Let’s face it, everyone loves Star Wars right? It’s the one film franchise everyone loves and it has some of the most dedicated fans on the planet. Many rock and metal musicians love Star Wars including Brian May of Queen, Gene Simmons of Kiss, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour, Bill Kelliher of Mastodon (who has Star Wars tattoos) and Will Mecum of Karma to Burn (who has a Darth Vader ring) to name a few.
The worlds of Metal and Star Wars have crossed many times before with numerous guitar covers on YouTube and songs from the franchise used live by bands. Poland’s Vader often use ‘The Imperial March’ as their outro live. One band though that took it one step further are Galactic Empire who perform metal versions of the soundtrack in full costume. The band’s video of their cover of the Star Wars theme was released on the 17th December, the same day as The Force Awakens, and swiftly went viral. Now with an impressive 67,000 Facebook likes, 2 million hits on YouTube, and 6 million views on their Facebook video, the band have started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to achieve their dream of a tour. With an album due to follow, I caught up with bassist Carson Slovak (who also dresses as the Stormtrooper) to talk about their origins, reworking John Williams‘ iconic scores to the metal genre, legal troubles, their Kickstarter campaign, projects outside of the Empire, and of course the Star Wars saga.
Jack: Greetings, thank you for taking time out of your day to speak to me. How are you doing?
Carson Slovak (Bass/Stormtrooper): I’m doing well. Thank you for the interview! This is Carson Slovak, a.k.a. Bass Commander.
Jack: So how did the Galactic Empire form?
Carson: I co-own and operate a recording studio with Grant McFarland (Drums/Boba Fett), who, a few years back, posted a drum video of himself playing along to the Imperial March on YouTube. Skip ahead to mid-2015 and Grant decided to build a guitar arrangement around his drum parts that perfectly matched the original orchestral recording. He got our friend Chris Kelly (Alustrium) and myself involved and we began going through a collection of themes from the Star Wars films and adapting them to drums, bass and guitar as meticulously as possible. Eventually, a full-length album had been demo’d and we thought it would be funny to get some friends together, dress up like the bad guys from the films and shoot a funny music video.
Jack: You’re dressed as different characters from Star Wars, were there any arguments over who’d dress as who?
Carson: No arguments at all. Grant’s favorite character is Boba Fett so he called dibs. We thought Vader should be the frontman so the role went to Chris as lead guitarist. I’ve always loved the classic Storm Trooper outfit so I picked that. We rounded out the other spots with a Royal Guard and a Shadow Trooper.
Jack: Your Star Wars Main Theme video has nearly 2 million hits on YouTube, did you expect it to get this big?
Carson: We figured the video would get passed around a bit but we were blown away by the response it got. 2 million views on YouTube plus 6+ million views on Facebook.
Jack: Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew liked the video on twitter, is it weird knowing the actual stars of Star Wars are aware of your work?
Carson: We were all very excited to have our existence acknowledged by these great actors. We are obviously huge fans of theirs so it’s cool to know they liked the video.
Jack: What was it like filming the video? Was it hard filming in the costumes?
Carson: It was extremely hard to move around or see anything in the costumes, which made playing difficult for the video shoot. It was a very long day but we got through it and were really happy with the results.
Jack: Was it hard converting John Williams’ iconic score to the style of metal?
Carson: It was certainly a challenge to adapt the original score to this style of music. Grant and I basically sat at a computer and listened to about four bars of the score at a time, picking out each note in each instrument group by ear, and recording a rough take on guitar. We wrote drum and bass parts to the guitar arrangement and then went through the painstaking process of tracking real drums and guitars and bass in detail and in tune. The real challenge was that John Williams’ writing style is so complex with abrupt key / tempo / meter changes and almost no repeating parts.
Jack: What are the main influences of Galactic Empire?
Carson: The dark side of the Force and John Williams.
Jack: Do you play in other bands outside of Galactic Empire?
Carson: Chris Kelly plays in Alustrium, Grant McFarland used to play in This or the Apocalypse and Century, I used to play in Century, and CJ Masciantonio (Guitar/Shadow Trooper) and Josh Willis (Guitar/Imperial Guard) are in Unparalleled Height.
Jack: Your next single was The Imperial March, why did you pick “The Imperial March”?
Carson: We thought it would be the logical next single since the Main Theme was more of an introductory single and “The Imperial March” is more the theme song of the bad guys.
Jack: The Emperor, who is one of my favourite characters, makes an appearance in the video. Do you think Palpatine (and his brilliant arc in the prequels) as a character is often overlooked?
Carson: I personally don’t think he’s particularly overlooked as a character. I think he is as iconic as Vader or Han Solo and obviously plays a pivotal role through the entire saga.
Jack: On February 28th you played on the E! Entertainment channel during their live Oscars coverage. Was that a surreal experience?
Carson: Playing on live TV on the E! network was a really fun experience and it was definitely surreal. We got an email from a producer at E! who saw our video and wanted to include us in a segment during their Oscar’s coverage. One week later, we played outside next to a pool at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood while a Star Wars-inspired fashion runway show went on. It was super weird and really awesome and I’m glad we were able to make it happen.
Jack: For that performance you had to wear dark robes due to copy right issues. Have Disney been problematic for the band?
Carson: We actually haven’t heard a word from Disney. Playing in Sith robes was a last-minute solution to make the E! performance happen because the network’s legal department didn’t want us to appear in the costumes if we didn’t have clearance from Lucasfilm, which we do not have.
Jack: You’re using Kickstarter for the new album. Why did you decide to use Kickstarter instead of say Patreon or GoFundMe?
Carson: Our Kickstarter campaign is actually primarily to pay for the gear we need to tour and finish paying for our latest music video. We’re using the opportunity to offer special album pre-order packages as incentives to contribute to our campaign.
Jack: For the album will you just be playing pieces of the Star Wars soundtrack or will you be playing any original compositions?
Carson: The album is all Star Wars music, adapted from the original orchestral recordings featured in the films. We recorded a variety of themes from throughout the first six movies.
Jack: Will any songs have guest vocals or samples at all or will it be purely instrumental?
Carson: A few songs have choir vocals as they did in the original versions. We recreated them voice by voice and they sound huge!
Jack: For the tour will it primarily be North America or will it feature appearances abroad at all?
Carson: We haven’t gotten that far yet with regard to touring plans. We will be relying on the success of our Kickstarter campaign to fund the equipment we need for touring. So if the campaign is successful, we will move forward with hopefully planning US and international tours.
Jack: How will your costumes be modified for the live performances or is this something you’ve not thought about yet?
Carson: We’re in the design phase, currently. The challenge we face is to two-fold; rebuild the costumes to make playing instruments feasible and also change elements of the characters enough that it won’t ruffle any legal feathers.
Jack: What is the best Star Wars film of all time? My favourite is Return of the Jedi.
Carson: My personal favourite is The Empire Strikes Back. For me, it’s the perfect balance of tension, conflict, pivotal story moments, and overall vibe.
Jack: Finally, there is a really cool British post-metal band called Bossk (named after the bounty hunter from The Empire Strikes Back), are you a fan of them and would you do a split with them?
Carson: I have not heard Bossk but I will certainly give them a listen!
Jack: Thank you very much for your time, good luck with the Kickstarter and may the force be with you.
Carson: Thank you as well! I appreciate the interest.