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Zero to Fifty

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Red Star of the Solar Federation was founded in 2005 as a sludge rock instrumental band. After some lineup changes, the group eventually added vocals. Red Star recently spoke with the Houston Press about their six-track self-titled EP. Musicians Jimmy Carpenter, Chris Jenkins, Brandon Beard and Roy Martinez, along with Red Star manager Juan Embil, were all in on the conversation.

Houston Press: First question, where did you get your name from?

Jimmy Carpenter: We ripped it off from a Rush song (laughs).

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Red Star of the Solar Federation

HP: Tell us a little bit about the Red Star of the Solar Federation sound. How would you describe what you're trying to do?

Carpenter: Really, we just want to be a good rock band. We don't fit into any genre. We're always a little out of place with the other bands that we play with, but we always get a good response.

Chris Jenkins: We're trying to be more jazz rock fusion, we're tying to be as technical as we can, but still show off our musical abilities instead of closing ourselves in. We really love rock and roll, like the Rolling Stones. We used to be instrumental, but then we decided, hey, let's write lyrics, let's get this on the radio, try to make it all just more marketable.

Roy Martinez: When we were writing instrumentally, it was way different. For me it was like, "I have this part that's in 7/8 time and I have this other part that's in 9/12 time. Let's try to make that meet." For Jimmy and Brandon it was like, "Let's try to not make this as crazy as possible." But I was trying to make it as difficult as I could, I was trying to spook the crowd. We had to change that.

HP: What was that like, to go from instrumental to a band with vocals?

Carpenter: We had done the instrumental thing for about a year and a half, and we just had so many people coming up to us at the shows saying, "Where's the vocalist? Where's the singer?" and we'd be like, "Man, you're kinda missing the point of what we're doing." That's why I started singing. It sucked really bad at first, but then it started getting better.

Jenkins: We knew that in order to move to the next step, to be more radio-friendly, we had to add vocals, to change up a little bit.

HP: And that's what you think you've become, more radio-friendly with this EP?

Carpenter: We hope so.

(Reporter turns on Red Star of the Solar Federation and leaves it playing for the rest of the interview.)

HP: Tell us about the record.

Carpenter: The first cut is "Belladonna."

Beard: We wrote this out of frustration almost.

Jenkins: We had originally wanted to do stuff that was kind of really out there, at least challenging to ourselves if nothing else, but that kind of got boring. Ultimately, we thought, "Man, we just need to write some rock and roll." That's where the first track came from, just out of frustration.

HP: What's it like to listen to yourselves?

All in unison: I like it.

HP: What was it like to record this first CD?

Jenkins: It was great. We did it with some students at San Jac [College] in a classroom studio. The engineers were students.

Carpenter: They have a [recording] program there and we were supposed to do two songs, but we managed to do six songs with organ parts, percussion parts, vocals, background vocals, everything. We just smashed it all in there and then we took it home and mixed it. It took us about four or five months to do it.

HP: And how many copies did you press?

Carpenter: Fifty.

HP: Fifty, five zero? Or fifty, fifty thousand?

Jenkins: Five zero.

HP: That's not very many. Why would you go through the trouble and expense of recording a CD and then press just 50?

Carpenter: We're just a local band and we are just now putting out our first record; we didn't want to shoot too high. We didn't want to press a thousand CDs and then sell just 50.

Beard. This was all on our budget. We spent $250 just to get the thing pressed. We recorded it free at San Jac, then mixed and mastered it at Chris's house.

Martinez: The whole thing is totally DIY. From the artwork, to the photos, we did it all ourselves.

Carpenter: There was no professional help on any of this, except for...well, none. (laughs) None because the students at San Jac aren't professionals, either.

HP: I think people will be surprised to read that a band would press just 50 CDs. That's such a small number in comparison to groups that are selling in the millions. You didn't even press a hundred. What do you say to people who ask you, "Why aren't you pressing thousands? Isn't it your hope that you'll sell a million CDs?"

Martinez: We would love to sell a million CDs, but that's just not where we're at right now.

HP: So what's the plan? How do you go from selling 50 CDs to selling a million? Obviously you have to have a plan to grow, to go from this level to the next? Or are you just stumbling down the road, hoping the next time San Jac has an open recording studio you can get back in there?

Beard: I wouldn't say we're stumbling. The problem is we need to be heard right now. We're new, and no one has heard us.

Carpenter: The problem is we're broke.

Red Star of the Solar Federation will perform Thursday, February 8, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive, 713-521-0521. Release the Controls and I Am Wolf will also perform. For more information about Red Star of the Solar Federation, please visit www.myspace.com/solarfed.

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