Wildestarr Healing Pain Through Music

By Jeb Wright

Dave Starr and London Wilde are the reigning married couple in Heavy Metal. Not only do they have an undying love for each other…they are also members of the same band! …and have not killed each other yet!  In fact, from the interview that follows they would not have it any other way.

Dave, best known for being a member of the bands Vicious Rumors and Chastain, is a killer guitar player and songwriter. His wife, London, has a Metal voice that is simply amazing. Not to bring sex into it, but she is a Female Halford, Tate and Gillan all rolled into one. This lady can flat out sing!
The band Wildestarr…a combination of the couple’s last names…has released the best album of their career. The album, titled Beyond the Rain is a musical force. Beyond the music, this one is an emotional tribute to London’s brother, Gary, who committed suicide in 2012.

In the interview that follows Dave and London open up about how the tragedy they experienced changed their lives and created the music on the album.  We delve into the songs and discuss their meaning.  We also talk about the cover art and what it is like to be married to your band mate!

Jeb: Thank you both for doing this interview. Beyond the Rain is the best you’ve done to date…I know we are all supposed to say that but I mean it. Before we discuss the songs I guess we have to start off with the tragic event that inspired the songs. London…I am so sorry about the suicide of your brother. I can’t imagine the pain.

London: Thank you for interviewing us. We are really excited about the positive response we have gotten on the new album. Thanks for your kind condolence as well.

Let me explain a little about my brother...He was a guitar virtuoso and won several scholarships and guitar competitions back in the ‘80s. He was sent on auditions for bands like Kiss and Ozzy back in the day, but nothing ever happened for him in the way of musical success.

In 2012 just before our second album A Tell Tale Heart came out, he took his own life in his L.A. rehearsal studio. My mother and I were the first family members to arrive on the scene. It was my task to go through his recordings and computer to find musical material and other things the family would want archived. In reading his journals and notes, I was struck by how hard the music business can be on a person emotionally. I certainly could relate to his pain.

I decided I wanted to include him in the band by highlighting key points of his life story from his point of view lyrically, and write songs that aesthetically he would like. I wanted to give him a voice. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted the public to know necessarily how personal the story was, but when I had finished, it seemed important to reveal that.

Jeb: Gary died in 2012 if I am correct…is this work a concept album? Or is it just more themes of how you’ve learned about and dealt with his death?

London: It’s a concept album. It tells a sequential story from beginning to end. It’s about the love/hate relationship my brother had with the guitar, his arc of success and failures, the rejection and pain musicians expose themselves too, and the taking of his own life. It’s also about the spiritual connection I had with my brother after he took his life. There is light at the end of the tunnel, so I consider it a journey for the listener, not all doom and gloom.

Jeb: Dave…As her husband…and I assume a friend of Gary’s. How did you handle being the strong one during the grieving process?

Dave: I have never been through anything like this before, so I had to feel my way through the situation. To be honest, London is a very tough person... probably the strongest, smartest, most driven lady I have ever known. She handled herself very well throughout this ordeal. She held her head up high from day one. Not sure if I could have been that strong if the situation was reversed. 

Jeb: Not to dwell on this tragedy…please explain how Gary is actually an inspiration for this music. Did you feel his presence?

London: I actually had quite an intense interaction with my brother after he passed, which is part of my story telling lyrically for the album. What surprised me was that Dave and Josh felt him as well at different times during the making of the record. I invited him to participate, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Dave:  I wrote about half of the music for this album before Gary passed away, I always work ahead. His death did not really affect my writing. My job is to give London 10 solid compositions to work with, where she can add her lyrics and melodies.

Gary's death may have affected my playing a bit though. I used one of his guitars on the album, this was my idea. I told London that maybe we could tap into Gary's mojo a bit by playing one of his favorite guitars that he left behind. It’s a custom Strat, and a type of guitar that I normally would never play or own. But I fell in love with it, and we ended up using it on every song, along with my Les Paul's that I normally use to record with. London says my soloing changed a bit as the recording progressed, so maybe that mojo did come into play. 

Jeb: Dave…I will just throw it out there.  You’ve had more success than 99.9% of musicians…yet I STILL don’t think you’ve got the credit you deserve. The opening tune proves my point…”Metamorphose” is just killer.  London…feel free to comment too. 

Dave: Thank you. I am just happy to have had as long a career as I have had... and still have. Over 35 years now, and I'm playing the best music of my career right now with WildeStarr. Very few musicians ever get the success or credit that they truly deserve. So, really it gets down to making yourself happy and doing the best you can.  Whether you sell 500 CD''s or 5 million, you need to be doing this for the love of music and being creative.

London: I never understood why Dave’s talent was overlooked either. I remember once back in the VR days, two ladies came into the dressing room and asked Dave when the band was going to get there. Maybe it’s Dave’s humble demeanor, I don’t know. Dave did amazing solos and guitar work on our first two records, yet it seemed reviews mostly overlooked the guitar work. It’s wonderful that on our third outing, he is getting a lot more attention for his work. We are a band of under rated but talented people, who many thought were unlikely to succeed. On paper, It’s a guy known as a bass player, now playing guitar, with his unknown wife singing…it should be a train wreck right? It’s fun destroying those perceptions.

Dave: Ha. I remember that backstage story. I actually played along with them. It was pretty funny…I was not pissed off at all. As for getting overlooked as a guitarist... I tend to disagree. Many people have been shocked at my playing and writing ability, since I was really only known as a bassist for all those years with VR and CHASTAIN.

I read a few reviews on the first CD that said I should have been the guitarist in VR. Maybe some people thought I was a flash in the pan, a fluke, and could not keep this up...but here we are three albums later.

As for success, many people look at it differently. London and I own a 5000 square foot home on a four acre forested estate. Most musicians I know are paying rent in small apartments. We own 3 businesses. I’d say in life, we are successful. The fact that I'm still alive at age 56 and making great music, clean and sober, and happy...that to me is success.

I will never have a platinum or gold album or be a household name, but those things don't matter to me anymore. I suppose a long time ago, when I was younger they did.

Jeb: Let’s run through some of my favorite songs and get your comments.  WHY OH WHY did you stick “When the Night Falls” at the end of the album?  THAT is the best tune. I mean that is a true epic. The music is badass but those vocals…That high note. OMG.

London: “When The Night Falls” is quintessential WildeStarr, and I agree it’s a great song. The song order follows the story telling, and lyrically this is the point where my brother said farewell to me in spirit form. I love that it’s last. I think ending with a bang makes the listener to want to listen to the whole album over again.

Dave: Ha. It’s my favorite as well…that song has it all; the power, the majesty, the hooks... everything that makes a great WildeStarr song.

Jeb: “Beyond the Rain” has that nasty low end thump and the dropped distorted riff…then follows with an almost Alex Lifeson part in the verse…and London…you will get tired of me saying this…THOSE VOCALS.  Talk about that song.

London; I will never get tired of you saying you love the vocals. It’s why we work so hard, to make candy for your ears, and to move and evoke emotionally.

This is the first song I completed vocally for the record, and starts the story telling process. The song is about how music provided an escape and a feeling of empowerment in the face of child abuse. If you have ever heard a musician say “music is my life”, it has to come from somewhere, so I wanted to start with the WHY music was a core influence on who my brother was as a person. For both my brother and I, music was not only an escape, but a way in which we could create value in our self identity by imagining becoming the best.

Dave: I love the way it turned out, great song. One of my favorite parts of the song is the final verse where I harmonized the rhythm guitar part. That’s another example of what we call our "Wall of Sound". The bridge is so cool, I almost wanted to write a whole song around that part.

Jeb: “Pressing the Wires” also has a sneaky Rush meets Melodic Metal vibe. Am I way off base that Dave is fan of albums like A Farewell to Kings?
London: “Pressing the Wires” has a slightly retro feel musically, so it was perfect as the second installment of the story telling process.

“Pressing the Wires” is about playing the guitar, and the endless hours of dedication it takes to be great. I can remember my brother staying up all night to practice as a teen, the guitar seemed to be in his hands at all times, even in the car. “It cut like razors, now I never feel the pain” one of the lines in the tune, refers to the fact that until callouses are developed, the steel strings of the guitar are actually quite painful to press down on, and will literally cut into your skin after an hour or so. My brother suffered from eczema so there were times when his fingertips would be split open and bleeding from the guitar strings. It’s a song about the sacrifice it takes to be great at something.

Dave: I love RUSH, I think everyone does...even if they are not really a fan. I mainly love their early stuff, when they were really raw and more hard rock. All the Worlds a Stage is a great live album.

Jeb: “Down Cold” is especially emotional, both lyrically and musically.  I love the way it starts slow and builds. The slow parts may be slow but you can taste the angst and frustration.

London: We always have at least one of these types of songs on our records, where the dynamics go from an arpeggiated sweet guitar; to an exploding wall of sound. Dave is great at writing those types of tunes.

“Down Cold” is my favorite track on the album. I am the most proud of the vocal performance on that song. The softer guitar parts give me a rare chance to showcase the nuances in my voice that normally get buried in the wall of sound.
Dave: Nice dynamics in this song.  Lots of clean guitars before it kicks into gear, and goes back & forth.

Jeb: “Crimson Fifths” is a weird title. Explain the meaning behind the song.

London: Oh boy, I hope by the time I’ve answered this question you don’t regret asking it!

There are a lot of inside musical references in the lyrics, and in the case of “Crimson Fifths” also some double meaning word play. The lyrics are written in first person, and express my brother’s last thoughts before taking his life. The lyric “Crimson Fifths, my last chord”…refers to his last composition as a composer, which is his suicide by hanging himself with a guitar chord. The last note is not a musical note, but instead, a suicide note.

The crimson part…well, I think I can leave that to your imagination. It was a tough song for me to work on, and literally walks you through his actual death in the bridge. Yikes, I guess I just needed to really put myself in his shoes…all the way…emotionally.

Dave: It’s very brutal and horrifying, and yet beautiful. If that even makes any sense. I have a hard time listening to that song without getting choked up.

Jeb: The harmony on “From Shadow” makes this one have a progressive metal vibe. Yet…there is a lot of a Queensrÿche vibe.  Talk about this tune.

London: This song is fairly complex musically, and it was a bit challenging to come up with melody lines that didn’t interfere with what Dave had going on with the guitars. I normally work by spontaneous instinct, I just sing what seems to be right for the song as a whole, then I tweak my ideas. I love the vocal part in the pre chorus, maybe just because it’s fun to sing.

Dave: One of my favorites on the album, very heavy, but melodic with massive hooks.

Jeb: Tell me about the cover art and the artist.  How did this happen?

Dave: The album artwork was created by world renowned digital artist Jonas De Ro (http://www.jonasdero.com/). Jonas has worked on many blockbuster movies as a conceptual artist, including Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Terminator Genisys, Jupiter Ascending, and Edge Of Tomorrow. This particular piece of art is called Moscow Ruins. I fell in love with it when I first saw it. We worked out a licensing deal with Jonas to use it. It really fits with our music and concept of the CD.

Jeb: I started out talking how Dave is talented. So I am ending talking about London. Lady…holy shit you can sing. I want the short version of how you discovered your talent and how you developed it. Dave…do you remember the first time you heard her sing?

London: Thanks. I didn’t so much discover my talent, but rather dug it up out of the ground with a fork. I wanted to sing like my idols, having no idea if I could or not, but wanted to so badly, I made it so. I practiced a lot, but probably the most important tool that made me get good was that I recorded myself every rehearsal. Sometimes just in the car commuting, with a hand held mini cassette player. I listened back with a critical ear, to teach myself what I was doing right and wrong. Listening to your self is imperative to improving.

Dave: One of the great things about London…it’s not just her amazing vocal range.... it’s what she does with her voice, the lyrics, and melodies are so incredible. There are lots of great singers out there, but not all of them are equally great at song writing like London is. Actually... no, I don't remember the first time I heard her sing. But I was obviously sold on her.

Jeb: London…do you ever freak people out when they find out it is a female voice?  I mean… Tate…Halford…you can do them perfectly.  You have a HUGE range…Ian Gillan would probably be jealous.  The first time I heard this band I thought you were a dude…ha ha ha… To be fair…there was no picture. 

London: I love Ian Gillan. I grew up listening to Deep Purple. Thanks for the huge compliment. Halford and Tate are my vocal idols, and being compared to them is surreal for me.

Back in the ‘80s when I had a rehearsal studio, lots of bands would come up to me and say, “Holy shit, I thought that was a dude singing.” I don’t think I sound male but I sing in a style that most woman don’t, or at least do not do not well. It’s an aggressive style that requires huge range and power, so I can see why not many women choose this genre. I love it because there is no other genre that I can stretch out my range, and have intense vocal conviction and attitude without someone telling me I’m being obnoxious. I can put my vocal knob on 10 and no one will complain.

Dave: There are not many women who can sing like London can. She gets compared to Rob Halford a lot. Most of the female singers I have heard today, they are either Tarja/Nightwish clones, or they are doing the cookie monster voice.

Jeb: Last one: What is the best thing about being married to a band mate?  What is the worse?  And…what is the funniest?

London:  At this age looking back, I realize how much drama being a female in a mostly male genre caused for me. It was often resented and met with suspicion by wives and girlfriends, that their man is spending time in the company of another woman, even if they are just friends and band mates. It is equally resented the other way as well.

I once had a boyfriend call in a bomb threat to the rehearsal studio I was at just because he wanted me to come home. All of those kinds of problems are eliminated being married and in a band together.

It is an awesome bonding experience, and our marriage is closer than it would have been if we were in separate projects. The down side is that you can’t hide anything from your band mate. Sometimes I’ll be relaxing at home, enjoying some down time, and Dave will give me this glare, as if to say, “Why are you playing Candy Crush right now when you should be working on the songs?.”

Dave: The great thing about WildeStarr is that it’s been a very personal experience for both London and I. Sometimes things can get a bit tense, but that tension can also bring out the best in each of us. I don't really think there is a downside. Maybe having to keep our emotions in check from time to time in the writing and recording process.

This is the first (and last.) time I will ever be married to a band member. It’s very rare in the Heavy Metal genre for a couple do be doing what we do, but that’s part of what makes WildeStarr so special.