Best of What's Next: Stardeath and White Dwarfs

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If the last name of Stardeath and White Dwarfs’ lead singer Dennis Coyne rings a bell, it’s no coincidence. His uncle is Wayne Coye, frontman of experimental mega-group The Flaming Lips, but don’t be mistaken—no coattails were damaged in the making of Stardeath’s exceptional debut LP, The Birth (out now). Amidst the distorted frequencies, harmonized vocals and vintage prog-rock sound lies an unmistakable mark of originality and youthful depth that could hardly be fabricated from a simple family association or industry helping-hands.

Though the band’s musical path is one of their own creation, they’re sharing the stage with the elder Coyne and his outfit on tour this fall, just wrapping up a North American jaunt and heading to Europe in November. Paste recently talked with Dennis Coyne about his band’s new album, the origin of its name, road-trip arguments over the supremacy of late rap stars, and more.

Paste: So how’s the tour going right now with The Flaming Lips?
Dennis Coyne: It’s going great. This is our third show and it’s just awesome. You never really know what’s going to happen when you’re opening up for a big band that has devoted fans. These Flaming Lips crowds are so unique in the way that they are actually respectful of the opening act. I guess they think that if the Lips like us, then we’re worth a listen at least.

Paste: Do you ever get psyched out from playing for such large crowds?
Coyne: Sometimes we do, but I think it’s worse to play for crowds with no one in them. On these tours, you know that the fans are there just to see the Lips, so they’re going to watch you and wait through it and hopefully some will like it. There are so many people there that you don’t get focused or zoomed in on a small part of the crowd. It’s the small crowds where you can single out the people who just aren’t having a good time and that’s what can really get into your head.

Paste: Describe a Stardeath show in your own words.
Coyne: From my perspective, it’s very loud and intense and it feels like something is about to go completely wrong at all times. It’s like some catastrophic thing, out of Final Destination, is going to happen to me.

Paste: You guys are traversing from one coast to the other right now. What do you do to kill time on the road?
Coyne: We just drive along and argue with each other and listen to music. I think that’s probably how it goes with most bands. We’re lucky enough to get a van with a DVD player in it, so we get to watch some movies and shit like that. Otherwise, everyone just sits on their iPhones and listens to music.

Paste: What are some recent arguments that you’ve had lately?
Coyne: They’re all dumb of course and totally irrelevant to anything. You know, stupid shit like, “Who’s better, Tupac or Biggie Smalls?”

Paste: So who was the decide victor—Tupac or Biggie?
Coyne: You know, I’m gonna go with Tupac. I think that Tupac was already kinda on his way out when he died, but he would have found a way to stay relevant because he was an actor and he changed his style a lot. I think I won that argument.

Paste: I could see the dangers of bringing back the East Coast/West Coast in a 15-passenger van. Sounds risky.
Coyne: Oh shit, it was. The tension got a little thick at times, but no gats were popped, luckily.

Paste: What are some things that you always have with you while on the road?
Coyne: I always have my iPod on me and we always try to keep some pot with us, but it gets harder with border checks and security. We always have to ditch it and buy some more. But really, if you have some pot and your iPod, what else do you need to get by?

Paste: They actually teach that in wilderness survival training, right? In case of danger, always carry an iPod and some marijuana.
Coyne: Oh, for sure man. We’re just trying to be prepared. Safety first! [Laughing]

Paste: What is your favorite part about touring?
Coyne: Getting to a different place every night and not knowing if crowds will like you or if the promoter’s gonna be a dick. There is so much left unknown that you are always sort of anticipating everything. It could be bad, or it could be amazing. Either way, it’s all part of the experience.

Paste: So how did you guys come up with your name? It’s quite a peculiar one.
Coyne: I think the way we got our name is not unlike how most bands get their name when they start out. A band asked us to play a show with them and they wanted our name for the fliers, so we bought an ounce of weed and got a bunch of booze and sat around with some sci-fi books and movies and stayed up all night trying to come up with it. I don’t know how it got there, but in the morning it was written on a sheet of paper and we had an epiphany that that was it.

Paste: And what was the inspiration behind The Birth? It’s a very well strung together, cohesive album.
Coyne: When we started making the record we were really into the early prog bands and we mixed that sound with a hip-hop foundation. I’ve always loved hip-hop and our bassist used to play in a few hip-hop groups. Our sound evolved from there.

Paste: How did you form as a band in the first place?
Coyne: I was writing my own songs for a while and for some reason I had never though about putting my own band together. I got back from touring with the Lips as a crew member and I just fell in love with the idea of putting together a band and making things happen. I looked for people and I found a drummer to work with who turned out to be this insane Jesus freak and that of course didn’t work. He was in another band with this 15-year old bass player [Casey Joseph] who was like nothing I had ever heard before. I thought that there was no way that I’d want someone so young in my band, so I went up to him and asked if he would teach my friend bass so that he could join my band and the kid agreed. After 20 minutes of that I said, “Fuck this, why don’t you join my band? Because you’re wicked.” So that was how the band started to form. We later ran into Matt [Duckworth], our drummer, because he was interning at The Flaming Lips’ managers office. After going through six months of searching, we found James [Young] our guitar player, as we were mutually dating these girls who lived together. The girls always had these hipster-college parties and I hated everybody who was hanging out at their house and so did he, so we had this common bond through that.

Paste: The bond of hate runs deep. So how do you go about writing music? Is it a collaborative effort, or do you more so bring in ideas and bounce them off of each other?
Coyne: It’s usually pretty collaborative between my bass player Casey and myself. We don’t really sit down and write a lot together, but we write a lot individually and then piece it all together when we’re in the same room. A lot of times I write whole parts and he writes these sick loops and we just run with each other’s ideas. We can usually always find a hook in the ideas we bring to the table.

Paste: So, to address the unavoidable, what is it like to have Wayne Coyne as your uncle?
Coyne: It’s awesome. But it can be really trying at times because he’s someone who’s seen and done everything. He can put you in your place quickly if he wants to. It’s great to have a close relative that feels like a close friend. Just seeing how hard he works on stuff will humble anybody. It’s unfathomable how much he works.

Paste: What are the main things you’ve learned from you uncle about music and life?
Coyne: To just do what you want. If you fail doing something that you weren’t 100% behind, you’ll never forgive yourself for that. You have to just express everything that naturally comes out of you and not worry about what will happen next. You can’t loose if you always do what you want to do. He’s always beaten that into me. Be brave, take chances and hope it works out.

Paste: What is to come for you in the short future?
Coyne: We’re going to finish this long stretch of touring in the States and then we go off to the U.K. for a while and then we come back when the Lips’ new record comes out. Then we’re going back to Europe to hit the road out there for a while. Take some chances, I suppose.

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