Star Wars fans are used to the Galactic Empire pummeling the Rebellion, but pummeling drums and guitars is an entirely different thing. Local musicians and co-owners of Atrium Audio Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak set out to make a Star Wars-influenced metal band, and now their music video has gone viral across the galaxy.
After garnering nearly 6 million views on Facebook and almost one million on Youtube in under two weeks, Galactic Empire is finishing a studio album set for release in Spring 2016. Fly talked to Slovak about the video’s success, The Force Awakens and the “notoriously litigious” mouse that now owns Star Wars.
Kevin Stairiker: I assume you saw the new movie. What do you think of it?
Carson Slovak: I loved it, I thought it was exactly what it needed to be. I thought it was a great example of what the true fans wanted. It had the character and personality back. I think the a lot of the criticism that the prequel trilogy got was that the performances were very stale and it was more focused on pounding the story into a limited amount of time. I feel like George Lucas got a little too focused on that and not the emotional connection of the characters. And [the new movie] obviously had a fulfilling story and you can connect with the characters, which I was missing.
KS: I liked that the new movie brought back a simple plot – not so simple that it’s stupid – but simple enough to understand. Especially compared to the prequels where it was “OK, so we’ve got the trade federation…”
CS: Yes, exactly.
KS: Did any of the music in the new film pique your interest?
CS: Yeah actually, my partner Grant (McFarland, who plays Boba Fett in the video) and I own [Atrium Audio] in Lancaster and that’s kind of where this whole project started, because we’re both huge Star Wars fans. He actually went out and bought the soundtrack immediately when it came out last week. We’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop. I think there are a lot of really cool new motifs and we already have ideas of how to fit them into our format.
KS: You and Grant seem like the primary catalysts behind this project; how did it come to be?
CS: I think the very first inkling of an idea for this came two years ago, actually. Grant and I are basically an old married couple at this point; we’re together every day and we produce all of our projects together. A couple years ago, Grant had the idea of doing a drum cover video on Youtube. He took the “Imperial March” theme and used the original London Symphony Orchestra score and tempo-mapped it and came up with these really interesting drum parts. We put together a video for Youtube just of him playing his drumset along to the original orchestra recording. He’s been a drummer for a couple different touring bands over the years, so I think he was just trying to keep the whole drumming element going and mix in the interest with Star Wars. Then, just this past year we were sitting around and talking about it and we thought, “You’ve got this awesome drum part written for the ‘Imperial March,’ why don’t we take the rest of the music and transpose it to guitar and bass and it could be like a rock band?” So we did that song and it turned out really cool, so we decided to do a whole album.
KS: How did the arrangement get figured out?
CS: Aside from the drum parts, everything is exactly how it is in the original arrangement. It’s funny, because the “Main Theme” isn’t as complex, it’s pretty straightforward. But we recorded a version of the “Asteroid Field” music from Empire Strikes Back and some of that music is all over the place and super complex. Grant and I basically sat down for hours on end and went bar by bar through the original recording and picked it apart with really fine detail. And Grant, he’s one of those dudes who’s a musical prodigy, so we’d sit there and try to decipher what’s going on in the original orchestra recordings and pick out all the different instrument groups and what they’re doing. Some of the material is really difficult because it’s complex and really fast. If you look at our Protools session, it’s kind of ridiculous because at any given time there’s probably forty different guitars going. There’s a lot of octave stuff going on. And John Williams, when he writes, there’s just so much stuff that’s incredibly layered and complex and shouldn’t work musically, but when you hear it all together it does. That’s why it’s so memorable. So our goal from the beginning was to take those pieces and do them as detailed and accurate as we could and basically play the orchestra parts on guitar and bass. The only thing we actually wrote was the drum part, which is what makes it a heavy metal version.
KS: It’s safe to assume that you and Grant are heavy Star Wars nerds – what about the other people in the project?
CS: The project is primarily three guys. Me and Grant started it, and then we have a friend named Chris Kelly who plays in a death metal band called Alustrium. We recorded them here a while ago and he actually used to intern for us at the studio. He’s one of those shredder guys that can just play really fast. He was really stoked on the idea so he’s handling all of the lead guitar work. To fill out the band for the video we called our two friends from Pittsburgh, C.J. [Masciantonio] and Josh [Willis], from the band Unparalleled Heights. They came in after the project was pretty much done, but they were stoked to dress up and play. If we hopefully get to the point where we’re playing a live show, they would play guitar for it.
KS: I was going to ask about that, actually. With the success of the video, I assume you’ve put thoughts towards doing a live show. Would you have to play gloveless?
CS: (Laughs) Yeah, we wouldn’t be able to play with gloves on. That was actually a joke during the video. I remember when we were shooting, everyone noticed that we wouldn’t be able to play with gloves on, and we all thought it was so funny and ridiculous if we kept them on.
KS: You touched on it a second ago, but have you heard from Lucasfilm or Disney?
CS: We have not, but I hope to. The video is still getting some traction and we actually heard yesterday that Entertainment Weekly just covered it. We’ll either get a cease and desist from Disney or hopefully we’ll contact someone there and strike a deal so we can play it live. I think we’ve been operating under the premise that the video is a parody. The video you can watch for free on the internet has a comedic element to it, it’s obviously a parody. The costumes in the video are Disney’s intellectual property, but they’re not having their income ruined by that. I don’t think they’re hurting for money right now (laughs).
KS: What other songs from the movies make a good jump into metal territory?
CS: We basically tried to focus on the most memorable pieces from all of the movies. There are some things from the prequel trilogy, like “Duel of the Fates,” which translated well. We did the Cantina band theme, of course, but we mostly stuck to the really memorable themes from the original trilogy.
KS: Are you still planning on a spring release for that?
CS: Yeah, we’re hoping to get the album finished and mastered in February, but none of those plans are concrete yet.
KS: I guess there’s just one question left, then: after seeing The Force Awakens, which of the movies is your favorite?
CS: Hmm. Now that’s a tough question. I would say my personal favorite is still The Empire Strikes Back. That’s because of a combination of how old I was when I first saw it and how its lasted. But I like all of the movies for various reasons, and I liked Episode 7 way more than Episodes 1, 2 and 3. I like them for certain reasons but I have more criticisms of them than I do of any of the others. Empire Strikes Back is still the one that sticks with me and strikes that nostalgic cord.