Dustin Bates boasts atypical background for a musician
Welcome to the future of rock music — or one vision of the future. Starset, appearing Feb. 17 at the Rex Theater, South Side, combines the interests of founder Dustin Bates — engineering, astronomy, alternative history — with music that is similarly diverse.
Bates has an atypical background for a musician. He earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Ohio University, has done research for the U.S. Air Force, and taught at the International Space University in France.
The band’s new album, “Vessels,” debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 chart. Bates also created The Starset Society, an entity explores the effect of technology on society and provides the lyrical content for the songs. Marvel Comics will release a graphic novel later this year based on The Starset Society.
Bates recently answered a few questions for the Tribune-Review.
Question: Not too many musicians have Ph.D.’s in electrical engineering. Beyond any technical considerations, are there any parallels between music and electrical engineering?
Answer: I tend to write music like an engineer working on a project. I follow a process from concept to chord structure to melody to lyrics. Nevertheless, it is important to balance the left brained engineering with the right brain creativity. The engineering also helps me create and build the stage production.
Q: You’ve integrated multiple platforms – music, graphic novels, videos, and social media — to engage fans. Has this approach benefitted Starset?
A: This approach has benefitted The Starset Society, which utilizes our band and these various other media for promoting its message of near-future technology and its effects upon society. In many ways, Starset is a marketing campaign of this group — bringing awareness of science and the mission of TSS to the general public.
Q: The lyrics (and videos and graphic novels) have a futuristic quality. Were you influenced by science fiction writers such as William Gibson or Neal Stephenson?
A: I’m a big fan of science fiction and enjoy both of those writers — specifically “Neuromancer” by Gibson and “Snow Crash” by Stephenson. Other definitely notable authors would be Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert.
Q: Musically, it seems like you’re an alchemist — there are elements of rock, metal and even classical in the mix. Are there any bands or musicians who inspired you when you started writing the music?
A: Absolutely. I’ve been inspired by great rock from bands like Deftones, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Breaking Benjamin, for instance. At the same time, the music draws from Hans Zimmer, Sigur Ros, and various forms of electronic music.
Q: At what point did you realize that Starset was gaining traction with fans?
A: It has been a long, slow climb up with various milestones having been reached along the way. Getting to No. 11 on the Billboard chart recently was particularly cool.
Q: Are there fans who buy into the concept and not the music, and vice versa? Can Starset be enjoyed on multiple levels?
A: We expect and appreciate that 90 percent of fans will just enjoy the music on a surface level, and we do our best to not alienate them. The music can totally be enjoyed without digging deeper. In fact, I try to write the songs with this in mind. On the other hand, there is much for fans to consume if they are looking for a richer experience.
Details: 412-381-6811 or rextheater.com
Shows of note
Darkest Hour, Feb. 18, Diesel Club Lounge, South Side. Darkest Hour is not for every taste: The Washington, D.C.-based band mixes thrash, death metal and punk, resulting in music that is loud and propulsive. A new album, “Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora,” will be released in early March. 412-431-8800 or dieselpgh.com
Zoso, Stage AE, North Shore. Zoso bills itself as the ultimate Led Zeppelin experience, and there must be something to that claim: the band has been performing “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir” since 1995. Since Plant, Page and company no longer tour, this might be the only chance to hear the song live. 800-745-3000 or promowestlive.com.
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review conributing writer.