“Welcome! Sorry it smells a little burger-y in here.”
That was Peter Gilliland, the dreadlocked, bearded half of electro duo Starbass Laboratories, apologizing for the scent of a post-work snack, reheated in his RV’s microwave.
“Want a drink? We have cold-press,” he said, gesturing to a clear plastic cup full of coffee, its lid pierced with a straw. Gilliland manages Avoca Coffee, a business he’s been part of since 2012. So the cup o’ joe probably came home with him from work, though the drink appears to have been poured for Chris Waldon, seated across from him at the RV’s dining table.
Waldon, whose regular music gig is playing keys and trombone in area rock band War Party (as well as bass in punk trio Bitch Bricks) is Gilliland’s partner in Starbass Laboratories, the retro-futuristic outfit they formed at the end of 2014. Waldon and Gilliland are also roommates of sorts, or at least neighbors, since Gilliland’s RV is parked on the side of the Fairmount-neighborhood house that Waldon rents. The house’s living room doubles as their creative space, what Waldon refers to as “The Lab.”
The RV, a.k.a. The Gnarship Enterprise, is central to Starbass’ aesthetic. The duo’s first piece of merch was a patch depicting the winged, space-faring RV from Mel Brooks’ 1987 sci-fi sendup Spaceballs. The patch’s RV might be dicey from the perspective of an intellectual property attorney, but the duo’s name is actually what led to some minor legal static, since it was already used by an artist in Utah.
“He makes this, I dunno, I guess you’d call it industrial music,” Waldon said. “It’s not that similar to what we’re doing, but we added ‘Laboratories’ to the name anyway.”
Gilliland, ever-amiable and enthusiastic, dives into each topic like a kid discovering he’s the first one to arrive at a pool party. Despite the late-afternoon heat, he was wearing a Rangers pullover.
“I just wanted to show [Waldon] how dope it is,” Gilliland said. “I feel like Buck Showalter.”
Gilliland is entertaining, in other words. “As a band, I think we just want people to have a good time.”
Admittedly, that’s a goal most bands have, but with Starbass Laboratories, it’s pretty much Job One.
“We want to be the most entertaining band you can see for the money,” Gilliland said. Considering that Starbass shows are typically under $10, the duo goes above and beyond. For one thing, they assume the characters of a pair of space travelers who became lost in a black hole and popped out the other end and into our universe. This narrative, while not necessarily spelled out in the music, is driven home by the shiny, silver spacesuits the pair dons before performances.
Along with Spaceballs’ RV, vintage sci-fi is a major influence. Waldon cites the original Battlestar Galactica series in particular.
A self-described band nerd from L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, Waldon got into the Fort Worth music scene four or five years ago, when he moved here from Hurst to play bass in the garage-punk band Doom Ghost. Gilliland met him at a War Party gig, and the two bonded over making noise on old keyboards.
Gilliland said that when he was 10 years old or so, his dad purchased a box of effects pedals and microphones from a friend. “He was selling ’em because he wanted to buy an engagement ring, so my dad got this box of stuff for like $100,” Gilliland recalled. “Then he just gave me them to play with. With Starbass … I just thought of what I really enjoyed doing as a kid.”
While Starbass’ songs seem to be free of processed eructations, his role in the duo is essentially using sequencers and other electronic gizmos to add color and rhythm to Waldon’s synthesizer arrangements and vocoded vocals. Along with psychedelic projections and lighting courtesy of Dreamy Life Records and Music’s Jim Vallee, the result is hypnotic, groove-heavy electro, a throwback vibe that always sounds futuristic, even though it’s made on equipment that is decades old.
Due to the time constraints of the two guys’ bands and jobs (Waldon bartends at Barcadia), their musical output has been limited to live shows and a track on Dreamy Life’s Group Therapy, Vol. 3 compilation, though an EP is due out in September. After that, they plan on recording new material –– a concept album about life in the digital age –– and expanding the scope of their live performances to include set pieces that depict a spaceship crash on some rugged, uncharted planet.
“We also have these black suits that go over the silver ones,” Gilliland said. “That way, you don’t see a couple of dudes in spacesuits carrying stuff on stage, because that might spoil it.”
1pm Sat w/Fungi Girls, Sealion, War Party, Def Rain, Dome Dwellers, FOGG, VVoes, Vicious Firs, Toy Gun, Bitch Bricks, Tame … Tame and Quiet, Vincent Neil Emerson, Mercury Rocket, Loafers, Tidals, Drawer Devils, and Mañana Cowboy as part of Solidarity Fest to benefit the local LGBT community at 515 Bar, 515 S Jennings Av, FW. Donations appreciated.