This Monday, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs will be coming to Bob’s (inside Cain’s Ballroom) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and concertgoers can be sure to expect a high-energy, experimental performance.
Dennis Coyne, singer and guitarist of Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, describes the group’s live shows as having “a lot of lights, a lot of loud music, and a lot of fog.”
“It’s absolutely psychedelic,” Coyne says.
The group’s musical style fits with these aspects of their live performances.
“It’s loud and bright in every sense of the word – loud and bright in sound and in color,” Coyne says of the band’s sound.
Stardeath and the White Dwarfs formed about four years ago, and its members hail from Oklahoma City and Norman. Coyne says he got started playing music by being around it a lot as a kid – he’s Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips’ nephew!
“I grew up around music my whole life, and by being close with the Lips,” Coyne says. “Growing up, it was always around, so that really had to give me some interest in it.”
Coyne says that Wayne helps the group “in a way that any good uncle would,” but that he also helps and influences Stardeath and the White Dwarfs musically.
“It’s awesome,” Coyne says of having Wayne as an uncle. “There’s nothing to complain about except that he’s hard to keep up with because he’s such a hard worker.”
As a band coming out of Oklahoma, Coyne says that he has always liked the Oklahoma City and Norman music scenes. And, in addition to this, he says that it’s nice having just enough bands in the area without having an overload of competition. Oklahoma’s low cost of living is also a benefit.
“Being a band from Oklahoma is great because everything is cheap,” adds Coyne.
About seven months ago, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs was signed to Warner Bros. Records, but when they first found out, the group was working as a road crew for the Flaming Lips. They were so busy that Coyne says the group didn’t have a lot of time to consider the news.
“It was weird because we didn’t have time to digest anything,” Coyne says. “We didn’t get the news until we had arrived in England and were setting up for the Lips.”
The band recently finished their full-length album with Warner Bros., and it will be released in May. Also for the label, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs collaborated with the Flaming Lips on a cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.” The song is included on a compilation of Warner Bros. Records covers, released for the company’s 50th anniversary. Coyne says that “Borderline” was chosen carefully.
“Well, you wanna do something absurd, but not too absurd, but also not so serious that it’s boring,” he says.
The recording was completed long-distance – at the time, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs were recording in Oklahoma, and the Flaming Lips were working on Christmas on Mars in New York. They worked on the track in their two separate studios, emailing pieces back and forth, and working out issues by talking on the phone.
Currently, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs are running a very busy tour, playing a show in a different state almost every night.
“The schedule sounds brutal, but once you get rolling, it goes by so fast,” Coyne says. “There’s no sleep, and you’re driving a lot, but doing a lot in a little period is better because it keeps you on track.”
The band stops in Tulsa, in their home state, this Monday, March 16. The show is scheduled for 9 p.m. at Bob’s, inside Cain’s Ballroom. Be sure to check out Stardeath and the White Dwarfs for an energetic, psychedelic spectacle, and to support an Oklahoma-bred group!
Nothing More‘s new release The Few Not Fleeting is coming out this upcoming Saturday. IC writer Brian Murff had a chance to visit with lead singer Jonny Hawkins about the album and the processes behind it. The physical interview is below. Brian also compiled a video, which can be seen here: Nothing More by Brian Murff.
Nothing More has had a lot of changes in lineup. Can you tell me a little about the band’s history?
We didn’t quite get it right the first six times around, so seventh or eighth time’s the charm for us. The core of the band was always Mark Vollelunga, Josh Kercheville, and me, Jonny Hawkins. We went through bass players and singers like fast food, basically.
We finally teamed up with Daniel Oliver a little after Josh Klaus parted ways with the band. That really formed I think the real core of the band right there. Then we got Travis as our singer and released Madhatter’s Bliss, and after that, we got Trey Graham as our singer when he got off tour with Kelly Clarkson, and released Save You/Save Me. And I think Save You/Save Me was our first big push, in regards to touring, and playing with 30 Seconds to Mars, and Burden Brothers, and on the Warped Tour – stuff like that. Then things went south with our singer Trey. The whole time through all these people we never really quite felt like it was there yet, like it had sunk in and… I don’t really know how to describe it; it just didn’t have that peace.
Josh Kercheville ended up leaving the band, which was a big blow too, so that left it to Mark and Dan and I. I can honestly say I don’t think we’ve ever been happier creatively, through the writing process, playing live… I play all the drums on the album, but we hire a drummer for shows. He’s on contract for now, I don’t think I’m ready to give up all the drumming right yet, but I can say I’ve never been with somebody that I’ve been as open to the idea about potentially joining the band. He’s an amazing guitar player, drummer, writer, artist, so he brings a lot to the table.
How did you go from being the drummer to being lead singer?
I got kind of into a depression in the last year. I had a lot of stuff going on in my life with my mom and cancer, and Trey – we parted ways and it felt like the band wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I had this revelation that I told Mark one night. I was like, “I want to sing for the band.” Let me say this: first of all, my biggest fear has always been speaking in front of people. I would lose sleep in high school if I had to speak in front of the class the next day. I wouldn’t sleep the whole night! So the idea of getting in front of hundreds of people and singing was enormous. Second of all, I couldn’t sing. I was not a singer, I’d been a drummer my whole life.
I was like, I’m afraid to be in front of people and I can’t sing. That’s not a good combination for a lead singer, right? But I felt very passionate about music.
So the last year all the guys were like, “All right. Jonny, we believe in you, even though it sucks right now and you sound like crap.” I’m lucky to be with guys that… we know each other well, we believe in each other to the point of, even if it doesn’t make sense now, we support each other. And they supported me and believed in me, and I never could’ve done it if they hadn’t been there and believed in me.
Is this upcoming album (The Few Not Fleeting) is pretty big for you?
This CD is kind of monumental for us because it’s kind of our first “This Is It” CD. Not that the other CDs don’t mean a lot to us musically, but this is the first CD where, like I said with the other lineups and everything, it wasn’t quite “It.”
You’ve gone through a lot of changes. As far as musical influence goes, there was a time where your music almost had a funk vibe, and then you had a pop thing going for a while. This album feels like Shelter, but what Shelter should have been. What was that the result of?
When you watch a lot of bands, you can see them start somewhere, and then they kind of trail off and start exploring, and then they kind of go back to their roots but in a new way. We obviously all listen to so much music. There are a lot of bands that only listen to one kind of music. “All we listen to is punk rock, so we play punk rock.” Or, “all we listen to is hard rock, so we play hard rock.” We listen to jazz, to funk, to death metal… we’re very open-minded.
I think it’s taken us this many years to find out what it is that our musical soul, if you will, resonates at. Because we love playing funk! Daniel brings a lot of funk to the band, I love playing funk on the drums, but it doesn’t have as big of a portion of our heart as progressive/alternative rock like what we’re playing right now. But members are a big thing – when Trey was in the band, he brought this pop, kind of mainstream… I don’t really know what the right words are, but a little softer around the edges. We always wanted to rock, but we felt like we had to compromise, and that’s what Save You/Save Me was, was a compromise between the two things. Now it’s complete exploration of the progressive rock, harder rock direction.
Along those lines, the new record is coming out. In what ways have you made improvements on this one?
I feel like we’ve improved on the production value. This album is different from the rest because we produced the album at home in my room – half the album. With that, we had a lot of time and flexibility to explore the production side of things that we really didn’t have time or budget to do in a studio where we were on the clock, or with a producer that’s on the clock. So we really got to explore and flex nuts on the production side, if you will.
On song writing, we put more time and thought and energy and emotion into all these songs than we ever have. This year has been the hardest year of my life. I lost my mother, I lost my girlfriend of five and a half years, I lost one of my best friends in the band, lost our lead singer, had all these great things that went to nothing, you know, along with a lot of other stresses of being in debt and being on the road. It’s been a monumental year in the amount of pain that I’ve felt and the band has felt, and that’s translated I think through the music. I think the greatest things come from the greatest suffering, the greatest pain. I’d say that’s been the biggest factor through all of this.
Lyrically, I hadn’t quite gotten a grasp on this album until I read the jacket. How much of this is based on things that have happened in your lives?
Most of the songs are pretty deep. “Gone” was about my mother, “Blue And Gold” was about my friend that died in a car wreck. “The Cleansing” was about a friend of ours that got raped, “Salem” was about a very tight-knit group of friends that got destroyed by gossip and lies and all these things.
I’d been wondering about that one. Metaphorically, it’s a little bit more out there – witches, etc.
Yeah, it’s sarcastic. Well that song… I guess before I keep going on, I’ll let you know too that we’re going to release a website. There’s a thing in the album jacket that says for a deeper look into The Few Not Fleeting, go to www.nothingmore.net/thefewnotfleeting. There’s nothing up there right now, but probably in a month or two months we’ll put out an announcement. We’re going to release that website and it’s gonna be a handwritten website, very personal, and it’s going to be about all the songs and what was going on with me and my mom, or with “Salem” – what was really happening. Because it’s a quirky take on something that was very real and happening.
As far as coming into songs in a playful manner, I can’t think of one song on the album that’s not deep and real. One of my friends listened to the album, and she said, “We gotta start working on writing some happy songs.” And I was like, you know, the funny thing is that my happiness and I think the band is this way, too, is that we express our joy and happiness and all these emotions, not all positive but light-hearted emotions through hanging out with friends and very light-hearted things. But the deep, dark, very hard things in life, for whatever reason… music, that’s just what it does for me. That’s where it comes out. It doesn’t come out in other areas; it just comes out in music. So that’s why our music is dark, that’s just how it is I guess. But it’s hopeful, you know? It’s not just leaving you helpless, at least I hope not.
Okay. Now in contrast to that, you’ve got “Fat Kid.”
Wait a minute, never mind, I take back everything I said! That’s one song, there we go. I would say that it’s a slightly light-hearted, sarcastic song. “Salem” is sarcastic, but it does have a lot of angst in it. This one was more of the, “let’s write a song about Daniel, who grew up as a fat kid.” It’s like a look at me now song.
We’ve talked about how this album really feels like “It.” Do you anticipate the band taking off, or do you have any big tours lined up?
I definitely see this as a catalyst album, to our success as a band. I mean, Nothing More has been, every year, “Okay. Work, work, work, make an album, tour, here’s Nothing More, gain a bunch of fans.” Tear all that down, say, “forget that, here’s the new Nothing More,” lose all those fans, and gain new ones. This is the first one where we say, “Here we’re starting, and we’re following through with this, or we’re just going into the ground,” you know what I mean?
But this is a catalyst album. I would say the music industry as a whole isn’t what it used to be. Nobody’s selling millions of albums anymore, because music isn’t selling. But more bands are popular; it’s much more spread out. With that said we have a greater chance to reach more people, but it’s harder to make money in the industry than it ever has been. It’s a new challenge. So I guess what I’m trying to get at is yes, this album is going to be a catalyst as far as making the big bucks. I’m not quite sure yet, I can’t give you an answer. As long as we can do what we love and we can make a living at it, that’s success to us.
Big tours – we have some things in mind, we’re talking to some management in Dallas who can get us on tour with Fair To Midland. Are you familiar with Fair To Midland? That’s a potential. We’re talking to a lot of management right now, because we’ve been self-managed for a long time. We’re talking to some promotions companies to help us out. We have a lot of things in the works. I don’t have any solid tours that I can say, “we’re going to be on tour with this or that band,” but we are going to be touring the region very heavily on our own for the new few months.
What do you think your future is? Is there a road map that you’d like to be able to follow?
I would say we definitely have a very headstrong goal to do this as a career. Most people, especially in the art world, approach things with “if it works out great, if it doesn’t I’ll go do another job,” a plan B, right? We all purposely haven’t had a plan B, because we didn’t want any excuse when the going gets tough to get out of this, because we all know that deep down inside, music is what makes us happier than anything. I can’t picture myself not doing music, so that’s it. That’s my tunnel vision. I can’t predict the future, I know things change, and I change as a person, I may like different things and value different things in the future but for right now we’re dead set on making this a career and being the greatest band in the nation, if not the world one day. We have big goals, and we’re shooting for it. I’m not going to say we’re there by any means, no way, but…
Over the years of touring, performing, this whole experience, is there any wisdom you’ve learned?
We have learned what not to do a lot. If I were to pick one thing, I would say that the greatest asset we have above anything else is knowing who you’re working with and having trust. Our band wouldn’t have survived however many years as it has if I didn’t have guys that I trusted one hundred percent; we’ve been good enough people to lean on each other in the hard times. Bands freaking rise and fall like there’s no tomorrow. There have been millions of bands. It’s the highest turnover rate of any industry, I think. But knowing and trusting the guys in my band, and knowing and trusting the people we work with, is invaluable.
I’ve seen bands rise and fall based on trust, and it’s like the Roman Empire – some of the greatest bands have fallen from the inside. There wasn’t trust, or greed crept in; some little thing that destroyed a great musical thing. Happens all the time, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Know who you’re in bed with, you know what I mean?
On a slightly lighter note, what would the famous last words of Jonny Hawkins be?
You’re giving me some tough ones here. Famous last words… Is this funny last words, or serious?
It doesn’t matter.
I’d say hard work goes a very long way, but relationships are the most important thing. In business, in work… relationships are gold. I had to lose a lot of relationships to learn how much they’re worth, you know? That’d be my famous last words, hang onto your relationships.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
Just keep your eyes open this next year, because we expect great things with this album.