Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Interview: Dope Stars Inc.

Do it yourself...

 Photo by Yury Timofeev

“The main fact is the following: to provide music for free does NOT mean you are harming your record label or that you can’t have any kind of deal with a record label. We decided to close our previous deals because that record labels didn’t want or accept this model, which makes an immense difference.”

Italian cyber-rock outfit Dope Stars Inc. led by multi-instrumentalist and producer Victor Love have been around for over a decade honing a blend of heavy but dance friendly rock. Never ones to play by the rules the band have released their last two albums, including their latest offering 'TeraPunk' for free to their fans. A bold move in a world where major labels hound illegal downloaders and many independent bands struggle to see a return from their art.
We caught up with Victor Love to discuss the new album, the band's free music policy, and their fiercely independent and DIY attitude to their craft.

Intravenous Magazine: Your new album 'TeraPunk' was released recently. How has it been received so far?

Victor Love: I can say that the album is getting a really good feedback, almost unexpected, both by fans and critics. So far most of the magazines are giving 'TeraPunk' a very high rating and also the fans seem to be really happy about this release. This time we also hired promoters and publicists in different countries that are helping us a lot and doing a very good job. Considering it is being released for free as for the previous album and looking at the first statistics of sales, streams and downloads I can say that it’s all very promising and exciting.

IVM: Been four years since last album, 'Ultrawired' was released, what has the time between been like for you as a band?

VL: We have been doing a lot of things in the recent years especially about touring. We could make our first full tour in Russia and full tour in North America. After that we took a 1 year break and then in April 2014 I started to write the new songs for 'TeraPunk'. Every experience you do is always influencing what you are doing next and sometimes also having a little break helps you to make up your mind and think better for what you are planning to do stylistically and professionally. The step of 'Ultrawired' has been changing a lot of things on the business side too since we left our labels to become independent and for 'TeraPunk' I could finally think about what kind of deals to make for the best of the album. In particular what I wanted this time is to have a real indie label supporting, producing and distributing the physical release considering that doing it directly is a lot of work and I could not manage it anymore having also a real day job and a personal life. So what I thought is to make an improvement to the model of distribution of 'Ultrawired' and offer on top of all the other options (free download, torrent, soundcloud, legal digital and so on) also the option to get the CD trough regular channels in the physical form (local stores, mailorders and so on).

IVM: You've been the driving force of the band since its inception writing and recording the albums. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this for you and how open to collaboration are you?

VL: There are all benefits from it cause it is just the only way to express the music I write with the sound I like. I have been also working with other producers in the past but I was never totally satisfied to be honest. That is not because this or that producer was not good, instead they were all very professional and with a great taste, but simply there is nobody else that can understand the sound you want better than yourself. As simple as that. Also doing it always this way helped me to increase my skills and experience, not only working for my albums, but also for other bands. To get more experience as producer is also a way to have more tools and ideas for production, hence for songwriting and arrangement. The sound, production and mix is something that is strongly connected to the songwriting. To make you understand I will make an example. The music is made of waves, frequencies and all that physics stuff. There are some passages, arrangements or simply some mixture of instruments that just does not work good for the mix, others are instead working better. Whenever a songwriter is forcing these things is basically confusing the listener because actually the average listener just have a different perception of the song compared to the one the songwriter have. This happens for example also when you work with a band in studio. Sometimes what you hear is different from what the band hear, most of the time it is just a psychological thing. For example many bands have this issue, and this happen also to me, that demos sound better than the super-produced album. That is basically cause they are used to “that” sound which they listened hundreds of times, and they just can’t get used to the new one even if super produced, perfect, crystal clean and louder. That is why the only best way to solve this issue is to do it yourself.

IVM: There has always been a strong cyberpunk connection to Dope Stars Inc.'s albums and imagery. What specific themes and influences informed the writing of the new album?

VL: Yes in the past we had many songs inspired by Cyberpunk novels and the Cyberpunk subculture as well as the whole Sci-fi world. This time instead I wanted to have some lyrics that are more connected to anyone of us, to their inner self, to life experiences, emotions, positive and negative. I thought that it was time to have an album with more personal themes instead of another album inspired by cyberpunk novels. Of course that doesn’t mean I have lost my inspiration from that kind of world that is and will always be part of me, as well as all the other sub-cultures that influence and influenced me. However as most of our fans know I always like to experiment new styles for what matters the production and music and this time I just did the same concerning the lyrics. I also did it cause I noticed that most of our past songs that got an international acclaim were indeed the ones such as 'Make A Star' or 'Bang Your Head' that have indeed some personal or raging themes. So I also wanted to experiment and see what would be the outcome of a lyrical concept like that. That is always cause I am a really curious kind of person and I mostly do anything I do for curiosity and experimentation.

IVM: What kind of gear did you use for the recording and do you typically use the same equipment live?

VL: I basically used no gear. Just a crappy usb audio card, my headphones (bayer dynamics) and my computer and few mics here and there to record in different places where I have been doing recordings. The production this time in fact was a real challenge I did with myself with the aim to see what could be the quality limit I could reach using just basic equipment and limiting the most possible the use of professional gear. What I can tell now is that almost no one noticed that and instead most of the critics said the production is great. So I guess I won already.

IVM: On 13th February you held an online event where fans could listen to the album and ask questions. How successful was it and how important is that level of interaction with fans?

VL: Actually that was just an event on facebook and what happened is that I was so damn busy doing so many stuff that I could not really follow it. I had to stay behind also a lot of different little “technical” problems that some content aggregators had. However the general outcome of the release on SoundCloud and digital (itunes, Spotify etc) was really good and we received a lot of positive feedback.

IVM: The previous album was released for free by torrent, which is a gutsy move in this day and age. What led to that decision and how successful was this for you as a band?

VL: That was a real success and that’s why also 'TeraPunk' is free. We could not manage this time to have it on TPB home page or stuff like that for obvious reasons but however what happened with 'Ultrawired' is that, even if it was downloaded by millions of people, the results of our digital sales, streams on Spotify and stuff like were much better than all our other albums. The reason is simple and mathematical. We are billions in this world and there are basically different kind of fans you can reach. The fans that will just listen, download and stream your stuff and share it with your friends. The fans that would prefer to buy it legally. The fans that would prefer to get the CD. The fans who just won’t care about where they get your music but no matter what they will send you a donation. The fans that comes to your show and eventually buy a CD or a T-shirt they previously didn’t buy. Now it is really pointless in this scenario to “limit” the free downloads simply cause you will just limit the amount of fans you can reach of ANY of the kinds listed up here. What you are doing is basically trying to forbid access to your music to the big part of them in order to let few others to pay for it. The stupid thing is that your album will be anywhere anyway and eventually will also be on Spotify were anyone can just stream it for free basically. So there is really no point in doing this. You will just be considered a narrowhead and dickhead and you are just hurting yourself and your career.

IVM: This time you've chosen to release 'TeraPunk' through the labels Distorsion Products (US) and Subsound Records (EU). How did that come about?

VL: That is the part of improvement of the distribution model we had before 'TeraPunk'. The main fact is the following: to provide music for free does NOT mean you are harming your record label or that you can’t have any kind of deal with a record label. We decided to close our previous deals because that record labels didn’t want or accept this model, which makes an immense difference. A record label is no more no less than a person or a group of persons helping and supporting you. A record label can also just press your physical CD or merchandise or whatever else and you can still keep all your rights on the masters, on the songs and on digital in order to support your project. Most of the labels around though will not accept that cause they want everything, worldwide for five or ten years and want to give you just a small percentage on it. Which is basically a way to rip you off and get the most possible money they can from your project, together with another hundred of other projects like yours, in change of a promotional campaign you have no control over costs and benefits. Instead what I decided to do with this album is to keep the digital in order to invest in promotion and have two record labels to take care of distribution and marketing of the physical copy. Of course one can say, not every band is able or willing to manage all this, to follow all these things and so on. There are bands that just want to sit and let others do all the work, which is OK, I mean, anyone can do what they want yes. In fact anyone can also decide to get ripped off by their label in change of commodities but that’s just what I didn’t want for me.

IVM: The band has previously recorded videos for tracks 'I'm Overdriven' 'Better Not To Joke' and 'It's Today'. Are there any plans for tracks on new album?

VL: Yes, we just release one lyrics video for Many Thanks but in March we are going to shoot the official videos for Dressed Inside Your Fear and Along With You. Stay tuned on our website and once ready you will see it on our site and youtube channel.

 Photo by Yury Timofeev

IVM: Dope Stars Inc. has always been a fiercely independent band. How has this helped you in your musical career?

Thing is it helped me not only as an artist but also on the personal and professional level. What really matters after all is that you know that whatever you achieved you did it with your hands and with your forces. In other words you really deserved it. When I see other bands that are doing debts over debts on advances from major labels in order to push their promotions, pay their $50.000 videos and so on and yeah of course they have a lot of fans, they do a lot of shows and they are basically on tour all the year in order to pay back what their label invested, I think it’s all a bit sad and not fair both for the fans and for the bands. That is not they way it should be I think. These bands are basically slaves of a corporate system that is using them. They basically fake and exaggerate the costs of just anything they do for the band, from the studio to the video clip production till promotion, while we all know how much a studio or a clip cost nowadays. That is basically an huge waste of money, or better I should say, an huge amount of fake invoices. It is a big, enormous fiscal fraud too in my opinion. But that’s how the business work after all, not only in music.

IVM: The band has been around for over a decade now. How has industry changed for bands like DSI since your first album released?

VL: Industry didn’t change so much. Majors are still complaining for piracy, still enjoying for thirteen years old kids condemned for jail or even paying millions for a free download, exactly following a fascist kind of ideology: to punish one to educate one-hundred. There are few indie labels that understood, barely, what is happening and are trying to understand how to move ahead. There are other labels instead, like Subsound Records or Digital Productions that understood it already and do not give a shit about free downloads and stuff. The real tragedy is some labels just do not understand technology and its potential and advantages However a change is inevitable. That is why who created the universe made us mortal: to give us a way to inevitably evolve and change.

IVM: Looking back at your career, is there anything you'd change or advice you'd give your younger self?

VL: Sign the less possible deals, only if strictly necessary. Do it yourself. Distribute your music for free. Let the people choose if you are doing it right or not. Eventually change and try again. Find yourself.

IVM: Touring and playing live is still a necessity for independent bands. How do you find the touring process these days and do you still enjoy playing live?

VL: That is a necessity not only for indie bands but especially for big bands in order to pay their debts, as said before. That is a thing that really few people mention around. You have no idea how many bands there are around that are blocked in this circle. However of course touring is the most important and definitely the real dimension of a band. After all the production, music and song writing has as main target the live show that is the real playground where a band can express itself.

IVM: Can we expect to see Dope Stars Inc. back in the UK any time soon?

VL: I really hope so because UK is a very important country for us and we always had a lot of fans. However I can say that for our kind of music UK has become a bit harder than other countries, not only for us, but I have been told by really a lot of bands the same thing. That is a pity cause UK has always been a “legend” in our teenager’s mind as a place for alternative people. What we have all noticed in the scene however is that there has been a bit of a downer in the latest years for Alternative music. I personally love the UK and have great memories, friends and there are so many bands I love from UK but I would like to see that kind of UK of the 70’s-80’s-90’s that made the history of Alternative music worldwide and changed the life of so many people. It’s still great but I can’t see that kind of mood any more which I feel instead in other, unexpected, countries.

IVM: Finally, is there anything that you would like to add?

VL: I would just like to say that we have a new website now and you can start registering to it. Soon I will upgrade it with some special features that will be available only for registered users but in the meantime you can already create an account and get signed automatically to our newsletter too. That would be the best way to stay in touch and get all our updates in a world were social networks also started to be boring, repetitive and stinking like daily spam.

Dope Stars Inc.'s latest album 'TeraPunk' is available as a physical release through Subsound RecordsDistorsion Products, and Muzicona or for free as a digital download. For more information on the band, including release news and upcoming tour dates, please visit their official website.  

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