Interview with Alexey Markhov (Vocals, Guitars, Bass) and Andrew Gryaznov (Keyboards)
Starsoup is an interesting progressive metal/rock act that has the uncanny ability to compose prog-laden epics, as well as radio friendly hard rock, cheery ballads and much more. Their debut album ‘Bazaar Of Wonders’ is most certainly a veritable bazaar of sounds. I talked with Alexey and Andrew as they described the turbulent recording process for this disc, as well as much of the lyrical and compositional content for most of the album’s standout tracks. It was quite interesting, just like the record itself.
Tell me a little bit about how Starsoup came to be. What is your musical goal for the project, and who would you consider being influences?
Alexey: My goal was to create some nice songs with good musicians. And I wanted the songs to be emotional, touching and vibrant (and heavy!). We originally started as a studio project. I met Andrew in the band Crime of Passion a few years ago, when we composed our first four songs. Our influences are bands like Savatage, Queensryche, Fates Warning and obviously Dream Theater.
It dazzles me that you’ve got hard rockers like “Ain’t No Superman” and “Past Bites” on the same album as highly majestic epics like “Bazaar” and calming atmospheres like “Rain In The Desert.” Was there a “no holds barred” approach to material on this album? Did you want people to hear many different sides to your act? In a way, it’s very much like a soup of sounds!
Alexey: That’s so pleasant to hear. Yes, I think Starsoup is our playground with music styles and a sandbox for learning how to write international super hits. (Smiles) I truly want people to hear all sides of my inspiration. And frankly speaking, I don’t know where it will lead us. We’ll see.
Tell me about the recording process for Bazaar Of Wonders. With so many different types of music and different ideas used, one would think that it took quite a while to compose. What was the atmosphere in the studio like for the album and did you have any difficulties?
Alexey: It was difficult because we didn’t have a plan at first. I only wanted to record the four songs we had (Angels, Bazaar, Cradle of War and Perfect Loser). We were doing the drums one or two songs at a time, with big pauses (sometimes for months) and in the process new songs appeared somehow. We didn’t have one studio for all the music, as the drums were recorded in a very nice (not cheap!) place, while the rhythm guitars were recorded at another place. Andrew recorded all of the keyboard sections at home. I also did the vocals at home, as well as all of the backing choirs and a few main vocal tracks too.
“Bazaar” is an absolutely incredible piece. What can you tell me about it in regards to writing and recording it? It almost sounds like something from Dream Theater.
Alexey: (Shouts) I’d say it sounds more like Ayreon! I didn’t compose it, but I had real fun recording these strange scales on the guitar. I should also mention that right after the tracking the song was exactly ten bars and one quarter note longer. (Smiles)
Andrew: Bazaar was written under teenage impressions of Symphony X, Dream Theater, Angra and other popular progressive bands. From today’s point I could say that it’s a bit too overloaded with different musical styles and arrangements. It’s a problem of self-expression in the young age, you know. But it’s still our child that we have to love and besides, it has some great moments. I personally like the last couple of parts which include the choir.
“Ain’t No Superman” seems to be a pretty interesting track, in the fact that you’re talking about all the world’s problems, but you can’t solve them. Do you think that this applies to everyone, or do you think that people should work together to make the world a better place?
Alexey: It’s more about my own personal views on the situation in my country, although I’m sure that a lot of people will find these views somehow similar to their own. I’m in no way an anti-globalist, or a vicious environmentalist. I have strong anti-religious liberal views, not exactly democratic but sort of meritocratic values. I don’t even think that we should strive to make world a better place – neither for people in developed countries nor (especially) for underdeveloped states.
There’s also the opener to the disc called “Angels” which seems to deal with your confusion towards religion. What do you think about religion personally, and do you think it is a good thing?
Andrew: I think that religion is like a huge and powerful weapon of mind control, nothing more. Like any other weapon it could be used to protect and heal people, or to destroy them… Sometimes I like to discuss religious topics, but I’m not really a religious person myself.
Alexey: I think any religion is obscure and evil in its core, while hope and faith are certainly not. However, I can understand believing in a Buddhist kind of God – a personal one, like an ideal to reach for, an entity to join – or to become.
There’s also one that really hits me, called “Rumors Of Better Life.” It speaks about the possibility of success, which people seem to devote their lives to. Some manage to be successful on other people’s terms, yet ironically they’re never successful on their own terms. What does this song mean to you?
Andrew: My vision of the meaning of “Rumors” is simple: You have to move your ass from the chair and work hard on what you’re really interested in to achieve your goal. Or you can always consider yourself too offended by this world and just talk about other’s success and search for self-justification… So yes, it’s sort of ironic.
Alexey: For me it’s a song about jealousy and envy. A lot of people would judge themselves by very strange benchmarks – like how they look in comparison to other people (either more successful or not, I don’t know which is worse). I think that one should only compare him/her to himself and become better in his area of interest or profession and success will follow.
The album seems to have some conflicting themes, with some being about war and poverty, perhaps even failure, and others being about beauty and wonder; sometimes even grandiosity. In a way, it makes me think of the human mind with its hopes and fears, as well as happiness and disappointment.
Alexey: The album overall is a blueprint of our emotions and capabilities. There’s no overall theme, but every single time I want to portray my own feelings and thoughts. So it might sound a bit arrogant (and I a bit am) but it’s not about a human mind, it’s more about my own mind.
Andrew: Actually, we just picked themes that we’re interested in and put them together on one album. If there’s any concept you see, then it’s because of our general interest in human nature (psychology, religion, passion, love, mentality, politics etc.)
Well, are you planning on playing this material live? And if so, where will you be playing it? Who do you plan to play on the stage with?
Alexey: Not yet. We are not ready. (Smiles) First I want to have a good set list with a few nice hits, one or two videos that will make us a little bit more known and a cool band to open for, who would also allow us to join them on tour. Like Pain of Salvation, maybe. By the way, it’s funny that in Moscow they played my acoustic guitars (the organizer rented the instruments from me).
What other projects are you working on, when not in Starsoup?
Alexey: I’m also a singer for an old Russian power-thrash metal band called Shadow Host. We play fast and heavy thrash with a melody, similar to Forbidden, Dark Empire, Evile and Artillery. We’ve just released a new album called Apocalyptic Symphony that has gotten very good reviews. I also have another project called Distant Sun, which is classic power metal with a dash of thrash. I only released a six-song EP in 2012, but an album will eventually follow.
Andrew is also the composer/keyboardist of a modern-rock Russian band called Timesquare.
Is there anything else that you would like to address before we end this interview?
We really appreciate the depth of the questions you asked. It’s so inspiring when people really get into your songs and try to understand what stood behind them. Thank you!