It wasn't the easiest thing getting hold of Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak ahead of the Academy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles.
They had gotten a call at the end of the previous week that E! Entertainment wanted them and their Star Wars cover band, Galactic Empire, to play the E! Red Carpet show. They were set to play during a Star Wars-theme fashion show early in the day, with their performance serving as a nod to John Williams' nomination for best score, among five nominations (but ultimately no wins) for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Ahead of that flight to L.A., though, was a busy recording schedule. McFarland and Slovak run the mostly metal-focused Atrium Audio recording studios in Lancaster. Jersey metal band Endless Sacrifice kindly adjusted its recording times to accommodate the trip.
But Star Wars cover band, you say?
You may have seen the video they did last year featuring Boba Fett on drums (McFarland) and a stormtrooper on bass (Slovak). Filled out by lead guitarist Chris Kelly (as Darth Vader) from Philly death metal band Alustrium, and additional guitarists CJ Masciantonio (Shadow Trooper) and Josh Willis (Imperial Guard) of Pittsburgh metal band Unparalleled Height, the band delivers a stunning metal rendition of the Star Wars theme. Oh, and Darth Vader Force-chokes an incompetent guitar tech.
Aided by friends at Aurora Films, where Slovak worked for several years, they had access to a professional soundstage and high-end production standards.
"We posted the video and went in and saw the movie [Dec. 17, the day The Force Awakens opened]. By the time we left the theater, we were at almost at a million views," says McFarland. The video has gotten more than 1.5 million views on YouTube alone.
The whole idea came out of McFarland's laying down a drum track over a recording of "The Imperial March" a few years back. From there, he broke down each component in the orchestral piece. "We're both huge Star Wars fans and huge John Williams fans," Slovak says. (Williams lost out to Ennio Morricone for his score to Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.)
"We record a lot of metal. We like metal. The original idea was just to have as awesome of a version of the song as possible but still keep it very accurate," McFarland says.
When it was time to make the video, they filled out the band with people they had recorded with before.
"They're great guys. They're amazing guitar players. If all goes according to plan and we get to play other shows and possibly tour, they're going to be playing with us," Slovak says.
Hopefully, future tours will have them wearing the Lucasfilm-approved costumes they bought online for their video shoot - at $700 to $800 each. The threat of litigation from Disney led to a last-minute costume change for their E! performance Sunday - black cloaks fit for a Sith lord rather than anything that would make E! network's lawyers uncomfortable.
The band is putting finishing touches on its next Galactic Empire video, a cover of "Imperial March." Much like the transition from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back, the aesthetics and feel of this video will be darker, McFarland promises.
And an 11-track album is to be released in coming months. Perhaps by May 4 (a/k/a Star Wars Day)?
"In a perfect world," McFarland says with a laugh.
And what about a video set in the Mos Eisley Cantina from the first Star Wars, with a metal version of that intergalactic Dirty Frank's signature music? "The odds of that not happening are 3,720 to 1," Grant says.