Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Dropping Acid with K.R. Starrs

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Photo: Ester Segarra

My first experience with Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats was with their second album, 2011’s Blood Lust. A tribute to the vile psychedelia initiated by the likes of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, what really caught me was how close they could come to heavy metal roots without sounding derivative. While countless bands have gone the route of Sabbath worship, Uncle Acid changed up and modernized the vintage sound, bringing a new and unconventional take to what had already become a tired genre.

Uncle Acid’s inspiration comes from both the musical and the historical origins of heavy metal. While accounts differ on the true beginning of heavy metal, none can deny that the genre emerged from a dark and turbulent time. Bands of the time wrote music that responded to an age of impending doom and the threat of thermonuclear holocaust. Uncle Acid’s music recalls the great, sad comedown from a decade of cautious optimism and social progress, a time when heavy music jived with the heavy moods of many.

Perhaps one of the most influential aspects for Uncle Acid is the history of cult violence centering around self-appointed religious leaders. Figures like Charles Manson and Jim Jones grew in notoriety during the ‘70s, fueling the growing rash of paranoia about drug-fueled cults hiding out in the margins of society. For a time, the fear of this new evil, which came wearing a friendly spiritual face and hiding a dagger behind its back, became the inspiration for a darker, more sinister form of heavy metal.

Coupling the groovy, rhythmic riffs of heavy metal’s first wave with flower-power vocals seemed oddly appropriate and underscored Uncle Acid’s bizarre fascination with these charismatic cult leaders and their drug-induced mind control. “I like the appeal of mixing dark imagery and heavy riffs with light vocal melodies and two-part harmonies,” says K.R. Starrs, lead vocalist and guitarist for the outfit. “Oftentimes, the melody is so sweet and melodic and the vocal delivery is so clean, that you don’t realize that we’re actually singing about death, torture and all these kinds of themes. It lures you in—gives you a false sense of security.”

In 2013, the band released Mind Control, a more mature album that dropped the swagger of Blood Lust and expanded further into the domain of the psychedelic. “I wrote Blood Lust in a certain style, which proved really popular, and people wanted the same album again,” says Starrs. “It doesn’t work like that.” Tracks like “Death Valley Blues” and “Follow the Leader” were more deliberately hypnotic in their approach, distancing themselves from the more uptempo tracks of their previous material. “For me, Mind Control is a stronger album overall, but it doesn’t matter. Each album stands well on its own,” he says, mentioning that bands should aim to write in different styles from time to time.

The album also signaled an apparent shift in the band’s lineup, which Starrs said happened sometime around the release of Blood Lust. He dropped the pseudonym “Uncle Acid” and began performing with a larger ensemble than the original trio. However, it’s unclear whether his former bandmates, Kat and Red, ever really existed. They had been credited on all albums up until Mind Control, but Starrs says, “They may or may not be buried in my back yard.” Perhaps they were merely the fatuous products of a drug-addled mind, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know for sure. Starrs did confirm, however, that Itamar Rubinger recently replaced Thomas Mowford on the drums—god only knows what happened to him.

Uncle Acid is scheduled to go on their first U.S. tour starting in September, following a string of European tour dates throughout August. “We’ve been playing festivals in Europe, and we’ll be well rehearsed by the time we get to the U.S.,” says Starrs, who is “looking forward to visiting new places and hopefully entertaining people and making new fans.”

In the meantime, the band dropped their new 7”, Runaway Girls, on Aug. 29, marking their first release in almost a year. The title track is fantastically groovy stuff, and if it’s any indication of what’s to come, expect some more traditional rock n’ roll influences to start shaking things up on their new record. As for the next full-length album, “It won’t be until next year,” says Starrs. “I haven’t had a lot of time to write, as we’ve been so busy touring, but once we get back from the U.S. we’ll begin work on the next one. Then the cycle begins again!”

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats are coming to indoctrinate the masses in an orgy of blood, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll at the Urban Lounge on Oct. 4. Tickets are $13 ahead of time and $15 at the door—all proceeds will go towards buying a ranch out in Death Valley where Starrs and his inner circle can drop acid and spread death to the unfaithful. If you haven’t yet drunk of their sweet, sweet kool-aid, then check them out online at facebook.com/uncleacid or acidcoven.com.

  • Fred Bananna

    “what really caught me was how close they could come to heavy metal roots without sounding derivative.” I said this to my wife when I first heard them. Such a great band. KR is awesome