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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011

Secret Society of Starfish Keeps Local Prog-Rock Alive

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To call Secret Society of Starfish Milwaukee's own progressive-rock supergroup would be a stretch. But when three of its five members hail from two groups with international recording contracts and loyal fan bases, referring to these guys as just another band doesn't seem quite right, either.

“Kopecky and Dimension X performed quite a few shows together,” says Secret Society of Starfish guitarist Joe Kopecky, referring to the two bands in question. Kopecky, a Racine-based trio of siblings that also included bassist William and drummer Paul, released five albums of spooky, technical instrumental progressive metal between 1999 and 2006. Milwaukee's Dimension X issued three metal-laced prog albums and is currently inactive, according to Dave Burkowitz, that band's bass player.

“Dave and I had always talked about doing a side project, and as fate had it, Kopecky was idle and Dimension X had member issues,” Kopecky continues. “So we thought the idea of combining the styles of both bands would be really cool.”

The duo recruited vocalist David Hoover II and keyboard player Jeff Konkol from Dimension X, as well as Madison-based drummer Chris Vincent, and formed Secret Society of Starfish, eventually opening for Yes at Summerfest in 2010.

The band's name, as Burkowitz explains it, is a long story. Suffice it to say it has something to do with the asterisks author Kurt Vonnegut drew inside a first edition of Breakfast of Champions, which Burkowitz had obtained for his wife. The bassist thought they looked like tiny starfish, which hatched the idea.

The band calls its complex yet accessible sound “beige metal,” with influences including Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Symphony X, Yes, Tool, Fates Warning and Frank Zappa. Individual members also bring musical references as wide-ranging as Journey, Stryper, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis and a variety of classical composers. “We were discussing musical styles and how we would define our sound,” Kopecky says. “Dimmu Borgir and their 'black metal' tag came up. Jeff said, 'Hey, man, we're definitely more beige metal.' Then we all started laughing hysterically.”

Dark Reflections From the Water's Edge
, Secret Society of Starfish's long-time-coming debut album, should finally be released in November on Canada's Unicorn Digital label. Originally recorded with Hoover, the album was delayed after the singer decided to retire from the music biz. So Burkowitz and Konkol contacted Pablo Sepulveda Jr., who fronted the Milwaukee metal band Hybrid Effect and whose emotional tenor contrasted with Hoover's baritone. The band re-recorded the album with the new vocalist and will celebrate its upcoming release on Oct. 22, when they perform at the Paul Kopecky Memorial Concert.

Organized by Joe Kopecky, the one-night-only event at Mixers Nightclub in Racine will honor the youngest Kopecky brother, who died unexpectedly in June 2009 at age 37 from complications related to juvenile diabetes. Secret Society of Starfish will join five other area bands, including chamber rockers Far Corner, instrumental trio Fibonacci Sequence, progressive-metal trio Lyden Moon and modern metalheads Spider xXx. Joe and William Kopecky (who has been living in France for several years) also will reunite as Kopecky—perhaps for the last time.

“Paul has been gone for more than two years, so I just felt it necessary to see him off with a huge musical event,” Joe says. “All of the bands I chose were involved with Kopecky through performing together or were personal friends of Paul's.”

Many more Secret Society of Starfish gigs could follow. The progressive-music scene in Milwaukee, while not dormant, isn't as active as it once was, but Burkowitz wants to change that.

“I'm hoping now that our new album is finally done that we can get out and do some playing, find some other groups that are looking to play in the genre and start bringing some action back to the prog community,” he says. “There is certainly an audience for this kind of music.”

Secret Society of Starfish will perform at the Paul Kopecky Memorial Concert on Oct. 22 at Mixers in Racine.
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