You can call it getting back to their roots or just things coming full circle, but in either case, we the listening public get to reap the benefit.
After a bitter split from Breaking Benjamin and the litigation that followed, guitarist Aaron Fink and bassist Mark James have reunited with vocalist Nick Coyle to form Stardog Champion.
The trio, who once formed the nucleus of the band Lifer have also added drummer Josh Karis to the mix and now bring us Exhale; a collection of deeply cultivated songs with a sound that longs to be turned up to ten.
Produced by Grammy-nominated Neal Avron (Switchfoot, Everclear, Linkin Park), Exhale is a tasty alternative rock opus that features the infectious single and video “When We Fall”.
The band is currently gearing up for a fall tour and also has plans to return to the studio. I spoke with Coyle about the new album as well as his musical upbringing and more in this exclusive interview.
How did this project come about?
Aaron, Mark and I were in a band called Lifer back in 2000 on Universal. It was what they [Aaron and Mark] did prior to Breaking Benjamin. We all remained close friends over the years and recently got together and started writing some songs. After a few months, we decided to bring Josh on board, turn it into a band and give it a name.
Where did the name Stardog Champion come from?
Stardog Champion is actually the name of a Mother Love Bone song. We were shooting a bunch of different names around, but pretty much every band name you can think of has been taken. So we made a list of names and started crossing them off. Stardog Champion was a different sounding name that we all liked.
What was the songwriting process like?
For me, it all starts with a melody. I’ll hear a melody and usually a lyric within that melody will start forming and I’ll work out an idea around it. I let the vibe of the song dictate where the lyrics go. Sometimes, it’s just me and Mark in a room coming up with a riff. “Aphrodite” is an example of a song we brought to the band. Other times, someone will bring in their own completed idea. “Nothing to Lose” and “House of Cards” were two of Aaron’s songs. Then there are some songs that we all collaborate on that start out as jams.
What’s the origin behind “When We Fall”?
It started out as a riff I was hearing in my head one morning last summer. I then went to my acoustic and figured out the crazy hammer on/pull off riff I was imagining. It just sort of came out. Lyrically it’s about a breakdown in communication. For the video, we were going for a performance video with some strange projections. Then we tossed around the idea of adding some lovely young ladies to the mix. Threw them in some creepy ass masks and….voila! Video! [laughs].
Then there’s “The Switch”.
“The Switch” was a song that I originally brought in. The song is basically about good vs evil; fear and comfort. The verses represent the “dark” things in life and choruses the “light”. Lyrically, it was one of easier songs I’ve written. That was another song that just sort of came out.
What’s your live setup like?
We’re using Gibson, Ernie Ball/Music Man guitars along with Hughes and Kettner and Randall heads. Aaron’s always switching up his effects pedals, but some of his staples are a POG and an H&K Rotosphere.
Tell me a little about your musical background.
Growing up, my dad and uncle were in a band so I was always around rehearsals. I started playing when I was around 12 and joined a band as a lead singer a year later. We went into the studio and cut a cassette tape demo and started playing in bars and clubs. I’ve been doing it ever since.
When you were with Lifer, you had an album produced by Alex Lifeson of RUSH. What was that experience like?
It was amazing. He’s a rock legend, but for as big as he is there is no ego on him. He’s the most down to earth super-cool guy you’d ever want to meet. It’s cool to see someone at that level not let all the success and fame go to his head. He was just like one of the guys.
What are you most looking forward to now?
At this point we’re really looking forward to taking it out on the road and getting the real reaction.
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