Uncle Acid’s Kevin Starrs on Touring with Black Sabbath

In the space of five short years, British psychedelic doomsayers Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats have risen from a fledgling project to become one of the more celebrated modern metal exports from the U.K.

Founded by principle songwriter Kevin “K.R.” Starrs, the shadowy group from Cambridge initially garnered notice in 2009 with a few catchy, fuzz-drench songs, posted on the band's MySpace page. Entreaties from fans for an album led to an an extremely limited-edition CD-R entitled simply Volume 1 that showcased tuneful proto-metal dirges that matched memorable Beatles-esque vocal melodies to pulverizing riffs. A second self-released album – 2011's sonic homage to classic Hammer Films horror Blood Lust – further refined Starrs' songwriting and scored Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats a deal with Rise Above Records.

For last year's ambitious follow-up effort Mind Control, Starr drew inspiration from '60s exploitation flicks and the murderous machinations of hippy cult leader Charles Manson to craft one of the most diabolically listenable concept albums in recent memory. While the band made its stateside debut back in May when it played the Maryland Death Fest, this current fall tour marks the first time most metal fans in the U.S. will get a chance to see Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.

[jump] Armed with the new 7-inch single for the song “Runaway Girls” that has already become the latest coveted vinyl release in the band's catalog, Starrs and company bring their dark vision to San Francisco for this sold-out show at Slim's Friday night with like-minded Portland, OR-based rockers Danava. Starrs recently spoke with SF Weekly about touring with Black Sabbath and the creative process behind his songwriting.

You played some shows with Black Sabbath in Europe last year. I have to say I felt kind of cheated getting Andrew WK DJing classic rock and metal as an opening act versus getting to see a band like yours. How was the reception from Sabbath fans? Was it difficult to go from your early live shows playing in clubs to the scale of arenas and stadiums?

It was difficult at first. It did take a couple of shows to get used to it. I think the second show that we did was in a football stadium, which was like 50,000 or something crazy like that. So that was a big shock, but once we sort of got used to it, it didn’t really matter. It’s just kind of a different mindset. We just do our thing anyway, which is just get up and play and hopefully people have a good time. But we got a really good reaction from the fans all around Europe. We were really pleased we made a lot of new fans from that.

Given that Ozzy Osbourne is a big Beatles fan, you seem well-suited to play with them. Did you get a chance to speak with him about music and specifically your music during the tour?

Yeah, actually he came into our dressing room in Amsterdam. Apparently he was looking for us all day and kept coming in, but we were out doing other things. Anyway, he eventually came in after his show and was just saying how much he loved our music and that he listened to it at home and stuff. It was very nice of him to say that. We got to meet all the guys in Sabbath and they were all really nice to us.

I hear an echo of “Blue Jay Way” on “Death Valley Blues.” It’s not overt, but a few listens in, I caught the similarity…

Yeah, that was bugging me when I wrote it. I was thinking “This sounds kind of familiar. I can’t think of what it is.” And then we recorded it and eventually I thought it did remind me of “Blue Jay Way” a bit.

That led me to wonder if you ever find yourself stepping back from something you’ve written and deciding it sounds too close to an influence where you’d change it or ditch it completely?

No, really I think that’s probably the only time I’ve ever thought that.

I didn’t get a digital copy of the booklet to Mind Control until after having the album for a while, but the lyrics and images from it really make the whole concept much more vivid. Did you start writing with an overarching theme in mind, or did the concept emerge as the songs came together?

I definitely had a theme in mind that I wanted to do. I had a sort of rough story, so each song became a chapter from the book or a scene from the film that I had in my mind. I guess the more that I wrote, it kind of changed here and there and deviated, but it was pretty much all thought out from the beginning.

Do you find having a storyline or concept for an album gives a framework that makes songwriting and lyric writing easier?

For me it does, yeah. It’s almost like you’re writing one long song rather than eight or nine small, different stories. It makes it easier. I don’t know, you don’t have to think as much. Maybe it’s a bit lazy [laughs]…

Or maybe that you have a Point A and a Point B and you’re filling in the space in between?

Yeah, there’s some kind of logic in my mind that makes it a bit easier.

You’ve talked about an abiding love for Sabbath in other interviews, but I was wondering to what extent did the British doom bands of the ‘90s like Cathedral, Electric Wizard, and Orange Goblin influenced you?

Yeah, I listened to a lot of that stuff like Electric Wizard when I was growing up, but the main influences were the ‘60s and ‘70s stuff that the original British bands did. There may be a small doom influence in our sound, but it’s not too great.

Beyond your musical influences, there’s also both a cinematic element to your music and – on Mind Control – a historical element as far as drawing on the stories of American cult leaders. Did your interest in those different areas grow at the same time or did the music come first?

For this album, I knew I wanted to do something different from Blood Lust, which had more of a British horror film vibe. And I was starting to read up on Charles Manson and Jim Jones and I thought that would be a good avenue to take the music; to sort of have a story around a cult leader. So I started to read more and more about different versions of the Manson situation and get a different perspective on that whole thing and it just kind of came together really.

The video for “Runaway Girls” is very much in the same biker flick/newsreel video collage style that some of other promo clips you’ve made. There’s a link on your website to the video mixtape artists the Whore Church; are you collaborating with them on the clips?

No, that was this guy Mark Morris who directed our last two videos. He’s done documentaries on video nasties and VHS. He’s got a huge VHS collection and just went through everything and cut them all together.

One thing I should mention about “Runaway Girls” is that’s another song that should have been on Mind Control, but we couldn’t get the performance right at the time and decided to leave it off. It always bugged me that we couldn’t get it right, so we decided to record it and release it as a single. That’s why the video is similar to the “Mind Crawler” video in that it’s got the biker thing and the Manson thing. It sort of ties into the whole Mind Control concept and is kind of a good closing chapter on that whole era.

Did you collaborate with Mark Morris as far as the editing and ideas, or was it mostly his work?

I just gave him certain words like “go-go girls” or “strippers” or said, “Just go and find footage of this,” and he did it and edited to the beat. It’s really just his work.

Given the storytelling and cinematic aspects of Mind Control, do you have any aspirations to do a film version of the album?

I’d love to! That’d be incredible, but it’s finding the time and the money. It would probably be terrible if I ever made anything like that [laughs]! But I think it would need to be as well. It would need to be trashy and sort of b-movie quality.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats play Slim’s on Friday, Oct. 10, 9 p.m. $17 (sold out)

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