Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Interview: Stars

This feature appears in the Washington Square News Arts blog.

Stars’ fifth album, In Our Bedroom After The War, was released digitally four days after it was mastered. Bypassing the typical publicity campaign, Stars made the album available on their label Arts & Crafts’ website, but with a catch: it did not have copy protection.

“We didn’t have the time to be precious about the release and try to watermark it or ask people to climb a mountaintop with a Sherpa, so finally they can put on a pair of headphones,” says bassist Evan Cranley.

It has been a long journey for the group that was formed by singer Torquil Campbell and keyboardist Chris Seligman, who heavily relied on sequencing and programming to create their first album, Nightsongs. When necessary, the band hired a drummer or guitarist to help enhance their sound. The permanent additions of singer Amy Milan, drummer Pat McGee and Cranley have made the band a five-piece. However, the lineup was not fully acknowledged until the recording of the new album, which took place in Warehouse Studios in Vancouver. With a bigger budget, the band had a much diverse set of options.

“With the previous records, we’ve enjoyed the limitations of the tools we’ve been able to have,” says Cranley. “But this time, we had everything we wanted at our disposal.”

With the new release, the band scaled back on the orchestral elements, including violins and horns, which had been the foundation for the band’s previous release, Set Yourself On Fire, as part of an effort to make themselves louder.

“I wanted to do a lot more recording off of the floor,” says Cranley. “We’ve always snapped things through a grid on a computer. Believe it or not, this is probably the most rock and roll the band has ever gotten. We wanted to make more of a raw record.”

Guitars help to make the biggest difference in their new sound, as on the ebullient single “Take Me To The Riot.” While the style may be different, the creative process is the same, and Cranely, McGee and Seligman began the writing process, as always, with their instruments, to which Campbell and Milan later added lyrics.

“For all our records, the three of us have scored the songs and arrangements and demoed literally before the guys came in,” says Cranley.

This creative process may be startling to those who were introduced to the group by way of Milan’s solo project, Campbell’s other band Memphis or Toronto’s Broken Social Scene, of which all three are members. Despite the group’s side projects, Cranley is convinced that the members will not be distracted from their project, noting that the core trio is continuously creating new material.

Having built a following based on their tunes, Stars has also developed a strong fan base by touring.

“We started our career off tinkering around the studio, and then the last four years we’ve been very much more of a live project,” says Cranley. “For years I was trying to convince people that we were interesting, and now I think we’ve found our audience.”

Following the album’s recent physical release this September, the band sold out their entire European tour, a particularly gratifying feat after “seven or eight” previous visits to the continent without the same results.

Part of the reason it took so long for the band to reach this point is because of their independent outlook. Their decision to release the album early wasn’t so much a marketing ploy as it was a step towards artistic empowerment, and Cranley sees the current industry as a business where the musician should be the one in charge.

“If you put the power in the artist’s hands, I think the industry will benefit from it more,” he says. “A lot of people are scared by it, but it just means you have to work a little harder and be more creative with how you do things.”

Now in the midst of a seven week tour, Stars show no signs of slowing down.

“We just want to keep playing, keep making records and keep being experimental about how we release things,” he says. “I think the band is at a really positive place now. I’m excited about the future.”


Stars play at the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight!

MP3: Stars - Ageless Beauty
MP3: Stars - Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
MySpace: Stars
Official Site: Stars

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