It may’ve taken eight long years but Canadian indie pop quintet Stars made their way to Australia for the first time recently on the back of their fourth LP and one of 2007’s best releases, In Our Bedroom After the War — a record brimming with heartfelt pop and rock with electronic and soul flourishes.
In our first interview courtesy of 2SER’s Static Amy Millan (vocals, guitar) and Evan Cranley (bass, guitar) from the band chat with Chris Berkley about that album, crafting the perfect song and playing Lithuanian bingo halls.
It’s great to have Stars finally down here; although with the Canadian contingent that’s also down (Broken Social Scene and Feist) does it actually feel like you’re away from home? You’ve brought half the neighbourhood with you!
Amy: It’s actually really great. But what’s so funny is that we’re always on tour nowadays that we never get to see our friends. So sometimes we actually have to meet on the other side of the world.
Have you guys done many package tours before then, when you were all on the same bills?
Evan: Yeah. Between ’03 and ’05 we were constantly touring together. It’s really in the last two years when that we’ve concentrated on our own groups as opposed to the package deal that we used to do.
I guess you are much more bona fide chart successes these days as well aren’t you?
Amy: Bona Fide! [laughs]
Well since you were guys were touring, the last record Set Yourself On Fire went gold in Canada. Are you greeted as homecoming heroes every time you go back now?
Amy: Definitely when you go home there’s a certain joie and pride of the peeps that are living in Canada right now, but it’s been across the board no matter where we are. You know, to sell out the show tonight (at Sydney’s Spectrum) — it’s always a shock and never goes unappreciated.
And a vindication in way I guess, Evan, of a certain number of years of toil?
Evan: Well, yes. But…I want to stress this: Yes we get a lot of love in our home country but I think most importantly it’s a really exciting time to be a music fan in Canada because all of the great bands coming out of there. I just want to say that, for the record.
Does it also feel good to arrive at that point? Because the sound of Stars has evolved and solidified over the years. Was it a lot of work to get to that point for this band?
Amy: Yeah. When we started playing, 8 years ago, we didn’t even have a drummer and I played the acoustic guitar, so we’ve definitely come in a large arc to the other side of actually being able to rock live.
Were you making “boom-scooh-boom” noises with your mouth then or did you have a drum machine?
Amy: No we had a machine and we called him Stevie and now we’ve got a real machine and his name is Patty [Pat McGee].
I guess for people who don’t know, Stars started out as vehicle for Torquil (Campbell, vocals/keyboards/trumpet) and Chris (Seligman, keyboards) in New York didn’t it?
Amy: It did. It started with Torquil and Chris and they made this beautiful record called Nightsongs and they needed musicians. So they had been trying to get Evan Cranley to join, although Metric were trying to get him to join as well. But Cranley went to the other side with Stars.
Did you flip a coin there Evan?
Evan: I love Metric and they’re my dearest friends but I wanted to make pop music with my friends and the obvious choice seemed to be to write songs with Amy, Torq and Chris.
Well Torq and Chris had sort of worn their hearts on their sleeve with that early stuff — they did a Smiths cover, there was a Stars track on Human League tribute album as well. Where did the genesis for the group’s tastes come from? Were they synth-pop bands?
Amy: I don’t think that’s changed. I think we’re definitely a band out of all of the bands who has their hearts on their sleeves, to wear them the most. I think that’s why we do so well in Ireland because there’s not that much irony going on in Ireland. They’re fine with this sort of emoting.
Were you fans of the band beforehand?
Amy: No I’d never heard of the band. I was friends…sort of. We knew each other loosely; we all grew up together. Toronto’s a very small town, and Evan and I had been in other bands and had played festivals together and things like that. But it felt immediately…I remember from the first rehearsal, singing with Torquil and meeting them and really hanging out with these guys for the first time and drinking with them especially. It definitely felt comfortable, and I was in family that I was supposed to be in, right away.
And was that focus always being a pop band? Was that the Mantra from day one?
Evan: Definitely. The four of us and now the five us with Patty are totally obsessed with the pop song, the idea of the pop song. The fact you can touch someone’s lives and encapsulate a feeling within three minutes. I think we’re obsessed with wanting to get into people’s lives that way. So yeah, it’s a passion we all share together.
You’ve got a great quote in the bonus DVD that came with the last album where you said a pop song is a direct route into someone’s life.
Evan: Absolutely. Besides kissing someone I can’t think of something more personal and profound than a pop song.
And it’s quicker than going around at a gig and trying to kiss everybody individually as well.
Evan: That’s gross.
It seems though you guys in Stars are still exploring variations of the pop song. The latest album, In Our Bedroom After the War, seems to have a bit of a dip into the white soul territory on stuff like “Ghost of Genova Heights” and even your song Amy: “My Favourite Book”. Is there a slight white soul thing going on this time round for Stars?
Amy: But I think it’s all pop music. You know? We’ve definitely been obsessed with soul music and listening to a lot of 50’s pop songs, but that’s all pop music to me. I think it’s all about the hook and if you have a hook you have pop music. That’s really the obsession — find the perfect hook. But yes soul music, lovely. Maybe we’ll just venture into hip-hop. No we won’t.
You sort of tried on another hat in between Star’s albums, you did your solo record (Honey From the Tombs) which was a bit more folk and country tinged. Was that, again, because it was an area you hadn’t done a lot of stuff in?
Amy: Well that’s how I started. I started in Lithuanian bingo halls playing Patsy Cline covers. I didn’t really know the world of pop music until I joined Stars and was introduced to it from these guys and fell in love with it through them.
You must’ve had some die-hard Lithuanian bingo fans that were all ready for your album when it came out?
Amy: It was a legion that we were able to drink underage at when I was in high school. So we would go, and they had this incredible jukebox, with all these Lithuanian legion vets basically. They would drink beer with us and let us bring guitars and sing songs all night long.
And do they come to Stars show these days then?
Amy: I think they’re still in the legion, you know, drinking their pints.
If you’ve tried so many genres are you running out of styles of music to try at all? Is crunk and dancehall next for Stars?
Evan: I think our own version of dancehall might be next on the agenda. I think it’s important to explore new territory but not forget what you’re good at doing. So yes — our version of hip-hop or our version of synth-pop we’ll always try to explore that, you know.
And do think if you are a pop band you can wrap one of your songs up in any of those kind of styles?
Evan: I think if the song is strong enough it can be done in any style. I really do believe that. You can reggie-fy, like, country songs. You know what I mean?
Amy: I think it’s dangerous but just like Evan said, if it’s a great song you can do it any which way.
So are you guys busy not only with Stars this week while in Australia but also playing as part of Broken Social Scene? Is there some multitasking going on that we’re going to see for the rest of the week?
Evan: Definitely with all four of the Laneway dates Amy and I do double duty. So after we’re done we towel off and get ready for our Broken set. And after Australia we’re sharing three club dates in Japan. It’s nice. We get the best of both worlds. We get to play small clubs dates to the fans that love Stars and we get to do the festival dates as a package with everyone.
Do you get two riders?
Evan: We do. And we exploit!
Amy: Oh yeah definitely it’s fantastic. But it’s always, always, always gone at the end no matter what.
Good to hear. Well here’s looking forward seeing you not only play multitasking gigs on Sunday at the laneway festival but also drink both the riders.
Amy: Thank you Chris and Static radio. Thanks for the love!
Evan: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.