torsdag 18 januari 2018

Stars - från Fozzie 10, 2005

 Torquil Campbell: sång, keyboard, trumpet
Amy Millan: sång, gitarr
Chris Seligman: keyboards/programming, valthorn
Evan Cranley: bas, gitarr, trombon
Pat McGee: trummor

Stars är ett kanadensiskt band, vars medlemmar egentligen i Sverige är mest kända för att de hänger ihop med Broken Social Scene. Men Stars är verkligen värda att upptäckas, och att de ska spela på Accelerator The Big One sommaren 2005 kanske kommer hjälpa till.
 Jag fick en intervju med sångaren Torquil (Torq) när Stars spelade på Debaser i Stockholm i september 2004. Deras album "Set Yourself On Fire" var färdigt, men hade inte släppts än.
Den lille och spenslige Torq satte sig bekvämt till rätta i skräddarställning i soffan i logen och frågade mig om jag kände till The Arcade Fire, som DJ:n spelade utanför.
- They're from Montreal. Do you know what I've been listening to - Magnet, he's Swedish, right? Have you heard of that? I'm sure he's Swedish. It's on a British label though. It's great, you should check it out.
I've never heard of him.
- That's strange, maybe he's not Swedish, maybe I'm getting it wrong, but I thought he was.
A girl named Nadin, who works with Stars, came in:
- Hey, did you find any smoke for us, Nadin? You have no idea how crucial this is. You've been with The Broken Social Scene, you know what it's like. (To me:) In Canada we all smoke a lot of weed, but in Scandinavia nobody smokes weed. We come to Scandinavia and we're like "Where's all the weed?" - 'cause it's virtually legal in Canada.
It's totally illegal here.
- Interesting! 'Cause I would have thought that Scandinavia would be very advanced in that way.
Seeing that we have the Systembolaget for alcohol, normal shops can't even sell alcohol...
- Same in Canada, we do that too with alcohol. And with weed it's sort of illegal, but if the police caught you with it they'd just take it from you, there'd be no consequences. And there's cafés starting to sprout up - it's a big legal challenge, people are kind of legally challenging it a lot.
People are more scared of it here. I actually thought of that - I was looking through your website and there were quite a few references to drugs... (Torq's girlfriend Molly laughed.) And that seems so weird in Sweden, it's like "isn't it pretty stupid to talk about it like that?"
- Yeah, well, I think the thing is... we refer to drugs a lot, partly as a kind of a... antidote to the music we make. The music is so soft and so sort of... specific, it's very worked out, it's not sloppy, it's very neat and yet it comes out of a lot of sloppiness and a lot of mess and a fair amount of drugs. God knows we're no big druggies, but I think that we all grew up... part of what Stars is is like trying to capture a time when you're young and you're totally drunk in the world, whether it's on love or alcohol or whatever it is. We're into drunkenness, we're into excess of feeling and experience. So the drug aspect of it is just kind of one aspect, I mean there's twice as many references to love as there are to drugs, you know what I mean? But I also think that there's something about pop music, lyrics in pop music and the way pop songs work, they are like a drug, they have the same kind of effect, they're quick, they're easy and they get you high, they take you to a place that is somewhere not real, you know. And I've always seen that relationship very closely between music and intoxication. I think it's an interesting area to explore. It can destroy you, obviously, but fortunately we're all quite old, so you know, we've done our drugs (laughter) and lived through it, you know! My body couldn't take it anymore, so now I just indulge myself in other things.
 It was so beautiful, a sentence that is in your biography: "Stars want you to remember those 15 seconds in your life when you kissed someone and it broke your heart."
- Yeah. Well, I think I said something vaguely like that and they probably adapted it to a more simple idea. But again, I think that's to me what I love about pop music is its ability to capture these little moments where the mundane becomes the extraordinary, you know? Pop is simultaneously so dumb and so silly, but also so meaningful and so deep and so profound for people, and that dicotomy really fascinates me, it's a really powerful artform for that reason. And unique, because most other art forms take time to make, and they take time to understand, if you read a great book or look at a great paiting you have to take time with it. Pop music is instant! I can hear that bassline, and I've never heard this song before, but I'm already having an emotional reaction to it, even thought it's happening in the background, because it's so simple and so... sensual. And kissing someone for the first time, that electric reaction of knowing that you're never gonna feel that way with that person again, it's never gonna be that intense again. And... yeah, I guess that's an aspect of what we do, definitely.
Chris walked in, and Torq said: - Here's Chris, who writes all the songs with me and plays keyboard. This is Sara. Feel free to pitch in anytime.
Torq var otroligt lätt att prata med, han log och pratade mycket och vi växlade lätt mellan olika ämnen, så jag vågade mig på att fråga en sak som jag ibland funderat över:
Sometimes it just seems so strange to me that people want to get up on a stage or in a record studio, and sing, play the guitar or whatever. I mean, why does anybody want to sing? I know it's a natural thing, but...
- Yeah... I think maybe it's when you're in the womb and you hear your mother's heartbeat, so you have the rhythm inside you right from before you're born, it's a way of communicating. And when you're a little baby you can't use words, so you use sounds. I was talking to my friend the other day, who's got two little boys under two years old, and she said she'd been doing some reading on it, and that babies actually have something physiologically inside them which makes it so their particular vocal intonations when they cry or whine or scream are designed to particularly effect that specific woman who is their mother. We sing from the moment we're born, crying and singing and laughing. These are all kind of melodic activities. Singing is just like a chrystalisation of those emotions, but it's so basic, everybody sings at some point, you know. There's nobody that doesn't sing to themselves at some point or another during the day or the week. And if they don't I think it's very strange, it must be a very strange life to never sing. It's life, how you express life, in the best way.
What do you write lyrics about?
Torq spoke slowly and thoughtfully: - I write lyrics about people losing all sense of perspective and throwing themselves into a situation that they kind of know is... a death, but it will also save them. I'm really... obsessed, I guess, with the moment in people's lives when they transcend their fear or their doubts and do the things that they've always wanted to do.
He began speaking faster again: - And I'm also fascinated by people's regrets at not doing them. But I think of the series of those little moments where you decide "Can I do this? Should I do this?", and sometimes if you take that action it can lead to terrible things, sometimes it can lead to wonderful things. So I write kitchen sink drama, in a way, I write about people with very mundane worlds and lives who suddenly feel the desperate desire to transcend that and experience something bigger, so they do crazy things, or they take crazy drugs or they kill someone, or whatever it is, you know. And I guess that's what I find myself writing over and over again. But I also just... I'm really into the idea of trying to write great love songs. Just simple love songs that you can play to your girlfriend, to... make her love you (laughter), you know what I mean? I love the idea of writing songs that people can play to each other as a means of seduction, or a means of expressing something that they can't express. So I guess I write about that. But on the new record we have a bunch of... we write some hate songs too.
Yeah, the titles seem so much more dramatic.
- It is quite a lot more dramatic. But you know, "Set Yourself On Fire" is a... it's a positive statement too, because I think you have to ignite whatever is in you in order to burn, in order to be who you want to be and be what you imagine yourself being.
Does it sound about the same, musically?
- It's a lot more dramatic and dynamic. As much as you try and escape from what you are you always end up back there, being what you are, you know. But it's definitely got a lot more drums on it and a lot more feeling of a band playing, because of the way we recorded it. So it's much more guitar-driven and there's lots of strings and it's quite ornate and big and long. It's an hour long. There's things on it that are totally unlike anything we've done, and there's things on it that are a lot like what we've done. It's better, I think. Hopefully.
The drummer, Pat McGee, is he a member of the band now?
- He is. He was there for the whole process of writing the album and recording it. And Pat has over the years always been there as a drummer for us. I think it's hard for drummers to find bands that they really want to commit to, because I think drummers get bored really easily with what they do. They are much more impatient than most musicians, they need to constantly change things and to examine the rhythm in different ways, so I think Pat's finally found a way to be in this music and be able to express himself, so he feels more commited to it now. Which is great, we love having him, he's an awesome drummer and an amazing guy. And there he is right now! I was just blowing smoke up your ass Patty. This is Sara, this is Pat. (we shook hands)
Pat: - Are you blabbing?
Torq: - Yeah, just blabbing.
Dead Child Star, who writes the diary on the website, is that you?
Torq laughed: - Yes. That is a form of me.

"When people ask me what I believe in from now on, I'm telling them 'love' and leaving it at that.... and if they mock me and call me simple minded.... well, then I'll summon my belief in hate...."

And you believe in love?
- I believe in love. Do I believe in love? Well, if you don't believe in love I don't see how you can be alive. People who don't believe in love are people I want to avoid at all cost, because they're dangerous people. You know? It's like saying "Do you believe in breathing?". Yes, I believe in breathing, and I believe in love. Without it I just don't think there's any possibility for human existence, basically. I mean it's like the... squirrels need love, everything needs love, love is God.
So you don't say that you just believe in love at first sight, or everlasting love, but just love?
- Love of all kinds. Romantic love is just a little tiny distraction, it's like the lemon meringue pie of love, you know, the little fancy-schmancy thing we do to keep ourselves occupied. But there's a much deeper love than that, I think. And you can certainly have it for the people you're in love with, but I think romantic love is an aspect of love, which is everything. War is an aspect of love, war in a perversion of love.
- A denigration of it. But everything relates to it in some way. Everything is affected by it, even the bad shit is affected by love.
Why are you called Stars?
- We're called Stars because... lots of reasons. I heard it was Paddy McAloon's favourite word, from Prefab Sprout. And I guess he's my hero in terms of a song writer, he's the guy I aspire to the most. And he writes a lot of songs about stars, and I think the word star in our language has an interesting dual nature, in that we use it to describe you know, David Beckham and whoever the people who went on "Survivor", but we also use it to describe the galaxy and the most profound, the most complex aspects of our existence, the stars and what they mean, and how they affect us, and what they are, all those things. I think that is kind of what pop music is like too, that it's simultaneously very... it arouses incredibly complex, very deep feelings, and it can take you to some very transcendental places, but it's also just stupid kids playing guitars, singing "I love you oh-oh-oh" and shit. So I love that it's so dumb and so clever at the same time.
- And also, when we started it was me and Chris (he laughed), unemployed, totally fucking... just so pathetic, you know, mid-twenties, in New York, with no money and no anything, and I just thought it was kind of funny to call ourselves Stars, because we were so not. And continued to not be! I think it's a good name for a band of people who couldn't be stars if they tried (laughter)! Kind of like calling ourselves The Machine Gunners. (laughter)
By the way, I saw also on the website, "things you may not know about Stars", and you said that three of you spent two days in jail in New York.
- Yes, we did, yes.
Do you want to tell me why?
- Well, it comes back to drugs, oddly enough. We were arrested smoking a joint in Central Park. And in New York they don't look upon that kindly, anymore. It used to be a haven for that sort of activities, but... So we all spent a couple of days in jail, and then we were released by a judge, and ran into a cab and drove directly to a club and opened for The Trashcan Sinatras - it was a great day of my life, it was fantastic! And we could actually get on stage and say "Ladies and gentlemen, we've just been released from jail", which was a fantastic opening line, really really good!
And you also think that The Magnetic Fields suck? I thought that was pretty funny.
- I do, I do think they suck, and... I don't like to pick that many fights, but this is the one that I do like to keep going.
Someone in the background asked: - Who?
- Fucking Stephin Merritt, man. The thing about those guys is, we opened for them when we started, like four and a half years ago, we got a gig opening for them in Washington, and we were really excited. I'd never really listened to their music to be honest with you, but you know, we knew that they were doing well and it was a great, big club, "69 Love Songs" had just come out. And we went down there, and we're Canadian, we're friendly, so we came in to the club and said "Hello! Nice to meet you", and they just stared at us like we'd just taken a piss in the middle of the club. And they proceeded not to speak to us all night, and Stephin Merritt walks around with his little dog... It's interesting, because I love probably every band - if you like The Magnetic Fields, I probably love every other band that you like, but that to me is just going a little too far into a kind of preciousness and a kind of... there's a sort of feel-retentive quality to a lot of indie music that I find really... prudish and middle-aged, I guess, and not sexy. And if rock'n'roll isn't sexy, what's the point? Go to church. (laughed) If you don't want to be sexy, don't write pop songs, you know what I mean? I just "Eew, get rid of that dog! Get a boyfriend!" He's got a little hand dog that he carries around all the time.
I just thought that was funny, I don't really care about them, I think they have a few great songs, but I have an acquantance who is obsessed by them, and I don't really understand why.
- I guess I harped upon it because I've read several times that "clearly, listening to Stars' music, it's obvious they've ripped of The Magnetic Fields", and I've never even listened to them, and if I had, they'd be the last people that I would rip off - it's just that we've both ripped off Morrissey, so it sounds like I'm ripping off The Magnetic Fields (laughed). Just ripping off New Order, like everybody else. (laughter)
Which question would you most of all like to answer?
- Oh! "Would you like to smoke a joint with me?" (laughed loudly) And the answer would be "Yes!". No, what question would I most want to answer..? Any, like "Where's the post office?" No, I don't know. "Do you love doing what you're doing?"
Do you love doing what you're doing?
- Yes, I love it! It's awesome. It's very difficult, and a strange experience, but it's beautiful.
Are you doing well? I don't know anything about how many records you sell.
- We're doing okay. We've sold about 11-12 000 in the States, and probably 6 000 in Canada. Hopefully on this record we'll sell more. We're starting to slowly get to a place where we're making a bit of a living off of it, so we're doing a lot worse than a lot of people and a lot better than a lot of people.
Can you manage economically on it?
- We're all living on it at this point. I act as well, I act in plays a lot, so I earn money from that as well, but the others play in Broken Social Scene as well and they earn some money from that. But with the new record we got an advance and we're getting a little salary, so we're managing it at the moment. We certainly don't own anything, but we pay our bills.
The final question then: Which is your favourite Muppet?
- Well, it's hard to say, I mean Animal is a fantastic Muppet, the surgeon, the dog surgeon, I love him, he just seems so... he's got a lot to do, you know. But I do think that Fozzie is... he's got such heart. He's such a good guy. He's kind of sad, and you feel like he probably goes home and watches tv, has a beer and goes to sleep by himself, but he's a beautiful human being, or a bear or whatever he is. I have to say Fozzie. Is that okay to say? It's not just kissing up. My favourite Muppet is actually Fozzie. His little hat...
Someone in the background said Animal, and Torq said:
- Yeah, Animal's great, but I don't even know Animal, you know what I mean, you never got to know Animal.
The guy in the background: - What about the two guys in the balcony?
Torq: - They're great too. But I wouldn't wanna hang out with them. Fozzie is a guy you could go on tour with. (laughed) Do his stand up comedy routine, it'd be great!
Amy walked in, and Torq introduced us: - This is Sara, this is Amy. The other singer and songwriter in the band. You look very beautiful!
Amy: - Thank you!
I'm actually quite done, if nobody has anything to add?
Torq: - Does anybody have anything to add?
Amy: - To what?
Torq: - To this interview, for Sara's magazine Fozzie.
Amy: - Don't believe anything he says!
Torq laughed: - That's good advice!
Thank you very much!
- Thank you.


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