Armed with a PhD in electrical engineering and an insatiable hunger to study the stars, Dustin Bates was never going to release just a ‘normal’ album. It makes sense then that under the guise of Starset, Bates has begun to weave an intricate and encompassing sonic narrative.
Since their debut, the Bates and Co. have made a motif out of looking to into the unknown, black abyss to find answers about ourselves, and their second and latest effort, Vessels, is objectively their most ambitious and progressive journey yet.
The album seamlessly meanders through soundscapes like an asteroid through orbit while lyrically, the album ventures head first into the endless black hole that is the human condition. We spoke to Bates about the process behind the album. However, as is the case with nerds, we had to discuss Star Wars: Rogue One before we did anything…
Dustin Bates: It blew my mind honestly, the first one back they had their hands tired because they had to play into the nostalgic plot points and what not. This one did its own thing but still delivered, I thought it was amazing.
The Neversphere: Hoo boy. And that Darth Vader scene…
Dustin Bates: Oh, like, I would say I had a nerd-boner but I may have had an actual boner…It was so awesome.
The Neversphere: Ok we’re going to get along famously. Now, we should probably get to business…The new album comes out January 20, what do you have in store for us with your next body of work?
Dustin: I would say the breath and depth of it has increased. It’s more metal at times; more ethereal at times and also more pop at times. At its centre it’ll always be hard rock but I’ve brought in a lot of EDM elements. There was an electronic element on the last one, and if you had to conjure up words for comparison you’d say maybe a bit of Nine Inch Nails – that’s sort of still there but the electronic is even more EDM this time.
People would say cinematic which is accurate, in everything from the music to the marketing but I would say the movie has changed so the sound has changed as well…I tried to keep certain elements the same so it wasn’t a total shocker to people. My writing style was the same; starting the music then I like to scat the melodies over the chord structures.
The Neversphere: The great Tesla has been name checked as a source of fuel for the album, as well as the Singularity theory which informed the album. It feels rare that these get brought up in music.
Dustin: Tesla is a huge inspiration. One reason was he was one of the first to believe he discovered a transmission. In colliers weekly in 1898 I believe, he did a paper on how he believed he discovered a transmission from out of space. That was one of the main tenants there. We incorporated some various languages within the interludes as well. That was so vague, sorry.
The Neversphere: You have a PhD in electrical engineering, you’ve also taught at the International Space University in France, where do you feel your research, study and work in these areas impacts the music?
Dustin: It comes through everywhere. I think the technicality; i’m very anal trying to build various layers almost like an engineer. Also thinking outside the box, in terms of chord structures. Of course the various space and technology metaphors, my background has helped that as well. Conjuring up a vibe, hopefully, a SciFi vibe then painting that with the music.
The Neversphere: Monster is an absolute Mega-single. I can’t help but notice you put it down the bottom of the album, was that a deliberate move so that people would have to hear the rest of the album?
Dustin: It certainly is. In the 80’s and 90’s they had an advantage because you’d have to listen to the whole tape to get to your favourite song. I got lucky because in terms of the records journey, it works in that spot. I hope people understand we’re not making singles to be cherry picked. This is a record to be listened to in its entirety. Besides it being an ideal spot for it in the narrative, i thought it would do just that, give people something to dig through.
The Neversphere: Everything about the album seems to be purposeful, apparently even down to the track listing! Did you ever worry that maybe potentially listeners will find all this substance overwhelming?
Dustin: I don’t know, I’ve wondered the same thing. When I really start taking risk, like there are some DJENT parts, there are some heavy vocals too…And at the same time, there’s a couple of songs where you feel that EDM moment all the way down to its core, so it’s very diverse. I think that there is a large part of the population who are into different styles and can accept that and follow us.
But there’ll always be people who see it fit to define themselves by the genre; younger people especially. I believe that’s eroding somewhat with the availability of music at our fingerprints. It’s decaying but it still happens. In the 90’s a kid had to save up all his money to by the record they’d want to listen to. Now, you’re just one click away from another band so it has to open things up.
The Neversphere: You also announced a Graphic Novel series with in collaboration with Marvel…As a fan of graphic novels, I have to ask…Not a DC fan?
Dustin: Well, I prefer marvel…Even If I’m already obligated to say that at this point, one more practical answer would be I would love there to be a movie associated with this and, well, Marvel makes better movies.
The Neversphere: How much more are you willing to reveal about the concept of the series?
Dustin: As far as I know it’s going to all the comic book stores, with a proper distribution. Which is awesome because it’s going to be a new way for people to be come acclimate to or enter The Starset Society.
The Neversphere: Just looking at your history, a PhD, taught at an international academy, you have the story of a super hero. Will you be the hero of the series?
Dustin: I’m not directly involved in anyway but who knows? I’ll have to get a hot assistant first.
The Neversphere: …And hundreds of millions of dollars…
Dustin: [Laughs] Yeah, which is a lot more than what Spotify’s paying.
The Neversphere: Given that there’s only 4 members of the band, how do you go about recreating the album experience on stage? The logistics must be staggering with an album like Vessels.
Dustin: I try to keep it completely autonomous and easy to set up. More of it’s automated and wireless, it’s really nerdy and I’m actually incorporate a lot more for the next tour. We’re hoping to make it more immersive. You always want to be on step ahead of the venue you’re playing at. So if you’re playing a theatre, you it to look like an arena, and if we’re in an arena, we want to blow minds.
The Neversphere: And I suppose the most important question of all…When will you be bringing it down to Australia?
Dustin: I’ve been there before for summer program with the International Space University. I loved it there; I can’t wait to go back. I guess we just have to wait for an opportunity that pays the bills.
…It’s expensive to get there!
‘Vessels’ is out now.