So many subgenres of metal have emerged in the past 50 years that it’s almost laughable. Everyone wants to get more technical, more extreme, and more removed from what could be considered the old guard, but I myself am drawn to that classic sound. Angular riffs, soaring vocals, and anthemic choruses that take told of your senses regardless of the time or place in which you hear them.
That’s what metal means to me and Jack Starr has always been a guitarist capable of summoning those feelings at any given moment. His work with Virgin Steele, Devil Childe, and Jack Starr’s Burning Starr is emblematic of its era yet vibrant enough to keep people coming back 40 years after he initially emerged onto the scene.
His latest collection, “Souls of the Innocent,” is due out July 15 and promises to be in the mix for metal album of the year come December. I spoke with Starr recently about the project and how welcoming a new singer into the fold ignited the band’s creativity moving forward.
MNOD: Your latest album, “Souls of the Innocent,” is another killer addition to the catalog and comes along during a particularly strong year for heavy music. Tell me how it came about.
Starr: We had been working on it for almost five years and it’s considered a continuation of the last album. All is good. We’re excited for it to get out there.
MNOD: You’ve worked with so many notable singers throughout the years, but Alexx Panza sounds as formidable as any of them. How did he come to join the band?
Starr: Well, Todd Michael Hall sang on 2017’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ and we discovered him on ‘The Voice,’ so finding a singer to fill his shoes was a process. Thankfully, we found Alexx, who is 29 and from Italy. I really credit my bass player Ned Meloni for working really hard on Alexx’s phrasing and enunciation, because his accent is definitely noticeable. He did 20 Skype calls and really guided him through the recording of these vocal tracks. Most of us live close to one another, which was important to me. I really wanted to be in a band with people nearby. Alexx sounds incredible on this album and his voice really suits the music well.
MNOD: You’ve come up with so many memorable riffs through the years and the guitar parts on these new songs are no different. Describe your approach when trying to build on what you did in the past.
Starr: I appreciate your compliment about my playing. I try to come up with interesting and cool riffs for all of my albums by putting on my metal fan hat and thinking about what I would want to hear on a record. Guys like Tony Iommi, Richie Blackmore, and Adrian and Dave from Iron Maiden were constantly outdoing themselves on their classic albums, which is exactly what I try to do with Burning Starr.
MNOD: The cover art for “Souls of the Innocent” is another masterpiece that evokes the classic ’80s period. How did that come about?
Starr: Well, the cover art for my last three albums were done by Ken Kelly, who created some of the most iconic covers of all time. He sadly passed away earlier this month and that led us to want to try something different. We have a new manager, a new singer, and a new label, so I figured it was time for a change. It was just a perfect storm and a good fork in the road for us. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. Giles Lavery is our new manager and he’s worked with Graham Bonnet and Girlschool, so our enthusiasm is high. I also love how our new graphic artist engraved the album title on the tombstone present on the cover. That’s a really cool image.
MNOD: How did you first become drawn to heavy metal?
Starr: I was always drawn to the electric guitar. B.B. King, Ten Years After, and Santana were early artists I was into, because they were guitar-driven. Metal is primarily a guitar-driven medium, so it was natural for me.
MNOD: One of the exciting elements of having a new label is that your back catalog is being reissued. Describe the process of making that a reality.
Starr: A long time ago, there was a club in Long Island called Sundance and I remember crying out to my manager about the distribution of my material. He told me that my music wasn’t perishable and that it would always be around. I thought he was crazy, because I wanted that instant gratification. Now, all these years later, my back catalog is in good hands and has no shelf life. People who may have missed it the first time around can discover it and anyone who hasn’t heard it in a while can rediscover it. We’re also hoping that the new album will be released on vinyl, but we have nothing concrete yet. The pressing plants are backed up. Vinyl and CDs are big in Europe, as well, but whatever media is used to get the material out there is good with me. I just want to reach as many people as possible. I love meeting new supporters and fans.
MNOD: I love those early Virgin Steele albums that you played on. What do you remember about how your time with the band ended?
Starr: That was a little disappointing. We had a great singer on board, but our visions were at odds. We were maybe too young to really understand compromise. We had a very fiery relationship, so it was one vision against another. It became harder to reconcile as we went along, because we were both alpha males. He’s a very talented singer, but I had my own agenda and realized that we were both capable of leading our own band. I think of The Beatles in that sense, because all four of them were capable of going solo and they did it successfully.
MNOD: 1984’s “Out of the Darkness” is my favorite album from your catalog. What was it like working with Riot’s Rhett Forrester?
Starr: That was really organic. He was a great singer and the songs on that album are really strong. He fit the epic style that I was going for. We even talked about doing something after that, but Rhett moved and there was no Internet back then to message or exchange files. I don’t want to sound conceited, but we were doing some really cool stuff on that album. We had a big drum sound and I was playing some harmonic minor scales that were ahead of the curve.
MNOD: Do you have any plans to tour in support of this current album?
Starr: We don’t have plans yet, but we want to hit Europe in 2023. COVID restrictions will hopefully be lifted by then. When you put an album out like this, its success usually dictates the number of shows and size of venues you’re playing. We’re confident in this album’s impact, though. Playing shows in America makes a lot of sense, as well, because there aren’t as many issues and the logistics are just easier when it comes to currency or permits. Playing abroad isn’t insurmountable, but it’s always easier on our own turf.
“Souls of the Innocent” is out July 15 on Global Rock Records
See https://www.facebook.com/jackstarrsburningstarr/ for details.