Let's begin with a little history lesson. Basically you, Mark and Aaron were in the band Lifer together, so that is how this line-up came together. You guys parted ways and went on to be in other bands like Breaking Benjamin and The Drama Club. How long has Stardog Champion been together?
Nick: The initial concept started about two years ago. The Breaking Benjamin lawsuit came about around that time, so because of that we kind of had everything on the down low for a while.
Aaron: Yeah for two years we were tinkering around down in the basement. Obviously, Mark and I had the lawsuit going on for the last two years, so we had to deal with that and see how things were going to pan out as well as see where we stood with Hollywood Records. There were a lot of thing up in the air over the last two years, so we were writing songs and crafting our sound in the basement. We were trying to get a manager, a lawyer, a producer and all that stuff. We have actually been together for a full two years, but things are starting to come to fruition now. We were kind of in the incubator for a bit, but I think that is a good thing. You don’t want to just throw any old thing together and go out. In hindsight I think it was kind of a blessing that we worked on the band for a little bit so we can come out sounding sweet and not just like a garage band.
So now that the lawsuit is over, you are coming out with the band.
Nick: Yeah, exactly. With the pending lawsuit they didn't want to complicate anything.
Were you not allowed to work on a project while the lawsuit was going on?
Aaron: No, we could do side projects or whatever, we just didn't know how the other thing was going to pan out and where the dust was going to settle. Plus it took a while to get some songs together and make a record. There were things to do. We weren't just sitting around.
Is Lifer still active?
Nick: No, we did an acoustic reunion show a couple years ago in 2010, but we haven't actually done anything with Lifer since 2002.
How did Josh Karis come into the picture?
Nick: Mark was doing this side project that wasn’t really a full band, it was just kind of like some guys getting together and jamming out. They were doing some cover songs and stuff. It wasn’t really a band that was out playing, it was more of a fun type of thing. Josh was the drummer of that project. When we were looking for drummers, Mark mentioned that he had been playing with Josh, so we brought him up and we clicked with him.
Aaron: Yeah the band had a great name. They were called The Best. We had tried out a couple local guys. We just wanted a rock drummer, because we wanted to keep this band a little less metal if you will and more organic sounding. Josh comes from that school of thought and that is how he plays the drums. He was what we were looking for and he is a great guy, so it just fell in place. Plus he lives here in town with us, so it made sense. It is hard to hire a guy from like L.A. or something and just see him on tour. That does not fly with me. You have to get down in the dirt with someone and hang out with him all the time.
What inspired the name Stardog Champion?
Nick: It is actually a Mother Love Bone song. They were Pearl Jam with a different singer basically. When we were coming up with band names, we were looking around and we probably had a thousand names between us. There are so many bands these days that everything was taken. We would be like “Oh! This name is great!" We would look it up and it would be the name of five bands. We didn't know what to do. We explored all different kinds of things, like looking at names of books, digging through our CD's and it was funny that I actually had written Stardog Champion down and Aaron sent me a message saying “What about Stardog Champion?" I thought it was funny that I had it on my list too. The bands in Seattle and that whole scene in the early 90’s was really influential to all of us musically, so it is kind of like a nod to that scene. That is where we got our start musically and it wasn't taken, which was the big thing, so we went with it.
Today you released your first EP titled Exhale. Congratulations on that! It is a really great EP.
Nick/Aaron: Thank you!
I've noticed that a lot of bands are putting out EP's these days as opposed to full lengths. Why do you think that is?
Nick: For us it was a cost thing, because everything is self funded right now. It was the most cost effective way for us to get the music out there without totally breaking the bank. I think there are definitely some other up sides to it too. I think that in the age that we live in, people get bored really fast. If you put out a full length record, I don’t know how many people can actually make it from beginning to end. It is like music overload. As a consumer I kind of feel that way too. Over time I have adjusted to how everyone else is too. The other cool thing about it is that we can put EP's out in a shorter time span, which can be a little more beneficial, because we can deliver new music to the fans sooner.
Aaron: I was against making an EP at first, just because it sounds wimpy and small to me, but I guess that is the way the music business is going. People are just putting out singles now like back in the 50’s. We funded this EP ourselves because we are not signed at this point, so yeah there were budget constraints. We had to keep it within the realm of the checkbook so to speak. (Laughs) It is what we could afford and it is how people consume music nowadays anyway. I guess people like music in small bits now as opposed to large chunks. I don’t know, I grew up on Led Zeppelin records that are an hour long, so I kind of had to get used to what people like now. I think the EP came out good and I actually might be converted now. I was saying we should put out an EP every year.
You guys are releasing the EP independently. What has been the toughest part in doing so?
Nick: I think it is getting the word out there and getting people excited about it. It obviously helps a little with this band because two of the members come from a successful rock band, so it seems to be that more people are interested in this.
Aaron: We definitely got spoiled with the other band. We had a team of people nationwide that would help us out. At the beginning we did stuff ourselves, but it got to the point where all I had to do was show up and kick ass on stage. I didn't have to deal with anything, but now I'm kind of back down in the dirt here. It's been fun because we are kind of relearning how to do stuff ourselves and take care of business.
Do you think the people who supported you during your Breaking Benjamin days will support you now with your new project?
Aaron: Yeah I think so. I don't think we are going to get all the fans to come over and listen to the new stuff, but it’s still a rock band. It’s not like we are doing a jazz band all of a sudden. I think we will win over some people, but I'm not cocky enough to assume that everyone’s going to be on board no matter what. That band had a lot of success worldwide so I think that even if we caught 10% of those people’s attention that would be good news for us. Obviously Ben was the singer and the main songwriter in that band and the band is called his name. I can't predict what people are going to think. You will drive yourself insane if you go down that road. All we can do is push forward, look to the future and try to make another great rock band. Hopefully we will win people over by doing that. Mark and I haven’t said too much publicly, so the story has been kind of one-sided at this point. There is a lot more than meets the eye with that whole thing. It’s not just black and white, it is far messier than that. It is not really what Mark and I want to put out to the public. We want to just make a good rock band and see what happens with it. We try not to dwell on the past too much. You have to just trust in people, move forward and hope for the best.
I was looking at your pics on Facebook and it looks like you guys all write in the same room. Is that how it works in this band?
Nick: Yeah, it comes about in all different ways. There is a lot of jamming and coming up with ideas that way. Aaron and I have actually been writing lyrics, as well as whole songs. There have been songs where I have written the music and Aaron has written the lyrics and vice versa. Songwriting usually comes from one or two people in the band and then the others interject their flavor into it.
Who produced the record?
Nick: Neal Avron produced it.
The single off the EP is titled “When We Fall.” It is an incredible song. It really gets stuck in your head. Has it hit the air waves yet?
Nick: We will be pulling in radio promoters. If people like it they will play it. It is all so political these days with radio. It’s the same twenty songs over and over again. Back in the day, it used to matter. If they found a band that they loved they would spin the hell out of it. Now the DJ’s don’t have any say and the station is being programmed three states away and they have no idea what people in that state are even about. I’d like to see that change somehow where people can take back the radio and DJ’s can form a coalition to take back the airwaves.
Aaron: Actually “When We Fall” was one of Nick’s songs. He came up with that one. We kind of bridged the gap of where we were before and where we want to go in the future. We are getting a little older and I guess a little bit mellower. We are trying to appeal to more people by being less abrasive I guess.
What do you have to say to those people who say rock is dead? I keep hearing that pop and electronic bands are what’s “in” right now.
Aaron: Well I think from the business aspect of it, labels are less inclined to seek out rock bands because there is less money in it. For me it is what I'm into and it is what I know how to do. I'm not going to change what I've been doing for twenty years just because it is not selling as much. That would be bad for my soul and really fake, so I'm not interested in going whichever way the wind blows. I've got to do what I've got to do and let the chips fall where they may.
You made a video for the song “When We Fall” already. What do the girls in white with masks represent?
Nick: I guess they would represent the analogy of busting down originality by making everyone look the same. Plus it just looked cool. (Laughs) We didn’t know how it was going to pan out. We were throwing ideas around and the director went to school at a college nearby and he knew a choreographer. He put the word out to her and she rounded up 26 girls that were willing to come down. We got the masks, they all showed up wearing white and it all came together.
Tell me about the album cover. Who designed it?
Nick: Our bass player Mark’s girlfriend did. She is a photographer from Los Angeles. She did all the pictures except for the back cover.
What are your plans as far as touring in support of the release?
Nick: Right now we are looking around for an agent and trying to get out there. We want to tour all over and get out there to the fans.
Aaron: Yeah we are reaching out to our buddies in bands to see if they need an opener and stuff, but there is nothing on the books at the moment. I’m sure something will pop up this summer and we will go out.
The EP consists of five songs, so do you have other songs that you play to fill a set?
Nick: Yeah, we probably have around twenty-five songs. The EP was just a cost thing, so it was a hard thing to try to narrow down which five songs we were going to do.
Will you do some cover songs?
Nick: Yeah we are going to throw a couple in there, but I don’t want to spoil any surprises. We tossed things around to see what would sound good with the vibe of the band.
Who are some of the bands that you think would be a good fit for you to tour with?
Nick: We will play with anybody. I think a lot of bands these days are pretty diverse, so I don’t necessarily think all the bands on the tour have to sound the same. I like it when there is a little bit of diversity.