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Interview with Matt Starkes of Over The Coals

British Columbia's OVER THE COALS formed initially back in the spring of 2004 in their hometown of Prince George, B.C., under the name of Burn Out West. Comprised of vocalist James McMurtrie, guitarist Matt Starkes, bassist Mark Moser and drummer Max Matthews, all having solid backgrounds in other local projects such as Disdain, Feedback and Fistfiller, they soon morphed into a much larger musical beast under the newly christened moniker: Over The Coals, thus starting to immediately cultivate their defining sound, a cross between Pantera and Corrosion of Conformity, with other old school metal influences that helped them create a genuinely distinct, ferocius and simply undeniable crushing style that would soon garner them much attention throughout their home scene within just their first set of gigs. The band is now arming itself with new material in ultimate preparation for its debut album and also plan on making it out to the west coast of the United States later this year to begin carving their name out on the rock world in this most legitimate of manners. I recently conducted some Q&A in with their guitarist, Matt Starkes to learn more.

Rocket: Are you a native of British Columbia?

Matt: No, actually. I was born in Newfoundland and grew up there in this small town called Paradise – I shit you not. I was there until I was 10, then my whole family up and moved out west to BC, to this town called Prince George. I had a fucking blast growing up there and that was really my introduction to metal and guitar. 10 years later again after moving there it was time to up and move down here to Vancouver with the rest of the guys in the band.

Rocket: Awesome. So when did you first start playing electric guitar?

Matt: I have a Funny story there, Rocket. Max (drummer for Over the Coals) and I both started playing guitar and the drums when we were about 12 and it ended up turning out just like the stories you hear about the Van Halen’s and the Abbott’s – not to compare us to them, and no, we aren’t brothers, but anyways, Max started just killing me on the skins and I started getting more and more into the guitar, and it just ended up sticking that way. We formed our first band when we were 13 and never looked back.

Rocket: That's incredible. It speaks volumes to the depth of both your musical relationship now all these years later. You don't find that sort of situation very often. Tell me, who are some of your biggest playing influences?

Matt: The two main guys for me were, and still are, Eddie Van Halen and Dimebag Darrell. The first songs I really got into playing when I’d gotten some practice under my belt were Van Halen songs – not the solo’s at the point, obviously, but just those riffs man, the stuff off those first few albums… that stuff is so killer to play on guitar. I still to this day go back and re-learn that shit on a regular basis. Once I hit high school though, it was all about Pantera. I mean, there were tons of other bands I was really into, the obvious ones like Sabbath, Slayer and Metallica and what not, but in terms of influence on the guitar, Dime’s playing was what really captivated me.

Rocket: He had such a finesse to his raw and seemingly explosive 'coming from out of nowhere' style, though most don't know it, Darrrell was all about practicing and being dedicated to the technical aspect of it all. Many don't know that about him. It's really cool to hear that he did captivate you, brother.

Matt: And he still does to this day. I’m still blown away every time I hear him shred on a song. The other huge guitar influences for me are definitely the Ozzy guys. He’s been surrounded by some of the most incredible players throughout his career, it’s crazy. Zakk Wylde is a monster, Randy Rhoads wrote some of the best metal riffs and solos out there, and Tony Iommi really is the grandfather of metal guitar.

Rocket: What kind of guitars are you playing live and in the studio?

Matt: I’ve stuck with the same two axes for about 7 or 8 years now, mainly for monetary reasons (laughs). They’re two original Scott Ian JJ1 Jackson’s – one wood grain, the other a transparent blood red. I’ve played those for everything I’ve done, live and in the studio. They’re great guitars, super durable and they have a rad sound. I am looking to get something new in the near future though…I think it’s time to change things up a little…but those two Jackson’s will always be around.

Rocket: What kind of amp rig?

Matt: Same story with the Jackson’s. I’ve used my Marshall JCM 900 50 watt head and 1969A 4 x 12 cab ritualistically for years and years without fail. I loved the sound I got out of that rig for ‘Declaration’. There was nothing in front of it either, what you see me playing through live is what I used in the studio.

Rocket: I really hear a lot of that Pantera influence going on here with your demo tracks that can be heard on MySpace and one of my all-time favorites, Corrosion of Conformity. I just love the song entitled '1600', one of the best metal songs I've heard in the past 2 years. Hands down. When you've got me headbanging to a tune over and over again while working in my office, that tells you something special is going on with the music. That leads me to ask about the debut full-length album coming from this band? Do you have a title yet and when can we expect it?

Matt: Well ‘Declaration’ started out as more of a demo project, but it turned out so well that we’re treating it as our debut LP, and it’s now available online through our website, www.overthecoals.net as well as through iTunes and a cool new music site called Libertunes.com. We’re working on the retail distribution end of it now, and at the moment don’t have anything concrete in terms of when you’ll see it on the store shelves, but we’ll make sure you all know when it happens! In terms of a new disc, we’re already making plans to record in the fall, and we’re psyched about it, man. The energy in these new songs is unreal.

Rocket: Any idea where you'll be recording it and who will produce?

Matt: We’re not 100% on where it will be done yet, although there’s a really good chance we’ll go back to the Factory here in Vancouver, where we did ‘Declaration’. It will be produced once again by our longtime friend Chris “Hollywood” Holmes.

Rocket: Now, getting deeper into the songs. What can we expect? Is it going to be along the same lines of what you did with your past demo recordings? And by the way, whoever engineered your sound on those tracks is super talented and needs to be more exposed to the metal business as a whole. I'm dead serious about this one.

Matt: Chris actually did everything on those tracks – engineered it, mixed it and mastered it – and you’re right on that one, man, he kicks some serious ass in the studio. He knows and shares the vision of the band and can really get the best performances out of each us. When he sent us the finished product we were all just completely blown away by it. The sounds he got and they way he put everything together was just amazing. In terms of what to expect with the next batch of songs, I think people are going to really dig the direction we’re taking. Fundamentally, it’s the same style, but we’ve really stepped it up in terms of the individual performances. Mark (bass) and I are really playing off of each other a lot more and are coming up with some insane shit, but without losing the energy and feel we’ve always gone for. Max always kills on the drums, and as we’ve upped the ante on the riffs, he’s just pushing it even further; and James has been topping it all off with killer vocal hooks and screams. We’re really excited about how it’s all been coming together, and I can guarantee there won’t be any disappointments.

Rocket: Briefly, how did Over The Coals form together as a band?

Matt: It was pretty fuckin’ crazy man. Max and I were playing up in Prince George in a band called Disdain for years. We went to high school with Mark, and when the bass player for Disdain left, Mark came in to assume the role. Meanwhile, James was singing and playing guitar in a band called Feedback. When our singer in Disdain told us he wanted out of the singing gig, and only to play guitar with the band, we decided to give James a call to see if he was interested in fronting the band, having seen him kicking ass with Feedback all over town. Turns out that at the exact same time, the drummer for Feedback left, and James was also looking for a second guitar player in the band. So Max and I filled in the Feedback spots, and James took over vocals for Disdain (laughs). This went on for quite a while, so we were all playing all the fuckin’ time in these two bands, and it was just nuts. Eventually, and I’ll omit the grizzly details, we formed into one group with just the four of us: Max, Mark, James and myself. The next step was the move to Vancouver, and then after a couple of name changes we ended up as Over the Coals. Little long-winded eh?

Rocket: Hey, man... it's all good. This shit is important to understand when following a band you dig. I like to have fun with this next one. What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you while performing on the stage?

Matt: You picked the right guy to ask, cause I’ve definitely had my share. The funniest was probably this time we were playing a gig here in downtown Vancouver, one of our first gigs here actually, and they didn’t have the monitors secured to the stage. So, a few songs in I go to put my foot right up on the monitor, and the thing goes flying right off the damn stage - right into the front row. I drop right on my ass, and the monitor lands on some cabling they had hooked up to the front of the stage. It turned out to be the power, and everything on the right hand side of the stage completely died. Max and Mark kept on ripping cause all of their gear was running off power to the left hand side of the stage, and I just remember being crumpled on the stage, looking out at all these shocked faces. I guess the damage was pretty severe and we ended up having to cut the rest of the set. I felt like a total dickhead…but the club owner and promoter were actually apologizing to us afterwards for not having strapped the monitors down. Someone actually caught the whole thing on a cell phone video too, and we’ve still got the footage kicking around. Everyone always gets a good laugh out of that one.

Rocket: Haha. You can either let something like that destroy you or make you stronger. Period. Last year was a great one for metal, brother. So much that went down. What one album was your personal favorite?

Matt: Last year was a crazy one for metal albums.

Rocket: I dare to say I think it was perhaps the most overall productive and important year in metal ever, a simply defining moment in the genres great history. Of course the NWOBHM that happened back in the mid to late 1970's in the United Kingdom, as a reaction in part to the decline of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, is one very crucial time that needed to happen for us to even be sitting here doing this interview, comprised of course of names like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Saxon. But yeah, definitely since glam rock and nu metal began to disintegrate the foundation of all that metal was built on and almost in one fell swoop destroyed its popularity and interest for it since the 90's, that is until a great band like Pantera came along and brought us back to the original theme and roots of it all, you know? But yeah, last year was so immense, for me as a fan at least, cause you had so many different acts from all the different sub-genre categories dropping sonic equivalents to a nuclear payload: Cannibal Corpse, Lamb Of God, Maiden and Priest even... on an on and on.

Matt: Yeah, there was so little for so long, then all of a sudden it was like everyone was putting a new album out, and everything I heard kicked I thought kicked ass…Tool, BLS, Lamb of God and Unearth were some of my favorite ones for sure, but my number one would have to be Mastodon’s ‘Blood Mountain’….it’s just really fresh, doesn’t sound like anything that’s come out in a long ass time and is solid from start to finish. I started getting into them around the time ‘Leviathan’ came out and I couldn’t believe when we threw ‘Blood Mountain’ on…they’d just taken that unique style to a whole other level.

Rocket: Well, hopefully we'll see all of it continue to thrive in that general direction and not fall back at some point to rap metal! Haha. God, I remember so fuckin vividly, bro, seeing Faith No more open once... shit, we're talkin almost 20 years ago now. I forget who the headliner was. I been goin to metal shows since Maiden's Number of The Beast tour in 1982 when I was 12, for crying out loud. But Mike Patton and that band were taking an incredible razzing and booing for their set of rap crossed with heavy music. People were throwing shit at the stage. And then, in one of the most kick ass moments I've ever witnessed, those dudes - in sheer desperation - broke out the proverbial can of whoop ass with Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs' and I tell you, it still gives me goosebumps right now to relate this story... purely bad ass. Their cover of that one is the best. It turned the arena and everyone inside into the musical equivalent of 'One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest'...haha.. utter madness I tell you, and all just like at the drop of a hat, man.... within the very first strains of that legendary and most recognizable song. Mind staggering. Alright, man, moving onward and upward, please tell me what are some of the upcoming shows for this band?

Matt: We’re trying to get a mini-tour of Southern California booked right now for the end of March/beginning of April, playing in San Diego, Anaheim and LA, with another kick ass band from Vancouver called Cradle to Grave – but that’s still not 100%…we’re sitting here with our fingers crossed! We’re also working on a tour of Western Canada for late May, and continuing to book shows from April on throughout the summer here in Southern BC. Ultimately we also want to get something going on a grander scale for late summer before we go back into the studio, but that’s all still up in the air.

Rocket: Well, I can't wait to see what comes from ths band. You guys have a lot on the ball already that most could only dream for. Thanks very much for taking the time out to do this. Best of luck here in 2007. Go ahead and give a shoutout to your biggest supporters.

Matt: For sure, man, I had a lot of fun.

Rocket: RIght on, dude. By demons be driven. Hails to you and the rest of the band, most sincerely.

Matt: Thanks to all the family, friends and fans we have throughout Canada and the rest of the world – we’ll be seeing you soon!

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