was told that due to lack of alternatives they would like me to join the band.
With a stable line-up and new album “Englander” in the works, one would think it time to start surveying label options.
– No need to sign to any label, Rich proclaims stoutly, we’ll pay for the studio ourselves and then press some vinyl and tapes up. Why have a middle man making money off us? We can sell it at shows and through mail orders; we don’t need someone to do that for us. We have the knowledge and the dedication to do it ourselves instead of dealing with some tosser in a suit, sitting in a London office pulling puppet strings to get exposure for their latest discovery and muttering about ‘magic rock’.
More about the latter further on.
– The most important thing right now is to play live and road test the new songs, the way we’ve always done it. They have a tendency to after a few months, when you think they’re finished, mutate and start taking on a life of their own. Besides, all we see are bands not gigging until their new album is out because they’re afraid no one will know their new material and what sort of reaction they’ll get to it – never bothered us. We’ll record it eventually with Andy’s brother, Rich Whittaker of FX, an amazing studio engineer. I’m certain he will capture the sound we want – so far, previous studio efforts have been less than satisfactory to the point where I actually prefer listening to rehearsal tapes.
– You should put that in your magazine, Andy suggests, it should really annoy some people involved; hearing that someone who worked with ROLLING STONES, AC/DC and THE WHO is now producing SOLSTICE.
As it happens, the path to historical trivia lies in inadvertently stating incorrect facts; in this instance that SOLSTICE’s first record deal was with Candlelight for the debut 1993 album “Lamentations”. Rich corrects me:
– We signed with Cacophonous for a seven inch around the same time they contracted CRADLE OF FILTH. This would have been early 1993 and we were playing a show with them and AT THE GATES. There was a rather big argument between the bands. In the original billing, we were initially playing above them but the complete fucking spastic of a singer started crying his eyes out and refused to play if we didn’t go on first. We thought ‘fuck it’ and went on. Next thing we knew, Cacophonous rang us up and said: Guys, I can’t do your single – CRADLE OF FILTH are saying they refuse to be on the same label as a Christian band. Quite surprising really, as all of us had been explicitly anti-Christian since the early eighties. So we ended up getting kicked off because CRADLE OF FILTH wanted to get a bit of revenge for us standing up to them.
It would probably be an accurate assessment that Rich has an inherent tendency to get into these sorts of disputes, seeing as he has quite a number of well-publicised feuds.
– I just think people are shit; liars, back-stabbers and fucking hypocrites. I can think of one guy in particular who has a record label in London and used to be a friend, an ordinary musician like us. This guy manipulates the press, used to work for some shit management company and is now playing in a certain big-name band that he personally slagged off to me ten years ago. He’s a fucking career opportunist and has this, what we call, London mentality – these scene people who control the press and reckon they run the UK metal underground. To be honest, I’m past caring a long time ago. What we’re doing is just completely different. So, no one writes about us nor did they ever about Andy’s old band despite the fact that they were probably more popular than anything this guy’s label ever released. I have nothing in common with these people.
Rich’s background lies in the eighties hardcore and punk scene, activities including forming pioneering crust punk/grindcore outfit SORE THROAT – a milieu that might explain this relentlessly staunch attitude he’s known for.
– Absolutely. I’m still in touch with a lot of old punk guys from that time. I suppose I can’t really expect the whole metal scene to suddenly be more like how the punk scene used to be though. After all, heavy metal should not be some hippy love-fest mixed with left wing politics but I think it should have more balls than it currently has.
– I don’t think it’s a staunch attitude, Andy interjects, it’s more of a realistic one. He’s been around for so long that he’s seen everything come and go – these people who show up telling us how things are supposed to be and then disappear again.
– Everything goes in fashion cycles, Rich agrees, like this stoner rock phase. A certain someone from London even invented a sub-genre called ‘magic rock’ – I don’t know where the hell they pulled that out of, must have been their arse. What the hell is that about? What’s wrong with heavy metal? Are they embarrassed by heavy metal as a term? They went and tried to sell it to some major labels, rebranded and repackaged. A few years later these labels started this ‘heritage metal’ with utter crap like THE SWORD. ‘This is great man, this is heritage metal. It harkens back to the days of JUDAS PRIEST’. No it doesn’t, the only thing it harkens back to is fuckin’ more cunts making more money off other cunts. My god, are people so gullible that they buy into this shite?
While primarily known for playing epic doom metal, in recent times Rich has referred to SOLSTICE as heavy metal. This appears to have nothing to do with any kind of musical direction.
– I couldn’t give a fuck about genre classification – if it’s good and it’s metal, fine by me. Then again, adding rap and rollerblading influences is not metal to me. Evolving your style – sure, add more conviction instead of violins and keyboards. Symphonic, atmospheric; to me it’s just a fucking mess! You can’t bang your head to it, it doesn’t make you want to drink beer and smash things up but instead sit in a corner crying, reading French poetry and sipping red wine.
SOLSTICE were playing doom metal at the same time as the three that are now regarded as the UK pillars of the genre started out – PARADISE LOST, ANATHEMA and MY DYING BRIDE. Rich isn’t too distraught about usually not being mentioned in the same breath.
– ANATHEMA always had it in them to move in different musical circles, their influences were a lot more diverse than ours and they never made any secret about what they listened to. It’s not my cup of tea but I think they’re great at what they do and deserve every bit of success – they are poor working class kids from Liverpool and if they make a success of it then good luck to them. The other two, I don’t know anything about them and they really don’t interest me. Besides, we were the ones who actually started as a doom metal band; the others all played death metal. Badly.
Would you say that you are generally a messy lot when on tour?
– We’ve been known to knock over the odd litter bin, admits Rich.
The occasional Finnish hockey team.
– How did you know about that? Well, I wouldn’t say we were out of control, just acting like idiots. It’s alright for the funny anecdotes I suppose but looking back it’s just stupid. We do more fucked up stuff now, well – Andy does. In a way, a lot of the old escapades are quite notorious but absolutely fuck all compared to what goes on now, trust me. People incapacitating themselves with Greek moonshine to the point where they can’t walk and then stealing mopeds comes to mind. But honestly, I prefer to keep a lot of these stories to ourselves and our friends, they’re not really for public consumption and not what the band is about.
Another tale has Rich making a house call on some unfortunate German that had dealt with SOLSTICE bootlegs.
– Well, there was one guy who stole two and a half thousand Euros off me. Personal issue with a licensing fee; again it comes down to these businessmen within metal. I went by his house – he didn’t have the money so I just took a load of his rare records to pay the debt. We saw him the next day at a festival we were at, he was running around drunk off his head telling everyone that I came ‘round his house, beat him up and stole the records. Then he started shouting that I was a thief so I head-butted him and broke his nose, then kicked him down the street. He started crying and bleeding everywhere, next thing I knew he took his car to go tell the police but got arrested down the road for drunk driving. All in all a pretty good weekend I’d say.
Referring to SOLSTICE as a ‘rough crowd’ results in a rare interjection from Lenny:
– Rough! How dare you be calling me rough? I’ll have you know I was drinking fruit tea this very morning.
– I guess we are, Rich concurs, we’re ‘man on the street’ really. In the classic sense of the term, English working class. Maybe people have this preconceived notion about who we are and what we’re like, but just let them think it – doesn’t bother us in the slightest. Regardless, I would prefer it if people were more interested in the music than some fishwife gossip that surfaced on the internet.
Needless to say, the internet is the source of a lot of these rumours. Much to the surprise of no one, the World Wide Web is not exactly held in the highest of regards.
– The internet is full of fucking idiots, Rich spits in disgust, people who know everything because they ‘googled it’.
The last two words uttered with such venom it would poison a cobra.
– Never heard of a band, Andy continues, owns no records but looks them up on Youtube and after an hour they’re an expert.
Back to Rich:
– Instead of actually buying the albums when they were released. Of course we can’t all be old bastards but you get the impression from some kids today – this Google metal brigade, that downloading albums and then claiming they’ve been fans for years is normal. Fucking internet – Facebook Likes, things ‘going viral’? For fucks sake, when something went viral in the eighties you went to the doctor to get antibiotics, or an ointment to rub on it.
– I don’t mind Facebook really, Andy objects, I like adding people – only because they get so upset when you delete them again.
Reflecting upon the fact that the band tends to be quite unison in their opinions, Andy speculates that this could be due a similar background.
– That’s why we’re not pretenders trying to be anything special.
– I know people from certain other bands like to think they’re a cut above us socially, says Rich, fair enough – maybe they are. They have more money than us, grew up in big houses with their rich parents and never wanted for anything. We have no need to treat people like shit – we just want to get drunk, have a laugh and play our music. We’re not trying to climb that rickety social ladder and be a success.
He adds that from his and Lenny’s generation, punk and heavy metal was working class music.
– I think that the last ten years metal has been taken over by a lot of middle class mealy mouthed tossers who turned it into something for the internet generation rather than people down at the boozer who like motorbikes, DISCHARGE and MOTÖRHEAD. A lot of people from this audience are not ones I would associate with, with their brand new cut-off denims covered in shiny new SAXON patches; we’re different people in regards to upbringing, generation and mind-set. To quote Charlie Harper (U.K. Subs): Born a rocker, die a rocker.