Interview with Roger Wells and Jason Applin of Union Starr

Falling Apart Together from UK rock band Union Starr has easily been one of   highlights to come out so far this year. The debut album from the band is a magnificent collection of melodic heartfelt songs that offer a fire and light to brighten everyday and to bring a sunshine to the heart through wonderfully crafted songs and lyrics to easily find a connection and understanding with. The album took ten years to finally have the opportunity to treat our ears, which it does so wonderfully.  This was one of the things we asked about when we had the great pleasure of having Roger Wells and Jason Applin of the band sit down and tell us more about themselves, Union Starr and the album.

Hello and a big welcome to The Ringmaster Review, many thanks for taking time out to talk with us. 

Firstly could you please introduce the members of Union Starr?

Roger Wells – Vox\Guitar, Jason Applin – Vox, Mark Lyons –bass, Simon Nash – Guitar, Neil Macurley – Keyboards,  Patch Hannon – drums and Steph Moorey – backing vox.

The seeds of the band began a decade ago I believe what was the inspiration that led to Union Starr?

Roger: I remember the original inspiration being a ‘Best Of Bread ‘album cover from the seventies. Four bearded men standing in a cornfield, sun setting behind them, cheese cloth shirts flapping. Classic stuff!

Jason: Rog and I have been listening to lots of things like Crosby, Stills and Nash and Steely Dan, sort of as a reaction to the indie we’d been living for the last 5 years. We both liked the idea of writing something so consciously timeless and high fidelity.

There was a musical past for you guys before the band too?

Roger: Yes, I was one of the founding members of Resque and played bass for Airhead for a couple of years.  I went on to form Pallet and after a Reading festival appearance alongside Jason’s band Bennett, we were inspired to work together and formed Union Starr.

Jason: Yes, Rog will no doubt tell you about his. Obviously Patch was int The Sundays, and I had been in a band called Bennett who had minor success largely to John Peel being a fan.

The promo sheet came accompanied our review copy of your wonderful new album made the time that led to the beginning of the band sound like a last chance saloon moment certainly emotionally for you musically if not deeper, was that the case?

Roger: No, not really, for me it was more the beginning. Having been mainly a bass player until then, I started playing guitar and song writing.  This wasn’t something I thought I could do so for me this is where it felt it all started for me.

Jason: I suppose there was a feeling of wanting to do something that was critically acclaimed rather than just indie kids liking it, but now 10 – 12 years on I feel completely the reverse, I don’t care who likes it, I just want people to enjoy it.

I have read somewhere that Union Starr almost ended before it started, that there was a falling out? Is that correct and if so what brought you back on course?

Jason: It wasn’t so much a falling out, more of drifting apart and then that kind of lack of communication ends up being a chasm in itself so I think we sort of filled that space with problems that weren’t really there. But, to my mind what happened when the album was finished, was that we fell out with the production company because they wanted our publishing as well as the record. So the whole thing basically caved in and Rog made it clear that he didn’t really want to work with me anymore. At the time that really pissed me off because I felt I was being made the scapegoat for everything going wrong. And it all sounds very melodramatic but conception and writing of the album itself took almost 2 years. And at the time I though Rog’s actions spoke volume about the true level of our friendship. I should say that I don’t think that anymore.

Roger: There was no falling out as such, between Jason and I, just a series of misunderstandings and things left unsaid.  It happens in most close relationships I imagine. I think because the actual process of writing together was such an easy and enjoyable place for both of us, we kind of carried on knowing that what we had was worth pursuing….

Does the album title Falling Apart Together reflect that period and the friendship between you two?

Roger: Very much so. It kind of says it all.

Jason: Yeah, the album title encapsulates 2 things, the first being that the majority of the lyrics I wrote were about the failing marriage I was in at the time. And the second is a nod towards that, for the best part of 11 years, the album destroyed a friendship.

Initially you were just a duo or there were other musicians helping out before you found the drumming skills of Patch Hannon (ex- The Sundays), to add permanently?

Jason: Simon Nash was always very key and involved right from the start. The others apart from Patch were pulled in to make up the band when we first attempted to record the album. At that time we had a drummer called Martin and it’s actually his drumming that remains on the song ‘Don’t Worry Baby’. We sacked him and as we knew Patch and had started working with Nick, using his brother just fell into place. Stephanie does not appear on the album but is a full time member of the current line up.

Roger: Simon Nash our guitarist featured heavily in the initial ideas for sound as it was his home studio that we spent time in. The three of us would sit and listen to loads of different stuff and draw inspiration from each others take on things ranging from sixties spy films to The Beta Band, Steely Dan, XTC…… Loved those nights…..

How and when did the link up with producer Nick Hannon happen?

Roger: We had known Nick for sometime before Union Starr as he used to play bass for Jim Jimenee and The Deep Season and had recorded demos with various bands that Jason and I had been in. So it was kind of a no brainer as far as we were concerned….

Jason: I knew Nick from the days in Bennett and we’d used his studio to record our first album. I think Rog might have known him too but I’m not sure. I can’t really remember but I think I might have played him some demos or something and he offered to work with us after that.

 Again the impression given from bio etc is that this all happened early on and it has taken ten years to reach the release of  your album Falling Apart Together can you put in perspective the time span and placing of things please?

Roger: The album was all ready to release in 2001 but the production company folded forcing us to shelve the album and with tensions running high and a feeling that all was lost I just kind of walk away from the project and my friendship with Jay.  We did talk, however in summer 2005 and began to discuss getting together with a view to at least gigging the album, but again it wasn’t happening…..

It was only when we met again at Mark Lyons (Bass) birthday party in 2010 that we decided to finally do something about Union Starr. And that is where we decided to put together the Woodenhouse Record Label, a label that would encompass Union Starr and projects that had been worked on during the bands lengthy hiatus.

Jason: Approximately 11 or 12 years ago we wrote and recorded the album. We then immediately split up, Rog and I didn’t really communicate too much for about 10 years. The last year we performed at Mark’s 40th birthday party, got talking about the album and decided to form Woodenhouse Records. That’s it.

Moving on to the album Falling Apart Together, so all the songs on it were written during the previous ten years or from a certain period?

Roger:  All the tracks on the album were written and recorded in Reading and Nashville between 1998 and 2000….

Jason: All the songs were written approx 11 or 12 years ago.

The album is a collection of beautifully crafted and inventively melodic songs but also heartfelt, is there a lot of you personally and emotionally in the compositions?

Jason: Yes.

Roger: For Jason definitely. As the lyricist it was bound to. For me melody is all, so I feel very much part of every song…

There are numerous spices that flavour your distinct songwriting and impressive sounds on the album, what influences have predominantly affected you musically and as people?

Jason: I think we always wanted to make something that was uplifting and it’s odd, but the only word I can think of is ‘summer’ I think there is a lot of countryside in that album.

Roger: To many influences to name, but on the whole, the Seventies, early and late, lay under the whole album.

There is a definitely eighties flavouring too, we got whiffs of the likes of The Bluebells, XTC and The Lightning Seeds, is that a period especially from the UK that has made a big impact on you?

Roger: I have more than a fondness for the bands mentioned and would also include The La’s, Wonderstuff, The Cure, Wire, Banshees, and many more. So, yeah, the 80’s made a huge impact on me….

Jason: I’ve always loved XTC; I don’t have interest in the Bluebells or Lighting Seeds. It’s odd, a few people have said that there is an 80’s vibe to it, that’s not conscious, I think if anything we were looking for a mid 70’s feel. But having listened to it recently I can see why people might say that and I’m totally comfortable with it.

How does the songwriting work within the band?

Roger: Generally I’ll come up with an idea or part formed song with a definite melody but with little or no lyrics and Jason and I will sit and arrange it. Then I’ll make the tea whilst Jay writes words…

Jason: The majority of the stuff Rog writes the basic song structure and often a sort of hummed melody line for the vocals. On the album I wrote all the lyrics and a couple of the songs I had more steer in. A Real Fool and I Kept Knocking for example, where I take the main vocals.

 So the songs start from the music aspect more often than from a thought or lyric to inspire them?

Jason: Often the music that Roger played me would evoke certain feelings or emotions that in turn would steer the lyrical content.

Sorry for going back to the promo sheet again haha but one line states ‘A year long process defined by fear and qualms, the end result was an album and a band that was completely unrecognisable to them but they still had great respect for.’ Could you explain and elaborate on that for us please?

Roger: I could try. But I’d rather not. Not my words……

Jason: I think that’s just a reference to the sacking of Martin, the fact that when we went into it we probably all had a little bit more of an equal say in things. I think we froze Simon out a little bit which these days I feel bad about, and Rog and I took control. Then I felt that Rog was very much courted by Nick, the producer, as the main talent and as such I felt a little bit side lined myself. But ultimately what we ended up with was the right album, so maybe those decisions were the right ones. I should caveat all that with the fact that this was 10 years ago, or more, so a lot of it is a bit foggy. 

Falling Apart Together includes the excellent singles ‘I Know About Art’ and current one ‘Photograph’ which preceded it at the beginning of the year, did the response and acclaim towards them fill you with confidence on how the album would be received?

Roger: Of course, it not only gave us confidence with regard to Falling… but also has given us immense hope for a follow up album we are in the process of demoing….

Jason: Honestly, I was hoping for more reaction to the album than we seem to be picking up at the moment, but it’s early days. All I know is that we’ve played only our second and third gig In 12 years recent and both Rog and I noticed that there were lots of smiling faces in the audience so we must be doing something good.

I am always intrigued about the line between the self belief within artists for their work and the leap into the unknown and the anxiety at how the outside will perceive their creations. Which aspect has been to the fore for you leading up to the album unveiling?

Roger: The only feelings I have had are of pride and a great sense of relief that this album has finally seen the light of day. I have never been endowed with much self belief to tell the truth.

Jason: I think it’s on such a small scale that we are doing this that it’s relatively easy not to be too anxious about it.

Our favourite track was I kept Knocking, a storming and vibrant yet steely track, could you give some background to it?

Jason: It was originally a song about a trip to Nashville that Rog and I took and a girl that we met there who could drink us under the table. But we got the basic track down and it just sounded shit. Nick and I had been joking around with the concept of country garage music (as in dance rather than 60’s punk) and so Nick started mucking about with sequencers over what we had done. And that gave us the basic track. The lyrics I can’t actually take credit for even though officially I do on the copyright etc, as it is a direct lift from a letter that was left outside the studio by a UPS delivery driver.

Roger: The song started life as an ode to a girl from Nashville but didn’t make the cut for the album. However, during a lull in recording Nick Hannon and Jason started mucking about with sequencers and various other sounds and created ‘I Kept Knocking’ from the drum track of the original song. The lyrics are taken directly from a note pinned to the studio door by a UPS delivery driver who could not make himself heard above the din of the recording of the track…..

Has there been a big feeling of relief now Falling Apart Together has finally come out and has the journey to this been a test of your patience more than people will imagine?

Jason: I don’t think its relief, there has been something niggling me for the last 10 or 11 years whenever I think about it. And I found it difficult to listen to. But now friendships have been mended, and the thing has seen the light of day. At least it means I can comfortably listen to it again.  Probably the nicest thing to come out of it would be hooking up with Roger again.

Is this a time to sit back and enjoy the inevitable acclaim or is Union Starr already looking ahead?

Roger: The new album is in full swing. Some of it has been written whilst sitting back, some of it whilst enjoying the acclaim.

Jason: No, we’re already writing new things and we plan to bring out an EP in August that will bridge a gap between the album and whatever comes next. At this stage I’m hopeful that it won’t be 11 years before the next album comes out.

Are there live shows promoting the release coming up?

Jason: Live shows for Union Starr are very difficult due to physical location of the band (I live in Reading, Roger lives in Devon etc) However, we are trying to do a few shows and have been invited to play a couple of small festivals over the Summer.

Roger: Jason and myself will be supporting Newton Faulkner as a duo at The O2 Academy in Oxford on the 10th May and Lemington Spa Assembly on the 13th May. We shall be playing with the full band at Reading Plug and Play on the 12th May and The Elderflower Field Festival in Lewes on the 26th May.

Other dates to follow…….

Do you think your next album will be an easier ride, not in creating it but just in the whole aspect of bringing it to life and into the world?

Roger: I would like to think so. It is so much easier for all of us now as we have our own record label.

Jason: Yes because we now can do it completely on our own without the need to involve anyone else. I think Rog and I are both conscious of the fact that we want the songs to be better than those on the first album. So that will take as long as it takes and therefore that could be a difficult ride.

Falling Apart Together is released on Woodenhouse Records, your own label as you mentioned earlier.  Has this been a decision from the start or one that you made to ensure a release of the album?

Roger: A bit of both really. It is nice to be in control of your own work.

Jason: Woodenhouse was initially formed specifically for this recent release. Originally I think we envisaged the record being licensed to a regular label.

I guess having your own label means the pressure to get the album out swiftly is removed haha.

Roger: Quite the opposite. We now feel a real need to make up for lost time! Our aim now is for Union Starr to release an album a year. Union Starr was never supposed to move at such a glacial speed. Let the great thaw begin…

Does the label have other artists to share?

Roger: We have Jason’s other project Damn Damn Patriots and Beartown Zodiac. Dates for releases can be found at woodenhouse.me.uk

Jason: Yes, we currently have a band called Damn, Damn Patriots (which happens to be my side project) which is musically as far removed from Union Starr as you could possibly get. We also have an artist called Beartown Zodiac on the label and we hope to bring his album out in the autumn. In my opinion, his album will blow anything else we have done out of the water.

 A kind of repeat question but what is next for Union Starr and you as musicians?

Roger: To remain the best of friends and keep doing what we’re good at…

Jason: Union Starr are currently writing and demo-ing songs for our next album and will be playing a few small festivals over the summer. Personally I’m also concentrating on the release of the Damn, Dam Patriots album scheduled for July.

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and good luck with the album though we feel you will not need it.

Roger: Pleasure, Thanks.

Jason: I think we will! Thank you for your support, keep spreading the word.

Have you any last thoughts to share with us?

Jason: No

Roger: I’m off to the beach. We should all live in Devon!

And finally could you give us one song or release that has given you the biggest inspiration or incentive to do what you do so impressively?

Roger: Elbow’s entire back catalogue would be a good start…Great stuff.

Jason: This is a hard question because things that influenced me to do Union Starr all that time ago are not necessarily songs that I find inspirational today. But I would say that at the time ‘You don’t have to cry’ by Crosby, Stills and Nash was pretty much there in my mind all the time.

For more info on Union Starr go to http://woodenhouserecords.webnode.com/

Read the review of  Falling Apart Together  @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/union-starr-falling-apart-together/

The Ringmaster Review 13/10/2012

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Union Starr : Falling Apart Together

It has taken ten years from their conception for UK rock band Union Starr to reach this point and the release of their debut album Falling Apart Together. Knowing a decade has been spent on the journey of the music enclosed within the vibrant walls of the album, though obviously not the whole time was spent making the release, one in many ways kind of expects something special. The two previous singles taken from the album made suggestion that those hopes might be met but now as Falling Apart Together unveils its glorious beauty the truth is the album more than satisfies those expectations. The debut album from Union Starr is a magnificent collection of melodic heartfelt songs, a treat to brighten everyday no matter the dark it offers and a sunshine fiesta to excite the body into open worship.

      Union Starr is a collection of musicians brought together around the core of Roger Wells, Jason Applin, and ex-The Sundays drummer, Patch Hannan. It was as mentioned ten years ago that the seeds of the band began with close friends Wells and Applin exploring a musical relationship. After their first show the duo found themselves working with producer Nick Hannan and for their second attempt at recording material added Patch Hannan to the mix. This January saw the release of the single I Know About Art and a keenness for their sound growing as well as strong acclaim. Now that the band has unveiled Falling Apart Together it is impossible to see anything other than unbridled enthusiasm heading their way.

From the moment the infectious charm of opening song Landing Lights engages in a romance with the ear the album incites a warm glow and inner smile, with the face soon to follow. The song caresses the heart with dazzling harmonies, mesmeric melodies and an eager energy that lifts one up in tender embrace. The song is the first of ten which all connect with the emotions like they were born to be the closest of friends. With intelligent touches making songs unpredictable and always intriguing, Union Starr provide instant evidence of their outstanding craft and creativity.

Tracks like Friend, Everything We Say, and I Can Feel It provide the ear with a playground of glittering soft indie pop laced with American folk textures and flavours. Each song a spring day of freshness and a sultry summer of bewitching melodic ingenuity. To describe their sound is not easy, the harmonic and melodic brilliance that shines out from every song unique but as each track graces the senses the influences stated on the press release of Crosby Stills and Nash, The Band, Vivian Stanshall and Sid Barrett are apparent. To that though you can add bands like The Lightning Seeds, latter XTC, and The Bluebells to get a taste of the feast within Falling Apart Together.

Every song is a gem but some tracks glow with an even greater radiance. The latest single Photograph is a heady splendour that one just immerses into from the opening siren like notes. Passionate and heartfelt the song plays with a light and warmth that one takes in deeply and when the keys add their own eager voice it is bliss. The likes of the gorgeous Bluebells and first single from the album I Know About Art, continue the excitement and exhilaration upon the senses. The latter song invites the listener into its swagger and confident expression of reality with a pure blend of melodic surety and bedlam bordering discordance. Showing the diversity of the band in songwriting and ability the track is sublime and is only surpassed by one other.

That honour goes to the inspired I Kept Knocking, a track that flexes its muscle and brings a stirring primitive quality to the vibrant body surrounding it. Throbbing as heartily as the melodies pulsate, the rhythms, bass, and wonderfully hypnotic groaning synths instinctively spark up the fires within. It is a musical bruising that one just loves to press time and time again.

     Falling Apart Together is simply impressive, a musical ice cream to relish time and time again. It may have taken a long time for Union Starr to get there but every second was worth the energy and effort.

RingMaster 22/03/2012

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